Give Your Tweets a Retro Treatment with BBC MicroBot


Twitter has been used in a lot of creative and informative ways. One example is the BBC MicroBot Twitter handle. When you send it a tweet to this account, it can send back a video of your tweet running on an 8-bit computer.

The account has garnered over 10 million impressions soon after it launched in February. It even gained the attention of renowned Irish comedian and television personality Dara O’ Brien, Raspberry Pi founder Eben Upton, and science writer Ben Goldacre.

How it works

The concept is straightforward – modernize and make a retro computer accessible through social media. Any tweet written in the 1982 BBC BASIC programming language towards the BBC MicroBot will be given a full emulation of the BBC Micro Model B.

This model was an innovative British computer during the 1980s that introduced computing in schools to a generation of kids. BBC BASIC was developed by Sophie Wilson, who also eventually developed ARM Architecture.

The format of the code is as follows:

10 MODE 2
40 GOTO 20

By attaching the code above, the bot will be able to convert the tweet. You can change “HELLO WORLD” for a more personal touch.

In response to this, the Twitter community tried to create as many witty tweets as possible within the 280 character limit. There are a couple of tricks to getting the most out of the bot. These are to use fewer and smaller line numbers, fewer spaces, and using the minimum abbreviations for BBC BASIC keywords.

You can also go beyond the limit by directly encoding BASIC keywords as byte tokens or even input the 6502 machine code. This has a published framework based on Eben’s base64 decoder courtesy of Ian Holmes.

The BBC MicroBot runs on Node.js and utilizes the JSbeeb BBC Micro emulator created by Matt Godbolt. The bot responds to any tweet with the code above with a 3 second, 50fps mp4, approximately 30 seconds after the emulated execution time. The emulated machine has the Acornsoft Graphics Extension ROM installed, which gives it extended graphics commands.

There is also no need to worry about crass 8-bit videos since the bot has a strict filter for curse words. It automatically blocks the account that sent the tweet, preventing it from further submitting anything. This feature will also prevent looping such words since they will appear as spam to Twitter. If you have never seen or tried BBC BASIC, then go give the BBC MicroBot Twitter account a visit.

Photo credits: The image source for the feature gif has been done by Lorenzo Herrera. The clip has been taken from the BBC MicroBot Twitter account.

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Elaine Espiritu
Elaine Espiritu
A mass comm + business ad student, former biochem.
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