A Sega Master System and Game Gear emulator for the Falcon '060!
We've been pleasantly surprised by a hyper-active Peter P. once more. He's
in the middle of an emulator porting frenzy it seems. After a roaring
success of bringing the Commodore 64 emulator 'Frodo' to the CT60, now we
have another previously neglected emulation on Atari, the Sega Master
System, and the Game Gear handheld console 'SMS Plus'.
The Master System was Sega's first attempt at making a product for the
international console marketplace. It was a follow-on from the earlier SG-
1000 series, and the most direct rival to the other main second generation
console, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Both of these machines
were offering quite a bit more, technically speaking, than the first
generation of consoles, such as the Atari VCS, Intellivision, etc. The
Master System had quite a long lifespan, first appearing in 1985, with its
final official demise being postponed until the early nineties. Even then,
it managed a successful afterlife in countries such as Brazil.
The Master System was considered to be technically superior to the NES, but
lagged behind that machine's impressive sales. At the latter end of its
life, it also had to go up against the later 16-bit Sega Genesis/Megadrive,
which was wildly successful. Still, it was a mild hit, and a good test case
for Sega to learn from, when presenting their later products such as the
The Game Gear was launched in 1990, as a response to the Nintendo Gameboy,
and was basically a pocket Master System, with an increased colour palette,
(up from 64 to 4096 available colours.). It suffered from the same sort of
problems as its contemporary, the Atari Lynx, as fighting in a market where
Ninetendo's product was conquering all before it, and that the rival
products were too bulky and too greedy for battery life.
Game Gear was able to play Master System games, with an adaptor, due to the
closeness of most of the hardware, and it got versions of the more popular
software, such as Sonic the Hedgehog. It didn't get much commercial success,
but lived on until 1997, and even afterwards, when a third party
manufacturer 'Majesco' took over.
The specs for the Master System can be seen here, followed by the
differences from the Game Gear.
# CPU: 8-bit Zilog Z80 - 3.54 MHz for PAL/SECAM, 3.57 MHz for NTSC (Ahh,
Zilog, the processor which built a computing revolution!)
# Graphics: VDP (Video Display Processor) - Derived from Texas Instruments
TMS9918. Up to 32 simultaneous colors available (16 for sprites, 16 for
background) from a palette of 64 (can also show 64 simultaneous colors
using programming tricks.) Screen resolutions 256x192 and 256x224. PAL/SECAM
also supports 256x240 mode. 8x8 pixel characters, max of 488 (due to VRAM
space limitation), 8x8 or 8x16 pixel sprites, max 64, Horizontal, diagonal,
vertical, and partial screen scrolling
# Sound (PSG): Texas Instruments SN76489 - 4 channel mono sound (Very
similar sound type to basic YM.) 3 sound generators, 4 octaves each, 1 white
# Sound (FM): Yamaha YM2413 - (I guess this isn't supported in SMS Plus!) 9
channel mono FM sound, built into Japanese Master System, available as plug-
in module for Mark III supported by certain games only
# ROM: 64 kbit (8kB) to 2048 kbit (256 kB), depending on built-in game
# Main RAM: 64 kbit (8 kB)
# Video RAM: 128 kbit (16 kB)
The Game Gear was very similar. Its main differences were a reduced screen
resolution of 160x 144 pixels, and a colour palette of 4096 colours, of
which 32 were available onscreen at any time.
The Master System was able to keep up with the increasing complexity of
games as they developed. Screenshots from the SMS Power website show some
very simplistic and decidely 8-bit games at the start, (These may be tied in
with the SG-1000). There were some later releases including adaptations from
ST/Amiga 16-bit games like 'Fire and Ice', Chuck Rock, Xenon 2, and even
Populous! Graphically it is not too far off the quality of the 16-bit
computers with the better games, maybe with a slighty coarser resolution.
The SMS Plus port is a version of a widely ported open source emulator. Like
Frodo, it really needs a CT60 level of hardware, but is completely smooth
for that at 90mhz. It is quoted as being the same on a 66mhz revision 1
based CT60/CT63. It can run on a CT2, but the experience would be something
like the Atari 800 emulator running on that system, barely tolerable in
other words. The Game Gear roms are slightly more playable than the SMS
roms, if you had to resort to a CT2, owing to the reduced number of pixels
it is having to support. It is o/s independent, even if Peter presents
it as a Mint specific application. It runs fine on plain Tos and Magic
alike. The only complicating factor is that Centscreen messes up when you
press escape to exit the emulator, so run it without and you're fine.
SMS Plus is still in an early stage of development from an Atarian
perspective, although the emulator core seems to be very mature and
accurate. It is very simple to use, which goes in favour of the console
concept. You simply drag and drop the selected .sms or .gg rom onto the sms
executable binary, and off you go! Usefully, Peter P. has enabled Jagpad
controllers, which makes SMS plus a very attractive retro platform indeed!
SMS Plus adds hundreds of titles to the list of CT60 things to do. 'SMS
Power' is the top site for Master System and Game Gear rom image
collections, including some rare Japanese only releases. There is a large
collection of screengrabs, so you can see what you are downloading. There is
quite a diverse collection there. The dominant genre being 2-D and Platform,
but you get several beat-em-ups, and lots of film licences. There are some
classic shoot-em-ups, and even the occasional flight combat sim. There is a
lot of Japanese material, the role player adventures in particular looking
pretty but useless to non-Japanese speakers. There was even a training aid
rom for the Japanese highway code, including a drive down "Brocked Street".
Then there is Sonic the Hedgehog.
I have played Sonic on the SMS's big brother, the 16-bit Megadrive. I got
the impression that as a flagship game for that console, it was pushing the
hardware greatly. I had lowish expectations for the SMS version, as there
would be no way it could keep up with the massive scrolling feats on the
It's that hedgehog again!
Wrong! SMS Sonic is just about as good as the Megadrive version, the coding
team carrying off a major feat of genius, making an older console keep up
with the 16 bit hardware. There is a difference with the lesser amount of
colour onscreen, but not so much, so it still looks great. And it plays
fantastically smoothly, and the Jagpad is perfect for it, so we've got Sonic
on the Falcon at last! The Game Gear version is about the same, maybe even
running a little too quickly at 90mhz?
Other games I tried included 'Rainbow Islands', 'Space Harrier', 'Xenon 2',
and some Game Gear releases including Pinball Dreams. SMS Plus has proved to
be very compatible, managing to handle everything thrown at it so far.
Inevitably, paths lead to check out the 'Prods' section on Pouet.net. There
are a handful of SMS demos. There is nothing major, but I did get a few nice
oldschool intro's, showing authentic scrolltexts and raster bars. There was
a strange but nice slideshow by Chris Covell, which uses those funny
red/green spectacles to view images in a pseudo-3D effect off the screen. He
also made a Game Gear Hi-color slideshow, which showed off the increased
palette of the Game Gear.
Some nice raster bars and a scrolltext.
To end with, I'd say that Peter has brought us another great emulation,
another missing link for the Atari. He's working on it a bit more, and we'll
see if we get further development on a more elaborate front end.
And here's your one-stop shop for the Sega Master System and Game Gear
CiH, for the Alive Xmas Special,Dec '05