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BeamRacer FAQ - Printable Version

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BeamRacer FAQ - laubzega - 06-10-2020

Ever since the BeamRacer website leaked to the wider Internet, the C64 community has been raising questions about the project. We answered the most frequent ones in this document to dispel the rumors, explain the reasons, and justify the decisions. Read on.

  1. First things first. How much does it cost?
    Uncertain. COVID-19 increased component and shipping prices worldwide and the calculations we did at the end of 2019 no longer apply. The next two-three weeks will confirm (or otherwise) a few assumptions we made, and let us finalize the price. Until then, keep in mind that BeamRacer is a 18-month long engineering project targeted at a market the size of a medium rave. Nobody expects to get rich, but recouping some of the tangible investment would be nice. Plus it would give us better motivation for the followup products.

  2. What products?!!
    We prefer to surprise you. And yes, we plan to continue surprising you.

  3. Ok ok, but why do it at all? Isn’t C64 dead/perfect (pick one) already?
    That’s an expansive question, but let’s give it a try. Thinking about BeamRacer in particular, as well as future MHL projects, our overarching goal is to imagine and realize what could have been. What if Commodore management better understood the machines they were making? What if the engineers were not constrained by ‘80s tech, time-to-market priorities, and worst of all, the management? And what if the home computer revolution took a different path and the C64 platform was allowed to grow and develop further? Isn’t it interesting to speculate, and then bring these speculations to life?

    But this alternate timeline engineering explanation is just one half of the story. The other half is tied to emotions evoked by the machine in question. In our opinion there are two main reasons people still turn on their C64s nearly forty years after the warranty card expired: nostalgia and fun. Nostalgia is obvious, but what is really interesting to us is the C64 as a fun delivery device. It is so simple, one mind can comprehend it all, and yet there are arcane corners in it that people continue to discover - inventing new sounds for their music, devising unheard of uses for “illegal” opcodes, exploring what can be done with BASIC and 1MHz, creating stunning pixel art. BeamRacer is a salute to these people, giving them one more thing to tinker with in this revered environment.|

  4. Wait. Are you saying you want to make the most popular home computer of all time even more fun?
    Yes.  More fun to use, to play with, to program. How? By expanding C64’s architecture with a brand new subsystem designed around well-proven formulas for maximizing fun. Be easy to get into, but complex enough to remain engaging for a long time. Keep things wide open to experimentation, yet orderly enough for the experiments to be joyful and fulfilling. Reward explorers with a trove of secrets waiting to be discovered. Offer challenges, some of them trying.

    You know, the same formulas that produced the C64.

  5. I’m calling an ambulance.
    Come on, we are Mad Hackers after all.

  6. Ah yes. Mad Hackers Lab. What’s that?
    A semi-commercial offshoot from an old (‘80s-90s) scene group named WFMH. A transcontinental collective of software and hardware hackers who decided to pull themselves from writing code that runs your world and start writing code that runs your toys. People who spent a better part of the last two years scheming on long-distance calls, drawing on well-worn schematics, staring at oscilloscope screens, and wiring things on dusty motherboards. Occasionally wondering if they are going crazy because of all the solder fumes, or if they were crazy to start this project in the first place.

  7. Is it a graphics accelerator?
    Not really. True, the CPU now has plenty of time to do other things, so it can process graphics faster. Also, the programmable bitmap sequencer makes things way speedier when it comes to scrolling. But there is neither a blitter nor 3D accelerator onboard and VIC-II retains both its original speed and limitations.

  8. What about the Lumafix Pro? Is it really patented? Do you expect a significant revenue stream from licensing it to other manufacturers?
    Nope. It’s a joke. You did notice the tongue-in-cheek tone of the website, harking back to over-the-top ads of the ‘80s, didn’t you?

  9. I come from the scene. I heard you had a message for me.
    Sure. Are you a purist that only cares about a bare-bones C64 as a target to develop for?  Do you think this newfangled VASYL nonsense makes things too easy? Well, but wouldn't you agree that fast turnaround is a necessity on today’s hypercompetitive demoscene? BeamRacer enables exactly that. Rapidly prototype visual effects for your next Revision-winning production. Postpone laborious tuning of your cycle-counted CPU code for later, and start by investigating what can happen if you nudge VIC-II precisely there and then. Get more compute for your routines from the get-go - you can always don your optimization hat later, once you have a clear understanding of where you are heading.

    And when it finally dawns on you how much power you wield freely talking to VIC-II every single cycle, how wonderfully intricate can self-modifying display lists become, when you discover the joy of coordinating raster time between 6510 and VASYL, and how intoxicating it is to push things you know so well to their actual limits, perhaps you will agree that for the first time since 1982 the Commodore 64 is truly evolving and it could be fun to get involved.

    TL;DR - it’s more of what you love. Don’t miss it.

  10. Sounds interesting. I think I could code an amazing demo for the BeamRacer if you send me the board.
    Funny you'd mention that. We have several prototypes put aside for exactly that purpose. Send us a link (info at beamracer.net) to your productions and we will get back to you.

  11. Emulation would help. Can I have that?
    Sorry, you can’t. At least not yet. The trouble with BeamRacer is that some things it does do not really align with architectures of existing emulators. Without going into too much detail, BeamRacer can make the 6510 run for a fraction of a single cycle, stop it, do something else altogether, then decide to actually let the CPU continue running in the same cycle. It can record CPU actions for later replay, or allow multiple register writes to occur in a single cycle. Sure, it can be emulated (any machine can), and we have built a custom version of Vice that emulates the majority of the things BeamRacer can do, but reproducing the _exact_ interactions between 6510, VIC-II and VASYL has proven difficult to say the least. So while we hope to release the emulator eventually, it is not our current priority.

  12. Why is there no digital/component video out? My 80 inches wide OLED TV does not take composite input.
    Since we never intended to replace the VIC with all its peculiarities as the video signal source, the best we could do given other constraints wouldn't probably fare much better than a mass produced, $20 converter, which you most likely already have anyway. Instead, we focused on what we can do much better, without negatively affecting power consumption, physical size, and pricing.

  13. Speaking of component output - there is this nice board by c0pperdragon which generates exactly that. Will it work with the BeamRacer?
    Yes. c0pperdragon kindly donated one of his VideoMods for testing and, after spending a few days exercising it with various combinations of motherboards, VICs, and BeamRacers we can say that the boards work together flawlessly, including color reprogramming. One caveat is that the stacked boards stand rather tall - if you top it off with a radiator, a breadbin case barely closes.