Seeing as my first ever games console was the Atari 2600, it should come as no surprise that I have a certain fondness for all things Atari. I still own the Atari 2600 that was given to me for Christmas when I was a 9 years kid and over the years many of the prized pieces of my large games collection are Atari made products. From the underrated and misunderstood console that was the Atari 7800 with its library of arcade prefect classics, to the Atari 8-bit range which was largely ignored here in Europe, following through to the under appreciated and graphically superior Atari Lynx which still manages to turn heads today with its fantastic conversions of games like Electrocop, STUN Runner, Shadow of the Beast and Hard Drivin and ending up with the curiosity that is was their last ever piece of hardware, the 64-bit Jaguar, Atari products still hold a mystique to this day for people who are interested in computer and video games.
There was however one Atari machine that I have never really had the chance to play around with given my long 25 year association with the Amiga, and that was the Atari ST, which is a shame really as the two machines have quite a shared history which are in many ways intertwined with each other.
Fortunately, thanks to the wonders of modern emulation, I am able to check out the Atari ST range of machines using the Hatari package which I am reviewing for you today as part of today’s blog post.
Hatari version 1.9 as it stands on Amiga OS4 comes to us from Bulgarian Amiga user Ventzislav Tzvetkov commonly known on the Amiga scene as Dr.Hirudo. I first became aware of his work by stumbling across a number of his You Tube videos where he has proudly shown off his Amigaone X1000 set up running all sorts of different programs, including Hatari. For those who are interested in seeing Hatari in action then I suggest you click on the following link which will give you a good idea on how this performs on the X5000.
After downloading Hatari from OS4 Depot, you are presented with the main programme executable icon which looks very colourful and large and a copy of EmuTOS which will save you the hassle of having to download the correct version of The Operating System known as TOS although this is sometimes joking referred to as the Tramiel Operating System. Jack Tramiel of course being the famous former boss of Commodore who went over to Atari at about the time the Atari ST was being released.
EmuTOS will let you emulate the different types of machines available, however for full compatibility, it is recommended that you try to get hold of any other TOS images depending on the machine you would like to emulate:
- TOS 1.02 for Atari STFM machines
- TOS 2.06 for Atari STE machines
- TOS 3.01 for Atari TT machines
- TOS 4.04 for Atari Falcon machines.
The reason for this is that EmuTOS is not totally compatible with all games and it does struggle a bit with older software. Whichever version of TOS you decide to use, the important thing to remember here is that if you decide to use any other TOS versions, you will need to rename the TOS image file as TOS.img and have this placed in the same folder as the main Hatari program.
Starting the emulator will bring you to the main menu which can always be accessed by pressing the F12 key.
Running clockwise on this menu, I will quickly run through the various bits and pieces that you may need to amend on first start-up.
Floppy disks: This is where you will need to insert your floppy disk which must be in a .st or .stx format. I find that it is often a good idea to ensure that the option to automatically insert disk b is ticked and also ensure that the double-sided disk option is also ticked.
Joysticks: Here you can have the option to use whatever joystick or joypad is plugged into your machine. Most games here use port 1 and as you can see I am planning to use my Xeox Gamepad.
Keyboard: You don’t really need to touch anything here as the system will pick up your default keyboard.
Devices: Under this menu you can set up your printers or MIDI ports.
Sound: I would keep the sound playback at 44100 Hz
Now on this screen things can either be kept at the original resolution of the Atari ST machines or go for something a bit more bespoke, however you will notice that if you keep the Atari ST resolution, the screen will end up occupying a small window covering about a 2/3 of the total screen space. Personally I leave this option unmarked and go for a nice 720×568 resolution which means that the screen covers the majority of my 27 inch monitor. You have the option to have a status bar running at the bottom which is quite handy to let you know what drive is running, similar to the one found on the VICE Commodore 64 emulator, however for subtlety here I have gone with a drive LED which lets you know when it is accessing the internal disk.
Memory: Change this to 4Mb as this should be enough for nearly every Atari ST game.
ROM: The folder where it points to the TOS.img file should be automatic, however if you decide to use another tos.img located in another part of your hard drive, you will need to click on browse and select the location accordingly.
System: Here I want to recreate a STE set up running at 8 MHz, however if you want to emulate an Atari Falcon, then this is the place you will need to amend things For Falcon emulation change to Falcon machine type with a 68030 plus FPU, 16 MHz clock and full Falcon DSP.
Here is where you mount a folder on the Amiga from which you can then browse and load games from. For example here, I am telling Hatari that Atari drive C of its folder location on my Amiga and I also tick the option to boot from HD to ensure that it is picked up on starting the emulator. It is up to you if you want to write to the drive, but if you do make sure you tick the option for Write Protection On.
Here there is nothing really to amend so I would leave things as they are.
Once you have updated all your settings, it is time to save the configuration and reset the machine.
So why should I play with Hatari?
Well, the main reason any Amiga owner should be downloading this is the opportunity to play with games for the Atari ST that believe it or not, were never actually converted to the Amiga.
Some of these titles include:
and Super Sprint
There is also the sad truth there are a few Atari ST games which actually played better than they did on the Amiga. Of course this is subject to personal opinion but I have found the following do play better on the ST than on their Amiga cousins.
and Robocop 2
It should be noted that whilst some games looked similar to their Amiga counterparts, the Atari ST was not that great at games which relied on horizontal scrolling effects as evidenced in games such as Flimbo’s quest which was quite jerky at times in its movement.
or The Addams Family which suffered from a similar problem.
Some games also ran a little slower, such as in the case of R-Type 2, but this in my view actually made it easier to play compared to the Amiga version which can be a little bit too quick with enemies shooting at you from all areas. In the Atari ST version it is much easier to dodge the enemy bullets and progress on to later levels.
Sonically you will also find different interpretations of in-game tunes in comparison to the Amiga. The Atari ST’s sound chip is the Yamaha YM2149F chip which was based on the similar AY-3-8910 sound chip found in Amstrad CPC and Spectrum 128 machines of a similar era. In my view it actually gives off some nice distinctive chip tune sounds which give a different perspective to the same compositions found on the Amiga which were of course classified as synthesised mods. You may want to check out classic tunes like those found on Turrican 2 or Lotus Turbo Challenge to really hear the difference between the two machines. Whilst I prefer the unique raspy sound generated by the Commodore 64’s SID chip, the Atari ST’s chiptunes are part of the machines unique appeal. As a number of games that you will end up downloading to play will be so-called cracked versions, the loading screens from crack-demo groups such as The Medway Boyz are also worth listening to.
The Atari ST was a pretty versatile machine especially when it came to the productivity side of things too where its main strengths lied in its music making and MIDI packages
Or Desktop Publishing such as Calamus
The Atari ST was just as adept with other pieces of productivity such as databases like Superbase
or Atari Works
or Wordperfect 5.0
In fact the Atari ST was often compared to the Apple Mac in terms of its professional capabilities and loving referred to as the Jackintosh in a nod to its owner Jack Tramiel.
Aside from the games and the productivity software, it is worth checking out the Atari ST for the Demoscene as similar to the Amiga, there were a number of demo coding groups who were quite proficient on the Atari ST scene and were responsible for all sorts of tricks that pushed the Atari ST from groups like Delta Force, The Lost Boys and The Exceptions.
Atari Falcon emulation
For me the highlight of using Hatari is being able to delve a little into the world of Atari’s last computer release the little known and mysterious Atari Falcon. This machine was released in 1992 and didn’t really sell too well in the end. I certainly don’t remember seeing it advertised in the mainstream press and the end result was that it did not have many pieces of software specifically written for it.
Equally trying to find a Falcon machine for sale on Ebay is extremely rare and when they do eventually appear, it is not uncommon to expect to pay around the £1,000 mark to get your hands on one so for me trying to emulate this machine via Hatari is a big plus point as a taster.
The Falcon was backwards compatible with Atari ST software and featured a 32-bit Motorola 68030 processor running at 16 MHz, so the specifications were comparable to the Amiga 1200 which was released at the time, although the Atari having the 68030 processor on board appeared to be the more powerful base option in comparison to the Amiga 1200. Like the Amiga 1200, the machine got better the more that was added to it and it was suggested in issue 53 of ST Format released in December 1993 that ” Although the Falcon’s central processor runs at an impressive 16 MHz screen display updates can be painfully slow when using a palette of more than 16 colours and it’s even slower if you are using MultiTOS.”
In terms of emulation via Hatari, to emulate the Falcon, you can either try use the existing EmuTOS image, or get hold of TOS version 4.04 which changes the operating system to a nice blue colour instead of the green which is found on the Atari ST. I would also select the 68030+FPU processor option and increase the Ram size to at least 16MB and the CPU clock on the following screen to 32 MHz. The Falcon also comes with a DSP processor, so on the system options screen make sure that the Full option is selected as per the screenshot below.
The next thing you will need to be aware of when emulating the Atari Falcon is that Falcon mode is considered to be in experimental stage and therefore will still carry a few bugs. One of the bugs I managed to come across whilst researching this post was surrounding the screen resolution, which sadly forces you to start Hatari in a windowed environment before switching to full screen You will know when this happens when you see a blank screen on startup in full-screen mode without the ability to press any keys to shut down the emulator. Should this happen, I would recommend that you delete the config file and open up Hatari again and reconfigure things and remember to always start in windowed mode before moving to full screen.
In terms of on-screen settings within the Falcon desktop, I would recommend that you go for a 256 colour desktop in a high-resolution which can be amended by right clicking on the options tab and adjusting colours. If you select a True Color display, you may find that the right hand side of the screen is clipped. You can also change the resolution to a much higher resolution by clicking on compatibility mode.
Falcon specific software
What little software there is out there for the machine is interesting nonetheless if only to show off the potential of the machine. Games tend to be a little problematic to play with a joystick as some commercially released Atari Falcon games tended to use Atari Jaguar controllers with a special 15-pin port and this sadly isn’t emulated within Hatari, however games can be configured to use the keyboard instead of a joystick.
I found a good website to explore a little further was the Hatari compatibility list which can be found here https://hg.tuxfamily.org/mercurialroot/hatari/hatari/raw-file/tip/doc/compatibility.html#Falcon_software_compatibility_list. This list is rather useful because of the ones which have been tested, it tells you the various settings that you will need to configure in order to get pieces of software to run.
To give you an idea of the potential power of the Atari Falcon, I stumbled across a driving game called Racer which equally highlights the experimental nature of the Falcon emulation as you will notice that the game does not have any sound in the game.
Personally I think based on this game alone, it is clear that the Atari Falcon could hold its own in comparison to the Amiga 1200. You only need to draw a comparison between this game and a game released later in the Amiga 1200 lifespan Flying High to see that perhaps the Atari Falcon was not the under powered machine that many thought it was. The reality is that by that point in Atari’s story, they were so desperate for cash and so lacking in resources to properly market the machine, that they literally were savinbg everything to have a last throw of dice with the Atari Jaguar.
Whilst it is easy to write off the Atari ST range of computers as a poor man’s Amiga, I think this particular tag is perhaps a little bit unfair. Yes the Amiga is a graphically and sonically superior machine which as handles scrolling effects better than its Atari counterpart. However scratching beneath the surface, I have found some worthwhile reasons to actually play around with the Atari ST and in particular with the Falcon. The Hatari package does a good job in emulating Atari ST machines quite accurately, although as the Falcon mode is in an experimental stage, it is difficult to accurately gauge the machine’s true performance compared to actually owning an actual piece of hardware. One thing Hatari has done however is wet my appetite to try to get hold of a Falcon machine should one become available at a reasonable price. In the meantime, I guess I will just have to stick to running this via my X5000 set up.
Until next time have fun with your Amigas!