A celebration of C64 loading screens

Loading. In the context of modern gaming it's a bit of a dirty word. No matter how cunningly it's disguised, nobody enjoys doing nothing while waiting for the next chunk of game to sort itself out. It's kind of strange, then, that so many gamers weaned from the 8-bit bosom remember the ceremonial act of loading with such genuine affection. But there's a damned good reason for that. The Commodore 64 loading screen.

Commodore 64 loading screens were/are ass-kicking old-school awesome. And they deserve to be celebrated without a hint of irony. Of course, we appreciate that the closest many of today's fashionable gamers have come to a C64 loading screen is Rockstar's own homage during the intro for GTA: Vice City...

So, first things first, clue yourself in to the C64 loading screen love with a little introduction and then enjoy reading some loading screen insight, memories and anecdotes from a selection of artists, coders and journalists from the glorious 'Commie' days.

C64 loading screens: A little introduction

Life accelerated in the 80s. MTV introduced mach-speed sugar-rush broadcasting. Styrofoam-packaged fast food was the supersonic staple diet of an entire generation. Fashion was a dangerous breakneck blur of neon absurdity. And then, arriving in 1982, there was the Commodore 64. A stylishly brown wedge that dared to defy the decade's obsession with high velocity lifestyle overdrive by being - as we lovingly remember it - a bit of a slow bastard.


In the early days, when it came to loading games the C64 was a tortoise. The vast majority of titles - in Europe, at least - were loaded from cassette tapes. At its most tedious this process could take the best part of an eternity. Or about 30 minutes in real-time. Even worse, if a game didn't load successfully at the first attempt, it was standard practice to simply rewind the tape, offer a prayer to the gods and try again. It sounds like a ritual reserved for the mentally challenged, but 8-bit gamers exhibited strong resolve and accepted that such hardships would have to be endured.

Then came 'fast loaders' - ingenious bits of code that made loading software up to five times faster. And, thanks to the way fast loaders worked, the C64 could now easily show a loading screen and play some music while the game continued to load in the background. It was a far more civilized way of doing things and what had once been nothing more than a necessary drudge became an integral part of Commodore 64 culture.

Above: As the loader for System 3's awesome The Last Ninja shows, loading sequences could have a screen (this one by Paul Docherty), killer music (by Ben Daglish), scrolling text and flashing stuff. Impressive

Much more than merely a way to make the wait before playing a game more bearable, the loading screen was a significant part of the experience as a whole. What better way to get gamers hyped for their latest software purchase than with a huge piece of beautiful 2D pixel art and some rousing music cranking out of the C64's SID sound chip?

The sprite-crushing imagery of these lo-fi teasers fuelled the imagination, giving a tantalizing prelude of what was to come when the tape stopped turning. A lovingly crafted loading screen was quality assurance. It was testament to a game maker's attention to detail and passion for their trade. It was the first impression that could sweet talk the subconscious way before any fire buttons were pressed.

C64 artists such as Bob Stevenson, Paul Docherty and Steve Thomson made some truly stunning loading screens. The incredibly primitive tools available to artists at the time make their pixel masterpieces even more impressive.

Above: We loved Thrust. And Bob Stevenson's load screen set the scene perfectly. Beautifully minimal, yet charged with a real feeling intrepid interstellar adventure

Above: You can almost hear the static crackle of lightning fizz from Paul Docherty's magical Druid II screen

Above: We don't know how long it took Steve Thomson to create such a convincing chrome look, but it was a real 'Holy shit!' moment when we first saw it. And it still looks absolutely nuts. Amazing

The accompanying music by hugely talented artists like Rob Hubbard and Martin Galway graced many C64 loading sequences and are regarded by many retro heads and chip tune enthusiasts to be some of the greatest 'computer' music ever composed.

Above: The Ocean Loader was used on most Ocean/Imagine games and rotated five different tunes. The first on the video is Ocean Loader 2 by Martin Galway and is probably one of the C64's most remembered tunes. The second is Ocean Loader 3 by Peter Clarke

So, that's a little introduction to the wonder of C64 loading screens. Next up, loading screen favourites and flashbacks direct from some of the people who were rocking it during the reign of the Commodore 64.

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  • secretsearcher - August 22, 2009 7:02 p.m.

    I just had to post this: reCaptcha" smooth-run aeneid I recently had to read the Aeneid for school. And it is NOT a smooth run.
  • LordSwearengen - August 19, 2009 12:52 p.m.

    Awesome article! Thanks for the quotes from te Zzap! crew - spent many an hour poring over their words back in the day. Still one of the greatest games mags ever. And those chrome elf things from Tetris (The first version of it I ever played) still look amazing.
  • FinalGamer - August 14, 2009 7:56 p.m.

    Awesome article guys, I love the music of the era of gaming before my time when I started on the NES. I got a whole CD of C64 music from Retro Gamer, which is when I started to love the stuff. Shadowfire is my fave.
  • secretsearcher - August 14, 2009 12:37 a.m.

    thanks, I will :D reCapthca: preach flowers because violence sucks.
  • stikmanrp - August 13, 2009 7:01 p.m.

    Now I feel not that hardcore that I never has a C64 and just an atari 2600 and intellivision.
  • secretsearcher - August 13, 2009 4:13 p.m.

    O.O I LOVED that acoustic song. I've never heard of the game, I only know about the C64 from reading another article on this website, and I'm not a big fan of acoustic guitar. But that BLEW me away!!! I've got to find a way to get that on my I-pod. A friend of mine who plays guitar would LOVE this song. Oh. And the rest of the article was cool too. I lost interest a little bit after hearing that acoustic song, because I liked it so much. But still, good article. reCaptcha: podium galland For some reason this phrase sounds like something you'd want to climb up onto the top of the empire state building and just shout to the heavens. PODIUM GALLAND!!!! see what I mean?
  • ssj4raditz - August 13, 2009 2:52 p.m.

    Holy crap, I LOVED Last Ninja! The nostalgia is almost overwhelming.
  • rxb - August 13, 2009 11:20 a.m.

    Ahh the old Amstrad CPC 464. Loading games from tapes and hoping they dont crash after 15 minutes. Worse thing was reloading the early levels of a game but having to reload the tape. Codemasters were the business in those days, and Dizzy was the main Egg.
  • Dameon Angell - August 13, 2009 6:31 a.m.

    Wow... I never knew about such a deep culture about something so simple. Really love the music, though. I got a ringtone idea already.
  • crumbdunky - August 13, 2009 3:34 a.m.

    Jeeez! That transported my aging butt right back to the days of mags with whole games in pages of code in them and godawful trainee programming mags like Basic! Thing is the first C64 loading screen I remember was from Manic Miner's sequel "Jet Set Willy" and thinking back to now long I must have spent watching that screen(no saves back then and as the games always crashed if the machine got warm-though unlike my Speccy the keys, at least, wouldn't melt!)forces me to consider just how much of my youth was stolen by listening/watching C64 games loading! It had no loading screen but I clearly remember The Hobbit taking nearly 45 mins to load!
  • lovinmyps3 - August 12, 2009 11:56 p.m.

    I guess you would have to have a C64 to really appreciate this article. I still liked it though.
  • peaceful765 - August 12, 2009 7:48 p.m.

    Enjoyed the article. Back in the day I was a Spectrum fan boy. Some of the things they did with loading "SCREEN$", even with the spectrums limitations, were mind blowing for the day (if not as colourful or tuneful as the C64). I can share the ethusiasm in this article. Seeing something new done with the hardware that was around then was exciting. Nowadays nothing seems to be as ground breaking or surprising as the past. Or maybe I am just looking back with rose tints on. I also agree that a good loading screen seemed to be sure sign of quality in the 80's, making your £1.99 or £2.99 puchase even more worthwhile.
  • Jacob816 - August 12, 2009 4:56 p.m.

    Not about the C64, but does anyone remember the loading screens on Fur Fighters (the PS2 version at least)? You were moving through a whole bunch of bubbles, and you could control your movement, and all the buttons played audio cues and loops, basically allowing you to DJ it up while loading.
  • majorasincarnation - August 12, 2009 3:46 p.m. the music reCAPTHCA: tswana 427/8 okay... Second reCAPTHCA (my internet crashed): 468 people
  • jakery22 - August 12, 2009 2:59 p.m.

    Why is it that nearly all the videos contain fast moving stuff. Flashing stuff. And techno type music. Or a mixture all of these? reCAPTHCA Opel Sheepshead. :L
  • Beerhaunter - August 12, 2009 2:50 p.m.

    One thing i do wonder is that how are you guys able to write so long articles but yet keep the interesting?
  • dugfinger - August 12, 2009 2:49 p.m.

    Good article. Takes me back. Oh, and FIRST!
  • wiigamer024 - August 18, 2009 4:39 p.m.

    Holy Sh*t! The sound? The graphics? Is this ALL 8-bit? It's... it's wonderful! *sniff sniff*
  • BrushieTundra - August 14, 2009 5:24 a.m.

    What doesn't the TI-994a ever get any love? Sure you had to load game via cartridge or cassette tape. Yeah the 5 1/4 inch drive was in a metal box the size of a VW. So what. I loved my Basic and Extended Basic cartridges. Tunnels of Doom kicked ass! Why the discrimination?
  • Matt Cundy - August 13, 2009 7:44 p.m.

    @secretsearcher You can download trv's acoustic Sanxion loader from here: