REVIEW: Pocket Commodore 64 3.0 released with multiplayer (!), VASTLY improved core and VIC-20 support!

A major breakthrough in C64 emulation: the long-awaited version 3.0 of Pocket Commodore 64 Plus Vic 20 has just been released!

If you’ve read the Commodore 64 Emulation Bible (make sure you read it; in this article, I will NOT elaborate on how you can import / run games under the emulator), you already know that Pocket Commodore 64 has, apart from the CPU usage problem, always been the best C64 emulator for the platform.

The new version, along with a plethora of new features,

- also fixes the CPU usage problem (on the 624 MHz Del Axim x51v, while just idling, while the previous version uses all the CPU cycles, the new one about 35%... 45% (measured on the x51v and the iPAQ 210, respectively; both running at 624 MHz).
- has built-in support for the Commodore VIC 20
- it supports edge softening on VGA devices (accessible via Settings / Soften video). This has excellent results. For example, compare the following two screenshots:


(non-smoothed)

(smoothed)

The smoothed version is indeed much easier on the eyes – as is the case with, say, ScummVM running on high-res devices (not only on Windows Mobile but also, say, high-res Symbian devices like the E90).

Multiplayer - a full tutorial

Another major new feature is supporting a non-multicast IP-based LAN / Internet multiplayer games (read THIS if you don't know what they are and how they should be used). This works the following way (unfortunately, it’s pretty vaguely explained in the original docs so I found it better to explain it more verbosely).

1. Connect the two Pocket PC’s to the Net; make sure at least one has a direct IP visible. This is always the case in p2p networks like an ad-hoc Wi-Fi connection between the two Pocket PC’s or two PPC’s connecting to the same access point. However, as the IP model is VERY flexible (much more flexible than, say, doing the same with an app with native Microsoft BT support only), you can play a multiplayer game over any kind of connection – even with a remote friend.

2. Start the standard (PComm64) emulator on the server, on the client PCRemote64

3. On the server, go to Settings / Setup Controls (the third button from the top on the bottom left):

Click Network Game in the upper right corner of the interface (well above the huge Close button).

Now, PC64 will report the server running and will also display the IP you’ll need to enter to the client:

4. On the client, enter the server address (the input field takes the same area as the three virtual drive icons normally); here, 169.254.155.017 (note that it’s different from the previous screenshot)

and click Connect under the IP input field:

Note that all the file loading icons are disabled. This is because it’s always the server that must initiate file loading; the client doesn’t need to do anything.

I’ve played Wizard of Wor in this setup (over a Wi-Fi p2p LAN connection). Worked flawlessly (apart from being a little bit slow), particularly after increasing the, by default, 1 frameskip a bit. With Archon, however, firing didn’t work at all on either the server or the client, rendering the battle useless and, consequently, the game unplayable. I haven’t tested other, multiplayer games.

Emulation core compliance tests

The new version also boasts of a brand new emulator core. I’ve thoroughly tested it with my standard tools (games & demos) to see whether it’s true and how much it has been improved.

The emulation indeed seems to be better, meaning more games being compatible with the emulator. For example, while nothing happened after the cracking note with the old version, with the new, it got as far as the other, desktop-based emulators - with the Guild of thieves (Blast! 336 / *).

The demo tests have shown HUGELY improved compatibility:
- while it’s still incompatible with Altered States 50% by Taboo (compatible with VICE 1.21 on the desktop), it at least displays the first textual message screen (“His drive”…))
- Bumpmania by Arise resulted in exactly the same results than the other emulators (the first part ran OK; after that, it just showed a white screen)
- Biba 2 - Dream Injection by Arise – it sees a distorted, useless directory; can’t load anything
- Dutch Breeze by Blackmail runs pretty well
- Cycle by Booze Design: runs – with graphical glitches because of the FLI mode. At least the initial soundtrack selection screen is presented OK
- Follow the Sign 3 - Unsound Minds by Byterapers runs OK until after the logo:

Then, in the default Fast CPU emulation mode, it exists with an invalid opcode message and asking for enabling the accurate mode. Unfortunately, running it in the accurate mode doesn’t help either: it immediately hangs after the logo above.

- One-Der by Oxyron is played back OK in both(!) modes.
- Tower Power 100% by Camelot: works great (including the animated countdown) until the title in Fast CPU mode; then exits. Accurate mode doesn’t help either: it crashes.

All in all, the emulator core has indeed been made MUCH, incomparably better.

Cons

As far as the cons are concerned, unfortunately, the game still doesn’t seem to be compatible with MS Smartphones. That is, you’ll need to stick to the recently-updated and, now, by default QVGA and Landscape-compatible PocketHobbit. It has other bugfixes too and is (still) free.

Note that it does ask on touchscreen-enabled Pocket PC’s whether it has a touch screen. The "do you have a touchscreen device?" shows it MAY support non-touchscreen devices. However, on none of my Smartphones (HTC s310 WM5, HTC s710 WM6) did it work. While installing WMCab.cab worked, as opposed to PCommodore64Vic20Setup.exe - when installing the latter on the platform, the installer transferred a CAB file fully incompatible with the Smartphone –, the emulator itself refused to run complaining about a missing component. (Screenshots of the two Smartphones I’ve tested it on HERE and HERE).

I’m still waiting for the answer to some of my questions from the developers (for example, on possible rebates for 2.xx owners); as soon as I have some relevant info, I post an update.

Verdict

This is indeed a major breakthrough. The multiplayer, the lack of the CPU usage bug of the old versions and the really cool, new, MUCH more compatible emulator core makes this title a REAL must if you’re into Commodore 64 (and/or VC-20) emulation. While it’s a bit pricy, now, with all these enhancements and bugfixes, the emulator is certainly worth the money.

UPDATE (06/12/2008):

1. the new version has turned out to be supporting MS Smartphone (SP for short). As of now, the EXE installer isn’t guaranteed to deploy the right version on the phone, though. As the developer explained, “The installer works correctly depending on the version of Activesync and the number of devices. Since we are supporting all models from PPC through WM6 in one setup program, this can lead to issues with different versions of Activesync. Each CAB is versioned for the correct system and Activesync is supposed to select based on this data. This is a known issue with Activesync and has been open for a while, which is why we provide and prefer customers to use the cab files if they know how. I’ve been fighting with MS for months on this problem.” As the Smartphone CAB file isn’t available for separate download, you’ll need to get the PCommodore64Vic20Setup2.exe file, execute it and, then, go to \Documents and Settings\windows username\Local Settings\Temp\RarSFX0\ to localize WMSPCab.cab. Use this one. Hopefully the developers will release the CAB file as a separate download – as they’ve done with the PPC versions.

2. Using the SP version is pretty much the same as the PPC version. However, upon each start, you’ll need to supply a button to invoke the menu - that is, highlight the user interface elements in turn, using the up/left and down/right D-pad arrows; note that, when starting from the default upper left corner, you can go back to the lower right by pressing up/left. That is, you don’t need to scroll through all the buttons and icons, which would be pretty time-consuming:


I recommend using the Back hardware button for this feature because if you assign for example the camera button, the Camera app will always be invoked, along with the menu. The reason for the latter misfunction is that button disabling is limited to those supported under GAPI for each hardware device. If the manufacturer did not allow this button to be blocked during GAPI use, it is left active. You can’t assign a numeric button either, as they’re used for alphanumeric input (that is, you don’t need to use the on-screen, very slow-to-scroll keyboard for character input).

Incidentally, the two screenshots above show the interface on a 176*220 traditional MS Smartphone. As can be seen, no text is readable. It’s a bit better in Landscape, though. No such problems with QVGA Smartphones (and Pocket PC’s). Example screenshots:


(Portrait)

(Landscape)
Another screenshot without the GUI in Landscape. This is the maximum resolution you can get on a 176*220:

It’s just sufficient to run games:

While the same in Portrait:

3. legal owners of the 2.xx version are entitled to a massive, 72% (!) rebate by using the form HERE. This is quite a bargain, taking into account the vastly improved emulation core, the multiplayer support and the heavily reduced CPU load (meaning vastly improved battery life on most CPU platforms). Incidentally, on a 195 MHz 176*220 HTC s310 Smartphone, the CPU usage is about 65% when idling.

Note that if you purchase a license, you'll also be able to use it on the desktop version of the emulator. Yes, the EXE installer also installs a desktop version (available under Start / Programs / ClickGamer Technologies / WinCommodore64)

4. The developers plan to port the emulator to both Symbian S60 and the iPhone.

UPDATE (10/31/2009): Posted three videos demonstrating how multiplayer needs to be set up and used on three great two-player games.



Note:

1. in order to have access to the “fire†functionality, I had to manually assign each and every direction to the hardware D-pad and use the on-screen fire button to fire.

2. I needed to enter the IP of the server only once; this is why I don't enter it on the videos at all

3. I switch to "no slowdown" mode during loading of sll the three titles to speed up loading and skipping intros



The videos:



Adept (Archon II)

Wizard of Wor

International Karate



Also, note that a c64 emulator has also been released for the iPhone - and, then, pulled from the AppStore – some six weeks (!) ago. It’s still not known whether it’ll ever re-appear there. (See THIS for more info.) Speaking of being pulled: the Windows Mobile version has disappeared from ClickGamer. I hope the project isn’t officially abandoned…

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