I recently received a little bit of a ribbing, I suppose, via email about not writing about emulators that were not of the Nintendo vintage. This is a fair criticism, I probably spend more time messing with Commodore 64 things such as chatting on IRC with a Commodore 64 or playing with my new THEC64 Maxi (more on that at a later date).
I have been doing some dabbling with the Commodore 64 again, but instead of just running or configuring things, I am interested in doing some application development. Instead of playing, doing something useful and practical. For real. That said, on a fresh clean installation of openSUSE Tumbleweed on my HP EliteBook I decided to install the latest VICE Emulator using the Open Build Service and do a little poking and playing around. It had been a while since I used the emulator.
The installation of VICE version 3.5 was quite trivial. Quite literally, just navigating here to install VICE for your version of openSUSE.
Number one on the list is that the GUI for VICE has completed transitioning to the GTK3 toolkit. This certainly is an improvement to the user experience. The menus work so much nicer now. They weren’t bad before but just had a bit of weirdness.
Mapping for THEC64 joystick has been added. Although, it would be nice to be able to map those buttons to specific keys, for instance, when playing the game Commando, it would be nice to have the other button or any of the buttons be the space bar so I could very easily play with just the joystick. If there are custom mappings, they don’t seem to easily present themselves.
The emulator’s timing is now directly driven by the host system’s audio device. I know that in previous versions, I have had issues with PulseAudio and VICE. I can say for certain, that is no longer an issue.
A bug in .tap file handling was fixed that caused some .tap files to not work in the preview widget(s). I have almost no childhood tape application usage, outside of me playing with it when creating my own applications.
There are numerous other fixes and improvements, for that list, navigate here. It is an extensive listing of changes which shows that the team has been incredibly busy. From my viewpoint, many of these fixes are issues that my limited usage wouldn’t see. I am impressed by the work being done on the finer details. Things I would not ever have picked up on.
Interesting User Interface improvements
I am going to admit right here, right off the cuff that I haven’t been using VICE much in the last few years so I do not know exactly when this was a thing. The first improvement that I really enjoy is the CPU and FPS tweaks that are easily accessible at the bottom of the window.
The reason for this is simple, really. There are some games that could use a slight speed boost to make more fun to play. Commando, for instance, when run on a “PAL” machine as opposed to “NTSC” just seems… slow. Or Karateka feels a bit slow to play and a speed boost, not too much, makes the game a lot more enjoyable to play.
Another nice feature is the joystick status along the bottom of the screen. A simple click on that pops up another menu where you can easily swap joystick ports or go right to the configuration tab in the settings. This is, without question, very handy.
The drive control in the corner is also incredibly handy for multi-disk games as well. I do appreciate these little details that make the user experience so much better. Sure, it isn’t quite as much fun as the real hardware but also doesn’t have the frustrations of the real hardware either.
Generally, it is more common to see some sort of Raspberry Pi OS or Debian based system as a retro gaming machine but the fine folks of the openSUSE community keep the repos up to date to have the latest in retro Commodore experiences. I love seeing the work being done to keep the Commodore experience alive. I know that much of this work has trickled into other projects which is what make the community based open source projects so wonderful.
I do want to highlight two individuals that are directly responsible for my excellent experience on openSUSE: Wolfgang Bauer and Karol Sławiński. You see these two names on the package change log for the last year. My sincere thank you goes to them.
If you haven’t kicked the tires of VICE recently, I highly recommend downloading version 3.5 and giving it another try. The GUI is better, the sound and video is better, the system controls are better based on the change log, the underpinnings are better. I think you will be pleasantly surprised on this refreshed experience.