This BBC Micro Emulator Takes You Back to 1981

Illustration for article titled This BBC Micro Emulator Takes You Back to 1981
Photo: Stuart Brady/Wikipedia (Other)

If you are of a certain age and nationality, you’ll remember the BBC Micro or Beeb, a computer produced by Acorn for the BBC Computer Literacy Project, an effort by British Broadcasting Corporation to bring computer literacy to the lads and lasses of that fair isle. The Beeb is a beloved piece of hardware to many makers, including Eben Upton of Raspberry Pi fame who made his single-board computers after reimagining the BBC Micro.

A group of programmers, Dominic Pajak, Matt Godbolt, and Kieran Connell, got together and decided to emulate the Beeb using modern tools. The result is the BBCMic.ro editor, aka Owlet—an emulator that runs BBC Basic in your browser—and the amazing BBCMicroBot that will run BBC Basic and then output the results in a tweet.

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“They, like me, owe their career start to that first exposure to computing via stuff like BBC Micro,” Pajak said in a Twitter interview.

The results have been pretty exciting. For example, someone built a ray tracer in a tweet, creating those familiar reflective balls that you might remember from computer demos from the 1980s and 1990s.

“I wanted to bring back to life a classic 80s computer that inspired a whole generation in the UK,” said Pajak. “People have been creating amazing pixel art, fractals even a ray tracer in a single tweet. Raspberry Pi founder Eben Upton sent in an implementation of Conway’s Life in 6502 machine code.”

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Screenshot: BBCMicroBot (Other)

It’s not all MIT-quality code, though.

“A lot of people doing 10 PRINT “POOP” / 20 GOTO 10,” he said.

Pajak said he and his collaborators believe access to older technology encourages experimentation in the same way Raspberry Pi and Arduino are training a new generation of developers.

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Screenshot: BBCMicroBot (Other)

The best part? They don’t have to clack away on 40-year-old hardware to do something cool. In fact, the emulator is now supercharged.

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“We added a 10GHz 6502 emulator on the back end. Now you can see in a few seconds what would be an overnight render on a BBC Micro,” said Pajak.

You can check out a gallery of demos at the BBCMicroBot web page.

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John Biggs is a writer from Ohio who lives in Brooklyn. He likes books, watches, and his dog. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Gizmodo. Signal: +16468270591 Telegram: @johnbiggs

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DISCUSSION

Way back in the day one of the Acorn magazines had a listing for a Mandlebrot generator, I remember that taking a day or so to render a single low resolution fractal. Would have been nice to have the virtual processor behind this back then.

I’ve still got my BBC B, but it is waiting for me to get around to fixing its power supply, the last time I turned it on earlier this year the capacitors died with spectacular clouds of magic smoke.