iPhone Life magazine

At last: C64 emulation is possible on the iPhone – and, what is more, without jailbreaking!

Other mobile platforms have long been having decent Commodore 64 (C64) emulators. It’s probably Windows Mobile that is best equipped with these: on that platform, there are several C64 emulators, Pocket Commodore 64 3.0 being without doubt the best, offering even wireless multiplayer (!). It’s so good I’ve shelled out some $30 for it – without any hesitation. Please see THIS (the 3.0-specific article) and THIS (a generic overview of emulating the C64 on Windows Mobile) for more info on how the Windows Mobile version (on which the iPhone version is based) fares, what it’s compatible with etc.



NOTE: this article does NOT have any information on how you can transfer your own games into the emulator. While I do strongly disagree with Apple’s not allowing a fully unlocked emulator to be released (not even at a much higher price point) while, on Windows Mobile, the big bother of this title, you can transfer any title for your Pocket Commodore 64 and there aren’t any restrictions at all, I don’t link to (or publish) any tutorials explaining these. Sorry guys – don’t even try asking me privately how these games should be transferred.

Enabling BASIC

The current version, “thanks” to Apple, doesn’t currently support BASIC. However, it’s very easy to enable it.

If you have a jailbroken phone, just overwrite
- nobasicoverlay.png with either overlay2.png or newoverlay_interlaced.png (Portrait mode)
- nobasicoverlay_landscape.png with ls-overlay-skin.png (Landscape)
in the application directory of the game and enable full keyboard in Settings. Then, after starting the emulator, you’ll be greeted by the familiar BASIC prompt:




If you don’t have a jailbroken phone (and, therefore, don’t have access to the file system), just start any game and, then, go to the “Extra” keyboard in Portrait mode and tap the “Reset” button.

Note that there’s no semicolon (;) on any of the virtual keyboards (unlike on the Windows Mobile version), which, in some (rare) cases may mean you won’t be able to access some functionalities.

Problems

Currently the problems (not having any effect on the currently, officially available titles because none of them requires autofire or strict joystick movements; hopefully these, currently, missing functionalities will soon be added):

There’s no autofire (unlike in the Windows Mobile version): some of the more widely known, affected games are Commando and Uridium.

Not very strict joystick handling – games requiring very precise movements may suffer. For example, in Paradroid, it’s almost impossible to play the “Chip” game – you simply can’t issue single up/down movements, unlike on the original C64 (or a desktop emulator) and will constantly overrun target chip pins you would like to target. Incidentally, I’ve also shown an example of this in the video belonging to this article.

The emulator also allows for emulating the CPU built into the 1541 driver to “fool”, for example, some copy protection mechanisms. Nevertheless, some of the heavily copy protected games like those of Magnetic Scrolls won’t work even with enabled 1541 CPU emulation, it seems (at least Fish! didn’t work in my tests).

Currently, multi-disk games are a bit harder to play (albeit they are playable). On Windows Mobile, disk emulation – in this respect – is better as you have four virtual drives and, if they turn out to be insufficient, you can always swap virtual disks. I’m absolutely sure this will have been fixed when multi-disk games are approved.

I’ve run into a problem trying to run the most widely available version of Uridium (03/12/1994 03:23 PM, 53,092 bytes) – both the Windows Mobile (3.0) version and the iPhone one refuse to run it (they just hang with the screen garbled), unlike VICE on the desktop. A Uridium fan hack, URID_NEW.T64 (03/16/1996 10:37 PM; 40,324 bytes), on the other hand, worked just fine. (Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the original maps.)

Example demo video

I’ve made a demo video showing some of the best C64 titles running on the iPhone 3G S. (Note that the video, in order to be able to shoot it in HD, had to use 15 fps; this is why it’s a bit stuttering.) It’s available HERE.

Verdict

While the current, initial version has few games bundled (and they aren’t of very high quality either), now that the emulator has been approved by Apple, other game developers may allow for publishing their titles much-much more easily. Add to this the core emulation’s superiority (again, check out my compatibility tests, particularly those of version 3.0). That is, this emulator is highly recommended and has great potential, particularly when the flow of the add-on game packs (most of them free) start to appear in AppStore. Go get it!

I can only hope manomio will port all the goodies of the Windows Mobile version - for example, wireless multiplayer, which is just excellent with games like Wizard of Wor.

 

UPDATE (08/Sep/2009): Apple has pulled the emulator because of BASIC - it's no longer available in the AppStore. 



UPDATE (10/31/2009): I’ve posted, as a “teaser” and also as a friendly nudge to the developers of the iPhone port to implement this functionality in the iPhone version as well, three videos demonstrating how great wireless multiplayer works in the Windows Mobile version and how nice playing multiplayer titles is:

Adept (Archon II)
Wizard of Wor
International Karate

BTW, the emulator still (after some seven (!) weeks) hasn’t re-approved for the AppStore. I hope it will be some day... Want to master your iPhone and iPad? Sign up here to get our tip of the day delivered right to your inbox.
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Werner Ruotsalainen is an iOS and Java programming lecturer who is well-versed in programming, hacking, operating systems, and programming languages. Werner tries to generate unique articles on subjects not widely discussed. Some of his articles are highly technical and are intended for other programmers and coders.

Werner also is interested in photography and videography. He is a frequent contributor to not only mobile and computing publications, but also photo and video forums. He loves swimming, skiing, going to the gym, and using his iPads. English is one of several languages he speaks.