PicoMite Gives Your Pico A Deluxe BASIC

What makes developing a microcontroller project quick and easy? Tops on our list are an interactive shell and comprehensive libraries that handle all the low-level peripheral stuff. You think we’re talking MicroPython? Not today! MMBasic has just been ported to the Raspberry Pi Pico dev board, and it has all the batteries included.

Just to give you a taste, it has built-in support for SD cards, all sorts of displays, touch screens, real-time clocks, IR remotes, numerous sensors, and of course WS2812 LED strips. And because all of this is baked into the BASIC, writing code to use any of these peripherals is straightforward.

Now, there’s BASIC and there’s BASIC. This is a modern BASIC: it has loops, functions, arrays, floating point, and a built-in full-screen editor. You connect to the Pico via UART, and you’re off to the races. If you’ve got a Pico sitting around, flash it and give it a try. Or check out the GitHub repository if you want to poke around in the internals.

This is a port of the BASIC that’s used on the Maximite virtual retrocomputer platform, which means that there are many working examples out there for you to crib from, and even a forum. Add in the incredibly nice user manual and tutorial (PDF), and you’ve got the perfect weekend afternoon.

Think MicroPython killed BASIC? Think again. BASIC is small enough that it can run where Python can’t, but that’s of course a more minimal experience. In contrast, MMBasic looks like it’s got all the toppings. The whole enchilada. It’s like BASIC Deluxe.

QB64 Hits Version 2.0, Gets Enhanced Debugging

Despite the name, BASIC isn’t exactly a language recommended for beginners these days. Technology has moved on, and now most people would steer you towards Python if you wanted to get your feet wet with software development. But for those who got their first taste of programming by copying lines of BASIC out of a computer magazine, the language still holds a certain nostalgic appeal.

If that sounds like you, then may we heartily recommend QB64. The open source project seeks to modernize the classic programming language while retaining compatibility for QBasic 4.5, the late-80s BASIC environment Microsoft included with MS-DOS. That modernization not only includes the addition of contemporary technology like OpenGL, but cross-platform support that lets you run the same code on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS.

The new debug mode in QB64 v2.

The QB64 team released version 2.0 just a few days ago, making this the perfect time to give the project a test drive if you haven’t tried it out yet. The changelog includes platform specific improvements for each supported operating system, as well as a long list of general fixes and updates. But arguably the biggest feature for this release is the inclusion of the $Debug metacommand.

When this command is included in your code, the IDE will insert a debugging stub into the compiled program. During execution, the QB64 IDE will switch over to debugging mode, and communicate with your program in real-time over a local TCP/IP connection. The debugging mode lets you step through the code line-by-line, check the values of variables, and set breakpoints. Once you’re done fussing with the code and want to release a final binary, you just need to remove that single $Debug command and recompile.

We’ve talked in the past about using QB64 to revitalize vintage code, and think the project is a fantastic melding of old and new technology. You never know when you might suddenly have the urge to dust off some code you wrote back in the 80s and run it on an OS that didn’t even exist at the time.

1981 Called, Here’s Your Software

How many of us who have a few decades of adulthood under our belts would like to talk to our 17 year old selves? “Hey kid, it’s all gonna be OK. Also, Duke Nukem Forever does come out eventually, but it’s not going to be pretty!” Being honest, exposure to the hot takes of one’s naive teenage self would almost certainly be as cringeworthy as the time-worn-but-familiar adult would be to the teenager, but there’s one way in which you can in a sense have a conversation with your teenage self. [Mad Ned] had this opportunity, when he discovered a printed BASIC listing for a game he’d written for the TRS-80 back in 1981. Could he make it run again, and what did it tell him about his teenage years?

Grizzled 8-bit veterans will tell you of countless hours spent typing poorly-reproduced listings found in magazines, and the inevitable pain that followed as all those mistypes were ironed out. [Ned] eschewed all that retro experience because this is the 21st century, and we now have much more powerful computers to do our bidding! The reality of incomplete OCR is one we’ll no doubt all be used to, and for 8-bit fans also the debugging that was needed to get the listing to run. Breaker Ball is an odd hybrid of Breakout and Space Invaders, and it’s his analysis of the teenage thinking that led to the game being the way it is that rounds off the piece.¬† Sadly we’re not treated to the entire listing, but there’s a short gameplay video we’ve placed below the break.

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Python Provides Classic Basic

Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s when you turned on a PC, more often than not, you’d get a Basic prompt. Most people would then load a game from a tape, but if you were inclined to program you could just start writing. [Richpl] wanted that same experience and thus PyBasic was born. Along with some other Github contributors, the system has grown quite a bit and would be a good start at porting classic games or creating a replica vintage computer.

The interpreter lacks specialized hardware-specific features such as sound and graphics, of course, but then again, you could add them. It does have file I/O and also includes some interesting features like an analog of C’s ternary operator.

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Yo Dawg, We Heard You Like Retrocomputers

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.

Thanks to [Cprossu] for the tip!

SMART Response XE Turned Pocket BASIC Playground

Ever since the SMART Response XE was brought to our attention back in 2018, we’ve been keeping a close lookout for projects that make use of the Arduino-compatible educational gadget. Admittedly it’s taken a bit longer than we’d expected for the community to really start digging into the capabilities of the QWERTY handheld, but occasionally we see an effort like this port of BASIC to the SMART Response XE by [Dan Geiger] that reminds us of why we were so excited by this device to begin with.

This project combines the SMART Response XE support library by [Larry Bank] with Tiny BASIC Plus, which itself is an update of the Arduino BASIC port by [Michael Field]. The end result is a fun little BASIC handheld that has all the features and capabilities you’d expect, plus several device-specific commands that [Dan] has added such as BATT to check the battery voltage and MSAVE/MLOAD which will save and load BASIC programs to EEPROM.

To install the BASIC interpreter to your own SMART Response XE, [Dan] goes over the process of flashing it to the hardware using an AVR ISP MkII and a few pogo pins soldered to a bit of perboard. There are holes under the battery door of the device that exposes the programming pads on the PCB, so you don’t even need to crack open the case. Although if you are willing to crack open the case, you might as well add in a CC1101 transceiver so the handy little device can double as a spectrum analyzer.

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Commodore Inspired Watch Puts BASIC On Your Wrist

Ask a smart watch owner what their favorite wrist-mounted feature is, and they might say it’s having all their daily information available at a glance, or the ease with which they’re able to communicate with friends and family. If they don’t mention knocking out a few lines in their wearable BASIC interpreter, then you know you aren’t talking to [Nick Bild]. His “C64 Watch” firmware for the LILYGO T-Watch 2020 not only takes some visual inspiration from the Commodore 64, but also lets you relive those early computing glory days with a functional BASIC environment.

Originally [Nick] used a teeny tiny onscreen keyboard to tap out his BASIC programs, but finding the experience to be uncomfortably like torture, he switched over to using USB. Just plug the watch into your computer, open your favorite serial terminal, and you’ll have access to the customized version of TinyBasic Plus running on the watch. To make things¬† even easier, he’s looking at implementing a web-based terminal over WiFi so you don’t need to plug the watch in.

When you aren’t running BASIC you’ll be treated to a Commodore-themed watch face, complete with the classic READY. prompt. A small battery indicator is hidden up in the top-right corner, and tapping on the rainbow colored “C” will launch the menu. It’s pretty simplistic, but of course what else would you expect given the source material?

Looking ahead, [Nick] says he’d also like to implement a C64 emulator into the firmware so the watch could run original software. We’re a bit skeptical about how practical that would actually be, but we’ll reserve judgement until we see it in operation. He’s also hoping other Commodore aficionados will chime in with their own improvements and new features for the watch.

You might think that a Commodore 64 emulator on your wrist would be the most outlandish way to run your old games and software, but we’d say playing Turrican in a virtual reality microcosm of the 1980s takes the cake.

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