Orphaned Computers & Game Systems

Vol. II, Issue 3    April 1998

I'd Still Be Waiting

A Tribute to Fast-Load Software

By Adam Trionfo

In 1983 or '84, I got my first computer: a Commodore 64. I was 12, and I'd saved money for just over a year to buy the main unit. My parents pitched in for a 13" Sanyo color TV, a 1541 disk drive and an 801 printer. I spent most of my free time with this setup until my 1541 died in 1989. Unfortunately, most of that free time was spent waiting for software to load. I have done a very precise calculation of all of the time I have spent waiting for various software to load with the 1541 and have come to this conclusion: It takes too long!

The Commodore disk drives are very slow. This is no secret. I have mentioned before that I think the Coleco Adam tape drives are equally as fast as, or perhaps even faster than, the poor old 1541. It was common knowledge during Commodore's heyday that something to make disk drive access faster was desperately needed. Programmers and companies took the initiative, and there finally emerged some software that did the trick.

In the mid-eighties, Epyx proudly announced a cartridge called FastLoad. It was supposed to make your files load five to seven times faster. Although reviews of this and similar products were outstanding, I never purchased or used any kind of fast-load cartridge. When I finally bought Epyx's gem about two years ago at a thrift store, it just went into a box, unused. Since then, I have found two other such cartridges. One is called Mach 128, released by Access (of Beach-Head and Raid Over Moscow fame), for use with both the 64 and the 128. The other, Warp Speed, was released by the same company that released Defender of the Crown, Cinemaware.

A few years ago, I discovered how fast Atari 8-bit disk drives were compared to the 1541; I was astonished. I surmise that it was for this reason that the 64 fell into temporary disfavor with me. In some ways, the 64 has an advantage over the Atari; but the slow speed of the 1541 was too much for me. The average loading time for a commercial game is about two minutes. It doesn't sound like a long time, right? Picture going through a pack of disks that you've bought at a thrift store. Maybe you've picked up twenty floppies. They contain an average of three games apiece. To load all of these games, one after the other, at an average loading time of two minutes per file, would take two hours! Of just loading! The time becomes unbearable when the lot turns out to hold maybe three games worth playing! It was an ever-increasing injury to my view of the 64.

Fast-forward to the present. I had been curious to see games that Chris made on the 64 using Garry Kitchen's GameMaker, an action game construction set released in the mid-eighties by Activision. He made me some disks containing copies of his games about a week or two ago, and I was impressed. Unfortunately, the games took forever to load! They each take up 192 disk blocks, since in order to make a game file independently loadable, GameMaker saves its whole chunk of allocated memory, no matter how much is actually used. Just one of these files took me two or three minutes to load. Finally, out of desperation, I pulled out my Epyx FastLoad cartridge, plugged it in, and loaded one of the games. I got the shock of my life! A game that would normally take two minutes to load now took about fifteen seconds! It breathed new life into the 64 for me!

At Chris's, we tested Mach 128 on his 64 -- same results! The things actually work! And all this time, we've been waiting more than playing!

I also have a C-128, which, with the 1571, loads far faster than the 64 with a 1541; but the FastLoad cartridge makes the latter combination a pleasure to use. Not only do files load faster, but the frustration is taken out of sorting through new finds -- something that should be fun anyway. Instead of saying, "I wasted two minutes waiting for THIS to load?" I can now say, "I wasted fifteen seconds for THIS?" All riiight! -- AT