Atari on Mac!
Emulating Atari on Mac (part 1)
Now a lot of you may well be reading this article under some form of
emulation. We are all familiar with the more popular options on the Peecee,
for example, STeem. There are emulators for Atari on other platforms as
well, and as I have got the not totally obscure Apple Mac, it is time to see
how well one of these can attempt to emulate the fuji-boxes that we know and
This will be considered in two parts. Firstly we will look at how the Atari
ST and related 16/32 bit family members perform under emulation. For the
second part of this round up, to be seen in Alive 12, we turn our attention
to the classic 8-bit computers and consoles. The Atari 800 series, and the
console family. We might also get a bit of Lynx in, as there is a Mac
version of the 'Handy' emulator. It would be really great to see if there is
a Jaguar emulator for the Mac, but that might be in the realms of fantasy!
For now, there are three main contenders for the ST and related machines.
Nostalgia, and Hatari which mainly emulate the ST, with some extra features,
and Aranym, which is something else altogether. There is also 'Power ST'
which is a predecessor to Hatari, but it is no longer maintained, so not of
Authored by Philippe Gerin..
NoSTalgia was the first emulator that I tried. It emulates the STFM hardware
to at least the level of Tos 1.4 with the blitter included. You can in
practice also use Tos 2.06 for that more modern desktop feel. You have to
provide your own Tos rom image to get the desired authenticity level.In
practice, this isn't too hard to do of course.
It does come supplied with Emutos, the freeware and potential copyright
hassle free 'generic' Tos. This is also what is used in Aranym in the
absence of Tos 4, and works pretty well for 'clean' appplications that don't
delve too specifically into one of the original Tos's.
NoSTalgia works pretty well, but is quirky in some aspects of operation. You
have to keep adjusting the zoom mode according to the Atari screen
resolution, otherwise the display is garbled. It starts up ok in the
extended GEM vdi-compliant screen, but not so well for native ST modes until
you do this. Also it does autoboot an .msa disk image pretty well for the
most part, but there is a NoSTalgia hard disk bootstrap which tends to get
in the way of some demo autoloaders .Maybe there is a way to disable that?
Further investigations are needed. (UPDATE suggestion, don't boot it with
the hard disk image mounted on the desktop and enabled! I despair of myself
There are some neat extra features over and above the basic ST experience.
You get a GEM vdi compliant screen option, with a 640 x 400 4-bit
resolution, and 14mb ram, which is nice!
The quirkiest feature of all, is their implementation of hard disk support.
This is done as a disk image which is generated from Nostalgia, and
instructions how to get it going are fairly sparse. I'm not the only one who
was scratching their head at first, as the issue also confused a lot of
people on the Atari forum as well.
I managed to get it going by mounting the disk image on the desktop, but not
by using the method described in the readme file, which suggested a System 9
utility to do this. This was of dubious use at best and didn't get anywhere
useful. In fact, the disk image mounter on OSX did the job. This is just a
right hand mouse click away in an options menu.
Even then, having hit on the right way of doing this, there are still no
guarantees for the end result, as the desktop.inf file from my first attempt
got mangled, the second time I opened it to copy in stuff. Minutes of
funless end followed, as I booted up directories and files, but nothing that
could run! I got around that by importing a new one, my Falcon one to be
precise, to get it going properly again.
It loads in and autoboots disk images acceptably. There are ongoing
compatibility investigations, for example, I need to see if the hard disk
bootstrap interferes with the bootloaders on some .msa image files. If that
is so, then quite a lot of demos are prevented from working.
I got it to a state where the hard disk driver didn't interfere with
proceedings. The compatibility rate was about the same as before.
The majority of boodloader productions that I tried either got so far and
died, or declined altogether. I haven't tried any games yet, but the
NoSTalgia homepage is rife with screenshots of some well-known ST games
happily running on it. I guess most oldschool demos with their exotic
bootloaders really break anything not quite perfect?
There are some that do, the Fish and Chips demo ran nearly perfectly for
example. And those demos and even many newer intro's which run from the
desktop. such as the most recent Outline party invitro do seem to work quite
Does it run Alive? Yes it does! I tried issue 7, with the ST-Knights intro,
and no complaints from this emulator.
The single feature of NoSTalgia, which stands out as being better than
Hatari is the quality of their sound emulation. This is about 90% there,
even with regard to very new stuff made by the gwEmster. More crucially, it
doesn't slow things down.
I have an ultimate test for any ST emulator. It is called the "Posh test".
This refers to the checkpoint demo of that name. This manages to beat the
wonky autoloading, runs quite well for about half the demo. It only crashes
when it gets to some fullscreen texture tunnel thing.
In comparison with Hatari, NoSTalgia is a fading star. The version I got is
over a year old, and I'm not sure when the next update will be coming along.
It still has potential, and may well have its prospects uplifted with a new
Authored by Thothy..
Hatari offers a very similar type of emulation to NoSTalgia, that is with ST
hardware, and even some STe features creeping in. So far, the extended 4096
colour palette is emulated. Hatari is an open source emulator, running on a
number of different systems, and the Mac OSX port is just one version of
There is still more to discover, as you also get other members of the MC68k
family emulated, allegedly up to an Afterburner-tastic 32mhz 68040. I'm not
sure if this has been implemented fully, as a system profiler I tried only
detected a 68020/32mhz at most? Still, I'm not complaining.
There are more options available here in general than NoSTalgia. You can
tailor for either a classic simple 1989 era floppy only 'gaming' ST, or else
a higher spec GEM-compatible running TOS 2.06 with an extended 4-bit screen
mode and upgraded cpu. Like NoSTalgia, you have to provide own Tos rom
images for optimum levels of authenticity, but EmuTos is provided ready to
run if you need it. There is a bit more to play with on the extended GEM vdi
screen choices as well. In addition to 640 x 480 pixels, there are also 800
x 600 and 1024 x 768 / 4-bit colour mode flavours
Hatari has the option of autobooting disk images, and runs the ones I tried
well enough. Compatibility-wise, it passed the 'Posh test' with flying
colours. It even ran the overscan Sanity style rotozoom screen without
blinking, yes the whole demo! Now if they can fix the sound to work a bit
I also gave it a thrashing with some of the material on the 'No Fragments'
demo archive. The results were encouraging.
I started off big, with the famous Carebears (TCB). The Cuddly demo actually
ran, although Hatari struggled mightily with the sync scrolling on the main
menu. Trying out 'Sowatt' revealed more of the same, with the Tech-Tech
screen getting a litle bit garbled. The 'No Cooper' demo by 1984 managed to
bomb out. I managed to get the file version of the Hemoroids 'Humeur Vitree'
STe demo running, all apart from one screen. Cool or what! There were some
other high-profile failures. The bootloaders for the Mindbomb and 'Ooh
Crikey' demos were too much for either emulator. In general, there was more
which was prepared to run on here than on NoSTalgia.
I've yet to try a full issue of Alive on this, but the signs are
encouraging, as the preview shell tester runs perfectly on here! UPDATE: Ok,
it has passed the Alive issue test as well, our shell giving neither of
these emulators any headachey issues.
Neither emulator is close yet with reference to displaying interlaced
palettes to increase the colours onscreen, of the sort created by Spectrum
512 pictures, or its later Photochrome and Apex TGA viewers. The pictures
display as a garbled mess. To get these working will need a very high order
of perfection from the emulator.
The big advantage of Hatari over its immediate competition, is that the hard
disk useage is much easier and more straightforward than the NoSTalgia disk
image hassles. Here, you just create a new folder and designate that as your
'C' drive. From there, you just set up and copy files into it as you wish,
and Hatari reads it next time it boots.
This virtual device assumes something like 50 meg storage, which should be
enough for most. Any files placed in here have to be 'atari-compliant' with
the file names, no long file names or Mac specific text characters in the
filenames. This makes it a much more viable proposition than NoSTalgia if
you are using a virtual Atari to do any sort of serious Atari work on the
Mac, rather than as a bootloading "ST-console" for games and demos.
The one weak point for Hatari is with the sound emulation. With this
switched on, the emulated slows down a lot. I watched a pixel-perfect Posh
demo with the sound turned off. Shame really, as the music is a vital part
of that great production. The sound quality seems to be about there, just
that if there is a busy screen, it slows down a lot.
Hatari 0.80 was released during the course of this article! This now allows
up to 14mb of (ST) ram. Is this now predicting some future Falcon emulation?
Also the STe hardware emulation has moved up the pace. Now some of the
blitter hardscroll and splitscreen functions, and STe Dma sound have been
added. I can confirm that the Dildo Fatwa 'Elvis' demo works fully with
Hatari, including the Dma sound based singalong parts of it! Sorry Evil and
Baggio! The YM emulation is still in need of a big kick to get it fixed
And another big bit of news worth sharing with you all. Hatari seems to now
emulate enough of the STe to allow Ray's Castle Wolfenstein conversion, in
the current beta, to run! Cool or what! I'll know shortly whether the final
release version repeats that happy story.
Hatari is the most appealing and convenient of all three of the emulators
under consideration here. If I was stuck in extremis without a real Atari to
work with, this would be my current choice of a surrogate version.
Authored by the Aranym Team, Petr Stehlik among them..
Aranym is something different from the other two emulators. The authors
would have us describe it as a virtual high-end atari clone, not an
emulator. Their ultimate fantasy would be for Aranym to be distributed as
Atari or Tos hardware, running on a generic box, with Aranym built on a
linux layer invisible to the casual user.
Aranym further tries to disqualify itself as an emulator, by emphasising it
is a platform running higher end cleanly coded applications. However, a
rather large chunk of its heritage is owed to parts of the Falcon, including
the Tos 4.04 rom being used in the early days before EmuTos, and even some
of the sound hardware is emulated. Indeed, many of the screen shots on one
of the support pages have a "Wow look! Apex Media running on here!" quality
Aranym emulates (cough!) a 68040 based atari. This is several steps up from
the other emulators. To summon it to life, it uses a combination of EmuTos
with Mint and Teradesk, or else the Falcon Tos. It is quite easy to get
working out of the diskbox with a separately available Afros disk image .
The parameters can be tweaked in a text-based config file, which lives in
your Mac documents folder. In the normal course of events, Aranym boots into
a tasty 800 x 600 / 16 bitplane Falcon truecolour mode. You can specify
generous, almost limitless amounts of ram, both ST and Fastram, which puts
it into the emulator superleague.
The hard disk handling in this case is a mixture of both NoSTalgia and
Hatari methods. The Afros image is the first 'physical' device. The booter
drive, with all the system start-up, Mint and Teradesk files housed on
There is a second virtual device set up as an 'open' directory, which can
again be found in the Mac documents folder. It is just a question of finding
the directory on the Mac disk, and copying files across into this drive.
This is recognised as a second physical device by Aranym, and you can access
the files from the Aranym desktop. Other options are available. It is even
supposed to be possible to physically connect another Atari hard drive or
CD-ROM and point the config pathways to boot from that. I might add that all
the docfiles relating to extra abilities like that, tend to refer to the
Linux version, rather than Mac OS.
From there, you are also supposed to be able to directly access other
physical media devices like a cd-rom or floppy drive. I'm not so sure of how
the latter can do this on the Mac Aranym, the host hardware not natively
supporting the floppy drive of course. Much of the config file is very
general in nature, with some parts applicable to the Linux in its x86
incarnation only. There is no JIT compiler for this PPC Mac, nor will there
likely ever be?
There are several versions for different platforms. Aranym started as Linux,
where the majority of support is it. The Linux/X86 version has an extremely
powerful function, the 'JIT' (Just in time) compiler, which uses the native
processing power of the host machine. This makes Aranym potentially the most
powerful Atari there is, even more than the CT60? This feature not available
on Apple PPC, so we are "restricted" to an emulated 68040. Ah well, suffer
we must. I would guess that JIT could well appear on future Intel Macs!
EmuTos,which has been mentioned a couple of times before in this article,
has a useful level of compatibility. There are some surprising things whch
run on it. I got the Dead Hackers Society CT60 4k intro's Episode 666 and
Acid Tear to run on it. As a point of interest, these displayed happily
under Aranym on the same flatscreen that refuses the signal for these same
demos from my CT60! Also more conventional software such as Image Copy 3 and
Aniplayer both run on it as well. Image Copy is a little flaky in operation
and Aniplayer doesn't seem to be able to alter it's basic French language
configuration on Aranym. (UPDATE! Fixed that one, grud knows how!)
There is quite a lot that you think should, but doesn't. One such is the
GEM-demo, another is the GEM Panic game, which I thought was kind of
strange, but still.
At some point, I would dearly love to check out how this works with TOS
4.04. There is a current ongoing struggle to get this working, as Aranym
will boot with this in place, but without a third party hard disk driver,
won't recognise any real devices or virtual disk images on its own. I
fiddled with the config file pathways to attempt to introduce a floppy with
a disk on it, but without success. I have got halfway there, identified the
correct device pathway for my USB floppy, which seems to sort of acknowledge
the device is present, but does not open it yet? As it stands, Aranym will
boot with the Tos 4.04 imagefile, but ONLY the imagefile, which means that
what you get by way of a desktop isn't a lot of use! It is a perfect copy of
a Falcon booting from the rom, and no devices present, so you aren't able
to do anything at all...
There is more research needed here, I need either a pre-prepared disk image
with Tos 4.04 on it and ready to run, or else a file pathway to properly
access and get files off the floppy drive on the Mac? I would say that my
exploration of Aranym is most definitely a work in progress.
The other thing is, that Aranym is currently silent. I think there is some
kind of Aniplayer specific sound driver, but this is conspicuous by its
silence. In general, there isn't any sort of noise coming forth from Aranym.
There have been hints that there may be more work soon on the DSP part of
The Tos 4.04 works now, thanks to a HD-Driver hint from Evil! Time for an
There isn't that much difference from before, compatibility-wise, Those
programs which refused to run before, didn't pick up the pace this time. I
did try out one or two fresh experiments. The early pre-preview version of
Lasers and Men got as far as the start-up screens, and so did one of the
later issues of Falcon Maggie. I did manage to get the Yeti 3-D Quake engine
working in a window, and the Dead Hackers success story continued with the
EIL 3 invitro running. It may be worth trying other demos from that source,
as Aranym is used as an emergency development system when Evil is away from
There is still a fair bit to learn here, some more Falcon TOS friendly
config hints, and perhaps a compatibility list might be a good idea?
All of these emulators were great fun to play with, and provide a pretty
good Atari experience. Of the two ST-based emulators, Hatari is definitely
out in front, and seems to be more active in general. The one major drawback
still present with it is the YM emulation, which seems to drag down when the
screen fills up. Hatari is the most useable emulation out of the three, in
relation to the sort of things I am likely to do.
NoSTalgia is still a good piece of work, let down slightly by its fiddly
hard disk setting up and handling. I've got a feeling it might come into its
own with a bit more investigation.
Aranym is bursting with possibilities as a higher end 'virtual machine'. I'm
not sure if all of those possibilities are going to be realised on the Mac
though, at least not before the Intel changeover.
At heart, I still prefer the real thing!
CiH, for Alive! Mag, Oct '05