Retro computing with a touch of modern and the home for all things, retroCombs (aka Steven Combs).

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17 June 2023

Ten No Hack TheC64 Tips To Upgrade your Retro Computing Experience

by Steven B. Combs, Ph.D.

I scoured the official TheC64 series user’s manual (downloaded and sent to my Kindle Scribe / not the small user’s guide that comes with the unit - another bonus tip!) and found ten “non-hacky” tips you may not know about.

NOTE: I’ll use the name TheC64 to refer to TheC64 Maxi, TheC64 Mini, and TheVIC20 units. TheC64 Mini does not include a keyboard or VIC-20 emulation so some tips do not translate to this smaller device (out of the box).

Table of Contents

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Companion YouTube Video

Title: 10 Ways To Unlock Thec64 For Maximum Retro Computing Fun!

Video Errata

None as of 2023-06-17.

Disclosure Statement: When you click on links to various merchants on this site and make a purchase, this can result in this site earning a commission. Affiliate programs and affiliations may include, but are not limited to Amazon and the eBay Partner Network.

Ten Things

Within the headings, I provide the page number in TheC64 User’s Manual so you can explore each tip in more detail.

1: Use Different Controllers (Page 7)

You are not constrained to the joystick that comes with TheC64. While the Maxi joystick is better than the mini thanks to a micro-switch upgrade, the form factor may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

A quick caveat, not all controllers work. Results have been mixed with two modern controllers such as the wired Logitech F310 (doesn’t work) and a wireless Logitech G F710 (works). Gamepad controllers seem to work including one of my favorites, also from RetroGames, TheGamePad. If a Nintendo/Sega style controller makes you happy, it might work! Plug it in and give it a try.

But I bet you didn’t know a controller is not necessary to navigate in carousel mode.

2: Use Keyboard in Menus (Page 16)

I love keyboard shortcuts and was thrilled to learn that we can control TheC64 using the keyboard. Here are a few examples.

O = ← | P = → | N = ↓ | M = ↑

L, Space, or Return selects an option.

+ (back arrow, not left cursor) or a quick press of the power button toggles the option menu at the bottom of the screen when a program is running.

There are many more keyboard shortcuts so check out page 16 for more. I do find it odd that the regular cursor keys weren’t use. If you know why, leave a comment below.

3: Boot to Classic (Page 35)

If you have a TheC64 and haven’t booted into C64 or VIC-20 classic mode, you are missing the experience! You can boot into classic mode by following these steps while in carousel mode and using the joystick:

  1. Choose the Device Settings icon (wrench) in the dock.
  2. Select the Computer model > option and choose either the C64 or VIC 20 in NTSC or PAL mode.
  3. Press ≡ on the joystick to return to the previous menu
  4. Select the Boot mode > option.
  5. Select Classic mode.
  6. Press ≡ on the joystick to return to the previous menu.
  7. Hold the power button to reset TheC64.

TheC64 will skip the carousel mode and boot directly to your chosen computer giving you a more authentic 1980s feel.

To switch back to carousel mode from classic mode, press ≡ to pop up a menu of options and then choose ⚙️ Options. From there, you will be able to figure it out.

TIP: Here’s a classic mode only keyboard shortcut. Use + (back arrow, not left cursor) to toggle the option menu at the bottom of the screen.

My TheVIC20 boots into VIC 20 NTSC mode for a true retro-computing experience where BASIC was front and center. What’s that you ask?

4: Learn BASIC (Page 34)

Here’s what’s so exciting about classic mode; Beginner’s All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code or BASIC. For those of my generation, this is the traditional Commodore computer experience. The computer would boot up to the blue screen (or aqua/white on the VIC-20) with a flashing cursor. BASIC was the feature to unlock the secrets to our Commodore computers.

If you want the authentic experience, head over to Archive.org and download the original Commodore 64 or VIC-20 (recommended) user’s guide and work through them chapter by chapter like I did with the Plus/4 and documented in my Plus/4 User’s Manual series.

TIP: Download and send to a Kindle or other e-book reader and take them with you everywhere you go. With the Kindle Scribe you can mark them up and set bookmarks.

To get you started, load classic mode and type the following two line program that will work in C64 or VIC-20 mode.

10 print "retroCombs rocks! ";
20 goto 10

Now type RUN followed by the RETURN key (⏎). Words will fill the screen. Press the RUN/STOP key to stop the program and use the LIST + ⏎ command to see the program. You can now edit line 10 to make it say anything you want. Welcome to BASIC programming and now you can go crazy. Don’t worry, you can’t harm your computer.

5: Save a Computer States (Page 36)

You can save not one, but four states for each program you load and run. Why would you want to do this? There are a couple of reasons:

  1. Save and restore a game at specific levels.
  2. Save and restore a game before a difficult levels.
  3. Save an application with a data file (such as a word-processor) to speed loading the next time you want edit the data.

The save state menu even provides a time code displaying the length of time the computer was operational before saving the state.

6: Use .tap and .crt Files (Page 51)

Switching to classic mode reveals options to use not only disk images, but cassette (.tap) and cartridge (.crt) images. Loading .tap files is not the slog experience we remember from the 1980s but .crt do load as quickly as they did. The option to use both file types increases the library of titles you can use.

TIP: Cartridge files are not just great for games. Download the Super Snapshot .crt file, load it, and then reset the computer. Super Snapshot is available. But retroCombs, Super Snapshot requires me to press a button to activate it. Hold that thought!

7: Use File Flags and the .cjm Files ( Page 58)

There’s a lot to this one and it could be the topic of a video in itself. But in a nutshell, flags and .cjm files provide an options to “tell” TheC64 how to configure the program to run. File flags are at the end of the file names and configure a single file whereas a .cjm is used within a directory to use the same settings for a group of files. Below is a small list of setting you can apply using file flags or .cjm files:

  1. Set computer to PAL or NTSC
  2. Add memory expansion
  3. Set the primary joystick port
  4. Configure a mouse type
  5. Accurate versus accelerated disk mode

8: Use a Joystick for Games that Don’t support one (Page 68)

Expanding on the use of .cjm file, there are C64 games that don’t support Joystick controls, and while they are few and far between, you can use a .cjm file to add this support. The syntax for this file is not intuitive and I’ve placed an example below for a VIC game, in PAL mode, with 35K expansion, and copies keyboard controls to the joystick.


Check out page 69 to see a full list of key IDs the .cjm file can use.

9: Share Virtual Disks with original hardware or VICE (Page 73)

Back in tip number four, I demonstrated how to create a BASIC program but I didn’t show you how to save it. You can and you do this using virtual disk images. And once you have the virtual disk image, you can transfer it from TheC64 to real hardware or VICE and back again for a nice roundtrip way to write a program and test it on all platforms.

TIP: To save the program in step four, use the command SAVE "RETROCOMBS",8 and to load it use the command LOAD "RETROCOMBS",8.

As you work in BASIC, you may cause the computer to hang and an understanding of reset modes can help you recover.

10: Understand Reset Modes (Page 102)

Similar to a real hardware Commodore 64, there are both hard and soft resets.

Reset Type Key Combo Description
Hard Left ⇧ + TheC64 + Power Simulates cycling the computers power off and on
Soft Left ⇧ + Power Does not simulate a power cycle and maintains memory contents

TIP: Remember our Super Snapshot scenario? TheC64 has you covered with a tap of Right ⇧ + Power to activate the cartridge.

BONUS 1: Sort Games (Page 28)

Press the Joystick A button or press A on the keyboard to sort the carousel titles by title, author, composer, genre, year, and model of computer. Year is a great option if you want to experience the advancement of games over time.

BONUS 2: TheC64 Mini Virtual Keyboard (Page 48)

This tip isn’t great on the Maxi models but can save your bacon on a mini.

To activate the virtual keyboard press the ☰ button in a game and select the ‘Virtual keyboard’ option. An on-screen keyboard appears on the right-side. Through THEC64 Joystick, the Virtual keyboard gives access to all the keys of an original C64 computer.


I hope you learned a tip or two about your TheC64 that brings more value to your purchase. There are many more tips and I hope you will share them in the comments below.

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