A celebration of C64 loading screens

David Braben
One half of the team that made Elite back in the early 80s. Braben is the founder and big boss of Frontier Developments, makers of the WiiWare's wonderful Lost Winds. Here he offers a little loading screen insight...

In the 8-bit days, loading screens were often one of those last minute things for game development, particularly as many games were written by programmers - most artists would sneer at our glorified pocket calculators. For some games (like the early versions of Elite) the loading screen was often the only large piece of 2D art included in the game - and these would be done by an artist at a publisher - who often weren't terribly familiar with the often horrible restrictions of computer art.

Above: The Elite loading screen from the C64 conversion

On some platforms (like the NES or Spectrum or C64), you could have different colours on the screen, but only a limited number could appear in any one character cell - and on some platforms you could sacrifice resolution for more colours - though getting an artist to work within such restrictions was surprisingly hard. I remember an artist once delivered a piece right at the last minute deadline, but had used five colours for a start-up screen rather than four because "it looked better that way".

Paul Docherty (aka Dokk)
An absolute master C64 artist. Docherty built up a reputation as a talented pixel pusher on Compunet - the Commodore's own mini-internet - and went on to make some of the machine's most memorable loading screens. After we tracked him down, Paul kindly picked out three of his loading screen favourites.

Bob Stevenson's loading screen for Druid blew my mind. I was already a fan of his work from Compunet, but this was something special (to me, at least) - the clean lines and simplicity of the execution paid a far greater tribute to the ad artwork that it was based on than the artwork deserved. Bob opened my eyes to the idea that the artist didn't need to slavishly reproduce but could interpret and refine... obvious now, but a real revelation to me at the time.

Robin Levy's loading screen for Armalyte was a shocker... His intense use of color and his intricate pixel-work invigorated the screen and made watching that single image for the duration a real pleasure. Robin has such a unique style, and this was my introduction to it. A classic.

Sheer myopia forces me to pick one of my own screens. The loading screen for English Software's Leviathan was the first screen I ever did. Clumsy, a bit crude, but the thrill of loading the finished game and seeing my work there was a huge moment for me. Got me hooked. Changed my life really...


  • 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:

Showing 1-20 of 32 comments

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