They say you never really forget your first love and whilst my first foray into the world of video games was with an Atari 2600, I’d probably say my first real love was arrived in the form of a Commodore 64 which was given to me for my 12th birthday back in 1990 and which I still own today. As you can see from the picture below, It is in reasonably good shape considering the level of abuse that I have given it over the years.
Released way back in 1982 in a beige brown breadbin style casing, the Commodore 64 really does not need too much of an introduction. It remains one of the best-selling home computers of all time with around 17 million machines sold around the world. Its games library is so iconic and varied that it could easily fill a 500 page encyclopedia and the Sound Interface Device, known more commonly as the SID chip is a distinctive and iconic sound which has influenced all manner of video game composers modern-day chart acts and even its own radio station in the form of Slay Radio.
The Commodore 64 is a pretty versatile machine when it comes to loading software programs. Most UK-based games players will remember having to load games off a C2N Datacorder and those iconic Ocean loading tunes composed by Jonathan Dunn, however for many users elsewhere around the world, a lot of software also came out on 5 1/4 inch floppies.Many years later I managed to pick up a 1541 disk drive cheaply 2nd hand and the disk drive remains a handy and rather sought after peripheral in order to try out games, although many users have discovered the simplicity of a much smaller and less power-hungry SD card through the SD2IEC drive.
The machine also features a cartridge port which allows you to play a number of cartridge games which were released back in the early 80’s and 1991 when Commodore unwisely saw it fit to release a cartridge only version of the machine in the Commodore 64 Games System.
A large proportion of Amiga owners first owned a Commodore 64 back in the 1980’s and early 1990’s and are well aware of what a great little machine this is, however what if you missed out on the party the first time round and are interested in taking a look either via one of the current C64 Mini machines or via emulation? Well today’s blog post will be looking at a program called VICE which will allow you to explore not just the C64 but the other machines in Commodore’s 8-bit range such as the VIC-20 and the Commodore 16 and Plus 4 although for the purposes of this post I will be looking specifically at the C64.
Now it should be noted that there are quite a few and more up to date versions of VICE knocking about the internet, but the one I will be looking at today is one that definitely works on the X5000 and is version 1.22 which can be found on OS4 Depot. A more recent version on OS4 Depot (version 2.420) runs a little sluggish and suffers from corrupted sound and version 3.1 found on Sourceforge locks up my X5000 on start. I haven’t quite worked out what would appear to be causing these issues, but I think it’s better to focus on what does work right?
Extraction of the file from OS4 Depot to my Ram Disk reveals a .tar file which you will then need to extract further.
Simply extract this to a folder of your choosing, in this case I have C64 folder already set up in a folder I have called emulators.
In it I have a load of C64 program files so I simply extract the emulator into this folder.
Once extracted and you open up the VICE folder, you have a number of options to emulate various machines from Commodore’s range of 8-bit machines:
- Commodore PET (xpet.exe)
- VIC 20 (xvic.exe)
- Commodore Plus 4 (xplus4.exe)
- Commodore 64 (x64.exe)
- Commodore 128 (x128.exe)
You also have the option to add one of the logos to the X-Dock which I have done as a sub-dock emulator folder.
To add a program to the X-Dock just simply add and select wherever you have placed the executable file.
Once added you can see that the Commodore icon has appeared and to start the program you just need to double-click.
For those interested in the other tabs on my sub-dock, they are DGEN (Mega Drive), FPSE (Playstation), Hatari (Atari ST/Falcon), SimCoupe (Sam Coupe), Arcem (Acorn Archimedes), Atari++ (Atari 8-bit), OSMoSe (Sega Master System), SNES9X (Super Nintendo), GNgeoNG (NeoGeo), VICE (C64), FUSE (Spectrum) and AmiNES(Nintendo NES).
Opening up VICE reveals that famous Commodore 64 Basic screen.
The first thing you may want to set up are the Joysticks for use with the emulator. The Commodore 64 features two joystick ports and many of the games will load from port 2.If you are playing solo, I would probably recommend configuring both ports under Joystick configuration A. As for what Joysticks or pads to use, well the Competition Pro USB is the obvious choice here as most Commodore 64 game players would have used a joystick, although it works just as well with a Xeox Speedlink or Logitech 310 joy pad.
Another thing you may want to configure beforehand, is in regards to the SID chip. Having owned the later model with the 8580 SID chip, I am pretty used to hearing all its idiosyncrasies and listening tosamples from certain games, however for the purists out there or those who owned the earlier breadbin model, you may want to consider the original 6581 model.
Other configuration options I would consider adjusting are in the menu option above. Turning on warp mode is tempting when loading games to ensure that games load quickly as the original 1541 drive is notoriously slow and really benefited from the use of an Epyx Fastloader cartridge, but make sure that this switched off once you are in-game and I would also recommend that your drive lights are left switched on as on some games like R-Type where there can be black screen pauses, it can be handy to see if the drive is being accessed or not.
Loading a game is quite easy, in fact the autostart disk/tape image option matters quite a lot as there is no need to enter in any Load “*”,8,1 commands. Similar to the CBM file browser, the VICE emulator will open up a file explorer within AmigaOS allowing you to select the required .d64 or .prg file from wherever your files are stored. The only thing you will need to be aware of is when you have games that are on multiple disks. When the screen prompts you to insert the next disk, you will need to right-click the mouse to bring up the file menu and select attach disk image and attach this to drive 8 which is the standard Commodore 64 drive.
The first game we are loading up is Flimbo’s Quest an iconic title which many people will have played on cartridge format as it was bundled as an in-game pack for those who purchased the Playful Intelligence pack back in late 1990/early 1991.
The game still plays really well and I consider this to be much better than the Amiga or Atari ST versions which came out. It features some nice parallax scrolling effects which are quite similar those found in another well-known Commodore 64 game, Hawkeye. The SID chip belts a number of good tunes in this game.
Another of my favourite games is this Commodore 64 exclusive release Slicks from Codemasters released in 1992.
The Commodore 64 never got to see a release of the Micro Machines game that graced other platforms around the same time, so this game is about a close as you are going to get in terms of gameplay, even though you are racing around in Formula one cars. In my humble opinion, this game actually plays better than the Micro Machines series.
You get to challenge other drivers for possession of their cars, but for me one of the best challenges is to try to win races using the not so powerful Benetton car. It is possible to do, it just involves you cutting corners in all the right spaces and a bit of luck!
Not many people realise that Alien 3 got a conversion to the Commodore 64, Virgin released this back in late 1992/early 1993 and was converted by Probe Software who did a really good job.
Similar in style to the Nintendo NES and Sega Master System versions, I think this version surpasses them and again the SID chip is the star here, belting out a good rendition of the in-game tunes found on the Amiga version.
Mayhem in Monsterland is the jewel in the crown of Commodore 64 titles and famous for being the only Commodore 64 game to have ever scored 100% in Commodore Format.
For those who have never played it, it is a bit of a Super Mario Clone, where each world is split into two sections. The first section of each world is all grey and dull and it is Mayhem’s job to collect all the magic dust to turn the second part of the world all a riot of colour.
Once you have collected the required magic dust, you are submerged into a world up until then never seen before on the Commodore 64 which is perhaps the fastest and most colourful you will ever seen. On a machine which was limited to just 16 colours, three of which were variants of grey, many games often had a distinctive look about them, but Mayhem in Monsterland looked unlike anything on the Commodore 64.
Lemmings was the last commercially available game in UK shops and got its conversion a good 3-4 years after the Amiga version.
It’s not the best 8-bit version out there, as I think the Sam Coupe version is the best one, but given the Commodore 64’s limitations I think it does an admiral job.
The Commodore 64 has a pretty active homebrew scene and there are companies like Psytronik, RGCD and Protovision helping to fill a void left behind by mainstream publishing companies. The good news is that many of these companies now supply their games in a digital as well as a physical format allowing you to try these out under emulation or through the new C64 Mini machine.
Galencia released in 2017 is an homage to the classic shoot-em-up Galaga and I have to say this game plays really well.
I wouldn’t say this is as good as Galaga-88 on the PC Engine, but the graphics and soundtrack in this game are really well done and the difficulty level is not set too hard.
Sam’s Journey is another game which was released in 2017 and comes in this rather professional looking box which I purchased in cartridge format.
It also available as a digital download so you can play with through the VICE emulator.
Similar to Mayhem in Monsterland, this game is a riot of colour and is incredibly well done. There are lots of very clever tricks in the gameplay where you will need to bounce off baddies in order to reach a higher platform, or use a cannon ball to launch yourself up to another level. There are various power up points in the game where your character will turn into a ninja or a pirate complete with a new weapon in order to kill all the baddies on-screen.
Now you will have noticed that I have made mention of the C64 Mini machine, which for those unable to get their hands on the original hardware, is what I would consider to be VICE’s main competition here and it is worth looking at how these both compare in terms of performance. The C64 Mini appeared last year and is a Linux-based box using a closed version of VICE and allows you to play one of the 64 pre-installed games or load your own via USB key thanks to a recent firmware update.
The C64 Mini is a much more polished offering in terms of its front end as it allows you to select games from a nice looking GUI.
However this only applies to the 64 games which are currently supplied with the machine as any other games which you may need to load on are done through a file browser. The C64 Mini also requires you to plug-in a keyboard and limits you to a certain types of controllers of which the supplied joystick is a little on the stiff side especially when it comes to doing diagonals. It is interesting to note that when I tried to plug-in my own USB Competition Pro, it didn’t work and that joystick whilst looking the same is far more responsive.
The lack of USB ports on the mini machine is can also be an issue so you will also have to invest in a USB hub. That being said the C64 Mini, once you have everything set up, looks and sounds fantastic on a modern TV thanks to the default HDMI output and the ability to subtly tweak the picture to give a CRT effect with some subtle scan lines adds makes it hard to distinguish it from the original Commodore 64 machine.
The AmigaOS version of VICE by comparison offers a good quality emulation of an actual Commodore 64 with the ability to tweak no end of video and sound chip settings. The output in HDMI via the graphics card looks quite good although PAL displays combined with scanline effects are not as polished and can appear a little washed out in colour. I would also not recommend the use of the High Quality filter mode which is available as this often gives a rather un-natural look to the switch on-screen and the pixels on screen.
Keyboard use works incredibly well once you work out that the Run/Stop key found on an original Commodore 64 corresponds to the ESC key on your keyboard. You also have the option to configure your mouse for games which on a real machine supported a 1351 mouse (Operation Wolf comes in handy for this) as does the GEOS operating environment.
It is a bit of a shame that the more up to date versions of this emulation package do not run properly on the X5000, but what we do have works quite well and comes recommended. For those who havent really followed the Commodore 64 scene for a while and are curious to find out what things have been happening with it, VICE offers a good opportunity to check out some fantastic games which have been released for the platform over the past few years. Whilst you are at it, you may want to pick up a copy of the iconic Zzap64 annual for 2019 which features no end of really good reviews and features.
Until next time have fun with your Amigas!