C16 Software Support
When it was launched last summer as a replacement machine for the Vic 20, the Commodore 16 met with a mixed reception. Grumbles were heard about its limited memory, lack of sprites and poor sound capabilities. One of the main reservations was the lack of software support. Is it a dead duck? We asked software houses what they thought and compiled a list of what they had on offer.
Despite the apparent shortcomings of the Commodore 16, the machine has been selling well, even better perhaps than Commodore themselves had imagined it would. Sales, they say with customary reticence, have been "very substantial" and reportedly have reached six figures. Independent sources estimate the C16 user base to be slightly lower than this - approximately 90,000. However, many have been sold, one thing is pretty clear about this new computer - there aren't many games for it yet. If you are a C16 owner you may be sitting there twiddling your thumbs and wondering whether you've bought a white elephant?
Well, rest assured, you haven't, though it may be a while before the market is as competitive and the quality is as good for the Vic and C64 as it is now. Though one or two C16s have been seen in the classified ad pages. Some people have clearly run out of patience with it already. One of the main reasons for this are the doubts the larger software houses are expressing in the machine. K-tel, US Gold, Activision and Virgin all have no plans to release any C16 software at the moment. They feel there are more pressing priorities, the Atari 800 for example.
Gordon Reid, former software development manager and no production manager with Creative Sparks, voiced some of their doubts: "A 16K machine in this day and age is a shame, it could have proved much more competitive." Having said that, his company are covering themselves with a couple of converted Vic titles. This seems to be the case with many other companies who have personal doubts about the machine. Micro Power, for example, consider the machine "badly thought out" but are considering putting some titles out all the same.
Alan Hobbs, sales and marketing manager with Microdeal: "people are having to set their reservations to one side. The sales have made them think again. Even if sales don't last, there are enough owners out there to warrant attention." And it seems that the smaller software houses are in a better position to move rapidly - even if it's just to convert old C64 and Vic titles.
Melbourne House were one of the first major companies to put out anything for the Commodore 16 with their Book of Games and subsequently Games Packs I and II. Since then, according to Paula Byrne, their publicity manager, "we've been inundated with requests for more games.
"There's been an overwhelming demand from people who've bought the machine and found out there wasn't much to play on it." So all of a sudden smaller software houses are writing fast and furiously fo fill the vacuum. Doubts or no doubts.
Short On Adventure
There are bound to be some who consider that the Commodore 16 doesn't warrant the sheer effort of software development. Marketing considerations aside, some are put off by its limited memory. This applies particularly to adventures which require larger memories. Level 9 cannot convert its existing games and consequently has no plans for any new C16 adventures. The same goes for Legendw who consider the constraints of memory off-putting. Most adventures that are or will be available are of the text-only type.
The other main bugbear is the C16's lack of sprites. However, Solar Software consider that as a means of getting better character definition. Colin Courtney's programmers at Tynesoft were more than surprised at its capabilities. "The graphics are as good as the C64's, there's no sprites, but that can be compensated for." He's so impressed with it as a beginner's computer that he's dropped all his other stuff to concentrate on the C16.
These opinions more or less echo Commodore's own about the machine. They know its limitations, but equally well they know it has a market. Rae Potter, software marketing manager at Commodore, is adamant. "There is a huge market for a starter machine and it will be supported, the ball has started rolling. It would be ludicrous for even the big software companies to miss out."
One indication to the market for C16 software sales is that Craig Communications' Flight 015 has sold over 10,000 copies since it was released just before Christmas. Whether the Commodore 16 will prove to be as successful as the Vic remains to be seen. It's doubtful that it will, it's more of a temporary measure. However, its price and the items included (1531 cassette unit, Introduction to Basic, Picture Builder, XZAP, Punchy and Starter Chess) make it very attractive to the first-time buyer. In fact, since the 16K Spectrum was withdrawn, it is the cheapest machine on the market.
Software houses are beginning to realise that there is a boat and if they don't move fast enough, they're going to miss it. Even those who doubt the C16's viability are putting a conversion or two out to test the market. As for quality, it's only fair to say that at the moment it's not that high. Only a few new and original programs are available: like Anirog's Out On A Limb which was written for the C64 but diverted to the C16, and Jeff Minter's Psychedelia (thought even that's released simultaneously on the C64 and Spectrum).
Those companies which have chosen to ignore the C16 may find that they'll have to change their minds. So, if you bought a C16 over Christmas, don't worry, help is at hand. Meanwhile, a list of what's currently available follows whilst Screen Scene this month tests a few of the new titles out.
|Out On A Limb||Arcade||£6.95||-|
|Tower Of Evil||Arcade||£5.95||11th March|
|Cuthbert In Space||Arcade||£6.99||-|
|Cuthbert Enters The Tombs Of Doom||Arcade||£6.99||-|
|Games Pack I||Various||£5.95||-|
|Games Pack II||Various||£5.95||-|
|The Wizard And The Princess||Adventure||£5.95||-|
|Hunchback II||Arcade||£6.95||1st March|
|Daley Thompson||Simulation||£6.95||1st March|
|Kong Strikes Back||Arcade||£6.95||1st March|
|Monkey Magic Quest||Arcade||£6.95||-|
|The Chip Factory||Arcade||£3.95||-|