Turn your Raspberry Pi into a Commodore 64

Even if you were a Spectrum, Amstrad or Acorn person back in the day when computers were fun,  there is no doubt that the Commodore 64 was a bloody marvelous machine with some amazing games!  And with Retro gaming becoming really popular with the nes-mini. Then why should Commodore fans miss out?  With a Raspberry Pi and the awesome Combian 64 image you can build your own C64 mini!  Oh and you can build one of these for less than £50

I used a Rasberry Pi 2 which is more than fast enough to handle Commodore 64 emulation, and put it inside an awesome 3d printed case purchased from an etsy seller. (Links below)  Imaged Combian64 onto it and the pi swiftly boots straight into a Commodore 64. No linux boot screens, just pure commodore goodness!

 

Pressing F8 brings up the emulation menu. Which brilliantly is also in the same style as the C64 in order to configure settings and launch disk images.   I find some emulators throw you back into the 21st century the minute you want to run something by having modern day windows popups. But ViCE doesnt.

 

And viola, enjoy your retro games!

Currently there is limited joystick support, however the author of the distro is looking into improving it all the time. So by the time you read this, you should hopefully be able to plug in a USB gamepad or joystick and away you go! For now you can map the numeric keypad as a joystick and play with that. I was always a keyboard gamer back in the day so i havent missed the joystick too much!

Want a full sized raspberry pi commodore 64? Well that’s no problem either!  If you happen to have a broken C64 laying around then you can mount the raspberry pi inside the case instead of the old C46 motherboard, and use a Keyrah V2 to hook up the C64s actual keyboard to the pi and use that!

Wanna run the c64 on an old big box TV instead of a modern flat screen? no problem at all. Look for a HDMI to Composite video adapter and plug that in.

Did I also forget to mention that if you happen to be a Commodore Vic 20, or a pet, 128 or plus 4 type of guy then you can configure the distro to boot directly into emulating one of those instead!

 

How to set it up. 

What you will need.

How to

First download the Combian64 image from the link above.  At the time of writing, to gain access to the image you have to request it with a gmail account. This is still super new so hopefully the creator will have it hosted somewhere fully public very soon.

Unzip and write the image file to your SD card using Win32DiskImager or similar.

Put the Pi in the 3D Printed case and insert the SD card.  Hook up the monitor keyboard and power.   If your monitor doesn’t have built in speakers. Then connect some speakers too.  You really don’t want to miss out on the goodness that is the C64s SID music!

All being well. It should boot to a C64 screen.

Press F8 and quit the emulator.

Type in menu and press return.  You will see some options. Go to the Raspberry Pi config, and then choose to expand the file system.  This will make sure that all the available space on the SD card is available.

Copy your game images onto a USB drive.  You can download these from various sites or take a look at some torrents.

Put the USB drive in the raspberry pi and restart it.  Exit the emulator again.

Now you need to mount the USB drive so its visible.   The process for this can vary. But for me, typing :

mkdir /mnt/usb

and then

mount /dev/sda1 /mnt/usb

worked. You may want to try /dev/sda0 if it doesn’t find it.  I believe the USB drive needs to be formatted as FAT32.   Now type in mc and press return. And you will get a file manager which you can navigate around to copy the contents off the USB stick into /root/combian64/games  .

Once youve done that, press F10 to quit the file manager and type menu again and choose to start the emulator.

Press F8 and under sound settings, change the buffer size to 1001 msec.  This was required to resolve an issue with some audio lag. Your results may vary depending on your setup.  Now got o machine settings and joyport settings and set port 1 and port 2 to Joystick.  Now goto joystick settings and set joystick device 1 to keyset 1 and joystick device 2 numpad.  You can set them to joystick here and see if it picks up your own USB joystick.  But I had no joy. Future versions of the distro may have this fixed better.  Then Settings Management and Save current settings.

Ok you should be good to go. Choose Autostart image and choose a game.

And viola.  You should be living the C64 dream once again!

If you’re having any problems, then I recommend you join the brilliant Retro Pi facebook group where there are plenty of people willing to help including the people that make the distros themselves. Its a great community.  We use our raspberry pis to emulate just about everything we can!

 

 

 

Supersonic Portable B&W Vintage TV

So in the summer I was at a car boot sale and just saw this thing sitting there. It looks so awesome and old, and just cool!  I didn’t even care if it worked or not.  For 10 euros I wasn’t going to complain either way!  So in the video we see a smoke test of the unit, just to see if it fires up and what works and what doesn’t.

It fires up, the screen appears to work but obviously there are no analogue broadcasts anymore in order to get a signal.  The tape deck played but it mangled a tape, so needs some work. And the FM/AM Radio worked lovely. Albeit one of the speakers is a bit crackly with the volume button. I’m thinking some dry solder joints there just to correct.

Back to the screen. I wanted to see if its possible to get something on there. So I hooked it up to the trusty old ZX Spectrum which outputs an analogue RF signal in a way this TV should understand.  The external antenna input is a 3.5mm audio type jack. And the output of the spectrum is a phono. So I had to jerry rig a cable together.

But sadly. I had no such luck. I was seeing wavy interference lines off the Spectrum but no picture.

Next time I am going to dismantle the unit in a hope of finding out some more information about it. Year of manufacture would be nice.  I have looked up Supersonic on the internet and found virtually nothing. I am thinking this is possibly some grey import from Asia.  Also it will be good to have a closer look at the aerial inputs to make sure they’re all connected and looking OK, as well as fix the casette deck and crackly speaker.  I think this could be restored to full glory!

If I can get a signal to the TV, then its possible to use a series of adapters on it to plug in a more modern signal, such as a HDMI source.

How I got started with tech and why I love the ZX Spectrum

I remember in my younger days that we would get heavily involved in debates as to which was the best computer system, or best gaming console. Sega vs Nintendo. Amiga vs Atari. Spectrum vs Commodore.  Yet most of us never even chose the computer we ended up with as kids.  For many, the computer was blindly chosen by our parents who had very little understanding of what they were actually buying!  Yet our loyalty to our systems was paramount.   This is why I was loyal to mine:

So apparently I wasn’t the brightest kid on the block growing up.   I guess I was like many juniors, I was floating around, running into walls and didn’t really know what to do with this thing called life.   Its heading towards the late 80s and I’m behind on reading and writing at school and I’m sure my parents were wondering what was going to become of me.

So they got me  a computer one Christmas.  Well i say me.  It was a family thing, to be shared between my brothers.   A ZX Spectrum +2 grey model and a colour TV to go with it.  Back in those days it cost a fortune.   My parents really took a chance here.    I don’t know why the Spectrum was chosen.  Perhaps the sales rep in the electronics shop  happened to like them and convinced my parents that was the one to get.    What they did want to do, was get something which would do more than just games.

 

So many of my friends ended up with games consoles, but those systems never gave those kids a chance to see how things worked under the hood.  The ZX Spectrum did, and that was the greatest thing ever.  For my friends, an achievement was beating Super Mario Brothers or getting to Thursday on paperboy.  For me, an achievement was getting  a game to actually load!

OK just kidding there, although running games off cassette tapes did prove a challenge at times!  What really captivated my interest was the fact that I had the opportunity to see the inner-workings of this computer and understand programming with its built in BASIC interpreter and endless examples and programs to type in from the book.

I took the ole spectrum like a duck takes to water.  Strange how it naturally happened. My brothers never got a look in!   Suddenly my reading, writing and maths excelled at school and as the months and years progressed, I squeezed everything I could out of that spectrum. Learning more and more about it every day taking everything in like a sponge.   I started writing my own games.  Yes they were rubbish and I certainly wasn’t at the level of the Oliver Twins, but I certainly aspired to it.   I even had the opportunity to learn about music with the spectrums music chip which could be programmed.  I remember copying some code which got it to play Axel F which was pretty cool at the time!    Art became a thing too!  I wrote a program that drew a house!

 

So the spectrum became  the reason to learn core skills. Before that, I had no reason to be interested.  And that’s why I always fought the corner in the playground debates for Team ZX!

Today it is great to throw on the Spectrum and re-live some classic games and programs on there.  The nostalgia is great.  But the machine is more to me than a piece of memory or nostalgia.  It was the beginning of what I became.  It gave me my purpose of being an IT professional in this world which  has seen me through  a very good career so far.     Of course I look at the other 8 bit mchines of the era, such as the Commodore 64 and can see where it is technically better.  Way better graphics and sound.  Would I have gelled to a C64 as much as  Spectrum if my parents had got me one of those?  Possibly, but I guess I’ll never know.

For now, long live the speccy!

 

 

Why Onlineamiga?

So a few people ask why I use the domain, email and username of onlineamiga on the internet.  Especially with living in Spain where Amiga means friend in the female tense, and yet I’m a guy.  People have even corrected me “You do know that Amiga is a girl way?”  So its obvious that people assume onlineamiga means online friend.

It doesn’t!

It all started with the Amiga computer.  (Go google it if you’ve never heard of it).   The Amiga was a home computer around in the 80’s and 90’s.  It pretty much died a death to the PC in the mid 90’s sadly with Commodore going out of business. However a lot of us were still very attatched to our systems.    Microsoft Windows operating system was just starting to get off the ground.  Whereas AmigaOS was actually way ahead of its time.

To put simply. In 1994. PCs were on Windows 3.1 and Amiga was on Workbench 3.0.   If you remember the major differences between 3.1 and 95, then basically amiga was closer to Windows 95 back in Amiga OS 1.3 days than Windows 3.1.  I won’t bore you with all the technical details. But as one example, I never had an 8 character file name limitation at any point using an Amiga.

So, by 1997 I had my Amiga hooked up to the internet. Something people didn’t think was possible.  “Oh you need a PC to do that”  “What? An Amiga on the internet?? No way!”   Oh yes way, and at the time, it handled the internet very well. In fact in a lot of ways, a hell of a lot better than PCs could.   The PC was actually very vulnerable. There was a time where even pinging a Windows 95 machine with a little bit of code, would disconnect a dial up modem. Also early versions of explorer would blue screen if a website tried to load an image from CON: device.   So the Amiga felt bullet proof online (and it was).  I had no antivirus, no firewall and never was hacked or had a virus.

So thats where the name came from.  My Amiga was online, and as such onlineamiga just seemed to be the one.  It stuck ever since. I don’t see the need to change it.

 

Review of the DivIDE Interface for the ZX Spectrum

A little while ago, I made a review video for the DivIDE Interface for the ZX Spectrum.

This gadget is awesome. It allows you to play games from flash memory card and load them straight into your spectrum without messing about with cassette tapes. They load instantly too, so no more 10 minute wait time!

 

A ZX Spectrum + 2 playing video files.

So a ZX Spectrum is a 30 year old computer. To gauge how much memory this thing has in today’s world is quite remarkable.  Basically less than 1 second of an MP3 would it into its teeny memory banks. Many would say this is completely useless. What could you do with that?   Its processor speed is also a miniscule fraction of what computers are doing today.  A single chip churning away at 3.5mhz looks like an ant in today’s 3000mhz multicore systems.  As for graphics? Don’t get me started there,  A 15 colour 256×192 screen isn’t going to get you very far is it?

But, despite its age, and its severe limitations this baby can play video!   Here is mine playing a very recent episode of South Park!

 

Ok so you may have noticed a few things..  It looks a bit naff, it sounds a bit naff and what is that circuit board hanging out of the back of it? The Spectrum can only play video as long as you have an expansion? Right.. OK.. so the Spectrum can’t play video then because you have to add something to it!

The expansion in question is the very excellent DivIDE.  It is an IDE interface that allows attaching large storage. Because yeah, you’re going to load a video file off a cassette tape!  The DivIDE is streaming the video file into the spectrum which is playing it with its own hardware! So its just a storage medium, the spectrum is doing all the muscle really not that!

The software in question is DivIDEo  which you can get here: http://divideo.zxdemo.org/

And here is another video the spectrum has done. (Sorry for the song – but whizzy on for the simpsons intro)

 

Why oh why would we want to do this? Why would someone today spend time making this?  Well you either get it, or you don’t. If you’re asking the question and feeling puzzled by all this. You don’t get it.