VICE is the VersatIle Commodore Emulator for Commodore computers of the 8-bit era that has been in continuous development since 1993. The emulators produced by the VICE team are famously accurate and include nearly every 8-bit Commodore machines ever released, along with an entire ecosystem of vintage hardware devices.
The systems emulated by VICE include:
- xpet PET — (1977–1982) an early personal computer sold in multiple configurations, widely used in the business and education market prior to the Apple II. The system supported either 40 or 80 column text output and no graphics or sound support.
- xvic VIC 20 — (1982–1985) personal computer with minimal RAM and a 22-column display targeting the home market with simple graphics and sound. The VIC-20 was mostly a game system with many titles using cartridges to help overcome the system's anemic (even by the standards of the era) 5kB of RAM.
- x64sc Commodore 64 — (1982–1994) the most popular home computer of all time with 64k of RAM, a 40 column display, 16 colors, and the best sound chip of any PC of the era.
- x64dtv C64 Direct-to-TV — (2004–present) slightly enhanced C64 implemented on an FPGA in a joystick formfactor.
- xscpu64 CMD SuperCPU 64 — (1997–2001) a rare accelerator cartridge for the C64 that appeared very late in the system's life. It included a WDC 65816 CPU running at 20MHz and supported up to 16MB of RAM.
- x128 Commodore 128 — (1985–1989) a personal computer with 128kB of RAM, 80 column graphics and text, a C64 compatibility mode, and a CP/M Z80 mode.
- xplus4 Plus/4 — (1984–1985) a personal computer with a built in productivity suite that failed to find a market.
Very few Commodore systems remain unemulated. The most notable gaps are:
- The Commdore 65 an unreleased Commodore intended to be semi-compatible with the C64 but include enhanced graphics and sound. An enhanced version of this product exists in the open source MEGA65 which has its own emulator.
- The Commodore LCD an unreleased laptop intended to compete against the TRS-80 Model 100.
- CMD SuperCPU 128 an accelerator cartridge for the C64 that appeared very late in the system's life. It included a WDC 65816 CPU running at 20MHz and supported up to 16MB of RAM. This product was released but is unclear if any software was ever written specifically for it. This device even more rare than its C64 counterpart.
Emulators can be built with either a GTK interface for conventional GUI support or SDL for a more immersive user experience. Additionally VICE has a number of tools that are useful for developers who write games or other software targeting these systems.
VICE Development Tools
The remote monitor can be run by passing (emulator) -remotemonitor at runtime. The monitor then becomes available over tcp/6510 via telnet or netcat. This allows the user to manually interrogate the state of the emulated machine, view memory, watch execution, mark breakpoints, etc.
Similar functionality to the remote monitor but with some key differences:
- It is invoked with (emulator) -binarymonitor and listens to tcp/6502.
- All commands are prefixed with byte 0x02.
- It's designed to be accessed via an external scripting language of the developer's choice rather than accessed directly by a human.
Commodore BASIC like other BASIC implementations of the era use single byte tokens to represent BASIC keywords. For example, the DATA command is byte 0x83 and the PRINT command is byte 0x99. This saves RAM in an era when every byte was a precious resource.
The petcat command allows for the tokenization and detokenization of BASIC source code. Source code extracted from the emulated system will be converted to an ASCII text file that can be modified by any plain text editor such as vim or emacs. PETSCII control codes without ASCII counterparts will be converted into macros in curly braces.
While it is primarily used to handle BASIC files, petcat can also convert PETSCII encoded text documents to plain ASCII and vice-versa.
The c1541 tool allows for most Commodore disk images. New disks images can be created, files can be extracted, or new files added.
USE flags for app-emulation/vice Versatile Commodore Emulator
||Add support for media-libs/alsa-lib (Advanced Linux Sound Architecture)|
||Enable extra debug codepaths, like asserts and extra output. If you want to get meaningful backtraces see https://wiki.gentoo.org/wiki/Project:Quality_Assurance/Backtraces|
||Add extra documentation (API, Javadoc, etc). It is recommended to enable per package instead of globally|
||Enable ethernet emulation|
||Enable ffmpeg/libav-based audio/video codec support|
||Add support for FLAC: Free Lossless Audio Codec|
||Add GIF image support|
||Add support for x11-libs/gtk+ (The GIMP Toolkit)|
||Include the headless variant of the emulator|
||Prefer using LAME libraries for MP3 encoding support|
||Enable mp3@64 cartridge support|
||Add support for the Ogg container format (commonly used by Vorbis, Theora and flac)|
||Build support for the OpenMP (support parallel computing), requires >=sys-devel/gcc-4.2 built with USE="openmp"|
||Add support for OSS (Open Sound System)|
||Enable parallel port SID support|
||Enable PCI device discovery using sys-apps/pciutils|
||Add support for libpng (PNG images)|
||Add support for the crossplatform portaudio audio API|
||Add sound server support via media-libs/libpulse (may be PulseAudio or PipeWire)|
||Add support for Simple Direct Layer (media library)|
||Add support for zlib (de)compression|
emerge --ask app-emulation/vice
- ~/.config/vice — Local (per user) configuration file.
Inability to access CPU history in the monitor
The remote monitor's CPU history feature is disabled by default. To enable it, VICE must be compiled with the cpu_history use flag.
How do I convert a BASIC game to ASCII text or vice-versa?
The syntax for petcat is somewhat counterintuitive. Different BASIC versions require different options and, because CBM BASIC had many overlapping extensions provided by third parties the specific BASIC version cannot be autodetected. Assuming a CBM BASIC v2 file from a VIC-20 or C64, to tokenize it run the following command:
petcat -w2 -o tokenized-file.prg -- detokenized-text-file.bas
Similarly, to convert a tokenized BASIC file to ASCII text, do the following:
petcat -w2 -o program.bas -- program.prg
Is it possible to port CBM BASIC to a modern BASIC implementation?
Yes, with effort — assuming the code isn't heavily laden with 6502 machine language instructions packed into DATA statements.
In principal, once a CBM BASIC file is detokenized into ASCII there several modern BASICs which can serve as a migration target. In practice, FreeBASIC which was originally an open source clone of QuickBASIC makes an ideal target because it supports both legacy BASIC programming styles and a modern fully featured BASIC dialect. Further, unlike many BASIC implementations FreeBASIC is compiled, not interpreted.
The downside is that the FreeBASIC compiler lacks sprite support. So the use of a bitmap graphics library that supports sprites will be necessary. Also, while FreeBASIC supports PEEK and POKE keywords in "qb" mode the memory map is completely different. So replacing these with their functional equivalents is likely to be tedious.
How do I configure VICE to use JiffyDOS or other Third Party Kernal?
First, you must legally obtain a JiffyDOS license from Retro Innovations. (Yes, that's right, the JiffyDOS firmware is sill commercially available nearly 40 years after its initial release.) Once you have a copy of the JiffyDOS kernal and drive ROMS edit ~/.config/vice as follows:
[C64] DosName1541="/location/of/rom/jiffydos-1541.bin" KernalName="/location/of/rom/jiffydos-kernal.bin"
The foregoing assumes the most common configuration: a C64 paired with the 1541 floppy disk drive. The above example can be easily modified for other configurations. Please note that with JiffyDOS enabled the kernal disables tape drive support if present.
I am a C64 developer/demo coder, how do I make unit testing with VICE's monitor faster?
When the C64 emulator starts the kernal performs a memory test and returns the number of free bytes available to the system. Since it's an emulated machine and virtual RAM does not fail, it's possible to disable this test. After making a copy of your kernal from whatever version suits you, perform a binary edit with xxd as follows:
echo "1d69: 9f"
xxd -r - kernal-quick-memtest
Once you have your edited kernal ROM, modify your vicerc or pass this modified kernal at runtime. This will shave ~3 seconds off the start up time of the emulated system. This saves a lot of time when performing rapid unit testing, especially of such unit tests are performed in serial.
Lastly, consider using a unit testing tool that supports thread safe async. Multiple overlapping tests will complete faster. If you take this approach, each instance of the vice monitor will need to be run on a different port. This can be accomplished with the
x64sc.gtk -remotemonitoraddress 127.0.0.1:65xx
where xx is the desired port. This same trick will work with the binary monitor. Note the default ports for the remote monitor is tcp/6510 and tcp/6502 for the binary monitor.
emerge --ask --depclean --verbose app-emulation/vice
- xa — a high-speed, two-pass portable cross-assembler for the 6502 CPU with a C-like preprocessor
- FreeBASIC — a modern, self-hosting, object oriented, BASIC compiler with a QuickBASIC compatibility mode
- Codebase64 a wiki devoted to C64 development.
- 64tass a powerful and expressive macro assembler for the 6502-based computers.
- C64 Wiki a wiki devoted to all things C64.
- The Commander X16 The 8-bit Guy's "8-bit dream machine" built with discrete components intended as a learning tool. An open source emulator is available on GitHub.
- The MEGA65 an open source greatly enhanced clone of the unreleased Commodore 65 home computer designed around an FPGA and currently currently in production. An open source emulator is also available on GitHub.