April 9, 2012 at 6:13 PM ET
Jack Tramiel, the man who helped to create the Commodore 64 and shaped the world of video games that we know today, passed away Sunday, reports Forbes. He was 83.
Tramiel was born to a Jewish family in Poland. In 1939, he and his family were sent to Auschwitz. Tramiel was rescued in 1945 by the U.S. Army, but not before his father perished. Not long after, he immigrated to the United States and joined the U.S. armed forces, where he learned to repair office equipment. Upon leaving the army, he set up a small business repairing typewriters in New York City. He later relocated to Toronto, Canada, to form a bigger operation, one that would eventually produce the Commodore 64.
Commodore International was formed in 1954, and produced calculators up until the late '70s. Convinced by an engineer that personal computers would be the next thing, Tramiel's company produced the Commodore PET, which was a huge hit for the educational market. But it's the Commodore 64, introduced in 1982, that Tramiel is best known for. It offered impressive sound and graphics for its time, and coupled with a $595 price tag, was an economical alternative to other 64K computers on the market.
The Commodore 64 was part of Tramiel's mantra of creating "computers for the masses, not the classes." The competition was stiff, including Atari and Apple, but the C64 would end up becoming one of the most successful computers of its day.
One quotient of the populace that warmly accepted the C64 were video game players and makers. After the home video game market crashed in the early '80s, the C64 stayed relevant with new games produced by major publishers or enthusiasts.
Due to an internal power struggle, Tramiel was ousted from the company that he founded in 1984. From there, he purchased what was left of Atari from Warner Communication, after a home-gaming market crash had greatly devalued the gaming brand. Once in charge of Atari, Tramiel released the Atari ST. The move was meant to combat the Amiga home computer, which his former company was launching at that time.
The Atari/Commodore rivalry raged for much of the '80s, a direct precursor to the Nintendo/Sega battles and Sony/Microsoft platform wars that have become the fabric of video games to this very day. Those who were around to play the games that the war produced have fond memories. While support for the Commodore diminished over the years, it is still recognized as an invaluable and beloved part of video game's heritage.
Gaming has become a cultural phenomenon, with artwork and various forms of music often dipping liberally into the past for inspiration. The look and feel that many Commodore 64 games embodied is part of this mix. A more specific example is the demoscene, in which contemporary artists create music videos using the same technical constraints that authors of the C64 during its heyday were forced to deal with.
Many games of today employ an 8-bit, retro vibe, and even though many of today's younger gamers may not know who Jack Tramiel is, his legacy lives on in every pixel and byte of sound produced to this very day.
-- via Forbes
Matthew Hawkins is an NYC-based game journalist who has also written for EGM, GameSetWatch, Gamasutra, Giant Robot and numerous others. He also self-publishes his own game culture zine, is part of Attract Mode, and co-hosts The Fangamer Podcast. You can keep tabs on him via Twitter, or his personal home-base, FORT90.com.