Jim Butterfield Remembers the VIC-20
- from an interview conducted by Rick Melick on October 27, 1996

jb.jpg (89723 bytes)>What was your relationship with Commodore, and how did you get to be such a VIC-20 guru?

I had no business relationship with Commodore, which freed me to tell of anything I discovered (Commodore itself was inhibited by nondisclosure agreements). But I found Commodore personnel to be very supportive and helpful when I had questions.

Before the VIC-20, I had performed a full disassembly and analysis of earlier Commodore machines (PET, 8032, etc.). Although the VIC-20 had new features, much of it was already familiar ground to me.

> What were some of the unique challenges to programming the VIC-20? How did you help people overcome them?

As compared to other Commodore machines? There were two: limited amount of RAM, and the fact that various configurations of the VIC-20 caused programs to load to varying addresses.

To handle these, I generally advocated two types of discipline: efficient coding that didn't waste memory, and an understanding of how other machines might differ from the one you had. "Efficient coding" is a point of view, of course: such techniques as leaving out the REM (remark) lines would be bad coding in other environments, where memory was not so limited.

> Does the VIC-20 hold a special place for you, or was it no more or no less significant than the computer sitting on your desk right now?

It was important in Commodore's time line, as the first color computer and the first that had a "game" image - such things as graphics, sound, joy-sticks and paddle interfaces were new to the Commodore product line.

And it attracted a whole new brand of users: not just game players, but people who hadn't been able to afford a home computer before.

The VIC-20 was the best machine for hooking up to a TV set, too. Its large "plump" letters were easy for kids to read, or even for displays intended for group viewing.

> Can you describe some of your educational experiences and other interests?

Before I was involved in microcomputers, I had spent some time in industrial training. My interests ranged from math to music. It was interesting to see the VIC-20 being the first popular bridge that linked computers to sound and sight .. in its own way, it was an early "multi media" machine.

> Did your work on the VIC-20 help you to get where you are today in your career? What are you doing these days?

My work on microcomputers was a sideline for some years (including the VIC-20 years). I'd written about microcomputers before, and have written about them since, of course. Although the VIC-20 is a fascinating piece of personal computer history, I don't see it as having a major impact on myself.

I'm semi-retired these days. I do a couple of columns for Commodore World magazine (published by CMD), so I'm still writing about the 8-bit environment.

-- Jim

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