It’s no secret that I’ve been a fan of the Commodore 64 for many years. It was my family’s third computer, after a Vic20 and 48K ZX Spectrum. I don’t count the Telesport, I couldn’t program that! The C64 was my main computer from 1989 to about 1994 and I went from programming in BASIC to exploring the depths of the machine with an Action Replay cartridge and programming demos in assembly. Since the late nineties I contented myself by using different emulators like PC64, Frodo and Vice but in the last year or so I’ve wondered about owning one again.
What I would consider the first resurgence of the C64 world for me was finding the Commodore Format blog. There’s also Zzap64.co.uk which has been going for ages but it’s an invaluable archive site. The CF blog has regular blog posts about this old magazine and features about new developments and I love it. I could blame the community of C64 fans on Twitter, the C64 sub Reddit and various C64 groups on Facebook. They’re always going on about playing this game or that game on “real hardware”, or how a certain demo doesn’t look perfect in an emulator. But really, I’d say it was the fanzine FREEZE64 that finally piqued my interest again. It’s a great read and Vinny, who publishes it, is always posting photos of the things he’s doing on the machine. The fanzine brings me back 30 years to when I first got the machine.
Peer pressure finally won. I bought a C64 on eBay and it arrived yesterday!
I’ve always wondered if it was possible to use a modern controller with the C64 and there are a few adaptors to do that. One of those is the TOM Rev2 adaptor and extension cable. It’s due to arrive at the end of the month, so fingers crossed it works well.
I have a 1541 II disk drive in the attic but there are better storage solutions available for the C64 now. One of those is the SD2IEC, an SD card reader for the machine. I bought the thefuturewas8bit SD2IEC and Fastload Cartridge. Conveniently an 8GB SD card can be purchased which is enough room to fit practically every C64 game on it!
The C64 produces a composite video signal and a video signal that was s-video before that was even a standard. My monitor doesn’t have either RCA/phono sockets, SCART or s-video port but it does have HDMI so I needed a converter. Scouring websites and forums for information about the best way to connect a C64 to HDMI is exhausting. Recommendations to buy one converter are followed by discouraging remarks from others about the same device. In the end I checked Amazon reviews and this Ex-Pro video converter seemed to fit the bill. It has phono and s-video sockets too!
Finally, I needed a video cable. I messed up and bought a C64 DIN to phono/RCA cable instead of s-video, but it works well enough. The screen image is nowhere near as clear as an emulator like Vice but I’ve ordered a similar cable with an s-video plug that I hope will be better.
The first thing I tried was one of my demos, Bits ‘n’ Bobs and it was amazing to see it run! The picture isn’t perfect and especially on this wide monitor everything is stretched. 4:3 it is not!
In a later demo, the CFORCE demo, I displayed a FLI picture in one part. That picture annoyingly bounced up and down which is probably a result of displaying on a modern monitor. On an old CRT it was fairly solid, apart from the usual fuzziness when displaying FLI pictures.
Getting it all set up was a challenge, mainly to find space for it, but I made room. Using the “picture in picture” mode of my monitor the display is smaller and the effects of the component cable less noticeable.
The SD2IEC and fastloader cartridge are a game changer. No more fiddling with ageing physical disks that are likely to be unreadable. I’m already missing the Action Replay though. F1 to load and F3 to list a disk is just that tiny bit more convenient than the Epyx Fastloader equivalents.
I just bought an Over Voltage Protector as I’m paranoid. This machine came with a Micro Mate power supply but power supplies fail and the C64’s chips are sensitive to more than 5.5V. This should hopefully stop that happening if the PSU fails.
Now I’ve got one of these machines I want to get an Ultimate 64. It’s a fascinating bit of kit, and the price of it put me off before, but it’s actually cheap when you consider everything it does!
So, what games should I play on it? I’m without a joystick or controller so it’s keyboard only. I asked on Twitter and I have to try Thrust, The Sentinel, West Bank, Skooldaze and the recently released Neutron on it as they all support keyboard. I already played Stunt Car Racer which brought back plenty of memories. 🙂
Edit: The s-video cable arrived and the video quality is much better. There’s still faint vertical lines but I can live with those.
Edit on 12th June: I just received this female RCA to 3.5mm earphone jack and I can finally hear the SID on decent speakers! The sound from my HDMI monitor is woeful so I’ve been looking forward to this for a while.