Just because something gets branded with the label or look of being ‘retro’ doesn’t make it worthwhile.
One of the things I love about Retro Now is the opportunity to see the various mods, hacks and games that retro enthusiasts come up with in the comfort of their own home.
When something does go into production, like the various SD card adapters for the C64, it’s often on a budget and obviously done for the love of the system rather than a serious profit-making enterprise.
Therefore I felt a bit conflicted seeing Commodore USA – not the original Commodore company it should be noted – licensing the brand of the C64 and creating a new Commodore PC64, using the old C64 chassis and lumping a relatively middle of the range PC inside. The idea behind it was obvious enough; marry the best bits of old and new and sell it to retro enthusiasts at a good price. To be honest though, in my opinion it’s was actually marrying the worst of both worlds.
To put it bluntly, just because it is retro doesn’t mean it’s good. The reasons desktop computers look as they do today and not as a C64 did 30 years ago is because the design of home computers has been continually improved upon.
We all look back fondly at the rubber keys of the ZX Spectrum 48K but there is a reason that modern keyboards eschew the rubber look, as kinky as it may be. The fact the Commodore PC64 explicitly stated that it had souped up the keys to be kinder on the hands for typing whilst retaining the classic sound at least acknowledged this aspect of progression from the previous eras.
The Commodore PC64 essentially lumped a Netbook inside the body of a Commodore 64, providing a desktop PC that was not as powerful as other desktop PCs (and, I suspect, more difficult to upgrade and renew) at the time, and a Commodore 64 body that did not contain a Commodore 64.
The sad thing is if this was the product of one geek in his parents’ bedroom I’d salute his ingenuity and slightly bonkers air, but as it was a business and I can’t help but wonder what on earth their business plan was.
You can see the idea – buy a recognisable brand to give a kick start onto a crowded market. However surely the flaw was that fans of the Amiga would not be interested in a device that had little to do with the Amiga (and may in fact shunned it) and everyone else would not give a damn in the first place.
Maybe I am being too cynical, after all the comments on the various tech sites at the time were generally positive and I feel a bit harsh writing this as I do get a kick out of seeing the weird and wonderful things people do with their old computers and consoles. The customised Dreamcasts, the portable N64s, the Guitar Hero devices for the C64, they’re all weird and wonderful and I salute them all.
Again though, I salute a home-made portable Dreamcast but baulk at the idea of paying several hundred pounds for one. It’s difficult because obviously these ventures lack the mass production capabilities readily available to the likes of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo so it’s natural that the costs would be higher.
Nonetheless I fail to see how a $600 netbook in a C64 body was a worthwhile enterprise as a business or a product. Sure, you got a kick loading it up, playing around with it and showing it off to your friends but once the warm glow of self-satisfaction faded what what were you left with? A C64 that needed an emulator to be a C64 and a Netbook PC that was stuck on your desktop.
It was not much cop for $600.