That Super Mario Bros. C64 Port Was Too Good For This World

It was foolish to think that the adventure of the Mario Bros. would ever exist outside of the castle walls of the Nintendo Entertainment System. Except for that one time it did. The Hudson Soft company was a close collaborator with Nintendo, and parlayed that favor into being tasked with bringing Super Mario Bros. to platforms beyond the NES. The result of that collaboration would be 1986’s Super Mario Special, a port for the NEC PC-88 line of desktop computers. What ended up on that 5.25″ floppy sounded reminiscent of the Famicom original, but with a grand total of four colors (including black) and not a single scrolling screen in sight; Super Mario Special felt decidedly less than spectacular to play. Those eternally flickering sprites mixed with jarring blank screen transitions would never make it outside of Japan, so for a large swath of the world Mario would remain constrained to a gray plastic cartridge for years to come.

There are no shortage of ways to play Super Mario Bros. these days. Emulation in all of its various official and unofficial forms has taken care of that. Virtually everything with a processor more capable than the NES’s 6502 can play host to the Mushroom Kingdom, however, machines more contemporary with the NES still lacked access to the iconic title.

Enter the 2019 port of Super Mario Bros. for the Commodore 64 by [ZeroPaige]. A culmination of seven years work to port the game onto one of the most prolific computers of the eighties was a clear feat of brilliance and an amazing bit of programming that would have taken 1986 by storm. No pale imitation, this was Mario on the C64. Despite all of the nuance in recreating the jump-and-run model of the original paired with enveloping all eight sound channels of a dual SID chip setup, Nintendo saw fit to stifle the proliferation of this incredible 170 kB of software because they claim it infringes on their copyright.

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Custom Monitor for Pi-Powered Commodore 64

Classic games never seem to have gone out of style and with the emulation powers of the Raspberry Pi, there seems to be no end of projects folks have been coming up with. [Chris Mills] project is a great looking monitor to get his Commodore 64 fix by combining the retro looks of a home-made 64-style monitor with the Raspberry Pi.

[Chris] is only interested in Commodore 64 emulation, at least with this project, and wanted something that would fit on a desk without taking up too much room. An eight inch LCD security monitor fit the bill perfectly. [Chris] ended up building a wooden enclosure for the monitor to give it that Commodore look. The monitor, power supply and cable connections fit inside along with speakers; each of these having their inputs on the back. A fan vents in the back as well and the Pi sits outside running the Combian 64 emulation software.

[Chris] has put up some galleries of build pics. The logo from the old Commodore logo is a nice touch. Read over the Hackaday site and you could build your own Commodore 64, or use the Commodore 64 itself to house the Raspberry Pi if you wanted.

 

Interface Your C64 With Arduinos Through Firmata

Microcontrollers are cool, but sometimes the user interface options they can deliver are disappointing. The platform in question may not have the horsepower required to drive a decent screen, and often a web interface is undesirable for security or complexity reasons. Sometimes you just need a good software interface between chip and computer. Firmata is a protocol that’s designed to do just that, and [nanoflite] has brought it to the Commodore 64.

It’s a fun project, which allows one to use the C64’s charming retro graphics to interface with an Arduino-based project. Connection is achieved at 2400bps over the user port, which is plenty fast for most UI applications. [nanoflite] demonstrates the interface with an Arduino Uno and a Grove shield. The C64 is able to display the state of the LED, relay and servo outputs, as well as read the Arduino’s button and potentiometer inputs.

It’s an excellent way to integrate a Commodore 64 into a microcontroller setup without reinventing the wheel. We think it would make an awesome vintage interface to a home automation system or similar build. If you’re interested, but you don’t have a C64 of your own to play with, never fear – you can just build a new one.

Wireless Controllers For Retro Gaming

There’s no limit to the amount of nostalgia that can be minted through various classic platforms such as the NES classic. The old titles are still extremely popular, and putting them in a modern package makes them even more accessible. On the other hand, if you still have the original hardware things can start getting fussy. With modern technology it’s possible to make some changes, though, as [PJ Allen] did by adding wireless capabilities to his Commodore 64.

Back when the system was still considered “modern”, [PJ] tried to build a wireless controller using DTMF over FM radio. He couldn’t get it to work exactly right and ended up shelving the project until the present day. Now, we have a lot more tools at our disposal than analog radio, so he pulled out an Arduino and a few Bluetooth modules. There’s a bit of finesse to getting the old hardware to behave with the modern equipment, though, but once [PJ] worked through the kinks he was able to play his classic games like Defender without the limitations of wired controllers.

The Commodore 64 was incredibly popular in the ’80s and early ’90s, and its legacy is still seen today. People are building brand new machines, building emulators for them, or upgrading their hardware.

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Regular Computer Reviews: The Commodore 64C

Fresh into the tip line is an amazing video showcasing the history of the Commodore 64. Unlike many historical retellings of the history of the Commodore 64, the history doesn’t start with the VIC-20, but instead the first Commodore machine to feature the VIC-II and SID chip, the Commodore Max.

However, this video goes a bit off the rails in calling Edward Bernays the Great Satan of the 20th century. Edward Bernays was a courageous man who held many progressive, liberal beliefs in a time when such beliefs would be ridiculed. Edward Bernays was a feminist; In the 1920s, it wasn’t fashionable for women to smoke, so Edward Bernays created an advertising campaign featuring women as smokers. Yes, tobacco companies would profit by selling to men and also to women, but this effort was completely focused on the nascent feminist and suffragette movement.

Additionally, Edward Bernays supported democracy. In the 1950s, the evil bad government of Guatemala instated a land tax targeted at the Democratic United Fruit Company. Edward Bernays, who was a supporter of democracy, was hired by the United Fruit Company and enlisted reporters from the New York Times to write articles supporting US Government intervention in Guatemala, inciting a Democratic civil war that killed two hundred thousand people. Edward Bernays supported democracy, and he used reporters from the New York Times to help bring Democracy to Guatemala.

Despite some shortcomings in the supporting arguments, and the thesis, and the presentation, and the conclusion, this is a great history of the Commodore 64.

It’s Raining Brand-new Commodore 64s

There’s never been a better time to build your own Commodore 64, apparently. Within a day of each other, we got tipped off on three (3!) separate C64 builds from two different hackers.

This has been made possible by a series of disparate projects that have individually recreated a piece of the full machine. Replacement motherboards exist, like the Ultimate 64 and the C64 Reloaded Mk2. New cases can be had courtesy of Pixelwizard. Even new keyboard bases can be had thanks to the Mechboard 64 project.

[Eric Hill] took all these parts and built his own C64 from scratch. And not content with one, he repeated the process and built another.

These two machines serve as demos for the two different motherboard options. Taken together, they serve to demonstrate how many of the vintage Commodore components have been remanufactured by the fan community: with the exception of the keycaps and possibly some of the silicon, all the parts in both machines are new.

Did we just say “keycaps?” This became the pet project of [Perifractic], who discovered that certain Lego Technic pieces had the same cross-shaped slot as the original Commodore 64 keys. After some experimentation, a full set of Lego keycaps was produced. (YouTube, embedded below.) Far from a thrown-together set of random pieces, the sets are available for order with printed tiles with recreation graphics. And this lets you build a C64 using precisely zero parts that came out of a Commodore factory. It’s a testament to the popularity of the world’s best selling computer that it is now once again possible to build one with brand new parts.

If you want to replicate this feat, [Perifractic]’s website is set up to make ordering everything you need easy. Things have certainly come a long way from the first reproduction cases launched on Kickstarter a few years ago.

[Thanks to Keith O for the tip!]

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Component Video For The Commodore 64

Of all the retro systems, the Commodore 64 had the best video system. The VIC-II chip in the C64 was the best example of why Commodore was the best, but in terms of video output, the C64 was still a consumer device: the only output was S-video, or composite video, or something like it. The professional stuff uses YPbPr, an RGB video signal that separates the red, green, and blue colors. On a modern LCD, the difference between composite and YPbPr is noticeable, and if you’re going to run your C64 on the big screen, it would be very helpful to use a professional video standard.

In an effort to bring the C64 into the future, [c0pperdragon] created an FPGA-based modification for the VIC-II chip. The end result is getting YPbPr signals directly from the computer, and outputting it to a TV in glorious 480p.

Inside the Commodore 64, the VIC-II creates the chrominance signal in a way that is impossible to convert it back to any form of RGB. The solution to get RGB out of this information is to listen in to 22 pins of the VIC-II to determine what signals it intends to generate. This is done with a smallish Altera FPGA connected to the VIC-II through a ribbon cable. On the FPGA, the luminescence and all the color information is generated, then converted into true YPbPr. For the complete mod, the RF modulator is removed, and the original A/V jack is still functional. This is effectively a very in-depth mod that rids the C64 of the TV connector and channel selector (that no one uses anymore) and replaces it with a professional-grade video output.

When it comes to C64 mods, we thought we’ve seen it all. We’ve seen C64s resurrected from the dead, and we’ve seen drop-in replacements for the SID that still don’t have working filters oh my god. This is on another level. This is using FPGAs to drag the C64 into the modern era, and if you don’t care about the rusting RF box, it’s a reversible mod.