A Dual Monitor Setup For The C64, And Yes, It’s VGA Compatible

Few in the 1980s were too fussed about their home computer only supporting a single monitor; indeed, most were satisfied enough by the brand new capabilities on offer at the time. That said, it’s many decades hence, and we really do deserve more. Fear not, for [Ryan Brooks] is here to help with his VG64 VGA Card for the Commodore 64.

The card sits in the cartridge slot of the Commodore 64, and packs a Xilinx CPLD which is responsible for generating the video output signals. It’s hooked up to an SRAM chip which acts as a frame buffer for the video output. Programs can then be loaded on the Commodore 64 which write to the frame buffer, that can then be sent out to an attached VGA monitor hooked up to the cartridge.

It’s not the most useful cart at the moment, as it’s only capable of working with software designed specifically for the hardware. Additionally, it could prove difficult to shift enough data to it to do any kind of fast animation or updates. With that said, it’s an awesome example of just what can be achieved in terms of expanding the Commodore 64, and we’d love to see how far work in this space can go. We’ve seen similar work before, too, albeit with a somewhat smaller 16×2 character LCD. Video after the break.

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A Commodore 64 As You Have Never Seen One Before: Game Boy Form Factor!

It’s now nearly four decades since the iconic Commodore 64 8-bit computer saw the light of day, and the vintage format shows no sign of dying. Enthusiasts have produced all kinds of new takes on the platform, but it’s fair to say that most of them have concentrated on the original style keyboard console form factors. A completely different take on a Commodore 64 comes from [UNI64] in the form of the Handheld 64, a complete Commodore 64 in a Game Boy style form factor that uses the original 64 chipset.

It achieves this improbable feat by sandwiching together several PCBs, with a tactile switch keyboard and LCD display at the top. It appears to bring the 64 ports out to headers, and the ROM cartridge port to an edge connector socket at the top of the device. A departure from the 1980s comes in using a Raspberry Pi Zero to emulate a 1541 floppy drive though.

Sadly unlike a Game Boy there’s no onboard battery, but don’t let that take away from the quality of this feat. A forum post from [3D-vice] has a set of decent-quality pictures, and even if you don’t have a handy 64 chipset lying about we’re sure you’ll still appreciate them. If home made 64s are your thing, take a look at how you can build one without Commodore parts.

Thanks [pbuyle] for the tip!

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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Linus Åkesson’s ‘A Mind Is Born’ Commodore 64 Demo In Just 256 Bytes

It would be an understatement to say that the Commodore 64 demo scene is quite amazing. For those who are unaware, a ‘demo’ in this context is essentially a technological demonstration. Usually to show off particular effects or other (visual) properties that either push the limits of the platform on which it is being run, or use its hardware in a special fashion.  In the case of [Linus Åkesson]’s A Mind Is Born demo, the challenge was to do as much as possible in 256 bytes, while providing an audiovisual experience.

Although at first glance 256 bytes may sound like a lot to work with, this code has to generate the entire melody that is output via the Commodore 64’s SID audio chip, while simultaneously generating an attractive visual pattern. This is quite an undertaking, as the video capture of the result (included after the break) makes clear. The secret sauce here is to make use of the C64’s SID audio & VIC-II video chips.

Driven by a 60 Hz timer interrupt, the three voices of the SID are used to play the kick drum and bass, melody and drone respectively, creating the 64 total bars of the music using a linear-feedback shift register (LFSR). This means that the melody is in a sense randomly generated, but deterministically enough to sound pleasing to the human ear.

For the visual side, the C64 runs in Extended Character Mode, using fonts along with a background color to create interesting patterns using what is essentially a cellular automaton algorithm. While there are some visual glitches due overwriting of video data, and a race condition, these end up adding to the charm. The resulting audio track is pretty catchy too, and absolutely worthy of a listen.

Thanks for the tip, Johannes!

(That banner image?  That _is_ the whole code.)

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TrueTape64 Is A PC Interface For Your C64 Datasette

Back in the distant past of the 1980s, software was distributed on audio tape. Ones and zeroes were encoded as tones of different frequencies, and tapes were decoded by specialised hardware which could then spit out raw digital data to an attached computer. While software methods now exist to simply record audio from old tapes and turn them into data, [Francesco] wanted to do it the hardware way, and built a PC interface for his Commodore 64 Datasette.

The TrueTape64, as it has been named, is built around an Atmel ATTiny2313 microcontroller. This interfaces with the original Datasette hardware which takes care of reading the analog tape output and turning it into digital data. From there, the microcontroller communicates with an FTDI232 serial-to-USB adapter to get the data into a modern PC, where it’s compiled into a TAP image file via some Python magic.

It’s a barebones build, which goes so far as to run the Datasette’s motor off the USB power supply via a boost converter; those facing issues with the tape mechanism might do well to look there first. However, it does work, and a done job is a good job at the end of the day. We’ve seen similar hacks before, too – it’s great to see the community keeping cassette software alive!

Commodore 64 Emulator In VR Delivers A Full 80s Experience

The simulated color CRT monitor looks surprisingly convincing in VR.

One way to play with vintage hardware without owning the hardware is to use an emulator, but [omni_shaNker] announced taking it to the next level by using VR to deliver a complete Commodore 64 system, in its full glory, complete with a native 80s habitat playset! This is a pretty interesting angle for simulating vintage hardware, especially since the emulator is paired with what looks like a pretty convincing CRT monitor effect in VR, not to mention a virtual 5.25″ floppy drive that makes compellingly authentic sounds.

The project is hosted on GitHub and supports a variety of VR hardware, but for owners of Oculus headsets, the application is also available on SideQuest for maximum convenience. SideQuest is essentially an off-the-books app store for managing software that is neither approved nor distributed by Facebook. Oculus is owned by Facebook, and Facebook is keen to keep a tight grip on their hardware.

As functional as the application is, there are still improvements and optimizations to be made. To address this, [omni_shaNker] put out a call for beta testers on Reddit, so if that’s up your alley be sure to get in touch. A video demonstration and overview that is chock-full of technical details is also embedded below; be sure to give it a watch to see what the project is all about.

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The Sixtyforgan Proves That Church Organs Are Definitely Chiptune

Church organs may be mechanically complicated and super old-school, but they share something in common with the earliest computer sound chips. In theory, and largely in practice, they produce very simple waveforms. The primary reason that church organs seem so full and rich compared to your old Commodore 64 is that they have the benefit of a whole church’s worth of reverb to fatten out the sound. [Linus] demonstrates this with the Sixtyforgan.

The Sixtyforgan is a Commodore 64 hooked up to a spring reverb tank. By running the relatively basic waveforms from the Commodore’s SID chip through this reverb, it’s possible to generate sounds that are eerily similar to those you might hear at your local Sunday service. While we won’t expect chiptune luminaries like [chipzel] to start busting out songs of praise at events like Square Sounds, it’s kind of awesome to think of the composers of antiquity rocking out to some mad Game Boy jams way back when.

It’s a great demonstration of the Commodore’s musical abilities, and we particularly like the application of the chromatic button layout borrowed from the accordion. We’d love to see this setup combined with an orchestra of the retro computers, like this demonstration playing The Sugar Plum Fairy. Alternatively, Billy Corgan on the Sixtyforgan playing Tiberius would be pretty great, too. Pretty sounding video after the break.

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