KeyRah V2 Photo

KeyRah’d C=64

C64 Development has never had as much life as things have become in the last two years… not since Commodore’s hey day, anyway. Choices abound. Although this article focuses on my trials and trevails with emulating the C=64 with a Raspberry Pi Model 3 B+ and an interface providing access to an original keyboard and joysticks, there are many other solutions. I can’t afford to test and review them all, but I did do the KeyRah and a C=64 Reloaded MK II.

The original intent was to produce a side-by-side analysis of the end-user experience with the two options of KeyRah and MKII implementations. However, after being sick for a month or so and realizing that to conjoin the do would really be a disservice to each of them, I decided to address each individually. Later, I would like to return to do a compare. But, for now, let’s talk about the KeyRah’d C=64!

Henceforth, the KeyRah’d C=64 will be referred to as the K=64. I’m being arrogant and coining my own phrase. I’m sure some will take offence and some will adopt. I just like penguins, purple things and names that start with K.

Appoplexy nearly overtook me waiting for this stupid device to arrive. I am obsessive with tracking packages as they arrive. I had good tracking information from the UK Air Mail services. What I didn’t know is that you loose all tracking when it goes through US Customs. The USPS only reports “In Transit.” I through a BS flag and even called the USPS. They educated me to their procedures. They were nice to me. Probably hung up thinking they had a psycopath on their hands. I’m sure various government agencies are now building dossiers on me, or adding to the ones they have. Shoot, as verbose as I am, all they have to do is read one of my blogs. Screw hacking into my server. I just lay it all out there.

I do have to say, the KeyRah arrived quicker than expected. Taking only about 2.5 weeks, it arrived in a small box. Measuring about 8″x6″x1.5″, the box was placed in my mail drop on the side of the house. I do have to say, “sensible packaging.” I just ordered Tinker Board that came in a laptop box. Wasteful Americans.

I quickly gutted my C64C and then set up the Raspbery PI 3B+ KeyRah and all the wires and didn’t replace the cover. It was late at night and I had to pry the keyboard mounts off of the metal shielding. Do remove the metal shielding BEFORE trying to fit the RPi & KeyRah into the case. Metal has a way of shorting things out…. Yes. I had to get another RPi3B+ off my shelf to replace the one I fried. I’m getting good at cooking electronics. DON’T send me SBCs to fix. They are sacrificed to the burnt electronic gods.

I initially used Combian’s RPi release for expediency, knowing when I was rested I would replace the OS with my own customized version. I wanted to have this thing operate as best it could without extreme customization.

The ONLY thing I had go wrong software- or emulation-wise was the key maps. I had to do some research to find that there is a key map specific to Combian for the KeyRah. I would latch it here and I may later, if I find it again. I’m not a real fan of Combian, but that’s a different story. The developer provides a decent product that is incredibly expedient.

I joined Combian to the network, uploaded some games to it, hooked up and configured my 9-pin 8-position joysticks and began playing. The ability to feel the iconic keys of the C=64 beneath my finger tips was incredible.

GEOS, Zork, Space Taxi, Champions of Krynn, and, and, and…. It is quite a good feeling. I really cannot say anything bad about the K=64….save one. And it isn’t about the KeyRah, but more about VICE-emulated C=64s on a RPi. Downloading files from a telnet BBS is problematic. Hardware flow control is not enabled by default. However, the problem extends deeper than that. I wouldn’t be surprised if the failures I was experiencing had to do with VICE itself. The jury is out on that. I’ve been fighting it out for about a month now. It’ll be addressed in later articles.

However, if dowloading stuff from telnetable BBSs are not your thing and just want to browse them, or play games, the K=64 is what you want. I find the K=64 a price-concious solution that only requires a C=64 case, an RPi, the KeyRah and fancy mounts if you wish. I just use tact. I take things appart a bunch. The system just works. Engineering difficulty is low, money is moderat and enjoyment is high.

In closing, I had so much fun with the K=64 since I put it together, I’m having trouble using my grown-up laptop. I find it similar to comfort food, but for the eyes and fingertips. I’ve come to understand that the 40-column screen of the C=64 and 40- and 80-column screens of the C128 bring me joy and a level of calm that modern systems don’t.

I hope I didn’t inject further indecision in you purchase of a MKII, KeyRah or Ultimate. I lie. I hope I did. These are cool choices. I would suggest all three.

One disturbing item: It appears to have the jumpers available to emulate an Amiga….. Ugh! I NEED another one!

Until next time,
Thanks for reading,

Jay C. “Jazzy J” Theriot
tn://bay.jayscafe.net:6401 <-> Bayou BBS
New Image 2.0 BBS on C128 w/uIEC/SD
NISSA Member [BAY] [Node 13]