Looking for some 8-bit gaming action? Can’t afford the amazing prices of original Commodore 64 games on eBay? Not fond of C64 Mini? This is fine!

You can always build your own compact Commodore 64 using nothing more than an affordable Raspberry Pi. Here’s everything you need to know about how to do it.

Why not use the C64 Mini?

Released in early 2018, the C64 Mini is a compact computer that successfully emulates the original Commodore 64. Unfortunately, it’s not without bugs and costs $100, which isn’t ideal. It’s hard to add your own game ROMs to the C64 Mini, and it comes without an AC adapter (which seems unforgivable these days).

C64 games like Turrican can run on Raspberry Pi with VICE64

The C64 Mini also comes with a joystick that acts as a controller for navigating the system, launching games, making saves, and more. Unfortunately, this is not a very good joystick.

While it might be ideal for hardcore enthusiasts, there’s a chance the C64 Mini could give the newbie a very poor 8-bit gaming experience. Fortunately, there is an alternative: your Raspberry Pi.

Use any Raspberry Pi model you like!

Often in projects like this, you are limited by the hardware limitations of the Raspberry Pi. For example, running Sega Dreamcast games on Raspberry Pi requires Raspberry Pi 2 or later.

Luckily, you can run Commodore 64 emulators on just about any Raspberry Pi model you can get your hands on. Be it the original Raspberry Pi A, B or Zero any Pi is suitable for Commodore 64 emulation!

While you can install RetroPie and set up a VICE64 emulator, you’ll get more reliable results with a dedicated system. Two examples are available:

  • Combian64: A Raspbian-based system that boots directly into the VICE 64 emulator. This fits almost all Raspberry Pi models and was made by Carmelo Maiolino.
  • C64 by Pi Lizard: Based on Raspbian Lite, has screen settings, and is designed for Raspberry Pi 3. Like Combian64, it boots directly into the VICE64 environment.

The option you choose depends on the model of Raspberry Pi you are using. We’re using Pi Lizard’s C64 for this tutorial, but the instructions for the Combian 64 won’t be much different.

With your Raspberry Pi, you’ll need a microSD card, an HDMI cable, and a reliable power source. You should also have a comfortable USB keyboard (a mouse isn’t all that important, although it should work) and a USB joystick. Games for the C64 were either keyboard or joystick based, making gamepads and Xbox controllers less suitable.

Choose the Right Raspberry Pi Case

Also, you can put your Raspberry Pi in a suitable C64 style case. Some are available, but they are not the cheapest options due to the complexity of the design.

For example, the Raspberry Pi’s NES-style case is much simpler, after all, there’s no keyboard. For example, you’ll find a C64-based case on eBay, but you can save a lot of money by using a standard Raspberry Pi case.

There is also the option to 3D print your own case using the Freakdude design, which you can download from Thingiverse.

Take C64 Image for Raspberry Pi

Start by choosing your preferred C64 disk image and burning it to your microSD card. You’ll need at least a 2GB card for this, although the more space you have, the more games you can cram in.

The best tool for this is Ether, which you can find on etcher.io. Download the tool (it’s available for Windows, MacOS and Linux), install and run it, then use » Select image, to find the downloaded IMG file, and » Select Disk», to select a formatted microSD card (this should be detected automatically). After selecting all, click flash, to burn the disc image to a microSD card.

Other options are available for installing disk images on Raspberry Pi

Once the disk image is written to your microSD, remove the disk from your computer, insert it into your Raspberry Pi and boot up. Welcome to your new Commodore 64!

Adding games to the Pi 64

Ready to start playing? You will need some game ROMs to enjoy your games on the custom built mini C64. ROMs are in D64 or T64 format, depending on whether they were created from disc or tape (some tape ROMs use the TAP file extension).

Add Games to Raspberry Pi Commodore 64 Emulator via SFTP

We cannot give you any links to search for ROMs online. You will have to use your favorite search engine to find Commodore 64 ROM files. Please note that you should not use discs for which you do not have physical media.

Once you have the ROM, you have three options for adding games to your Raspberry Pi. We assume that you have downloaded them on your computer first. They should be stored in the /software directory.

  1. Copy game discs via USB stick.
  2. Remove the microSD card and copy the ROM to a directory /software/ In chapter / root / . You will need to use Linux (or a Linux VM.) for this approach.
  3. Using an FTP client with SFTP functionality, you can remotely connect to your Raspberry Pi and upload games to the /software/ . Before doing this, remove the microSD card from your Raspberry Pi and create an empty text file in the directory /boot/s name ssh which will allow you to connect via SSH. Use the default Raspbian username («pi») and password («raspberry») to log in.

Play C64 games on Raspberry Pi

Once your game library is loaded, it’s time to play. Just like the original Commodore 64, all you have to do is paste the game in and then enter the download command. To access the VICE menu, press F12 on the keyboard or Start on the game controller.

Attach disk or tape image for download

Here you can view various options, from attaching game images (in tape or disk format) to connecting to a network via Ethernet. You can also take screenshots, record audio, and save or load in-game snapshots. While in the old days it was mostly impossible to save your games on the C64, now you can easily save your progress as a snapshot and come back to it later!

Autorun game ROMs in VICE64 on Raspberry Pi

However, for simple Commodore 64 games, you don’t need to make any major configuration changes. To download games after attaching an image, use autoplay image . Tape ROM will take longer to load than disk ROMs, so D64 files should load faster than T64 files.

Note. AT alternatively, if you want to experience C64 nostalgia, plug in a keyboard and type LOAD for T64 files and LOAD «*», 8.1 for D64 files. Press Enter on your keyboard when you’re ready.

In a few minutes, you will be experiencing some 8-bit retro gaming magic on your dedicated C64 mini computer. Don’t get lost in this huge library of games! When you’re done, click Start then find Quit Emulator on the menu. Select this and the C64 emulator will exit and the Raspberry Pi will shut down.

Looking for another emulation platform? Don’t worry, you are not limited to C64. Many retro game consoles can also be emulated on the Raspberry Pi.

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