Usually, bricking an electronic device prompts a flood of tears, but this Lego makeover of a Commodore 64 is sure to make you smile, as David Crookes discovers
Thanks to Lego coming in a variety of colours, the case can be far more bold than the original beige
While not wanting to reheat old playground squabbles, it’s hard not to feel that the Commodore 64 is stealing a march when it comes to brick-based recreations. In 2017, the Lego Store in the Arndale Centre, Manchester, showcased a recreated ZX Spectrum home computer. But with no electronic innards, it didn’t work – unlike a more recent fully operating Lego Commodore 64 that’s on the same level as the real thing.
Created by retro fanatic Christian Simpson, aka Perifractic, the Brixty Four is a joy(stick) to behold. Inspired by a two-inch long Lego C64 produced by Chris McVeigh, it was initially developed as a replacement full-size bread-bin-style case for the 8-bit computer, with the sole intention of putting an actual C64 motherboard and keyboard inside. But then Perifractic’s attention shifted to the Raspberry Pi.
He realised he could slip a Pi into the case and hook it up to a C64 keyboard using an interface called the Keyrah V2b which allows classic Commodore computer keyboards to be connected to modern-day machines. It has proven popular for owners of old 8- and 16-bit computers as diverse as the VIC-20 and the Amiga and it works a treat. “The Keyrah V2b allows the Pi to communicate with the C64 via USB,” he explains.
Perifractic also worked on a mechanical keyboard which makes use of a Lego shock absorber from the 1990s Starguider space land-crawler and a set of Lego letter tiles. “I realised I could line four up along an axle to create a line of keys for a fully working sprung mechanical Lego keyboard,” he tells us.
From there, he only needed to find a way to emulate the C64, and the solution to that problem soon became apparent. “What could be better to install inside and get it all working than a Raspberry Pi running RetroPie, the best-value C64 emulator by a mile?” he asks. Hooked up to a monitor, Perifractic could soon get down to playing some cool retro games – assuming he could tear his eyes away from the beauty of the case for long enough.
In order to create the case, Perifractic used a freeware app called Bricklink Studio 2.0 which is available for Windows and macOS. “It lets you design Lego masterpieces and play around to see which bricks will work,” he says. “To my surprise and delight, I found the smooth, round, front piece to recreate the evocative bull-nose design which is actually from an aircraft hangar set.” He ordered all of the pieces he needed from Bricklink (a global brick marketplace) via Studio 2.0 and he soon had everything in place for the build.
“The biggest obstacle was the price – these bricks are rare and used, so to build this machine is costly,” he says. “The second obstacle was time, but I wanted to make my final design free and open-source.” The results, however, have been more than worth the investment.
“My ambition is to simply keep these old machines relevant for future generations and I hope it will continue to invigorate discussion,” Perifractic adds. “The Raspberry Pi’s compatibility and retro-gaming possibilities make it a marvellous modern device running vintage marvels and, with real magic in the old games, it enables anyone to kick back and relax with their favourite game without spending $200 on a real C64.”