Interview with the Authors of STeem!
Here in this issue of Alive! magazine, we bring you what is
hip, happening,and hot in the world of the authors of the best-selling
(erm? - Ed) ST emulator for the PC, the mighty ST emulating
engine, or 'STeem'.
So without further ado, I give you Anthony and Russell Hayward!
(Who are a pair of very nice chaps who replied back to me only a couple
of days after I sent them the interview text! At the risk of sounding a
bit too much like the late Elvis Presley, thank you very much!)
Okay, to start with, why not give us the usual sordid biographical
details, full name, including any embarrassing middle names, date of
birth, and the names of any love-children that you may have
We are 2 brothers from the south of England:
Anthony Hayward - 12/12/78 - Hi, I am Ant, I like alternative music and
annoying Russell. I have just got my maths degree from the University
of Durham, graduation pictures on request. Steem was originally my
stupid idea, suggested as a joke, as was the stupid name! I wrote most
of the CPU, MFP, sound chip, bits of FDC etc. All the code without
spaces or CapitalLetters and with_underscores is mine, I can spot it
cos his looks horrible! Also assembler graphics including the OSD and
lots of debugging.
Russell Hayward - Haloween 1980 - My likes are complete opposites of my
evil brother, I like sport and annoying Anthony. I'm responsible for
making Steem bearable to use, all the dialogs and options are mine
really. I also wrote the blitter, most of the ACIAs, MIDI, disk image
handling, did the website and reply to almost all of the e-mails. All
my code is lovely neat and clear, his looks like one great mass of
Now, how did you come to the ST in the first place, was Atari your
first love in computing, or was there something else before that?
R: We started with a Sega Master System on which we played Astro
Warrior for far longer than it deserved. Then we moved on to our first
"proper" computer, a Commodore 64 in about 1990, that's where Anthony
started to program in BASIC. What I remember is that they were very
good and exciting, but I was very young and they were probably pants!
Then we got our first ST, we went into a shop and had the choice
between an ST and an Amoeba, this was a difficult decision at the time
and who can say whether we were right or not but after we crashed the
Amoeba in about 2 minutes we plumped for the ST.
A: Programming for the C64 was horribly painful with line numbers and
tape drives, still you've got to learn somewhere. I think I was born
wanting to program computers, I wrote one for the C64 before we'd even
got it! Then on the ST I learnt on GFA Basic and GFA Assembler, wrote
lots of programs but never really got round to finishing them. They
were mainly games.
What hardware have you owned down the years? What do you currently
use/play with/code on at the moment?
A: One STFM, 2 STEs, Master System, C64 (now disposed of, and good
riddance!), Sony Playstation, Gameboy, lots of hand-held brick games,
and a Pentium 2 PC. We code on the PC, most of the STs' disk drives
have died, perhaps due to the strong magnetic fields we have subjected
them to with TVs, PCs etc. We code using any free development tools we
can get, Borland's free C++ compiler for Windows, NASM, LCC-WIN32 (C
compiler) and gcc and NASM on Linux and BeOS.
Were you active in any shape or form back in the olden days, when the
world was still young, and the case on your ST wasn't nicotine yellow
R: Not really, we missed the boat as far as the ST went. All our
programs were finished after only one man and his dog still used an ST
(and there was no way to get our programs to him).
A: There were lots of games we never quite finished, a rather good
platformer called Mutant Dungbeetle Rampage, a less good one called
Warty Warrior, a Bat&Ball game called Bat&Bat&Bat&Bat&Ball (it featured
4 bats!), 3D maze game called Action Corridor Fun, Russell wrote a
football game & a bomberman game. I did actually finish a tetris clone
and a pretty good art package called Ant Art, if anyone out there wants
a copy then write to us and we'll send you a link!
What made you keen to add another ST emulator, to what is, let's face
it, a fairly crowded and competitive marketplace?
A: We actually started writing it as a joke, we were quite new to C and
I said "Hey, let's write an ST emulator ha ha ha ha ha ha!" and he said
alright. So we started writing it. Really it looked like a project
with many interesting aspects, which wouldn't get boring like the
programs we'd tried to write before. The silly name STEEm Engine was
taking the mickey out of PaCifiST, WinSTon etc. but when it came time
to release the thing we couldn't think of anything better! We also had
crazy plans to make the window look like an actual Steem Engine, oh how
we joked, never expecting to release the thing. We were motivated by
the feeling that we could add something to the market, all the ones
we'd used had shortcomings. They were all awkward to use and most were
DOS, bleuurgh! The WinSTon of the time didn't work very well at all on
our computer, and we didn't find it very easy to use.
Following on from the previous question, what does STeem offer,
that the other emulators don't? Where do you think the others get it
R: Well STE features were a big thing that hadn't been done properly
before, the blitter and hardware scrolling are very useful. Even though
I wrote the GUI I still think Steem is easier to use than any other
emulator, beginners find most of it intuitive. None of the other
emulators are as configurable as far as joysticks go, and shortcuts are
a great feature, I control most aspects of Steem from my joystick.
Hardware MIDI support was quite revolutionary, and it worked, which was
quite a shock to me! Even more remarkable as I wasn't able to test it
myself. We have added hardware RS-232 support to v1.6 of Steem, that is
something I haven't seen before either.
There are areas where the other emulators have got the edge on Steem,
almost all of them are faster. We have improved the drawing speed but
the CPU is as slow as an old dog! SainT runs demos a lot better, it
more accurately emulates the undocumented features of the video
A: It has an On-screen display with lots of pretty colours which makes
it automatically much cooler than the other ones! I also think Steem
has by far the most accurate sound chip emulation. We get lots of
emails criticizing it but they mainly come from people who've got used
to other emulators and forgotten what a real ST sounds like! We send
them a test program which demonstrates their wrongness.
Should people continue to develop the many diverse ST emulators there
are out there at the moment, or perhaps try to get together to
pool their resources to make one 'ultimate' Atari TOS emulation?
A: It's difficult to know how you could bring the different emulators
together. They've all developed separately and probably work very
differently. How would you decide which bits to dump? There is
certainly some rivalry and secrecy on all sides of the emulator
developers, you could say it would be better if we all helped each
other out. But I think it is good to have competition and it
encourages us to keep Steem ahead of the rest!
In your opinion, how close to the real thing is STeem getting at the
moment, and how much closer can it get in the future? Are there any
brilliant new features that you've got in mind that you can tell us
R: I think we are getting there, at least 95% of ST programs will now
run identically on Steem as they would on a real ST. It is getting
harder and harder to find any programs that give us a chance of finding
a bug. As for new features we would like to add internet play some
time, we have ideas of how to do it but have no idea whether it would
work or not. Apart from that making Steem faster and more accurate is
our only goal, and stopping the annoying crashing that v1.6 has
started! We would like to find a way that Steem could use copy-
protected disks so people can make images of their old games before
their STs pack up.
A: We believe there's a nice, hardware way of doing extended ST
graphics resolutions for GEM, but we don't know what it is yet. That
would be a good thing to put in. All the other emulators seem to use
TOS-dependent hacking which we don't want to do.
Another thing we haven't quite got right is raster screen-effects,
SainT is the only emulator to do that well. We'll look at it in the
Why do you think it has taken so long for someone to get around to
emulating something other than the classic STFM? Why haven't we had STe
support before now?
A: I think there's a number of reasons. People writing emulators
probably didn't write for STEs, indeed there's not that many program
that use the extended features. Also they are less well-documented.
Writing an STFM emulator is hard enough so they probably didn't feel
inclined to put in the STE features once they'd done that!
A technical curiosity here, if STe support is more or less on the
scene, how soon before we start to see the first TT emulation,
which is a similar generation of hardware, albeit with a 68030
CPU, and some extra screen modes, (and minus a blitter..) How
difficult would it be to add that machine to STeem's repertoire?
A: As far as I can see there isn't much point. How many people had
TTs, and how much software is there for them - at least that hasn't
been massively overtaken by software you can get free for the PC?
Also, we've never had one so we couldn't test it. I don't think it's
going to happen!
And to really take the piss, what are the chances for emulation of
the Falcon '030 on the PC? How easy or difficult would it be to
properly emulate the Falcon's hardware architecture, including the
DSP? I don't personally think it would be too easy, but what do you
A: Yes, very difficult! The DSP would be a difficult job in itself,
and heaven knows what else was in the thing! Again, we've never seen
one so we'd be a bit lost. And once again, thanks to Atari's bungles
there's not that many people who've got them and not much software for
Now we're getting very silly, I saw screenshots and read a report,
even briefly discovered the URL of a Spanish website containing an
entirely new kind of emulator. This one was for the ZX Spectrum, and
in addition to the usual stuff, had an extra emulated graphics
processor that could run classic speccy games in 256 colours! (If
converted beforehand.) Do you think that something like this would be
possible for a future ST emulation. (Think of classic Starglider II
running in 16 or 24 bit colour, with textures!! Mmmm...)
A: The problem is that the most ST games were written at really low
level, to get the most out of the hardware. There's really no way of
knowing what they are trying to do! You'd need to do that if you
wanted to make it work better.
How valuable to the continued survival of the Atari Scene do you think
the existence and continued development of ST emulators such as yours
R: I think they are the only hope really, the ST wasn't built to last
forever so I should think there will be very few working around in a
few years time. If people still want to play those games or watch those
demos they will have to use an emulator.
Is there anything that an emulator will never be able to do, that you
will always need the original hardware for?
R: There are some very complex protection systems that wouldn't be able
to be emulated, using the cartridge port or a ridiculous level of
timing accuracy just couldn't be done. Also reading most ST floppy
disks is impossible, a normal PC's FDC isn't capable of it.
To close off this part of the interview, is there any other
programs or projects that you are working on, either for the Atari
or the PC, apart from STeem?
R: Not really, Anthony has been too busy recently even to do Steem and
I spend most of my time writing e-mails or debugging programs, there
really isn't time for any other projects. We tend to only be able to
concentrate on one thing at a time anyway.
Some more general questions now, what do you think of the Atari
Scene generally? Have reports of our demise (first heard in 1990 or
thereabouts) been premature, or what!
R: We really don't know much about the Atari Scene, it's nice to know
there are some people who still use their Ataris, there was some
remarkable software written for the machines that doesn't deserve to
Did you ever subscribe to the old rivalries, such as ST vs the Amiga?
(Such pointless bickering, ahhh, glorious days!)
R: Yes, we try to destroy the souls of Amoeba owners as much as we can!
Wintel PeeCee, slavery, liberation, or perhaps something else?
R: I don't think it is as bad as everybody says, Linux will be a viable
alternative in the future and AMD already makes superior chips to
A: PCs are so massively powerful and cheap these days, I think it's
silly to yearn for the days when computers could do less. But they say
limitation makes for great art and that's why the ST had great games
like Bombjack and the PC doesn't!
Does Bill Gates take the wee-wee or what?! (My own answer to that is,
yes he does, then renames it to MS Urine Millenium Edition!)
A: He has been very good at selling duff products like MS-DOS and
Windows 3.1 to an ignorant public. Windows ME stinks! But he must be
doing something right to be the richest man in the world, I think it
was making computers (at least appear to be) easy-to-use.
If this rumoured Playstation 2 Linux add-on box does take off, any
chance of a port of STeem to it (grin!)
R: I haven't heard of that particular add-on but the Linux version of
Steem is almost ready to be released, there is a lot of 486 only code
in Steem unfortunately so it would be quite a job to convert it to work
on any other platform.
Infogrammes or the Tramiel family, which annoys you the most!?
R: I have infinite hatred for both!
A: I love them all!
Demo's, love 'em or hate 'em?
A: Hate trying to get them to work on Steem! And I'm not sure I can
see the point. On the ST, I never knew the hardware well enough to
write or appreciate a good demo - of course, I know better now!
R: I think there were a huge number of very impressive demos on the ST
but spending time trying to emulate them seems a waste of time to me.
With the power of an average PC you could write one hell of a demo!
What are/were your favourite game/demo/serious applications on the
ST or STe?
R: We played Captive, Civilisation, Mega-lo-mania an awful lot on our
STs, they were great games. As for serious applications I think that
GFA Basic is really good, most of our ST programming was done using it.
Are you getting tired? Is this interview dragging on too long?
R: I'm fine for another 2000 lines.
And finally to finish this interview off, in your opinion, what is
the meaning of life? (Giving the answer "42" is not original, clever,
or funny anymore!)
A: The meaning of life is to emulate obsolete computers for the benefit
of a small group of appreciative nostalgists!
Thanks for your valuable time, have a nice day..
I hope that is all okay, it's a bit long, feel free to cut any bits you
like (especially Ant's bits).
Anthony and Russell Hayward
Steem - ST emulation made easy: http://steem.atari.org