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Alive 3

STe on a PC!

So I'm stuck at home, all alone with a PeeCee for 2 whole weeks. There's not 
a  Falcy  or  even an ST in sight,  what am I to do??  (I'll gloss over  the 
rather  large  intervals when Nicky is on the scene,  for at those  sort  of 
times, computer related pursuits don't really come top of the list of things 
to do! (Hem hem!))

Well  it proved rather useful to check out the emulation fans  best  friend,
the  place  known as ''.  From there,  you soon pick up loads  of
resources for emulation of the ST series.  The choice is between old stagers
such as the more than slightly famous 'Pacifist' and the likes of  'Tosbox',
and  the  latest in emulation concepts,  such as the current version of  the
'STe  Emulation Engine' or 'STeem'.  From there,  you gather the zipfile and
some handy TOS roms to go,  a mixture of 1.2, 1.6 and 2.06 TOS versions will
do nicely.

Getting  back  to  the temporary Alive!  GHQ,  and STeem installs easily  to
Windoze,  Just a matter of running,  then defining the path to where the TOS
roms are stored, then set up the emulator as you please from there. STeem is
now ready to run.

It opens as a window on the desktop initially,  at 320 x200,  a small island
of  familiarity  on the strange Windowz machine,  a garish green  lo-res  ST
desktop waits, with a battery of config options running along the top of the
'Windowze window'!

The options are easy to figure out, even without the readme file enclosed in
the program. I started by setting up the ROM type, with a selection from Tos
1.02,  or  pure  STFM for those interesting Gulf War themed  Pompey  Pirates
games  menus,  through  to  Tos  1.06 for that  heralded  STe  support,  and
culminating  in Tos 2.06 for any more recent GEM desktop based  applications
that might head this way.  No TT or Falcon Tos,  at least as yet? This is an
ST emulation after all.

Next,  set up a suitable screen mode.  The choice is from classic ST mono or
colour, there are no extended screen modes here (as yet?)

You  can define the level of sound emulation,  from putting the emphasis  on
chip  music,  through to something called 'sharp STFM samples'.  Not sure if
there is any reference to STe DMA sound yet?

It is also possible to specify a fast CPU emulation, all the way up to a 128
mhz 68000,  but you will probably need a very fast machine in the 1 ghz plus
class  to carry that one off.  According to the readme,  Windows tends to go
out of synch if you push things too hard. (Wot, no 68030 emulation? - I TOLD
you already, this is an ST emulation!!)

One of the best features of STeem next,  a really neat disk manager deserves
attention.  It  can boot with a pre-defined preloaded MSA disk image,  as if
you were booting the ST like a games console like so many people did back in
the  olden  days  of  the late 1980's.  I had to hand  a  couple  of  CD-ROM
compilations,   the Little Green Desktop (LGD) CD is a great reference point
for  most of the classic game menus.  It can even work with an MSA inside  a
Zip archive, so there is absolutely no more fiddling around with making disk
images  anymore.  STeem scores hugely in user-friendliness for this  feature

Alternatively, you can set up an ST hard disk (or multiple devices) defining
a  portion of the PC drive as a virtual atari hard drive,  which makes using
GEM applications much easier.  This is done without having to get dirty with
any  formatting  or  weird low-level techie shite,  just set up  a  Windowze
folder (preferably in a sensible place) as your virtual ST device, which can
still  be read by Steem and Windowze applications alike.  For example,  this
textfile has been worked on,  from its place in the virtual Atari 'C' drive,
by  both  Everest  (Atari  text  editor)  and  Notepad  (Windowze  accessory
proggy.) Which am I using right now? Well I'm not going to tell ya!

Those wonderfully placed under the keyboard ST mouse and joysticks,  are now
in a much easier place to get to,  with joysticks emulated via the keyboard,
which  can  be  made to include the STe Jagpads,  and they  are  fully  user

There  is even a menu which awards STeem the ability to support an  external
MIDI device!? (Anyone??)

On  the control panel,  there is a useful gadget,  which is a 'fast forward'
button.  This  comes  in very useful for those lengthy and mysterious  black
screen  moments  in  menu's and demos,  where you're not quite sure  if  the
machine has crashed,  or is merely biding its time. Both warm and cold reset
states are supported too.

STeem  can be set to run in a variety of ways.  The default option is from a
window on the Windowze desktop, which is disconcerting when some ST programs
change resolution from low to medium whilst operating.  A classic example is
the  Delta Force Maggie shell and text displayer!  But most people will feel
more at ease with a proper fullscreen mode for that 'indistinguishable  from
the real thing' feeling.

In  operation,  STeem  is  very  smooth,  even with the screen set  to  zero
frameskip.  (The host Peecee is a non state of the art, but still reasonable
433  mhz beast.) I found that Tos 2.06 is very smooth when set to run at  16
mhz (which a lot of people better remember as normal unmodified Falcon  '030
speed.)  Of course,  the majority of game menus don't need to go any  faster
than ST classic 8 mhz.

You can set it to run with hints and tips which appear at opportune  moments
in the form of a horizontal big scroller. This is either very irritating, or
very  reassuring,  expecially with those times where the emulated ST crashes
without  producing any visible evidence of failure,  the message 'Crash  and
burn, ST reset' then comes up to tell you.

That  important  compatibility level is good going on excellent.  The  tests
I've  done  are far from extensive,  but early results are encouraging.  For
example.the texture-tastic Polski fun Syntax demo 'Sometimes Bumblebee Flies
Higher'  ran without a problem, and most game menus should do too.

I did have problems with Turrican,  which ran but you seemed to be unable to
move and fire at the same time?  Of course, this game was coded at the outer
limits of the ST's hardware.  The 'Do Things' demo ran okay,  but the TaoSID
tunes sounded rough.  (On the other hand,  the reset function was successful
in activating the reset part of that demo!) In general,  the sound emulation
is  an area which needs further work.  The Techno-Drugs demo sounded  awful.
(The  forthcoming STeem v1.6 describes the sound emulation as "Ten  thousand
times more accurate." Which is interesting..)

I  even managed to hit Audio Sculpture (on a Pompey menu  somewhere)  enough
times to make it work, and it did, but it sounded slightly off-key.

My  look  at  what  ran  properly,   and  what  doesn't,   was  not  at  all
comprehensive,  and  just a quick impression.  To take a few other examples,
other  favourite  ST games like Hunter,  Flood,  and Rainbow Islands all ran
fine with STeem.

With the issue of STe support, I'm not really sure how far there is still to
go there?  I bombed out attempting to run a game menu with Utopos on it, but
that  could have been a faulty menu.  On the other hand,  STeem does seem to
support  STe-specific  hardscrolling for Zool.  A cracked copy of  Obsession
refused to copy across from the CD-ROM.  This was rotten luck, and down to a
bad copy of the CD-ROM. Then again, the Stardust 'tunnel' demo ran
spotlessly from the CD.

There isn't so much STe specific stuff about to check on these CD-R's, which
concentrate on classic STFM games.

Even  with these queries unresolved,  it still seems to be decent enough  to
enable  Mr Pink to use it as his development environment of choice  for  the
new  Reservoir Gods 'Chu  Chu  Rocket',  which  is  touted  as  an  enhanced
STe/Falcon game.

I tried out the STemboy Gameboy emulator for the ST, and decided to push the
metal to see how fast it,  and STeem as a whole could go. It seemed to be at
its best up to an emualated CPU in the 48/64 mhz 68000 level.  STemboy was a
lot  quicker,  still  not quite smooth.  The screen updates tended to become
more  piecemeal if you really tried to go any higher,  say at 96 or 128 mhz.
On a small incidental note,  the Maggie ST Delta Force shell still ran, even
at those speeds!

In  practice,  for most normal GEM applications,  8 or 16 mhz is going to be
good  enough.  Running  STeem  in  mono,  without VGA induced  jagginess  on
fullscreen mode, you really can hardly tell you're on a PeeCee!

Oh,  I nearly forgot,  there is a plan for a Linux version of STeem soon, as
the author says, he hates Windows too!


Apart  from SainT,  this could be the best and certainly the most  practical
and easy to use ST emulation for the PeeCee. It is certainly the best effort
for  STe  emulation  to date.  Steem is a perfectly  viable  ST  development
environment for those awkward moments when you are away from home.


Easy to set up.
Fantastically easy to use.
Very comfortable and viable as a GEM machine.
Brilliant disk manager for those autobooting game menus on CD-ROM.
First serious attempt at STe support.
Solid and stable, no overt bugginess.


Not sure how fully STe supported, some things work, others might not?
Not quite able to cope with a few games or demos running on the outer
edges of ST hardware just yet?
Sound emulation not quite spot on in places? No STe DMA? (Being fixed in
later versions though.)

CiH, For Alive Magazine, July '01

Alive 3