RetroModem for the Commodore 64

Retrocomputers are fun, but ultimately limited in capability compared to modern hardware. One popular pursuit to rectify this is the connection of early home computers to the Internet. To that end, [que] built the Retromodem for the Commodore 64.

The build starts with a case from an Intel 14.4 modem. A little fast for the Commodore 64 era, but anachronism is charming when done tastefully. Inside is an Arduino with an ethernet module to handle the heavy lifting of carrying packets to the outside world.  [que] took the time to wire up status LEDs for the proper vintage look, which really adds something to the project. They switch on and off to indicate the various settings on the modem – it’s great to see in the video below the break the “HS” LED light up when the baud rate is changed to a higher speed.

The project implements most of the Hayes command set, so you can interface with it over a serial terminal just like it’s 1983. [que] doesn’t go into too many details of how it’s all put together, but for the experienced code warrior it’s a project that could be whipped up in a weekend or two. For a more modern take, perhaps you’d like to hook your C64 up over Wifi instead?

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Hacked Headset Brings VR to the Commodore 64

The venerable Commodore 64 got a lot of people started in computers, and a hard core of aficionados keeps the platform very much alive to this day. But a C64 just doesn’t have the horsepower to do anything more than some retro 8-bit graphics games, right?

Not if [jim_64] has anything to say about it. He’s created a pair of virtual-reality goggles for the C64, and the results are pretty neat. Calling them VR is a bit of a stretch, since that would imply the headset is capable of sensing the wearer’s movements, which it’s not. With just a small LCD screen tucked into the slot normally occupied by a smartphone in the cheap VR goggles [jim64] used as a foundation for his build, this is really more of a 3D wearable display — so far. The display brings 3D-graphics to the C64, at least for the “Street Defender” game that [jim64] authored, a demo of which can be seen below. We’ll bet position sensing could be built into the goggles to control the game too. Even then it won’t be quite the immersive (and oft-times nauseating) experience that VR has become, but for a 35-year old platform, it’s not too shabby.

Looking for more C64 love? We’ve got a million of ’em — case mods, C64 laptops, tablets, even CPU upgrades.

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Fixing Bugs In Ancient BASIC Games

Before everyone learned programming on Stack Exchange, things were much different. Computer magazines had BASIC programs in them, which readers would type out, line by line, and hit RUN. In theory, this is a terrible way to learn programming; it’s simply rote recitation without any insight into what the code is actually doing. Of course, copying and pasting from Stack Exchange is exactly the same thing, so maybe these magazines were ahead of the curve.

[0xA000] recently came across one of his old computer magazines containing the type-in listing for Blindganger, a game where you wander a maze blindly. When [0xA000] typed this game into his C64 back in 1988, the game didn’t work. Thirty years later, he decided to give it another go and ended up fixing bugs in an old computer game.

When [0xA000] typed this game into his computer back in 1988, the map just didn’t work, and the final screen revealed a maze where the walls were where they shouldn’t be. A quick Google turned up a disk image of the same game that had the same problem. This bug was obviously in the section of code that draws the map at the end of the game, so [0xA000] started looking there. The offending typo in the code was an $F4 instead of an $F5, or 244 instead of 255. This shifted the colors of the map by 11 positions, meaning the locations marked as visited in the final screen were wrong. Whether this bug cropped up in development or was just a simple typo when typesetting the magazine doesn’t really matter now; after 29 years, this bug is fixed.

Adding Character To The C64

The venerable Commodore 64, is there anything it can’t do? Like many 1980s computer platforms, direct access to memory and peripherals makes hacking easy and fun. In particular, you’ll find serial & parallel ports are ripe for experimentation, but the Commodore has its expansion/cartridge port, too, and [Frank Buss] decided to hook it up to a two-line character LCD.

Using the expansion port for this duty is a little unconventional. Unlike the parallel port, the expansion port doesn’t have a stable output, as such. The port contains the data lines of the 6510 CPU and thus updates whenever RAM is read or written to, rather then updating in a controlled fashion like a parallel port does. However, [Frank] found a way around this – the IO1 and IO2 lines go low when certain areas of memory are written to. By combining these with latch circuitry, it’s possible to gain up to 16 parallel output lines – more than enough to drive a simple HD44780 display! It’s a testament to the flexibility of 74-series logic.
It’s all built on a C64 cartridge proto-board of [Frank]’s own design, and effort was made to ensure the LCD works with BASIC for easy experimentation. It’s a tidy mod that could easily be built into a nice enclosure and perhaps used as the basis for an 8-bit automation project. Someone’s gotta top that Amiga 2000 running the school district HVAC, after all!

Building a Replica Final Cartridge III

The Commodore 64 was the computer of the 8-bit era, and remains the highest selling computer of all time. In addition to disk and tape drives, it also had a cartridge interface. A popular extension cartridge was the Final Cartridge III, which offered a variety of disk utilities and a GUI. [Greisi] was in possession of a no longer functional cartridge, and decided to reverse engineer the device.

[Greisi] started by desoldering all the ICs and mapping out a schematic for the board. The design centers around common parts for the era, such as a UV-erasable EPROM and some 74-series logic. [Greisi] decided to then modernise the design and make some improvements. Adding a fuse should avoid the cartridge catching on fire, and a bunch of decoupling capacitors on all the ICs should reduce noise. A FLASH chip is used instead of the old school UV-erasable part, which makes writing to the device much easier.

It’s a great build performed in a stunningly tidy workshop, and [Greisi] has provided the schematics and PCB designs to the public here. That means that many more users can build their own Final Cartridge III without having to hunt for original hardware which is growing scarcer. You can learn more about the Final Cartridge III on Wikipedia.

We’ve actually seen the Final Cartridge III before – used in this blinkenwall installation. Video below the break.

[Thanks Adrian!]

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Flappy Bird is the New “Does it Run Doom?”

Back in 2014 [Johan] decided to celebrate BASIC’s 30 50 year anniversary by writing his own BASIC interpreter. Now, a few years later, he says he feels he has hit a certain milestone: he can play Flappy Bird, written in his own version of BASIC, running on his own home-built computer, the BASIC-1.

Inside the BASIC-1 is an Atmel XMega128A4, a keyboard from a broken Commodore 64, a joystick port, a serial to TV out adapter, and an SD card adapter for program storage. An attractively laser-cut enclosure with kerf bends houses the keyboard and hardware. The BASIC-1 boots into BASIC just like many of its home computer counterparts from the 80s.

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C64 Keyboard Emulation Over Serial

There’s a lot of reasons you might want to emulate the keyboard on your Commodore 64. The ravages of time and dust may have put the original keyboard out of order, or perhaps you need to type in a long program and don’t fancy pecking away with the less-than-stellar feedback of the standard keys. [podstawek] has come up with the solution: a Commodore 64 keyboard emulator that works over serial.

It’s a simple concept, but one that works well. A Python script accepts incoming keypresses or pre-typed text, then converts them into a 6-bit binary code, which is sent to an Arduino over the serial connection. The Arduino uses the 6-bit code as addresses for an MT8808 crosspoint switch.

MT8808 Functional Diagram from Datasheet

The MT8808 is essentially an 8×8 matrix of controllable switches, which acts as the perfect tool to interface with the C64’s 8×8 keyboard matrix. Hardware wise, this behaves as if someone were actually pressing the keys on the real keyboard. It’s just replacing the original key switches with an electronic version controlled by the Arduino.

[podstawek] already has the setup working on Mac, and it should work on Linux and Windows too. There’s a little more to do yet – modifying the script to allow complex macros and to enable keys to be held – so check out the Github if you want to poke around in the source. Overall it’s a tidy, useful hack to replace the stock keyboard.

The C64 remains a popular platform for hacking — it’s even had a Twitter client since 2009.