The idea of having software translation programs around to do things like emulate a Super Nintendo on your $3000 gaming computer or, more practically, run x86 software on a new M1 Mac, seems pretty modern since it is so prevalent in the computer world today. The idea of using software like this is in fact much older and easily traces back into the 80s during the era of Commodore and Atari personal computers. Their hardware was actually not too dissimilar, and with a little bit of patience and know-how it’s possible to compile the Commodore 64 kernel on an Atari, with some limitations.
This project comes to us from [unbibium] and was inspired by a recent video he saw where the original Apple computer was emulated on Commodore 64. He took it in a different direction for this build though. The first step was to reformat the C64 code so it would compile on the Atari, which was largely accomplished with a Python script and some manual tweaking. From there he started working on making sure the ROMs would actually run. The memory setups of these two machines are remarkably similar which made this slightly easier, but he needed a few workarounds for a few speed bumps. Finally the cursor and HMIs were configured, and once a few other things were straightened out he has a working system running C64 software on an 8-bit Atari.
Unsurprisingly, there are a few things that aren’t working. There’s no IO besides the keyboard and mouse, and saving and loading programs is not yet possible. However, [unbibium] has made all of his code available on his GitHub page if anyone wants to expand on his work and may also improve upon this project in future builds. If you’re looking for a much easier point-of-entry for emulating Commodore software in the modern era, though, there is a project available to run a C64 from a Raspberry Pi.
While the Google Stadia may be the latest and greatest in the realm of cloud gaming, there are plenty of other ways to experience this new style of gameplay, especially if you’re willing to go a little retro. This project, for example, takes the Atari 2600 into the cloud for a nearly-complete gaming experience that is fully hosted in a server, including the video rendering.
[Michael Kohn] created this project mostly as a way to get more familiar with Kubernetes, a piece of open-source software which helps automate and deploy container-based applications. The setup runs on two Raspberry Pi 4s which can be accessed by pointing a browser at the correct IP address on his network, or by connecting to them via VNC. From there, the emulator runs a specific game called Space Revenge, chosen for its memory requirements and its lack of encumbrance of copyrights. There are some limitations in that the emulator he’s using doesn’t implement all of the Atari controls, and that the sound isn’t available through the remote desktop setup, but it’s impressive nonetheless
[Michael] also glosses over this part, but the Atari emulator was written by him “as quickly as possible” so he could focus on the Kubernetes setup. This is impressive in its own right, and of course he goes beyond this to show exactly how to set up the cloud-based system on his GitHub page as well. He also thinks there’s potential for a system like this to run an NES setup as well. If you’re looking for something a little more modern, though, it is possible to set up a cloud-based gaming system with a Nintendo Switch as well.
The trick is simple, and begins by interrupting the systemd startup scripts on boot. One can then merge files into the /etc directory to achieve root access, either by the tty terminal or over TCP. It’s all wrapped up in the script available at the Github link above.
You can actually run a variety of OSs on the hardware, as it’s powered by an AMD Ryzen R1606G CPU and runs straightforward PC architecture. However, if you want to customize the existing OS to do your bidding, this hack is the way to go.
Hacking to get root access is key if you want to get anywhere with a system. We’ve seen it done on thin clients as well as car infotainment systems to give the owner full control over the hardware they own. If you’ve got your own root exploit you’d like to share, do drop us a line, won’t you?
The Mandelbrot set, according to Wikipedia, is “the set of complex numbers for which the function does not diverge.” Even if you don’t understand the mathematics behind it, you’ve likely seen the complicated fractal images generated by zooming in on the border of the Mandelbrot set. [Scott Williamson] not only got this set rendering on an Atari, but managed to create animated videos of the results.
Doing the work was no mean feat. While it takes just 10 lines of Atari BASIC to render the set on an Atari 800, getting the animations made and into a modern video format took much effort. [Scott] used the Atari800Win-PLus emulator to zoom in on a variety of locations on the fractal curve and recorded the results over a weekend.
The result is reminiscent of an old-school demo, even if everything here was assembled slowly on modern computers from the raw Atari output. We’ve seen other great Mandelbrot feats before, too, like this real-time explorer built on an FPGA. Video after the break.
Early game consoles had a wide and interesting variety of controllers, many of which fell by the wayside as consoles evolved. One of these is the Atari 2600 paddle controller, which was the preferred interface for playing games like Kaboom!, Tempest, and Pong. While it is possible to play these games with a mouse, [Retro Gaming I Guess] wanted to do it the historically correct way, so he created a simple hack to convert an optical mouse into a paddle controller.
The main idea Is to attach a rotary knob to the bottom of the mouse, with the optical sensor located just inside the edge of the knob. To the optical sensor, it appears that the bottom surface of the knob is moving in a straight line, so the mouse pointer will move in a straight line as the knob rotates. The 3D printed knob (or bottle cap) is magnetically attached to the bottom of the mouse, by gluing one magnet into the center of the knob, and the other on the inside of the mouse under the PCB. This allows for quick conversion back to a normal mouse. You could off course sacrifice an old mouse to the cause to create a dedicated paddle controller, and make it closer to the original by adding end stops and a spring return.
We really like the simplicity of this hack, and we’re sure our readers can come up with a few other use cases for it in the comments below. You can also approach old Atari games from the opposite end, like adding a machine vision powered laser blaster. While many may think the Atari 2600 was the first gaming console, that honor actually goes to the Magnavox Odyssey, which was the start the of the multi-billion dollar home gaming industry we know today.
Ten lines of BASIC is a big limitation, even when getting clever by stacking multiple statements into a single line, so [Martin]’s game has a much narrower scope than the original Atari 2600 version. Still, the core elements are present: E.T. must find and gather all the parts of the phone in order to contact his ship, after which he must meet the ship in time to escape. All the while, FBI agents attempt to interfere. The game was written in SAM BASIC, used by the SAM Coupé, a British Z80-based home computer from the late 80s with an emulator available for download.
Now, for lovers of “um, actually” topics, do we have a treat for you! Let’s take this opportunity to review a few things about E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. That it was a commercial flop is no doubt, but the game itself is often badly misunderstood. Way back in 2013 we covered an extraordinary effort to patch improvements into the binary for the 2600 game, and in the process there’s a compelling case made that the game was in many ways far ahead of its time, and actually quite significant in terms of game design. You can jump right in on an analysis of the hate the game receives, and while reading that it’s helpful to keep in mind that In 1982, many of its peers were games like Space Invaders, with self-evident gameplay that simply looped endlessly.
Folks who like the take the old Amiga out for the occasional Sunday drive usually do it because they have wistful memories of the simpler times. Back when you could edit documents or view spreadsheets on a machine that had RAM measured in kilobytes instead of gigabytes. But even the most ardent retro computer aficionado usually allows for a bit of modern convenience.
Enter the mouSTer. This tiny device converts a common USB HID mouse into something older computers can understand. It even supports using Sony’s PlayStation 4 controller as a generic game pad. While the firmware is still getting tweaked, the team has confirmed its working on several classic machines and believe it should work on many more. Considering the prices that some of these old peripherals command on the second hand market, using a USB mouse or controller on your vintage computer isn’t just more convenient, but will likely be a lot cheaper.
Confirmed retrocomputing superfan [Drygol] is a member of the team working on mouSTer, and in a recent post to his retrohax blog, he talks a bit about what’s happened since his last update over the summer. He also talks a bit about the challenges they’ve faced to get it into production. Even if you’re not into poking around on vintage computers, there are lessons to be learned here about what it takes to move from a handful of prototypes to something you can actually sell to the public.
We especially liked the details about the mouSTer enclosure, or lack thereof. Originally [Drygol] says they were going to have the cases injection molded, but despite initial interest from a few companies they talked to, nobody ended up biting because it needed to be done with relatively uncommon low pressure injection. While 3D printing is still an option, the team ended up using clear heatshrink tubing to create a simple conformal protective shell over the electronics. Personally we think it looks great like this, but it sounds like this is only a temporary solution until something a bit more robust can be implemented.