What is this document?

     This Frequently Asked Questions document is a living text and will change as more VIC-VODERs get out into the wild. If you have a question that is not getting answered, feel free to .

What is the target release date?

     VIC-VODER is now shipping.

I am on the backorder list. How long before my order ships?

     Build-time is roughly three to four hours per unit right now, and this is a one man shop. Assembly is done on nights and weekends as time allows.

How is the retail price calculated?

     In determining a retail price for VIC-VODER we took a page out of Jack Tramiel's playbook. It is a simple doubling of the raw materials cost, excluding labor and world-wide shipping fees, in our case. All "profits" are being re-invested back into the business to try and get ahead of new orders.

What are the power requirements of VIC-VODER?

     VIC-VODER takes its power (5V DC) from the User Port. It draws about 515mA at 700MHz (the default). Commodore 64 users should probably have an beefy power supply and not the original low-quality ones. The unit turns on and off with your computer.

     VIC-VODER is always on when you computer is on, but the amplifier may be turned off separately. (Power savings will only be about 15mA.) An off/on switch is incorporated into the rotary volume control on the side of the unit.

Isn't a full-featured Linux computer a bit of overkill?

     Well, there are some points to consider. Feature-for-feature, the design is actually the lowest cost option out there right now. Though it feels like a hardware accessory to the end-user, VIC-VODER was designed from the standpoint that everything is a software problem. Furthermore, speech quality is extremely high (also by design), and this really differentiates VIC-VODER in the marketplace. It is quite possibly the best Voice Synthesizer ever connected to a Commodore machine!

Are system upgrades possible?

     The system firmware resides on an SD Card inside the unit and is therefore upgradable in the months and years ahead as new features become available by the user community. Some minor disassembly is required to get at the SD Card. (See, "How-to Guides.") The upgrades can take one of two forms depending on the developer's choices:      The process for both of these methods is documented. (See, "How-to Guides.") Every effort has been made to preserve the integrity of the Raspberry Pi "Model A" that is at the heart of VIC-VODER, a full-fledged computer which can be removed and operate as a stand-alone unit or as part of another application.

What happens inside of VIC-VODER when I turn on my Commodore computer?

     A "Class 10" memory card ships with VIC-VODER (installed) to make its start-up time as fast as possible. (System will boot in under 30 seconds*.) You can work in parallel while the VIC-VODER is "warming up," and start loading your Commodore program or begin typing your code. Chances are that by the time you are actually ready to generate speech, the VIC-VODER will also be about ready.

     The version number will be announced on start-up, and the unit will say, "System ready," when it is time to start sending it commands. You can begin running your program as soon as it starts speaking its startup message.

     A late addition to the design of the VIC-VODER includes an LED on the rear-facing edge of the unit. The LED will visually indicate one of three operating modes:

*Overclocking your VIC-VODER would make it draw more power and produce more heat. Therefore, the clock setting remains at the factory default.

What are the default communication settings for VIC-VODER, and can they be changed?

     The default settings are 2400-8-N-1. To set your computer to talk to VIC-VODER at this speed, type: OPEN 1,2,3,CHR$(10). Once you have a command channel open, you may send VIC-VODER commands to temporarily change its settings. (Your changes will be lost when you power-cycle your computer.) You don't need to memorize these commands, they are conveniently affixed under the base of your unit for future reference.

Does VIC-VODER emulate the old Votrax Type 'N Talk?

     No, but there is a clarification to be made. Votrax Type 'N Talk had the ability to translate and speak strings of text PRINTed as input to the unit. For, example:
1 OPEN 1,2,3,CHR$(10)
     This little program will work for both VIC-VODER and the Votrax Type 'N Talk. For this reason, VIC-VODER is compatible with the Scott Adams "Adventure Series" of software cartridges for Commodore VIC-20. That is where compatibility with Votrax Type 'N Talk ends. It is possible to extend the VIC-VODER software to include lookup tables for phoneme codes, but we will leave that as an exercise.

What are the Scott Adams "Adventure Series" of software cartridges for Commodore VIC-20?

     Scott Adams wrote his text adventure games to run on a wide variety of computers, using just 16 kilobytes of memory and a tape recorder to input the program. On VIC-20 they ran from cartridges. Instead of treating you, the player, as you the character in the story, the Adams programs let you give commands to a more or less obedient "puppet." Instead of saying, "You are at the top of a tree" (or wherever your character might be), the program says, "I am at the top of a tree." Both viewpoints (first and second person) have proven popular in adventures written since then. Beyond a few lines of promotional material, no background material is provided in any of the adventures. Your character just appears in a situation and you may never find out why. In several of the adventures, it means that you will have to spend some time just figuring out what's going on. The VIC-20 adventure cartridges are:

Adventure Land - Adventure Land is the first of the series. You start off wandering around in an area filled with such hazards as quicksand, nasty chiggers, and a sleeping dragon with a keen sense of smell. Fortunately, there is also an item that can be put to a couple of good uses, one of which lets you get into an underground complex. From there, you have to face an assortment of hostile creatures, including a bear and a swarm of killer bees, in order to pick up the treasures they guard. There s also a helpful being around-but he can be pushed too far. Even if you get killed, you're offered another chance. You find yourself in Limbo; if you can find the exit, you live again. If you go the wrong way, though, the comment that accompanies the next description puts your situation quite succinctly. Hints are liberally sprinkled throughout the game. The descriptions are concise and often humorous, if not elegant. On the whole, this is one of the easiest adventures in the series.
Pirate's Cove - In Pirates Adventure, finding a copy of Treasure Island literally sends you back to the days of Long John Silver, where you have the opportunity to go sailing and find some treasure for yourself. As with several of the series games, various critters are around to help or hinder you. The parrot, for example, can give useful advice and help you in other ways (a gimmick from adventure is reused here), but only if you can keep it from flying away. The mongoose may be able to help you -or then again, it might not. Crocodiles and snakes can make life difficult or short. Since the island where you arrive isn't the one with the treasures, your first task is to build a ship. This is simply a matter of bringing all the necessary materials together; once you've got the materials and the plans, the ship goes together with amazing speed. Gathering these materials makes up a large part of the adventure. A lot of the fun involves the pirate, a tough-looking character who is helpful enough if you play on these weaknesses. He turns up in some outrageously unexpected places, and he's ultimately indispensable to your getting to Treasure Island. After all, you can sail a ship without a crew. There are only two treasures in this adventure, so it's very nearly an all-or-nothing proposition. However, finding them is easy enough to provide a good introduction for new adventure players. This is one of the easiest of the Scott Adams series, but the puzzles are still clever. A full listing of the BASIC version is given in the December 1980 issue of Byte.
Mission Impossible - In Mission Impossible, your mission, should you accept it, is to stop a saboteur from blowing up a nuclear reactor. The major difficulty is in getting through the reactor's security system. A number of doors are locked and will open only if you show appropriate authorization to the automated camera near the door. You were originally provided with that authorization, but the saboteur has run off with some of your materials. That leaves you on your own to get the security badges you need. This system of using badges (called pictures), in which case it becomes impossible to tell the program which picture you want to take or drop. Fortunately, the command SHOW PICTURE always selects the right one. While you have to be clever to work your way through this security system, there are also times when brute force is needed. Think of the objects that are available and considered which one might do the job. The danger of the bomb blowing up adds to the excitement. Several actions that you have to perform will arm the bomb (as your surgically implanted bomb detector will warn you); then you have to drop whatever you were doing and run to disarm it. If you haven't learned how to disarm it- well, your family will get a nice pension. When you finally do find the bomb, timing becomes even more critical. You must take exactly the right actions and perform them in the right place, or you will set off a disaster of your own making, even as you prevent the one the saboteur intended. This adventure shows how different people may perceive the difficulty of an adventure. The Adventure International catalogue rates this one as advanced in difficulty, going so far as to say, "If you survive this challenging mission, consider yourself a true Adventurer!" Difficulty is very much a matter of how well your mind meshes with the situation.
Voodoo Castle - "Count Cristo's been CURSED! There's one way for him to flee! Find it, and he'll go FREE!" Not very good poetry! But there are some fine puzzles to solve in Voodoo Castle, by Alexis Adams. What is the strange moaning from the chimney? How do you get through a passage that's too small for you? How do you survive a room in which chemical tubes are constantly exploding? What significance does the Ju-Ju Man statue have? Eventually the pieces start coming together, letting you discover the magic ritual for breaking the curse. Different kinds of magic are thrown together freely; the spell uses a couple of European good-luck charms along with voodoo's traditional doll stuck with pins. At the climax, there are lots of dramatic effects and thunder. The only catch is that along the way, you've shrunk yourself to four feet in height, and you seem doomed to live the rest of your life that size. Oh, well, at the least you'll be able to get through low doorways in your next adventure. This adventure isn't very careful about making you specify which tool to use for a job. As a result, it's possible to go around with a double handful of items and get things open without really solving the problem, or even realizing that there ever was one. In a couple of places, items are listed in capitals to call attention to them. This is rather uncalled for; hints should be something you look for, not something that the adventures reality throws in your face. It's not that hard to realize that two sapphires have something to do with each other without being told that the door has "a SAPPHIRE in it." Voodoo Castle is fun and fairly easy. It would be a good first step up from such simple games as Pirates Adventure.
The Count - In The Count, your enemy is Count Dracula himself. Your object is to destroy him from within his house. If you don't succeed in time, you will turn into a vampire, too. But if you overcome the obstacles, you have the satisfaction of typing KILL DRACULA as the last command of the game. The Count predates Infocom's Planetfall and Enchanter in providing a cycle of day and night. The adventure runs over a period of days and you have to sleep. This causes problems, since Dracula takes that opportunity to do all sorts of unpleasant things. When you sleep, you have strange dreams, which appear in the form of a screenful of messages flashed for a fraction of a second; if you're quick, you may get a clue from them. There are some things that you have to do at night. In order to get them done, you need something to overcome your tendency to doze off right after sunset. The way you find the coffin is a bit unusual, to say the least. Let's just say that where there are coffin nails, a coffin can't be far away. There doesn't seem to be a guaranteed route to success, since on several occasions you have to engage in an activity with a certain probability of a fatal outcome. This makes it a good idea to save the game at several points as you progress. The lack of documentation is irritating in this game, as in some of the other Scott Adams adventures. When you first start playing, you have no idea where you are or what you are supposed to do; only by exploring the house (and perhaps getting killed by angry villagers if you try to leave prematurely) do you learn what your quest really is. It doesn't take very long to figure out what's going on, but a little information on paper would have made for a more well-rounded adventure.

Where can I get help solving Adventure #X ?

But, the Scott Adams adventure game booklet from Commodore indicates 1200 baud. Why then is VIC-VODER's default 2400 baud?

     Commodore lied. The 1200 baud printed in the booklet is not correct and must be a misprint. It should have read 2400 baud. That is why the default setting for VIC-VODER is 2400 baud instead of 1200 baud. 2400 baud is the fastest possible speed shared across all three unmodified and supported platforms: VIC-20, C64 and C128. Communicating faster than 2400 baud is possible on C64 and C128, but won't add any value in the case of VIC-VODER. Human speech is quite slow by comparison and data is fully buffered until it can be generated by VIC-VODER.

I have a Mega-Cart. How do I hear the Scott Adams adventure games?

Here is the procedure: Note: If you hear garbage from VIC-VODER, "double-u, double-u, double-u...," just wait it out for a brief moment until the cache is clear from whatever is flooding it (unknown); or, power-cycle your computer and follow the directions above exactly.

I don't have a MegaCart... How do I run the Scott Adams adventures from memory?

     Click here for the procedure.

Where can I get the Scott Adams adventures for VIC-20?

     You can download them from

What happens inside of VIC-VODER to make it speak?

     A lot is happening inside of VIC-VODER to generate speech. At the heart of VIC-VODER is a speech sub-system called Festival. Festival is configured to run in server / client mode.

     Software crashes are extremely rare, but possible (since this is software). Both the server and client are run like daemons, with scripts in /etc/init.d, started by /etc/rc.local at boot-up, and will be immediately re-started by a wrapper script if either crashes. In addition, a cron job runs every minute to ensure a server and client are running.

     Festival server actually has an embedded Scheme-like interpreter and is very extensible and powerful. VIC-VODER hardly leverages it at all. Our client is actually a simple Perl script in /boot/, and can therefore be extended as well. (See the section above, "What are the default communication settings for VIC-VODER, and can they be changed?," for an example of how additional functionality was added to the client.)

     The client performs a number of services for us in Commodore-land. It translates PETSCII to ASCII to help ensure we're all speaking the same language. It strips out embedded quotations and back-slash characters (should one ever be intentionally or accidently generated) from the input string. Finally, it makes one final pass to ensure we're only passing printable ASCII characters to the Festival speech sub-system. All of these checks and measures are intended to provide excellent reliability of the voice synthesizer.

     Late in development, some concerns arose about the stability of the ALSA audio sub-system in combination with Festival, so ALSA support was removed until it can be investigated further. This should make little or no difference to end-users.

Is VIC-VODER hackable?

     Well, first let's be clear what we mean by hackable. Hackable does not mean insecure. VIC-VODER is an isolated system and nobody can change its code but you. Furthermore, communications are only one-way (from Commodore to VIC-VODER), so there is no physical way your Commodore computer can be hacked by shady people. If VIC-VODER ever becomes unstable or broken after an upgrade, just re-image your SD Card with one of the stable releases published on our web site and you'll be back up and running in a jiffy.

     Buy "hackable" we mean "open" to end-users. End-user modification and community-development are not only possible, but encouraged! If you come up with an innovative idea, email it to us or post it to the forum for everyone to consider and learn from your creativity.

I opened my VIC-VODER and accidently pulled all of the wires off of the Raspberry Pi's GPIO pins. How can I know what went where?

     This is not a problem. There are only 5 wires that attached to the GPIO pins. When your system is assembled a paper "map" is tucked under the SD Card that shows the proper layout for your unit. The color of the wire required for that pin is printed on the map.

I opened my system and hooked it up to a monitor and keyboard. I want to log in but need the Username and Password. Where can I find them?

     The default Username and Password for your VIC-VODER are conveniently affixed under the lid next to the speaker. Once logged in, we recommend you do all of your work as root, type "sudo bash". This will allow you to conveniently edit the critical system files in /boot. The list below describes where three of these files should be copied after any modifications to them:

When VIC-VODER is powered on, the first of these customized critical files to get run is /etc/rc.local. It in turn calls /etc/init.d/ttsd, /etc/init.d/ttsc and /boot/ (If /etc/rc.local finds /boot/ first, it turns on the blinking light by calling /boot/light.blink and then executes /boot/ instead. When /boot/ has finished, it is deleted and the VIC-VODER is rebooted.)

/etc/init.d/ttsd calls /boot/festival_wrapper which calls Festival in server mode, /usr/bin/festival --server.
/etc/init.d/ttsc calls /boot/client_wrapper which calls /boot/
/boot/version calls /boot/light.on to turn on the LED.

What kinds of user contributions could be helpful and valuable to the VIC-VODER community?

     The community needs developers to write Commodore code to leverage VIC-VODER in creative ways. Write and sell your Commodore software (we can help), or give them away on the VIC-VODER forum. Either way, you can help take speech synthesis to the next level for VIC-20, C64 or C128 computers!

Some examples might include: