CeBIT 2007: Just what is Commodore up to?

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stu.jpgStuart Dredge writes…

We’ve come a long way since the 8-bit days, that’s for sure. One of the key stories from this year’s CeBIT show so far has been the fact that Commodore is back with a vengeance. And happily, that doesn’t just mean trading on the past glories of its C64 home computer, but is instead based on an entirely new generation of gadgets.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved the C64. In fact, in its day I singlehandedly funded a small industry of budget publishers churning out rubbish football management sims, through pocket money alone. There were great games too, of course, with the likes of Turrican, Creatures and Impossible Mission, to name but three.

But if Commodore was just coming back waving a big retro flag saying ‘Remember me? Look, I’ve got games with parallax graphics…’, nobody would really be interested. If you want to play C64 games nowadays, you can download them for your mobile phone. And they tend to look a bit rubbish compared to actual mobile games, developed in the 21st century.

commodoregames.jpgInstead, Commodore appears to be pursuing a peculiar strategy of reinvention on several fronts. On the one hand, you’ve got its range of new gaming PCs that were just announced at CeBIT. If you’re in the market for a gaming PC, they sound pretty slinky, with customisation and style a big selling point – hello bespoke artwork, ambient LED lighting and an Ice Cube cooling system. I don’t think it’s anything to do with the rapper.

The link with Commodore’s history is clear, yet the products themselves are refreshingly modern, with four specifications all running Windows Vista and armed to the teeth with graphical processing oomph. It’s a niche, but a pretty cool one.

The other element of Commodore’s new push is less obviously rooted in its past. The Commodore Gravel In Pocket is a pocketable device with built-in Wi-Fi and 1GB/2GB of internal memory depending on which model you buy.

Meanwhile, the Commodore Gravel In Home is designed for the living room, with an 80GB hard drive providing video on demand, replay TV and streaming music – with a strong tie-in to the new Commodore World website. Neither, as far as I’m aware, sports a blue startup screen or lets you play Paradroid.

Although this is A Good Thing, I wonder if the all-new Commodore risks disappointing hardcore fans of the brand (who are C64 focused), while not establishing a clear enough identity to compete with those products that rival the Gravel devices.

Why would you buy a Gravel In Pocket instead of, say, a video iPod or a Nokia internet tablet? Will the Gravel In Home be seen as competition for the services offered by BSkyB and Virgin Media, or is it more going up against the media streamers from the likes of Apple, Netgear and Linksys?

I’m not saying Commodore isn’t capable of either. But it’ll be interesting to see how such a famous (and yet relatively ancient, technologically-speaking) name can evolve to take on the brands that have sprung up since the demise of its original games business. As someone for whom the instantly-recognisable Commodore Logo still creates a frisson, I hope so. Time will tell.

Stuart Dredge