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Loading a game on the C64

for the absolute beginner.

0. Introduction

A game on the C64 is nothing more than a program (with some subprograms maybe), it is just more fun to use a program when it is a game rather than a file system or a word processor. But I will write program and not game throughout this how-to just because it is more to the point and because demos are also programs and are at least as much fun as a good game.
This How-to is written for C64 Emulator users, but of course all the stuff mentioned here works on a real C64 too. When using an emulator you even have some advantages over the real hardware because the programmers of the emulator can include all these nice gadgets that only work in the simulation, like, for example writing a C64 program directly into the C64's memory without the need to wait for it to load from disc and being able to use it right from there, or such nice commands like insert disc and autostart or drag and drop functions for discimages.
If this functionality is present on your emulator and you can get it to work you probably won't have to read on, but in case you don't know what you are doing or you want to know how to talk to your C64 via the Basic inputs and make the CPU load a program then read on.

1. Loading from Disc

1.1 Insert Disc

To load a program from a C64 Floppy-Disc you need a Floppy Disc with a program on it in the first place. On the internet there are a lot of places where you can find *.D64 files, these files are a virtual image of a real C64 Floppy Disc. An explanation on how to create an image from a real disc is interesting too but way too much for this tutorial and doesn't belong here.
So for the rest of the how-to I assume you have a C64 emulator at hand, if not, what do you want here? Get one! I recommend VICE and Emu64. There are a lot more out there but I like these the best.
Now you need a disc image with a program on it that you can and want to load. In case you don't have this, I'll offer one here for testing purposes. Because my host here won't allow it I can't offer a game, but this is a demo which is openly accessible and the makes of the demo are happy that I spread it... probably.

discicon download demofile

This is the demo Unsigned from the Demogroup Byterapers, looks quite cool and I had it at hand while writing this =) So, now you are armed with everything you need. Because every emulator is different I will now explain in general. At first you have to insert the disc, the virtual image of a disc into the virtual floppy drive of your C64. Most emulators offer more than one drive, insert it into the drive with the number 8. This number is getting important soon.

1.2 Content

After the virtual disc image (from now on I'll just call it disc) is put into the (virtual) drive with number 8 we now want to know what is on the disc, so type the following into your C64:
and acknowledge with ENTER (or RETURN).
This looks like this now:
This loads the table of content of all the files that are on the disc in drive 8. If you had inserted the image into the drive with the number 9 you would have had to type ,9 at the end of the command to access the files. This is the address of the drive.
The table of contents is now loaded so type:
and acknowledge with Return.
Now the table of contents rolls down and shows you all the names of the different files on the disc.

1.3 Loading a Program

You could now retype one of the filenames but we are clever (and lazy) and just use the arrowkeys to move the flashing cursor to the start of the first line and overwrite the number there (this is the filesize in blocks) with LOAD. Then move the cursor behind the last quotation marks of the filename and there write ,8,1 and acknowledge with Return.
The C64 now loads this program from drive 8 into the memory of the C64. This can take longer depending on the filesize. Demos are packed good most of the time and load fast, old game and just plain huge files that are packed badly take longer to load. The C64 writes its output over the text that is already on the screen, but this should not bother us.
After the C64 tells us that everything worked out good by printing READY on screen we have to start it now. We do this by entering the command RUN.
The C64 doesn't like when you just write over the text already on screen, so you better move the cursor to the end of the text on screen and type it there.
Now wait a bit and then you can view how the pros demand the most from the C64 and magically make good entertainment happen with only 16 colors and a great soundchip.
For example the image above here has only 4 colors in it (one of them is black), but thanks to good (and heavily calculated) dithering it looks like a lot more.

Now you loaded your first program and started it up and even learned some more. With this basic BASIC knowledge you can continue reading here.

1.4 Loading faster

But now you don't want to check what's on the disc every single time, may it be that you already used the disc before or because you know that the startup program is always first in the list then you can start up right after inserting the disc.
For this you use the joker character, the asterix character *, so just type LOAD"*",8 and acknowledge with Return. This loads the first file in drive 8 when you just turned on the C64 or started the emulator (and inserted a disc of course). Then you just enter RUN, acknowledge with Return of course and there the C64 starts loading already. This is quite faster than the other method don't you think?
Please note, actually the command LOAD":*",8 loads the first file on a floppy disc in drive 8, LOAD"*",8 just loads the last program loaded recently. But in most cases the asterix without the colon is enough because you start the C64 up and want to get going. In this case nothing was loaded before and the C64 is such a nice guy and loads the first thing he finds on the disc, which is almost 100% of the time the program you want to load.

1.5 Loading by filename

Of course you can also load a file by its filename. To do so you should call up the table of content of all the files on the disc (see 1.2) and read up on what is present on the disc.
In this case for example we still want to load the first file on the floppy disc. We do this be typing the name and using the correct drive adderss, so type LOAD"UNSIGNED",8 and then acknowledge with return. After the program is loaded start it with RUN.

Of course you can use the joker, the asterix in this case. This character represents any number of characters. For example if you enter LOAD"UNS*",8 the C64 loads the first file that starts with UNS... on the disc. If you are really lazy LOAD"U*",8 will also do, or just use the already mentioned * to load the first file on the disc (see 1.4).

So why would you want to load files by their filename at all?
It can happen, but very rarely, that the first file on a floppy disc is no executable program but maybe a pile of data needed for the executable program or something similar. In this case you first load and then view the list of all files on the disc, and then load the first executable program with the PRG extension from the list. And in this case the first letter and * combo comes in handy.

1.6 Errors

In case you try to load a file that doesn't exist on the disc you can read a nice error message that is:


In this case the solution is to just load the correct file and correctly spell out the name of the file.

In case you address a drive that is not present or not attached to the C64 you can read the following error message:


In this case you have to address the correct drive, most of the cases this is drive 8.

That's it for now, now you can start up programs from a disc on your C64. Have fun and enjoy!
Soon I will also cover tape images here.

So long take a look at all the other C64 tutorials around selmiak's website or at some maps for C64 games!

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user comments:

1) Patrick Healy      (mail hidden)
wrote on: 2021-02-16 11:43:18

how do you press play on tape?


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