Atari on Mac Pt 2!
Emulating Atari on Mac, (part 2)
This time, it's the others turn!
Last time, in issue 11, we looked at a trio of ST emulators for the Mac, to
see how they stacked up in general use, and to offer a rough comparison
with their Peecee equivalents. At the time, I rashly promised a part 2,
which would cover the other members of the Atari hardware family, machines
as diverse as the VCS2600 and Lynx. Now with deadlines looming, it is time
to deliver on that promise, ho hum.
Atari 800 v.3.2..
This is the Mac version of the impressive David Firth/Petr Stehlik and many
others authored Atari 800 series emulator called 'Atari 800'. The Falcon
version is several iterations behind, but is still able to turn in an
impressive performance, especially on an '060 machine. Amazingly, this Mac
version offers even more. It is done by Mark Grebe for the Mac.
The Mac incarnation has quite an advanced GUI, entirely controlled from the
desktop. There are some nice graphical options and control features, such
as being able to mount and load a disk drive. There is a large degree of
control from a separate control panel under the main emulation window. The
sort of hands-on immediate controls you need, such as reset buttons are
available from there. There are also other media options, such as cassette
or cartridge images that you can select from there. This loads the common
'atr' format, but also has to option to convert to and from other used disk
The basic mode of operation, and structure where the files go will be
familiar to people used to using the Atari TOS version of this emulator.
Happily, the multiple machine types and memory options are all available
from here, including some megabyte class memory elephants! One thing which
you have to remember to get hold of separately is the Atari 800/XL system
ROM, this is not distributed with the emulator, but is not too hard to find
When it is running, one thing is noticeable straight away. There is a
tendency for the keyboard input to be jittery and miss out typed
characters, unless the emulator is throttled back to native speed, If it is
left running at warp speed, it makes typing in dos commands interesting
otherwise! You will need to drop the speed anyway, once you start getting
into running those lovely demos!
I tried out a game first, which was the 'Flowers Mania' Columns clone,
recently seen on Pouet.net. There are a wealth of emulated joystick options
(mouse/keyboard), or the ability to set up for USB-type controllers as
well. The game itself ran flawlessly, which we sort of expected.
Remembering the heavily 'broken' sound with the Falcon/TOS version of this
emulator, I was heartened to find that the Pokey sound emulation was a lot
better, if not quite totally perfect on the Mac version. It was better than
95% there, but charmingly 'flawed' in a couple of places.
The Mac Atari 800 has to fight for its place in a competitive and busy
multi-tasking desktop environment, rather than the still and tranquil
singletasking TOS version. This one is more than up to the job, it carries
on running, but loses sound when overtopped by another application.
This is as least as compatible as the Falcy version, which is to say, very.
In fact it may well be more so. Without running hundreds of demos on both
and comparing closely, a pleasurable but time-consuming task, I can't
really tell. But there was at least one 'unrecoverable error' when running
one of the smaller Noise Party entries. Oh, did I mention there was a
rather nice monitor built in as well if you need to break into a program?
'Atari 800' is one of my favourite emulators on any system, starting with
the Falcon version. It happily maintains this record on the Mac as well.
Next up, we consider another Atari machine worthy of attention. This is the
sadly underrated Lynx console, the first decent colour handheld (ok, I like
the Sega gamegear too!). Like the Atari 800 emulation, an off-the-shelf and
ported to the Mac solution is used here as well, this time, it is the
'Handy' emulation, which coincidentally has also been ported to the Falcon
CT60 recently. There are no purpose-coded Lynx emulations, the only other
real option is the Lynx emulation found in 'OsXMess'.
This one was ported by Roger Bannister, a name very prominent in Mac
emulation circles. In fact his productivity rate seems to resemble a one
man Mac emulation factory!
'Handy' has pretty good compatibility. It seems to be able to cope with
official games and homebrew productions alike. It ran Sage's EIL 'Lynx
Reloaded' demo nicely, in spite of him not recommending Handy for this! (It
also managed to run ok on the Falcon CT60 version as well!) The games I
tried, such as Aliens vs Predator, Blue Lightning, Battlezone etc all ran
nicely. The controls were accessed from the keyboard, and the default keys
could be changed.
Operating the emulation is simplicity itself, starting up the Handy
executable gives you a menu selector for the .lnx image file you want to
run. To change this, you click to get rid of the active window, then click
on the Handy icon in the Mac icon bay to get the menu selector back for the
next image file.
The sound emulation seems to be very good. Handy is very well behaved in
general, it pauses when another app is clicked on in the Mac Desktop.
One thing to note that some of the options need Roger Bannister's 'Emulator
Enhancer' to work properly. For example. the viewing window is life-size, a
tiny screen area om my Mac desktop, but a fullscreen mode isn't available
without the enhancer! Also it is needed to be able to use things like
joypads, which is where, I guess, Roger gets something back for the hours
he spends on behalf of the Mac emulator fans!
Handy is a very good, indeed almost perfect Lynx emulator, which is well
worth investigating further.
Stella OSX v.2.1..
Ok, it's time to go back further into the Atari past, to the point where it
all began. Yes of course, there's a VCS2600 emulator here as well. Yet
again, this is a MacOS port of a well-known existing product, the 'Stella'
emulator. Mark Grebe is a busy chap, as he ported this one to the Mac as
well as the Atari 800!
Stella looks as if it belongs to an older generation of applications when
it first starts up. The user is greeted with a very oldschool file selector
demanding immediate attention, which might put off the casual pampered OSX
user. Before you even lay a finger on a VCS production, you have to define
the path for the image files, that is, right from the very beginning of
your Mac HD directory tree! But persevere, it gets easier from there,
(assuming you have all your VCS .bin image files in the same place
Once this is done, you just have to update the romlist if anything new is
added, and then select the image file of your choice. Stella is very simple
to use, much like Handy. There are options to set up different aspects of
Stella from the menu selector at the top of the screen. Most of these only
become active once an image file is loaded and running. Unlike Handy, you
do at least get a full set of options for screen re-sizing!
Including some demos that I tried, compatibility was very good. It manages
even very hard stuff like demos using raster effects. The VCS seems to be
good at many-coloured shade effects in general, as I found a couple of
games that seemed to be far more colourful than my early recollections of
this system! Also the sound seems to be just about perfect as well.
Stella was very playable with the games I tried, from old games like
Galaxians, through to a much newer and quite hard version of 'Thrust'. The
keyboard/joystick emulation was ok, and the simple controls were very easy
to pick up.
There was a very comprehensive debugger discovered, which is fine if you
are into that sort of thing!
Stella was not so well behaved in a multi-tasking context. It keeps running
in the background when overtopped, and the sound slows down when accessing
the keyboard for another app on the Mac Mini. This may not be such a
problem with a G5 machine, or one of the new generation intel Macs?
This is yet another emulation where a good job was done. It seems we have a
complete set of emulators covering almost all variants of Atari, apart from
one? That story is next!
Is there a Jaguar emulator for the Mac? If the Mac can emulate a Mark 1
Playstation, or N64 class console without too many problems, then surely
the Jaguar hardware is well within reach? But has anyone even tried yet?
The mainstream Mac emulation 'Emuscene' makes no mention of such a thing.
Well actually, there is one, sort of. It is a 'pick up and and build
yourself' solution, a port of the SDL based 'Virtual Jaguar', which is
still incomplete, but apparently mostly compatible already and improving
all the time. From checking out the web pages, development is very very
slow, and there doesn't seem to be a ready to use version for OSX. You have
to be really '7337' and compile it yourself. According to the associated
forum, there is even a version for the Intel Mac now. I guess it will be a
long while before it gets to the point that lamers like me can simply
download and use it?
If anyone is minded to try, I'll give you the URL for it.
Ok, that's mission accomplished, we're outta here!
Until the next time!
CiH, for Alive Mag, June '06..