Home Video Games from the Dawn of Time: Nüfekop for the Vic 20

In 1981, Commodore introduced the Vic 20 home computer, which sold for around $300. The first computer more easily afforded by average families, it revolutionized home computing. Scott Elder and his brother Gary were tinkering with games—and programming them—on their own simple computer, an Ohio Scientific 2P, which they bought secondhand. Scott admits he was not the best student in high school, but somehow, he had a talent for writing code. As soon as the Vic 20 came out, he began programming games. He, his three brothers, and their friends all played them, and one computer enthusiast pointed out that the games were marketable. Brother Gary formulated business plans, the other three began coding, and within weeks, Scott says, Nüfekop, a computer game company, was born. In 2010, Scott authored Nüfekop: Images of a Classic Game Company, which documents their business and how they made it all happen and shows its evolution through illustrations and photos.

Image of cassette Video Game, Exterminator, 1982, The Strong, Rochester, New York. Gift of Scott Elder.
Video Game, Exterminator, 1982, The Strong, Rochester, New York. Gift of Scott Elder.

The Vic 20 utilized actual cassette tapes to run game programs. The Elder brothers’ plan was to program the games on the tapes, to mark and package them, advertise, and ship to eager buyers. Literally beginning in their bedroom, they eventually moved into the garage, then rented an office, and finally built their own warehouse. All of this in the space of about three and a half years. Their business name came from their desire to use the word “fun,” and “poke” was a command used to set a byte of memory for the Vic 20. It was Gary who combined the two and reversed them, later claiming in advertising copy that “Nüfekop” was a Druid word meaning placing an extraordinary amount of material into a small package, likely using magic. “We’re amazed,” he said, “As always, at the visionary power of the Druids.”

Image of Video Game, Alien Panic, 1982, The Strong, Rochester, New York. Gift of Scott Elder.
Video Game, Alien Panic, 1982, The Strong, Rochester, New York. Gift of Scott Elder.

At this time, arcade games were wildly popular, and players wanted home games to imitate them. It takes little imagination to guess what the game Vikman mimicked. Other titles from Nüfekop included Krazy Kong, Invasion, Quirk (a hopping game,) and Raceway. The firm got in on the ground floor of home video games. Scott wrote that home games were “left to several small companies, as the larger companies took a couple years to get game software distribution figured out.” At first the brothers printed labels and stamped the title names, then stuck them to the cassettes. They hand typed catalogs and even included the code for a complete game—a feature early game catalogs often included. When they ran a small ad in Computers magazine, orders began pouring in. When Commodore introduced its 64 in January of 1982, Nüfekop adapted its games for use on 5¼-inch floppy discs for that machine.  As the market became more sophisticated, so did their business. Their firm grew amazingly fast. But what happened to Nüfekop? In Scott Elder’s words, “The game crash that began in 1984 took out most game publishers big and small and Nüfekop was no exception. There were far too many companies trying to gain market share and enthusiasts grew tired of having new games and hardware forced on them every day. Nüfekop went from selling several thousand games a month to a few dozen almost overnight.” That is a sad story, but the good news is that the Nüfekop games are preserved and offered for free download on many websites. Emulators such as Winvice can reproduce a Vic 20 or C-64 on a personal computer. And, for anyone unfamiliar with the beginning of home gaming, Scott’s book provides a glimpse of the earliest years and the explosive success of smart programmers.

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