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As you might have gathered from my last blog entry, I'm an old man a Commodore 64 devotee. My appreciation for the first system I ever owned manifests itself in various ways, like my on-indefinite-hiatus series devoted to the amazing SID sound chip, or writing love letters to cherished C64 games. One of my favourite things to do, however, is doodle pictures via the inbuilt character set, PETSCII.

The PETSCII character set in full.
The PETSCII character set in full.

As a designer, part of the reason I like making things in this format is that it forces you to create within a fairly strict set of parameters, something I always enjoy. The limited character set, colours and screen dimensions of the C64 can lead to some interesting (and at times anguishing) decisions about which character to use. The above image, inspired by the aces new season of Rick and Morty, had some easy choices (the nose, the body) and some more difficult ones (the eyes, teeth, and bones).

When I was a wee lad in the 80s, making things in PETSCII on an actual C64 was a pretty time-consuming process. I'd have to move the cursor with the cursor keys (the C64 only has two of these, left and down, modified into the other two directions in conjunction with the SHIFT key), remember which colour was assigned to which number key, and it was a pain in the butt to change anything on the fly. And if I wanted to keep the whole thing I'd have to write a bespoke BASIC program that would recreate my efforts when run - no screen capture back then!

Thankfully, the power of the internet makes it a much simpler process these days; I use this website to make my PETSCII stuff. While relatively basic, having the luxuries of modern image editing software – mouse control, easily selectable colours, the ability to move a selected portion of the picture, saving, et al – is a dream come true for 80s kid me.

If you'd like to see more of the things I've made in PETSCII, I've got a bunch of them over here. Or maybe you'd like to get a that website and have a go yourself! While I suspect I'm the only one on Giant Bomb with any real interest in PETSCII art, I'd love to see anything the community could come up with. It's really easy to noodle around in, and having pre-made shapes means some of the work's already done for you!

Here you can see the PETSCII characters for each key marked on the forward-facing sides.
Here you can see the PETSCII characters for each key marked on the forward-facing sides.