Sinclair Zx Spectrum: absolutely better than Commodore 64

This page is an (hopefully decent) translation of one of my most famous Zx Spectrum pages.

Clicca qui per la traduzione in italiano!


Sorry for my poor English; I will correct typos and errors as soon as I'll catch 'em

This is a rude but exact chronicle of the "Spectrum vs C64" match (also known as "spectrumers vs 64ers" or even "sinclairists vs commodorists") which happened here in southern Italy in February 1985. The story has been confirmed by witnesses of each part. The dialogs were originally in the Naples slang (a bit far from Italian language).

At that time, except for the "judge" (he was already married and had a decent job), all people were between 14 and 19 years old high school students. They all were fan of their computer (a Sinclair Zx Spectrum 48k or a Commodore 64), and they were definitively sure that they had chosen the best home computer around, better than any other machine (note: while in 1984-1986 there was also in Italy the "boom" of home computers, only two of them conquered the absolute majority of the market: the best seller was the Commodore 64, followed by the Zx Spectrum; other computers -and even MSX- had very little success, compared to them)

Everyone of them considered his computer better than the rival's one, simpler, faster, user-friendly, easy to program, and everyone considered himself a Good Computer Programmer, having full right to mock at the rival machines: my computer is better than yours, I can do much more things than you, etc... and so, in the morning of a winter sunny Sunday, there was the public declaration of challenge, in order to understand which was the best computer worthy of praise and which was the worst computer deserving blame.

The formal rules for the duel between Sinclair fans team and Commodore fans team were quickly set:

  1. in turn, every team questions the other team; in ten minutes, the two teams have to solve the posed problem; the judge will rate them with a number ranging from 0 to 10 to the most efficient and elegant solution;

  2. up to ten questions per team are allowed; in the case of equal scoring, the judge has the right to ask to solve an extra problem;

  3. the Commodore squad, being the challenged squad, will have the right to start with the first question;

  4. the duel will be at the judge's home, because he has sufficient room, he works in an electronics and computer company, and he has a computer which is neither a Commodore nor a Sinclair machine;

  5. every team may take there up to two computers and power supplies, tapes, manuals; one computer listing magazine, one cassette with a game and an home utility program (only one game and one utility, and the utility must be "of those you already use at home"!)

A small note to explain nicknames:


Chronicle of the duel.

At 3:00pm of the following Saturday these participiants were registered for the competition:

The judge says he will eventually decide about the extra stuff carried by the two teams, and starts the preliminary stage of the competition.

The technical assistant mounted two TV sets, an old CGE 24" TV-color and a brand new ITT 28" TV-color. A draw assigns the latter to the Commodore team.

After some orange juice and biscuits, the competition starts. The judge gravely orders all to be absolutely silent and to avoid any voice comment, and to start mounting computers, fitting to the TV and turn on everything.

While mounting the computers, Silly-Ass says: "huh? what's that?". "A power supply". Showy laughs and scornful gestures by commodorian people. The judge intervenes, asking why that power supply is weird. Commodorist guys: "that rotten thing, a power supply? disgusting!". Itchy answers: "it's just a power supply, a normal power supply, recycled because I didn't find my original Spectrum power supply at home... I only had to put on a compatible plug and it just runs without problems! you will now see that the Spectrum doesn't need any dedicated and complex power supply!".

Huddly intervenes quickly: "Your Honor, the rival team already posed its first question; now we will turn on the Spectrum and you will all see the answer; then we will have the next move!". Protests and turmoil by the Commodore team. Solomonic decision by the judge: "well, stop it all: I won't consider it as a question, but I will remember about this in the final sentence". Sixtyfourist people have a sigh of relief, they just saw quashed a sensational self-goal.

Itchy turns on his Spectrum and, tuning the TV, gets to a white screen showing a flashing K in the lower right part (maybe he unintentionally pressed the Enter key after turning on). Fat-Boy says: "ha, ha, ha! what's that?". Itchy: "is this a question for the duel?". "No, but please look there, ah, ah!". The judge intervenes again: "stop with commenting, or I will consider it a question!". The commodorist people immediately shut up. Itchy presses some keys to give in some commands, but the judge immediately says: "no, stop it, don't do anything, leave all as before". Itchy presses shift-"1" instantly erasing all the command line, leaving only the flashing K as before.

In the meantime Pig-Head turned on the C-64 and tuned the TV. A weirdly coloured screen appears, something between blue and magenta.
COMMODORE 64 BASIC V2.
64K RAM SYSTEM  38911 BASIC BYTES FREE
READY.

Huddly: "ha, ha, ha! what's that message after the «64K RAM SYSTEM»? did the 64k get reduced to 38k before starting anything?". High screams from Commodore team: "no, nooo! that's the currently available memory for the Basic! Your Honor, judge! they posed their first question, when it was our turn! this isn't right!". Big laughs from sinclairist guys and shouting and yelling by commodorian people.

Nyak-Nyak, after a laborious work to get order and silence again, sentences to the sixtyfourists: "since you were pardoned about your «first» question, and since their keen comment is relevant, then do answer to it; later, you will pose two questions to make up for all".

Huddly, sardonic: "well? where is the remaining memory? did the SYSTEM eat up almost half of the total RAM to the detriment of the Basic?". Pig-Head: "well, the memory is there, yes, it's there, but it's not currently available to the Basic; that's, er, it's still there, but the memory map does not allow we to use it for now... uh, it's there, yes, there is because there ARE 64k of memory! there is even the message there: 64K RAM SYSTEM as you can read for yourself!". "Then, why did it print out 38911?". "Uh, but the memory is there, all memory!". "But if the 64k memory is all there, why are you able to access only 38911 bytes? I still don't understand...".

Shouting and yelling again, mixed with vulgar insults. The judge intervenes again: "stop it, let's see an example. Are you all able to show an example for what you say?". Before everyone does anything, Huddly writes down in a few seconds a two-line Basic program on the Spectrum:
10 DIM a$(41000)
20 PRINT a$

Huddly, implacable: "then, can you do something like this?". Commodorian guys panicked; Pig-Head said: "humpf! I am curious, I just want to see if it works!". Huddly pressed the "R" key ("RUN" appeared on the Spectrum TV screen) and then the Enter key. The screen was cleared, and in the bottom left corner a "scroll?" message appeared.

The judge asked the meaning of that message. Huddly: "I just initialized a string of fortyone thousands characters; now the string contains only blank characters, and then printing it on the screen does not show anything. When the screen is full of characters (even if blank spaces) then the Spectrum asks «scroll?» before continuing". Lower shouts and muttering by Commodore guys. Huddly continues: "if a computer has 48k RAM, then it's easy to write a program that allocates a 41000 characters string..." and, sarcastically, "let's figure out what can do a 64k RAM computer...".

Nyak-Nyak stopped him and, unintentionally sadist, asked to the «64ers»: "well? you have 64k of memory; can you allocate a memory block of at least 42000 characters to show your superiority?". The disdain shouting and the excited attempts to explain something about the Commodore's Kernal memory handling anticipated the taste of their defeat.

Nyak-Nyak continued: "you still have five minutes to show something; do write something... does the C-64 have the DIM Basic command?". Fat-Boy, flying into a fatal fury, starts entering "DIMA$(" and stops terrorized. Silly-Ass continues clickety-clicking:
DIMA$(41000)
?ILLEGAL QUANTITY  ERROR

Ha, ha, ha! Fat laughs, hateful laughs from the Sinclair team. That bastard of Huddly insists: "try to shorten a bit that value, let's see when you won't get an error!". Silly-Ass continues, while his colleagues remain petrified while looking at him:
DIMA$(20000)
?OUT OF MEMORY  ERROR

"Out of memory"! The most terrible Commodorian people tragedy is only started and these were only the first blows! Silly-Ass moves up the cursor and modifies the 20000 to 15000, and still gets the same ERROR. Phrenetically, moves the cursor up again, but by his impetuosity (or, perhaps, a little C-64 keyboard fault, or even the small size of the Return key, who knows!) after getting to the line before, on that "READY." of above, after he pressed the Return key, he got on the screen a mix of error messages and commands, and that "READY." interpreted as "READ Y.", so that on the Commodore 64 TV screen they all saw:
?ILLEGAL QUANTITY  ERROR
READY.
DIMA$(15000)
?OUT OF DATA  ERROR
READY.F MEMORY  ERROR
READY.

Spectrumists guys rolled on the floor laughing, laughing up to tears! Even the judge and Trench-Morty began laughing, while the sixtyfourists tried to save everything they could lay their hands on. Silly-Ass, laboured breathing and a sweating forehead, got the cursor down and quickly pressed some keys for a few seconds:

NW

?SYNTAX  ERROR
READY.
NEW

READY.
10FORN=1TO100:A$=A$+" ":NEXT
20?LEN(A$)
RUN
 100

READY.

Trench-Morty whispered to sinclairist people: "huh, why cannot they put some spaces between the program words?". Again, another round of big laughs! (and still, his intentions were honest!). "Ha, ha, ha! they cannot! please, tell him why!" (he only had to explain that the Spectrum was automatically showing blanks between Basic keywords, while in the Commodore machine any manually added blank was memory space consuming, and then any commodorian guy soon got used to avoid any use of them). After some threating against sinclairist people, Silly-Ass moved up the cursor on that "100" but, before changing it to 41000, he understood that it would have required too much time (a noticeable fraction of second was needed to get that 100-blanks string filled), so he rewrote his program announcing "I'm only doing a test":
5B$="          "
10FORN=1TO100:A$=A$+B$:NEXT
RUN

?STRING TOO LONG  ERROR IN 10

This time the burst of laughter was heard even on the Moon! "Ha, ha, ha! Illegal quantity, Out of memory, String too long!". The judge, a little awkward in trying to pour oil on the troubled waters, asked: "er... what do those all ERROR messages mean?". A desolate Pig-Head answered: "Well, er... I remember once I read somewhere that normal strings cannot exceed about 255 characters...". Nyak-Nyak: "Ok, stop it. The Spectrum scores one point, with full marks: ten tenths". Sinclair team enthusiastically shouting, Commodore people icy and silent (uh, they will find only many months later that the DIM command in the C-64 has a very different meaning of the Spectrum one when string-related... but even if they had the same meaning, commodorian people still was in trouble because of the «64» Basic limitations about strings, arrays and memory organization).

Nyak-Nyak turned towards Fat-Boy and asked: "well, you still have to make up for a question; what do you want to deal with?

Fat-Boy, as if in the world he was the only able to answer, and with an incredibly dangerous mix of nervousness and excitability (besides amplified by the fear that this was the last chance to beat the sinclairist guys) and even more eager (due to the possibility to pontificate to all), started to say that: "...yes, but the Power of the Commodore 64 is mainly in its Graphics and Speed!".

"Graphics and Speed!", an enthralled Trench-Morty repeated like a parrot. In spite of the bad Commodore impression of some seconds before, Trench-Morty still thought he could convince his brother (the judge) to buy him the King of the computers, the "best seller in the world", that is, the C-64...
"Good. We'll start with graphics", Nyak-Nyak said, while the phone was ringing.

"Just a moment", he said. He answered, and then said "Yes, we already started, but it's fine; come here as soon as you can". It was Bulldog, an unrecoverable unpunctual sinclairist boy that, fearing a bad figure for his team, was willing to not to come to the match, but changed his mind in the last minute.

At school it was rumoured that he already tried to persuade his parents to buy a C-64, so he suddenly gained the commodorian people favour (an ex-Spectrum guy becoming a new Commodore disciple! a great rarity!).

Maybe Pig-Head was aware of the great tragedy that was coming; he tried to play the match on a better field: he took one of his diskettes and, brandishing it like the Mighty Sword, said: "we are now going to show you this New American Software Program, that will show the superiority of the Commod..."
The judge interrupted him: "no! as we stated before starting, no programs, except the game and the utility (that we will load later!)".

Fat-Boy, stunningly excited to be again on the scene, started his speech: "the VIC-II of the C-64 can handle sixteen colours, and you can handle also sprites, handling the collision detection, and it has also a character ROM that can handle more than 510 characters, while the handling of...". The judge interrupted Fat-Boy: "er... let's avoid loosing time with those things; what's the real question to pose to Spectrum people? is there anything that you can now show, while they cannot?"

Fat-Boy, who hated to be interrupted while talking, to not to change his speech, concentrated on the last thing he was able to say: "Well, we, for example, er, we have ready a lot of graphic characters for software programming. For example, if you want to write a cards game..." (he pressed the keys shift-A, shift-S, shift-Z, shift-X, and got out the symbols of the cards: spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs) "...or, if you want to draw boxes or some other graphics on the screen, like menus..." (shift-U, shift-I, shift-J, shift-K, and some circle quarters got out, character cell sized).

"But we are able to create them also on the Spectrum!" shouted Huddly, and pressed the "NEW" command on his Spectrum. While his screen became black for a few seconds, Fat-Boy continued his speech: "Yes, but we have them ready for use, so we save a lot of hard work...". "And they are lots and lots, not only the ones you can see printed on the Commodore keyboard here", Silly-Ass said. Pig-Head tried to not to get too far: "well, it's obvious that you don't have only those resources, because the graphical capabilities of the Vic-II are much more... in fact, the «64» is the Best Seller computer in the world!". Silly-Ass, irritated by those unsolicited words, added "...and we can also draw some lines, for example..." and got to the C-64 keyboard and began writing something.

Meanwhile the excited Huddly ("I'll do it! let me do it!") wrote the most didactic and elegant solution for the graphics character problem, even if it was much longer than the needed.

Two minutes later, Huddly, triumphant, was showing his great program (which anyways just demonstrated that he read the Sinclair manuals and tested all the examples):
10 POKE USR "a"+1,BIN 0001000
20 POKE USR "a"+2,BIN 0011100
30 POKE USR "a"+3,BIN 0111110
40 POKE USR "a"+4,BIN 1111111
50 POKE USR "a"+5,BIN 0111110
60 POKE USR "a"+6,BIN 0011100
70 POKE USR "a"+7,BIN 0001000

Like a final year student in front of the examination committee, he began a panegyric of the Spectrum: "as you can see, I defined a graphical character giving the binary values to draw it... er, this is the only case in which the POKE command is used on the Spectrum... don't you see which drawing is it? look at the 1's...". And then, wigh a glaring gesture, pressed shift-9 (the cursor became a flashing G) and then some times the "a" key, and the diamond symbol appeared! Exactly the same that was on the C-64 screen!

Pig-Head and Fat-Boy were very desolate. Silly-Ass was still tapping on the keyboard, "here it is, yes, here it's ready!" and, ignoring what was happening near him, wrote "RUN" and then pressed the Return key soon after this program:
10?"*" (an inverted-color heart graphics character)
20?"\"
30?" \"
40?"  \"
50?"   \"
60?"    \"
70?"     \"

''Here it is, yes, here it's ready!'' (Commodore 64) Result: the screen clears, and a broken diagonal line composed of some diagonal bar characters appears, and then the usual "READY." message below. Silly-Ass, to complete his work, entered the "LIST" command and then pressed Return, and below the "READY." the listing appeared, and the question marks were changed to PRINT.

"Leave it to me, to me!" said an excited Itchy, that didn't want to be audience anymore. But Huddly stopped him, and entered on the Spectrum the command OVER 1 (the screen was cleared again) and then:
PLOT 0,175: DRAW 255,-175

A diagonal line appeared on the screen, from the upper left corner to the lower right. A perfect unbroken diagonal line. And he inexorably turned to sixtyfourists: "did you just want to get something like THIS?", and his pinky pressed the "K" key (the command LIST appeared) followed by the Enter key and... magic! The listing entered before was now on the screen, overwriting the diagonal line on the TV screen, with the added value of a «xor» effect! "Mixing text and graphics, well... you are able to do something like this, aren't you?" Itchy wickedly asked.

Pig-Head desperately cried: "Well, there are some Powerful Graphics Software for the Commodore 64, they were used even for movie graphics, er, in the cinemas, and I have one of them that I just took here, so I can show you that the Commodore can do more than those simple things, and..."

The judge was relentless: "no hot air sales, we will follow the rules. We all agreed on this, at least up to one hour ago". Pig-Head: "Er, uhm, no, that's... the C-64 has lots of graphics softwares, American Programs, Powerful and Fast...". "I repeat again: NO HOT AIR. Are you able to do the same thing on your computer? Eh? Are you able to draw a diagonal line with a different slope?". No answers followed, except some "er, uhm". During the few seconds of silence, the hero of the moment continued to write commands on his Spectrum:
''The Spectrum scores another point!'' (Zx Spectrum) PLOT 0,0: DRAW 255,175
PLOT 23,23: DRAW 223,56
CIRCLE 100,100,66

On the Spectrum screen appeared another small diagonal line, with a smaller slope, and then a circle, a perfect circle!

"The Spectrum scores another point!", said the judge, "and this time also with full marks: ten tenths. Well, it's a bit weird to need special software to do such simple things on a C-64...".

A sudden enlightenment for Pig-Head: he read somewhere that the kinks of the Spectrum are in the colors! His cheeky remark soon came out: "the circle... are you able to get it red?".

A stereo "Yeah!" was heard from the two spectrumers. But when Huddly entered the command OVER 0: CIRCLE INK 2,100,100,66 not only the circle was red, but also a number of pixels adjacent to the circle (and even the screen letters which were touched!).

The first loud laugh from sixtyfourers came out: they just had the "color clash" problem shown on the Spectrum... While you are working in squared areas of 8×8 pixels, you can do everything: an 8×8 pixel has its own attribute setup (ink/paper/bright/flash).

Nevertheless, before the sinclairists' full-scoring was scratched, there was a stroke of luck for them, this time when Itchy typed in the command PAPER 2: CLS getting the screen colored in a sort of live fire red, almost exiting by the TV set. He maliciously said: "your colors seem to come from old pastels of primary school babies!"

"Er, actually, that blue-magenta seems..." said Trench-Morty, but he indeed was trying to praise the C64 colours. The three sixtyfourers had always been used to those colors, and they hadn't even noticed the difference. "Here is a red colour", said Pig-Head, and typed in a very weird command, consisting in a letter "P" followed by a sort of capital greek "gamma" (an "F" without the center horizontal bar) and then the numbers "53281,2". He pressed the Return key and the screen got coloured with... a sort of breathless orange! The border and the characters were still magenta-colored.

"What does that command mean?", the judge asked; he implicitly seemed to approve that the breathless orange was to be approved as a red pigment. "I just gave a command to the Video Processor to change the color of the entire screen page", exclaimed Pig-Head, puffed up with pride, turning left and right his head to see the others to cast a praise look. Trench-Morty got into raptures before the Wisdom Speech more than the screen color changing, and added some ecstatic words without considering their total stupidity: "and you can change the color even on the border, can't you?". Pig-Head mechanically obeyed, getting the cursor higher on the screen, on the same command, and changed an "1" into a "0", pressed Return and got it.

Huddly didn't want to be inferior to him, and - hoping to be noticed - typed in the command BORDER 2 so that also the Spectrum screen got fully red, of the same live fire red color of before...!

"Yes, but there are two things that I still don't understand: why the Spectrum red is a true red, and the «64» red is... uh... is..." - Nyak-Nyak didn't have a decent adjective suitable for the C64 red, he didn't want to say "dull" or "washed out" - "...is so faded?"

"Uh, it's the TV tuning, yeah", sentenced a clever Fat-Boy, getting a bad look from Pig-Head and a parrot-like comment from Silly-Ass: "yes, it's the TV set, we were in a hurry and didn't fine-tune it as needed!", and ran to the ITT TV-color tuning buttons. But, except for the original tuning setup, every fine-tune configuration showed an annoying quality drop of the screen image. "Every computer has its own colors", Pig-Head said, trying to skip the problem. "It's surely the cable, yes, it's the computer-to-TV cable!" shouted Fat-Boy, trying to buy some precious time, but Nyak-Nyak immediately accepted: "OK, try to swap the two TV cables... er, no, swap the TV sets".

They swapped the TV sets and they all had to fine-tune the TV channels, because the two computers had a slightly different output signal frequency. But tragically the "red" of the C64 was even worse than before, while the 28 inches ITT TV-color gave out a perfect lightfire red from the Spectrum!

"Every computer has its own colours", Pig-Head tried disperately to say, but the judge sentenced: "Yeah, the Spectrum has some problems with mixing the on-screen colors, but it seems that its red is much more realistic than the C-64 red...".

While he was speaking, Huddly typed in some simple commands:
FOR n=0 TO 7: BORDER n: PAPER n: CLS: PAUSE 0: NEXT n
and pressing some keys, he showed all the eight base colours of the Spectrum. The black seemed to switch off the TV set. The blue was simply stunning. The red made the room warm. The magenta was like an exotic icecream. The green was something like freshly rained grass. The cyan was like the ocean's water. The yellow seemed got off from a fluorescent pen. And the white was clean and soft, like when the computer was turned on.

Nyak-Nyak asked to the sixtyfourers: "can you do the same thing on the C64? but please, explain to us all what the heck are those weird numbers, 53, 280, 2, and what's that strange symbol that you typed in before, near the letter P...".

"I just programmed the Vic-II chip to recolourize the screen and the external border..." Pig-Head began. "No, no, let us first see the colors", Nyak-Nyak ordered. To make the C64 pretty to Trench-Morty eyes, Pig-Head wrote an ever more cryptic command line, containing some Greek "gamma" letters and even a lower horizontal bar character:
F[N=0TO15:P[53280,N:P[53281,N:F[M=1TO1000:N_:N_

("What a barbarism: they don't even have a PAUSE command, so they needed a FOR/NEXT loop!" Huddly said to his colleagues, but there were no answers).

The C64 screen first became black (but not too much), then became white (an exaggerated white), then orange, then something like bluish, then a vaguely magenta, then a poor water-greenish, then a bright bluish, then a faded yellow, then a weird brown, and then a light gray... well, all "pastel-like" colours, as it appeared with the "red"-orange first. Pig-Head felt shame at those colours, and tried to clear the shame behind high-sounding words: "I just Configured the Graphical Processor to test all the colors...". Trench-Morty looked at him as a fatigued cycle racing hero facing the last hill before coming in first.

"Yeah, but I still don't understand those weird numbers, and those strange characters... weren't you saying, a minute ago, that those characters are needed for graphics?". Pig-Head, almost exhausted, tried again a rash action: "yes, but that is a Great Peculiarity of the Commodore 64: every Commodore command can be shortened in two letters, the first letter and then the Graphical Shift of the second letter... then, those numbers...", and typed in something like "S|64738") said: "...are the System Addresses to program the available peripherals and Numerous Coprocessors..."

When the spectrumists saw "S|64738", they had a great disgust, while Trench-Morty and Nyak-Nyak rolled their eyes (Trench-Morty restraining his tears of joy, Nyak-Nyak restraining some coarse words). But, before they could say anything, the «64» screen shrinked a bit, wiping out the leftmost and rightmost columns, and a few seconds later the screen began normal again, with the fateful message "COMMODORE 64 BASIC V2 64K RAM SYSTEM...".

"Well, I got fed up with resetting the colours, so I reseted the computer", said a haughty Pig-Head. "But, er... does one need to know all those weird numbers to program the C-64?", an ingenuous remark came from Nyak-Nyak. "Obviously", the commodorian chorus answered, and Pig-Head carefully added: "every computer has its own magic numbers, one just needs to get accustomed to. For example, I know all of them, I've got a good memory for Commodore numbers...". Trench-Morty admired him, while thinking: "Uh, I would like to be as clever and smart as him..."

"Well, nothing like than the automatic syntax checking, a peculiar feature of Sinclair computers, quite unique... we can use every Basic command pressing a single key, without syntax errors and we have lots of simple and efficient graphics commands that...": Itchy couldn't end his speech, the intercom was loudly ringing.

It was Bulldog, he finally got there; he was invited to come in. After answering on the intercom, the judge sentenced for the third time: "Well, this is the third time I must score for the Spectrum, sorry! Maybe the Commodore 64 is powerful as you say, but the colors are indeed quite washed out. The colour clash on the Spectrum is a serious issue, but what we saw till now (mixing graphics and text and even the program listing, and simple graphics commands, and real colours) it's surely a nice thing. Well, the final scoring is seven out of ten".

Huddly jumped up to except for the stingyness evidence of the judge, but before he could open his mouth there was the happiness explosion of Itchy. The commodorian people flied off the handle, and Trench-Morty came to their defence and said: "but the powerful graphics of the Commodore 64 is Well Known, and we did not yet see everything of it, and then if only we let them show some of the software they have...". He was rewarded a black look by his brother, meaning "don't interfere" and "your words cause me a lot of harm".

In honour of Bulldog, there was a little break with an additional round of orange juice and biscuits, and a military gesture of Nyak-Nyak signalled the outbreak of hostilities. "Well", he said, "let's examine now the... speed".

The orange juice wasn't sufficient to appease the commodorian's anger, now in exponential growth. They were ready to come to blows, if they had at least a minimal chance to not to get a smacking by the rough Itchy.

Silly-Ass and Fat-Boy didn't have the nerve to fight again, so the word was to their champion. "Yes, the speed: the «64» has some characteristics that make it Very Powerful - I'm talking about its Zero Page and its Fast Instructions for memory handling. The «64» also has an indeed large bunch of Special Registers that allow the exploitation of all the Potentialities of its hardware...". Pig-Head felt himself preaching, but couldn't stop talking. From his sounding words, he expected some sort of inspiration, an hobgoblin suggesting the Final Strategy appearing only after an adequate pro-«64» sermon. He didn't even become aware of the judge nervously drumming his fingers on his knee, and only stopped when the judge ordered him to cut to the point, moving two fingers like scissors.

"Well, let's write a program performing some calculations, and let's time execution times!", finally said Pig-Head. He remembered he read somewhere that floating point math routines of the Spectrum were old and slow, in respect to C-64 ones. But he also remembered that there was something about math - he didn't figure out what - that made the Spectrum more powerful than the «64», so he thought he was in a sort of mined field.

"If he talked about zero-page and fast instructions, why don't we try to write something in assembler language?", Itchy riskly said, and went into raptures over the judge accepting: "Why not? At last we will see some concrete examples, better than Basic". Nyak-Nyak worked as firmware programmer and filled entire blocknotes with clock cycles timings and calculations, and was very proud of his work when he was able to save even a single clock cycle on a long routine.

"I have here an assembler compiler actually very powerful, I only have to rewind the tape and..." said Fat-Boy, but the judge was of a different opinion: "Let me see what are you able to do with paper planning! After all it isn't enough to have a powerful machine, you also have to be able to use all of its power".
He implicitly moved the competition on a personal basis! This was exactly what the sixtyfourers wished, so they could in only one hit recover their bad scoring of the other test. "I suggest something to test", said Nyak-Nyak, "what about counting up to sixteen millions?". Everyone was staring at him as if he was their soccer hero scoring another goal for their favourite team. His brother Trench-Morty, still looking at him, couldn't stay there without considering the miracles he would have been able to do if he would get a C-64. "I'll explain better: you only have to increment a counter until it will overflow 24 bits. That's all. All increments will have to happen in memory locations, say, at the hexadecimal address «$8000». How many clock cycles does it take to you to achieve this result?".

The assembler experts, Pig-Head and Itchy, started working, and the other waiting as just fans.

Using paper and pencil, they wrote their most feracious assembler routines, things never seen before! The timeout for this test was raised from five to ten minutes, but the sixtyfourer gave out his good routine in something more than two minutes, while the spectrumist needed almost three minutes. When they were showing the papers, the puffed up and arrogant sixtyfourer was already ready to count his chickens before they were hatched, because of his solution, unbeatable from every point of view. The routine were accurately copied in memory using the POKE instructions (a simple assembler programming error could hang the machine), some bytes above the address $8000 of the Sinclair and Commodore computers.

A first test, inserting a value of 250 in the three memory locations, showed the routines were correctly written. Those values, quite near to the "24 bit overflow", showed in a fraction of second to be updated to zero at the end of the test, confirming that the routines did exactly what they were intended for. But the sinclairist people already were sniggering at the commodorians, because the same test seemed to perform faster on the Spectrum.

After another check, the three bytes were zeroed again on the two machines, and Nyak-Nyak started timing them, first on the «64» and then on the Spectrum, having the most attentive audience you have ever seen.

Z80 version6510 version

   DI            ; 4 clocks    F3
   LD HL, $8002  ; 10          21 02 80
a: DEC HL        ; 6           2B
b: DEC HL        ; 6           2B
c: INC (HL)      ; 11          34
   JR NZ, c      ; 7/12        20 FD
   INC HL        ; 6           23
   INC (HL)      ; 11          34
   JR NZ, b      ; 7/12        20 F8
   INC HL        ; 6           23
   INC (HL)      ; 11          34
   JR NZ, a      ; 7/12        20 F3
   EI            ; 4           FB
   RET           ; 10          C9


   CLI           ; 2 cycles    58
a: INC $8000     ; 6           EE 00 80
   BNE a         ; 2/3         D0 FB
   INC $8001     ; 6           EE 01 80
   BNE a         ; 2/3         D0 F6
   INC $8002     ; 6           EE 02 80
   BNE a         ; 2/3         D0 F1
   SEI           ; 2           78
   RTS           ; 6           60
The routine is 19 bytes - suffering from absence of direct memory handling instructions (except loading values from/to memory), thus needing a 16-bit pointer.

The initialization requires 26 clock cycles; the inner cycle, using 255 increments and 255 actual jumps, plus an increment and a won't-jump instruction, requires 5883 cycles. The outer cycle, again, completes 255 times, and when gives out control to the main cycle there will be a total of 1514997 clock cycles used. The main cycle uses thus 387.848.221 cycles that, at 3.5 MHz processor speed, means a bit less than 111 seconds.

The routine could be even better if you change the two DEC HL and INC HL respectively in DEC L ed INC L (saving two T-states, no code size saving) because the value of the H register won't change till the end (but in those days the autor of that routine didn't know).

At a cost of only three bytes, the relative jumps could be changed to absolute jumps (JR becomes JP - 10 cycles if the jump happens, 3 if not), completing everything in less than 101 seconds.

The routine is 15 bytes only and is quite simple and clean, thanks to the absolute memory addressing modes to increment data directly "on site". To maximize its speed, the entire routine was placed in a single 256-bytes page (this is needed to avoid the BNE slowdown); the routine cannot be optimized more than that.
The inner cycle does 255 increments and jumps, plus an increment and a missed jump (2303 cycles total); the outer costs 255 times the inner cycle plus an increment and a missed jump (that is, 591871 cycles), and this happens also for the main cycle. Adding the CLI/SEI/RTS cycles, we get a total 151,521,289 cycles total, that's less than half of the Z80 cycles (if we assume the same clock). BUT, since this 6510 was clocked at 0.98 MHz only (982 kilohertz! it was the Commodore 64 "European version"; the US version was slightly faster: 1020 KHz), the above routine will require almost 155 seconds to complete!

Well, even in the most unfavourable case for the Z80 (which doesn't have all those fast "direct memory" instructions), the slower clock of the 6510 makes the Spectrum beat the C64!!

"That's impossible, it's nothing but a fraud!" shouted an angry Pig-Head, and also the other commodorian and Trench-Morty (now clearly a C64 fan) shouted. "It was you that wrote the routine; the routines are so simple that we didn't even need an assembler program, and anyways we timed it on the C-64 that you took here (and we all know it has a slower clock than the Spectrum)", the judge said. Pig-Head threatened his retirement from the duel, he said that the jury panel was "sinclairist" with much evidence, that the spectrumist people cheated in their memory locations, he even said that a shorter program must necessarily end before a longer program... The other commodorian were angry as well. Even an announce of extra orange juice and biscuits was sufficient to calm down everyone. The spectrumists were too busy at laughing at them (and at enjoying while talking about the match on-going to the last coming in) to do anything.

"We are on the fourth test, and the Spectrum wins this time too, scoring 8 out of 10 only because the routine was lenghty and somewhat complex to understand at a first glance, anyways verifiable also from a no-Z80-experienced guy", Nyak-Nyak sentenced. "But, no, it's impossible! The superiority of the «64» is known, everywhere, well known..." Pig-Head shouted; "...and, also, look at the keyboard - what a keyboard! the keyboard of the «64» is one of its best aspects, a Very Professional keyboard, with True Keys, not a keyboard with those ugly rectangular-shaped rubber keys...", Fat-Boy desperately said.

The judge, while being conscious that it wasn't their turn, decided to accept the posed question to calm down them, and said: "Yes, it's true; let's test the keyboards". Suddenly the syxtyfourers rejoiced, as if they wiped out all the preceding bad figures. "But", the judge said, "you shouldn't only talk about them, it isn't enough, you have to prove what you said... We need a test: what test?". Commodorian people weren't able to do anything but saying that the superiority was the first evidence, that tests were useless, that the Commodore 64 keyboard was more comfortable of the Spectrum one... In the middle of this irritating meeting, Nyak-Nyak took out one of their rare good expressions ("if we have to type some long text") and then stopped them saying: "Let's use the keyboard to write down the first three verses of the first canticle of the Divina Commedia of Dante Alighieri; let's see which of the two computers is more comfortable".

Again, Pig-Head didn't smell any rat, and willingly accepted the test, because it seemed very easy to win. "Ha, ha, ha! on the Spectrum they can write only in the two input lines below the screen, while we can enter input from any point of the screen, by only moving the cursors!", Silly-Ass added. Predictable long-endurance bad-mouthing and shouting between the commodorians and sinclairists. Finally the judge was able to stop them, get silence again, and said: "write a program that simply asks for three sentences, and then print them on the screen. A few seconds again, they all were ready. On the Sinclair Zx Spectrum screen this program appeared:
10 INPUT a$'b$'c$
20 PRINT a$'b$'c$

This was the program entered on the Commodore 64
10I/A$;I/B$:I/C$
20?A$:?B$:?C$

But, as soon as Pig-Head entered the RUN command, he surprisingly got this message:
?TYPE MISMATCH  ERROR IN 10
this caused his two colleagues to attack him - they were worried about their best champion doing such an error. On the two lines of code there were apparently no errors... "That is, «I» «shift-N», that is INPUT, yes, it's correct, yes...". As a precautionary measure, he typed LIST and found that they weren't text INPUT commands, but INPUT# file commands, and he soon moved the cursor to erase those undesired «#» characters, while starting another sermon to cover up the bad figure - he gravely commented: "another Superior Feature of the C-64 is the file handling, directly from Basic commands, for every peripheral, with easy to use commands...", but everyone was looking at him while chasing the «#» which surprisingly came out.

"Well, are you ready? Start your programs now!". They entered RUN on their computers, but the error "TYPE MISMATCH..." appeared again on the C-64 - the error was actually corrected, but Pig-Head forgot to press the Return key to update the code line. He moved the cursor there again and violently pressed (almost hurting himself) the Return key. A question mark appeared on the screen. "Huh, what's that?", Nyak-Nyak asked - he only saw a flashing cursor between double-quotes on the Spectrum screen, obviously claiming some text input, but here on the «64» it wasn't obvious as well - he just didn't understand why that question mark appeared.

The commodorian people answered flooding him with lots of explainations, but stopped one each other at least twice, until their expert Pig-Head prophetized: "The Question Mark means lots of different functions on the Commodore machine: it's a nice shortcut for entering the PRINT command, and means an INPUT request as well - while in program running time; and, also, there do exist lots of programs which ask for input without it, and colored input, and..."

This time Nyak-Nyak was rude: "shut up, stop with chit-chatting! this is a match, not an advertisement campaign! Well, do write now on your computers: capitals, «Midway upon the journey of our life», comma, next line".

On the Spectrum screen the verse correctly appeared soon, and it even seemed that Itchy ended typing before Pig-Head (including the correction of a wrong «j» in the word «journey»). After he pressed his Enter key, a couple of double-quotes (with a flashing cursor between) appeared again.

On the «64» everything was in capitals, and there even was a typo ("OFOUR" instead of "OF OUR"), which Pig-Head soon ran to correct, and finally pressed the Return key. And... panic! Even the spectrumist people were a little embarassed (they didn't understand if they could laugh without getting smacked!): on the C-64 screen, in those ugly colors, they all could see:
RUN
? MIDWAY UPON THE JOURNEY OF OUR LIFE,

?SYNTAX  ERROR IN 10
READY.

The judge let himself yawning for a while, while Pig-Head in a sweat cursed that unpredictable "syntax error" and gave again the LIST command. He found that the separator after the first INPUT command was a «;» instead of a «:» and he didn't notice it before because that «;» touched the «P» of the «PRINT» in the following listing line!

"Well, did you correct it? Let's start again. But -wait- you shouldn't write it in all-capitals!". The sixtyfourers panicked. And now how do we get lower-case letters? Quick, get the manual, yes, search there, no, oops, the keyboard, er... the chargen, no, that's yes... no, press this, press the Commodore key, no... And after some casual (and crazy) key combinations, suddenly all the screen letters became lower-case. It seemed that the method of trying-without-any-logic was quite common between commodorian fans, some sort of pacifically accepted standard in the Commodore world, but Nyak-Nyak decided to not to investigate about it. A paranoid Pig-Head gave again the LIST command to be definitely sure about the absence of other errors, and the listing came out in... all lower-case letters! The spectrumists just can't laugh anymore because of the facial muscles pain!

Pig-Head entered the "run" command and the question mark appeared again. "Well, do write. Capitals, «Midway upon the journey of our life», comma, new line". The two typers were showing the same speed, even if the spectrumist fan seemed to feel less keyboard comfort. "«I found myself within a forest dark», new line, «for the straightforward...» ...but what's that, what does mean that?", Nyak-Nyak asked. On the «64» screen, in fact, there was:
run
? Midway upon the journey of our life,
?extra ignored
? I found myself wi

"No, it's just normal", Silly-Ass tried to minimize; "it's just normal", Fat-Boy repeated without knowing what that message did actually mean (but he was a fan, and a fan must obey to his duty); "yes, it's normal, because the text ended with a comma, so the «64» was expecting an extra string, but it wasn't there... anyways, the first string was accepted, yes...", said Pig-Head. The judge just cut out: "let's go on! «I found myself within a forest dark», comma, new line, «For the straightforward pathway had been lost», full stop".

After the spectrumist guy pressed the last Enter key, the three verses disappeared from the lower part of the screen and correctly appeared on the top of a cleared screen. No errors.

Also on the «64» there were no typing errors, but the three lines appeared soon after the rows beginning with a question mark. And then, after and empty line, there was the usual "ready." message, this time in lowercase letters.

The judge finally pronounced his sentenced, showing that he decided it before seeing the results: "the keyboard of the «64» is actually better...", and soon the commodorian exploded in a full joy, standing up and collecting awards in an imaginary stadium full of standing fans in great ovation, while Nyak-Nyak quietly continued: "...it's easy to type in... I cannot give out full scoring because of the upper/lower case embarassment (and I want to forget the question of error corrections and syntax errors in the listing)... the upper/lower case question is not that good for a «professional» computer; anyways, Commodore wins this round and scores seven out of ten...". But commodorian people didn't hear (or actually pretended to).

Itchy and Huddly didn't want to pipe up; anyways, they won four rounds while the commodorian team was only on its first hit, and it was clearly visible to everyone that the judge decides as so only for overindulgence. But Bulldog didn't hold out against the tentation and observed: "how can they win and score so much if Spectrum and Commodore ended typing at the same time?".

"Stop, stop, shut up everyone!" shouted the judge - how useless: they were again all standing and shouting and bad-mouthing each other. "Let's try some software!", he said, and surprisingly got the desired effect. "We'll definitely beat them", Pig-Head confidently said, "I took here some phenomenal stuff!".

Nyak-Nyak finally said: "well, let's try a game, only one; if you took here more than one game, then choose the best where you can show some graphics, speed and sound, and best playability - obvious!". Also for this test he had already decided that the «64» was the winner, because he felt that they would start a brawl if only the commodorian pride was hit again.

Silly-Ass, without asking anything to his colleagues, announced pompously: "well, we are now ready for... Mario Bros!", but he was stopped by Pig-Head: "one moment, please, we didn't decide yet, all together, what about...". Silly-Ass roared against him: "but... but, hey, it's the greatest C64 game, nice, famous, great graphics, great speed, with even Italian names for the characters..." (he actually liked, before all, his name on the screen while playing, and those little turtles, running about here and there on the pipes, and nothing more). Pig-Head said: "well, we must choose all together... I just happen to have here Match Point, which is surely one of the best games ever seen, and it's a sports game...". Fat-Boy: "yes, great, but, er, well... wasn't it better having some nice minutes with some airplane game? they, er, ehm, the most interesting games, which will strike everyone... I just have here Interdictor Pilot, something definitely superb...". Pig-Head: "uhm, no... I once saw one of their flight simulators, well done, yes, but our simulator is better, but we shouldn't compare them, we have now to show the Great Superiority of the «64»...". Silly-Ass: "Well, ain't it good even ManCopter? That's a pretty one". Pig-Head: "no, no, they also have «platform» games, which require low processing power; it's better to show Match Point...!". And, closing immediately every proposal, announced, roaring: "Your Honor, we decided to show Match Point!". The other commodorian approved - but not in an extreme conviction. The sinclairists people came with only a game: Atic Atac, original version, a nice shiny musicassette.

"Woah, look at them: they took a cassette only! Ha, ha, ha!", Fat-Boy said. "And they even bought it! Ha, ha, ha!", Pig-Head added. And soon Silly-Ass started shouting and laughing (even if neither he, nor Fat-Boy, had anything other than the Commodore Datassette - the 1541 was simply too pricey for them, and the one there was Pig-Head's one). "Before coming here, we had already decided to show Atic Atac", Itchy said. Bulldog, somewhat scared, looked at him and said, almost whispering: "but that's an old game, dated two years ago!". Itchy, ironically: "and... why not? did you take here something newer?". Huddly said: "stop with it; it's the only thing we took here, we had to follow the rules - only one game - so we don't have now any need to discuss".

"Well, we chose this game because it uses the all of Spectrum memory and features; it's a bit old, it's dated 1983, but...". Itchy wanted to forestall any incident because he knew that commodorian guys took there some "excellent" new software, and even if they were arrogant and presumptuous, he feared the «64» was going to demonstrate something stunning. His short speech gave instead (and again) some other chanche to laugh again at Spectrum people: "Ha, ha, ha! an old game, as old as the hills! we get New and Powerful Games from U.S.A. every now and then! American Stuff, no silly things!". "Woah, «America» here, «America» there, and you aren't even able to write a small Basic program!". "Noooo! The «64» has lots and lots of Very Powerful Programs by highly skilled American Programmers...". "Well, then, do go in the USA, maybe there you will learn some simple programming!". "And you... #$@%&!!!"

Nyak-Nyak was ready to explode, he couldn't stand anymore this "match" which was changing from computers to insults. He turned to Itchy and said: "Stop you all! Let's start; do load the program, you have only five minutes for it; in the meantime, you also, do load the game on the «64»". But the commodorian people started out a new slogan quarrel: "Ha, ha, ha! we here have Diskettes, we can also have a coffee break before starting load, and we will surely finish before them!" said Silly-Ass, getting an almost unhoped hurrah by his colleagues, who were - at least this time - sincerely happy in praising one of his bragging.

"No, stop! You all will start now, in the same moment, because I want to know the exact loading times and difference", the judge said. Trench-Morty had a half-ironic smile while looking at Nyak-Nyak, as if he was the prestigious Commodore 1541 disk drive. The judge ignored him, pointed his finger on the clock, as if he wanted to remember the exact clock hands position, and finally said: "start... now!".

Itchy unplugged the Spectrum power supply, then inserted the Kempston-compatible interface and plugged the joystick, and then plugged in the power supply again. No one noticed him because they all were looking at Pig-Head having some fun time with the Commodore floppy drive. The Spectrum rebooted, and a few seconds after Itchy typed in the LOAD "" command and started the tape.

On the Commodore 64 Pig-Head typed in the command LOAD"$",8 and inserted his diskette, and then pressed the Return key. In a few seconds he got his prophetic "READY.", and typed in a somewhat weird command (a capital L and a character resembling a quarter of a circle oriented towards left, which was indeed an abbreviation for the LIST command) and got on his TV screen:
0 "112 MATCH POINT  " 00 2A
151  "MATCH POINT KKK"  PRG
513 BLOCKS FREE.
READY.

"This is the diskette directory", Pig-Head said, starting his lecture, "and now I choose the program I want to load...". He moved the cursor on the "151" and overwrote some characters typing LOAD and then moved the cursor on the right, before "PRG", and typed a comma, an "8" and a few spaces to wipe out the rest of "PRG". He said: "This was needed to make the «64» understand I want to load from the disk unit. Oh, the «112» above just means that it's my 112nd diskette - it's just my numbering scheme, eh!". His two colleagues and Trench-Morty found themselves admiring him, without suspecting that he actually hadn't so many diskettes. Nyak-Nyak, instead, was not amazed because he used lots of disk units and had personally seen hundreds of diskettes.

On the Spectrum, after a few seconds flashing of the border, they all could see the loading screen, first in black and white forming by horizontal stripes. "Ha, ha, ha, black and white!", Fat-Boy laughed, but Pig-Head violently pulled him: after the black/white part was completed, the screen was quickly coloured, in a somewhat well-drawn graphics. Pig-Head displayed the start of his LOAD on the «64».

After almost three minutes from the first LOAD on the «64», the loading was complete. "Good, eh? It was a very lengthy program, a 151 blocks program, and we all know that a block contains 256 bytes, so it was covering almost all existing memory", a pedantic Pig-Head said. "Uh, speedy, yeah!", Fat-Boy and Silly-Ass said one to the other, "nice, good!", while a silent Trench-Morty said the same things using only his own eyes. In the meantime, while the load operation on the Spectrum was still running, Pig-Head started another professorial lecture: "Now, if I type in RUN then the program will start; but I first want you to see one other thing", and typed in the LIST command. An one-line listing appeared:
LIST

10 SYS2061
READY.

"Well, the Match Point program is a full Machine Language program, super-speedy, and this single Basic command that you see here, is only needed to start it... but, well, let's wait the slowloading Spectrum to complete, before starting it with RUN", he added with a happy smile: this time also he felt the victory was for Commodore team. The judge was silent, he didn't want to anticipate anything.

The Atic Atac loading ended in four minutes and a half, that is, a short time after the «C64». Its starting screen disappeared, and the graphics main menu appeared with some flashing options written in nice characters.

"Well, you all need to note", Huddly said with as much as wickedness as possible, "note that «64» loading time was something more than the a half of Spectrum loading time, and the Spectrum had only a common tape reader at lowest speed... The pricey Commodore disk drive didn't show a lightspeed performance, or was my Panasonic tape simply too fast?". An insult storm was raised again: this time Trench-Morty also was with Commodore squad, but Pig-Head and the judge understoond exactly what Huddly meant.

"Shut up! Don't say anything more! The «64» speed is superior!". "But the Spectrum Microdrive, as you all know, outperforms it! in 20 seconds loads 48 kilobytes and...". "No, the Spectrum is slow and the «64» is fast, and you all already verified it!" "But also the Spectrum has floppy drives available, and they are times faster than the Microdrives!". "No, you simply don't want to accept the «64» fast loading time, faster than your tape!". "Your Highly Priced disk drive, only half of the time?". "In the Commodore Italian manual we all read it's an Energetic Wedding of the most advanced technologies!" (Fat-Boy was kicked in the shins by Pig-Head: "Synergetic, you stupid beast, Synergetic Wedding, not Energetic!").

"Stop, shut up, stop you all!" Nyak-Nyak shouted. "Yes, it's true; a floppy drive should be faster than some minutes loading, I even expected more, because in my office I...". But the sixtyfourers counter-attacked insulting: "uh, no, you are a sinclairist and you don't want to admit, you have to be unbiassed and fair! you can't say the Spectrum tape is good, you simply can't!". Trench-Morty added: "yes, they're right, it's true!".

"Stop, stop again! I am the judge, I will decide everything at the end. Do start your game!". After some other protesting, finally Pig-Head entered the "RUN" command, and for some seconds weird coloured pixels appeared on the screen (as if the program crashed), but finally the main menu came out. Oops. There was "Tennis" written there on the TV screen, and not "Match Point" as the judge expected.

"Well, let us see something..." Nyak-Nyak said. "Wait, wait a few seconds, the automatic demo will start, and we will see it playing against himself!" Fat-Boy said (and he was almost to admit that he often loaded games like this for the pleasure of seeing the Commodore 64 playing alone, and looking at it almost for entire hours...). "Yes, let's wait, so you will see it by yourself", Pig-Head added, with a voice intended to flatter Fat-Boy and Nyak-Nyak.

"And we, here, can we here start, yeah?" Itchy impatiently asked. But when the judge looked at him to answer, some creak-creak sounds got off the TV set: the demo mode was started.

''...so we can see it playing against himself!'' (Commodore 64) "As you can see", Pig-Head thundered, "the audio special effects are absolutely superb", and moved up the TV-color voice setup to let them hear better that crack-crack ball sound. "Yes, we understand, but lower the voice level again", Nyak-Nyak said, bored more by the arrogance than by the sound level, and stopped only when the TV volume was decent again. "Yes, interesting, very interesting", he said, only to not to make angry again the sixtyfourers. And in fact, they just began again with the same slogans: "whoah, what Powerful Graphics! and what a spectacular effect!". "Do look the speed of the ball launch, and how it's a realistic sound!". "What if you were going to show some game with true music in its presentation, like Mario Bros?". "No, this is actually unbeatable, we all can see that the «64» is absolutely the best computer around!".

"Duh, why the graphic dots of the «64» are so weird and large? Here you can see that the Spectrum graphics resolution is bigger and better (the pixels here are perfectly squared!)... And, those «64» lines, there, those diagonal lines, they seem too much saw-cut... isn't your graphics resolution halved?", Itchy said.

Pig-Head ordered to shut up, and began his personal computer graphics lecture: "as you can see, the background is in full colour graphics, while the players were drawn using a few sprites, which is known as one of the Biggest Powerful Characteristics of the Commodore 64... The sprites are small high-definition images that can quickly move on the screen, independently of the 6510 processor, which only has to program sprite movements... The sprite are really great for games in which there are moving men, ships, any object moving on the screen, something that other computers can do only in a very slowly mode..."

He just had reported a famous article about sprites that he found in a Commodore-oriented magazine, in which the «64» was praised because its sprites were bigger than on some other sprite-enabled computers. "Thanks to the sprites, on the «64» anyone can easily program lots and lots games of any type and without any hassle and...". He got interrupted by Nyak-Nyak, who was already annoyed by this neverending list of slogans. The judge said: "well, even without playing a game we can now say we understood what you mean".

No one of the commodorians added anything, because they didn't want to play a game and seeing the C64 beat them even on the easiest game, and they only wanted others to think that Match Point was a nice and playable game. In fact, they continued to throw out slogans about that "beautiful" game with "great" sounds and great "3-D" effects. Fat-Boy had a nice idea - "why don't we have a one-to-one match? then we...".

But the judge was already on the Sinclair team: "you, don't you have a demo mode? no? well, let me see some playing, one minute, one minute only, not more!". So all got now paying attention to Itchy. He pressed a key and the game started, and moving the joystick he ran in lots of rooms of the Atic Atac castle - duh, how fast was the game! Little colored monsters appeared here and there in every moment, sound effects came out nicely from the Spectrum keyboard (near his fingers, so they were even nicer), and that small magician was spreading his spells against monsters and ghosts, and all things were continuously closing, bouncing, opening...

''...this old Spectrum game!'' Atic Atac (Zx Spectrum) After a few seconds, Huddly sarcastically said: "As you can see, this is a slow computer, which has no sprite features, without any Powerful Graphics System, running now an old software dated back to 1983, which was written by some programmer who wasn't a True American Programmer...". No one did comment out it - the game was there, and it just answered to every possible question about the Spectrum. Itchy added: "don't tell me you didn't ever heard about this old Spectrum game!".

The judge came out to stop them before something bad could happen: "Let's try the utility program and later, later, we will decide about everything!". Catched by surprise, no one wanted to complain, and Pig-Head immediately wanted to show his best ace, and pompously said: "well, we will now show an American Software for family budget estimation, which is a very powerful and complex program that...".

"American?" shouted a furious Itchy, but he couldn't add anything other. The ingenious intuition was Huddly's one: "...so you will calculate expenses and taxes in U.S. Dollars instead of Italian Lira?". Even Bulldog, unsure of himself, tried to add: "and mom and dad must know English to use it, mustn't them?".

Getting immediately rid of his self-control, Pig-Head decided to answer to Bulldog only, and with a wild shout said: "today everyone knows English language!", but this provoked big laughs from his own fans, who said: "but you had a huge «D» in English!!", "and you were also lucky because you performed even worse, at school!".

Pig-Head was ready to do something bad, but Itchy voice suddenly interrupted them to announce: "er, we here took a software for «Totocalcio» football pools...", and instantly he got attention by everyone. Yes, football is national sport here in Italy, and they all (except Huddly) were football fans and football pools fans. The Sunday afternoon was the weekly football moment, for watching football on the radio first and TV later. Huddly tried to say something like "well, I was the one which copied this Italian software listing from a magazine", but stopped before "Italian", and soon added "...well, I will now show it to you".

He unplugged the power supply cable and plugged it again, and the commodorian people started laughing again - more histerical than simple laughs - and Trench-Morty said: "uh, the Spectrum doesn't even have a reset button, eh?", and a new series of laughs and insults started: "yeeeeech!", "what a rubbish!", "get rid of it!", "not a serious computer!".

But the judge, hearing the magic «Totocalcio» word, definitely became a Sinclair fan. They all followed the short minute of program loading, then the program started and draw on the screen a green football field with the program menu options on it (some amazed commodorian guy even said "oooh!"). The software asked: "current day?". Huddly keyed something and the football schedule of the day after magically appeared on the screen!

"Wait a moment! We also have some Unbeatable Softwares for «Totocalcio»...", Silly-Ass said, but Pig-Head kicked him in the shins adding: "...but today we will show some Professional Budgeting Software...". It was Saturday, the «Totocalcio»-day, and that evening was the football pools coupon compilation event, and they all were planning their own strategies to win, and, again, the day after was the match day, and...
...and on that pestiferous Spectrum screen there was the exact football schedule!

"That's not everything - have a look now". He pressed a key, and the major league tables, with scores and goals, appeared on the screen. Silence. Huddly, the only one who didn't actually like football, continued: "if I now press here, and then here, I can insert goals, and it will recalculate the score table and statistics... let's assume a goal of the Juventus against the Milan, here the result: 0-1...". The listing was updated. Silence. "Do you see this red column? If I insert here what I wrote on my football pools coupons, then I will get a winning percentage status about my coupons every time I update the scores, and even which were my best shots!". Silence. And it was even more interesting because all of the sixtyfourers, plus the judge and Trench-Morty, were all fan of the Juventus team.

"Great... excellent!" Fat-Boy whispered. "Surely something better does exist for the C64", Pig-Head said in an angry tone of voice. "Duh, then why don't you give it to me?", Silly-Ass reacted. "Yeah, nice! I want it too!", Fat-Boy said, still uncertain on why a humble Spectrum software could do everything he needed and wished.

"Well, I have only to say another thing... not only this program is Italian", Huddly said, marking every accent of his words, "but after I copied it from a listings magazine (it's 100% Spectrum Basic language), I eventually happened to modify it to add some feature (the coupons checking section)!". Other "ooh!" followed (self-control was almost disabled), and he continued: "Look now the update score table; Juventus score is now 22 points because I just inserted its goal (and so, its winning match)... and if I press here and write here «7», here are the results of the seventh turn of the first season... Atalanta-Napoli: 1-0; Avellino-Udinese: 4-1...".

A «question storm» suddenly started: "how does it understand which matches there will be tomorrow?". "We just type in the date, it loaded the schedule and the old results from the tape". "And what about coupon columns optimization?". "For this we need another software; here you just insert your columns (anyways we don't play lots of columns on a coupon, don't we?)". "And how do you update it when...?". "I just use the Zx Spectrum while watching the radio on the Sunday afternoon...".

Commodorian people surely had somewhere a somewhat similar program, yes, and they had an entire collection of software, yes, but they were highly amazed by that simple software, an Italian software they all could understand, with a football field in the background... it was clear, it was obvious that that software must absolutely exist also for the C64, yes, it was simply obvious that the «64» had something Very Powerful and Way Better than the Spectrum one, and they just didn't found it yet, or -maybe- they had forgotten that in their software collection there was already, yes, their collection, yes, their huge collection - every Commodore guy was proud of his Huge Software Collection, often spending a lot of time to know his exact count of games and utilities, and yes, that simple Spectrum Basic program was amazing them...

"Surely we will show quickly some software which will beat this stooopid Basic listing -hmm!- which was copied from a listings magazine -hmm!- and...", Pig-Head said, but Nyak-Nyak didn't hear, and he wasn't even able to catch attention of his fellows... With extreme pain, and a weird face, and a trembling eyebrow, he switched off his «64» and slowly began to unmount everything, shaked his head, hoping that his polemical nod was noticed at least by one of them... But they all were still looking at the Spectrum screen. "Help me now", he ordered to Fat-Boy, but the latter, without even turning his head, said: "wait a moment!", showing him his big hand.

Pig-Head placed everything in its own box, and the big keyboard in his personal bag, and was still doing as much noise as possible when the judge said to the spectrumers: "well, good, that's all for today... now we all know that today's match has ended". Trench-Morty was somewhat unpleased that the «64» was already secured in Pig-Head's bag (he had hoped for the entire day to have some minutes to play with it, to press some of its Professional Keys and to give in some Computer Science Commands in the Commodore System V2 and...). Pig-Head finally switched off the TV set on which the «64» was connected, wiping out some child cartoons which were broadcast in that moment.

The sinclairist guys also switched everything off, and that silence and those faces just made clear again their happiness for winning the match (and beating their adversaries hollow). Nyak-Nyak tried every possible trick to not to talk about the match, speaking instead of the football matches of the following day, saying that the Juventus would surely beat the Milan by at least two goals - or, er, at least three goals - and now it was almost time to go to call the other friends for the second most important moment of the week - the coupon compilation strategies discussions...

Also Fat-Boy and Silly-Ass, fan of the sacred coupon (here in Italy it was a common thing to see teen guys playing almost all of their weekly tip in football pools coupons), started talking how hardly the Juventus team was going to beat the Milan, as if they forgot everything of the Sinclair-vs.-Commodore match ended a few moments before. Pig-Head hadn't anymore the nerve to talk about Powerful computers.

They greeted all with indeed weird smiles, and the spectrumers didn't want to laugh at the commodorians anymore, having mercy on them, in the moment of the obvious victory on every test except one (and that one was, by highest evidence, a fraud, and there was even the commodorian auto-goal at the beginning, which was not counted...).

Nyak-Nyak and Trench-Morty greeted them, and no violence explosion happened (phew!), and Nyak-Nyak even thanked God about it - something rather unusual for a man who in the last fifteen years entered a church only for wedding. He even thought that sometimes he could pray, asking to some Famous Saint to avenge the Juventus of the insulting Verona team, who won against Juventus in the very beginning of the season...

Now the meaning of the life, for Trench-Morty, wasn't anymore to wipe out those infamous «D» in Latin and Italian: the only important thing, with highest priority, was to get a «64», even without a disk drive: he absolutely felt he had to enter the future, to start in this new world, entering the computer science world by buying the most sold computer in the world!


The end...

When far away from Nyak-Nyak house, Fat-Boy, Silly-Ass and Pig-Head started again to talk about Commodore 64. "No, nothing new to say: it's still the most powerful computer". "Yes, it has the fastest graphics, no doubt about this". "True; and, also, my cousin told me that there is an American Software which does something stunning, he read news on a magazine, I will ask him about this, as soon as he will get it...". "Yes, and let me also know, I want it also, yes". "The Commodore 64 sound system is unbeatable". "And also on games and utility software". "You're right, yes". "Yeah, true as well!".

Silly-Ass said good-bye and left them filling theirself with fervour while continuing that talk. "Tomorrow, oops, on Monday, at school, we will say to all that the «64» is the best computer in the world". Pig-Head, trying to seem as wise as possible, said: "no, no... we don't need to do, everyone knows, everywhere it's known, the «64» is unbeatable! Let's see, anyways, if Trench-Morty wants to buy it". "But he then will ask you to copy all your programs!". "Yes, but I won't have to copy everything! I will give him something decent, only to let him to start... and only if he becomes a true Commodore hacker, I will let him copy the Most Powerful Programs!".

Yes, there were continuously rumors about those mysterious Most Powerful Programs for the Commodore 64, sometimes fabulous like "doubling graphics capabilities and processing speed up to render unusable games"... But, fabulous or not, all commodorian guys paid maximum attention, because rumors came from different sources. Those programs were wanted by every true Commodore 64 owner, and Silly-Ass and Fat-Boy also wished to have them, and firmly believed in their existence because they saw that using some Most Powerful Programs they were able to load from the Datassette tape in a few minutes a long program!

They, anyways, couldn't convince Pig-Head to give out them. They even publicly dared doubting about their existence, but, to be exact, they were tempted to dare every time Pig-Head told them he couldn't copy out those Most Powerful Programs...

The day after, the radio announced the final score: Milan beats Juventus by 3-2!


...and the epilogue.

Twenty years after, Huddly e Pig-Head found themselves in the Linate airport. So many years since they didn't meet again! Sometime, four or five years before, they e-mailed about digital cameras, and promised that as soon as possible to go for a Neapolitan pizza, as in the old times... and nothing followed. "What are you doing here?!?" "Well, a surgeon just operated my uncle, here in Milan... and you?"

The two friends talked for some minutes about graphics cards, football, palmtops, women, feeling like soldiers meeting years after a large campaign, even calmed down about comparing Windows and Linux - every sane man knows now that Linux is better.

"Uh, and that time, you broke my brand new pencil?". "It was you that started, you deserved it...". "Duh, I only threw your book out of the window; in my life, I rarely had more fun". "You surely had great fun when a minute later I got the biggest E in Italian literature!". "Yeah, but you were an expert on that!". They laughed for some time. "Yes, I even happened to swear that I will finally avenge, yeah...". But now laughing at those events wasn't anymore risky.

In a few minutes they were to say good-bye, maybe promising theirselves to keep in touch using email, and maybe also for that gorgeous Neapolitan pizza, as in the old times when they were at university, Pig-Head was studying mechanics engineering and Huddly studying computer science, and they sometimes spent hours talking about operating systems, cryptography, passwords, protocols, internet (when internet was not on TV, and so was only known by university gurus)...

It was also since high school times they didn't use anymore those inglorious nicknames like "Pig-Head" and "Huddly", maybe they didn't even remember them.

But there was a tiny unexpected event. A fat old man, walking near them, was talking on the cellular phone with someone, and was dictating a phone number that the other guy didn't seem to understand at first. "Sixtyfour-sixtyfour! Yeah! Yeah! I said it, twice! Sixtyfour!".

Huddly turned towards Pig-Head and wickedly said: "duh, those brown meat-balls, slow like a snail?". Pig-Head immediately understood and, perfidiously asked: "and you? that dirty dented black box?".

"You were proud of RAM memory that wasn't actually there!". "No, it was you that had only 48 kilobytes!". "Yours was a slowcoach!". "Your keyboard was ridicolous!". "You lived by slogans and advertisements!". "You simply had the poor man's computer!". "The Spectrum was the best above all, and today there are still lots of people producing and using it!". "The «64» did never die, in fact American people...". "Duh, these «Americans» again! You simply didn't know how to use it!". "Everyone knew that the «64» was the most powerful!". "Eh? Powerful a processor running at less than a single megahertz?". "It had lots of coprocessors!". "You commodorian felt expert hackers only because you bought the most TV-advertised computer!".

Some people began looking at them, believing they now were ready to fight, but Pig-Head tried to escape: "Well, we need to talk about it again, I must go now", and the other soon answered "good-bye!", happy to close immediately the discussion, and they quickly walked in opposite directions.

"Hm! Commodorian still believe in fairy tales", Huddly thought, "they won't ever understand... that's the undying Commodore superstition! They still want to deny the most clear evidence, even after seeing with their own eyes!".

"The Commodore 64 was, is, and will always be the Best", Pig-Head said to himself, almost moving his mouth, as if he was showing it to someone: "the graphics was the best, the sound was the best, the speed was absolutely the best. Unbeatable, true!", he said to himself, and didn't notice the panel announcing a delay of an hour for his flight.


Post scriptum. After publishing this page in Italian I got lots of comments, and I placed them in this comments page about Zx Spectrum and Commodore 64.

Comments, links, corrections are always welcome. And yes, for those of you that may be asking:


A Spectrum comment from the Home Computer Course (UK, 1983)

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