Today I thought I would take a look at Amstrad CPC emulation on a Next Generation Amiga through Arnold which can be run on AmigaOS 4 and ACE which can be run on MorphOS.
The CPC range of computers have always held a little bit of wonder for me, simply because back on my 12th birthday my parents decided it was time to buy me a proper computer. My dad had set his eyes on buying me the Amstrad CPC 464 which was retailing in the Index catalogue shop at the time for around £200.00 and which came with a monitor as well keyboard and tape deck in one package. Unfortunately back in those days before the rather convenient click and collect came about, we had to make the trip into one of their branches in Central London’s Oxford Street only to be told that the item was no longer in stock and no longer being produced.
What I didn’t realise was at the time, was that Amstrad were in the process of updating their CPC range with a new Plus range of machines and had phased out their stock of existing machines. As it was my birthday I naturally didn’t walk away with the infamous Bullseye bus fare home as I suggested an alternative to my dad that I get a Commodore 64 instead along with a black and white TV.
It’s fair to say that acquiring a Commodore 64 made me a little bit more cool in front of my school mates and gave me a few more friends to hang around with at the time but I often wondered what it would have been like had I been able to walk out with CPC instead.
Certainly as far as the UK was concerned the Amstrad CPC was very much the third 8-bit format after the Commodore 64 and the Spectrum. The CPC range however did pretty well in France, where it was the most dominant 8-bit format and many of the large video game companies like Infogrames, Ubi-Soft and Titus first started out by publishing titles on this machine.
The specs of the original Amstrad CPC machines were certainly a little more impressive than the Commodore 64. For a start the Zilog Z80A processor was quicker at 4MHz in comparison to the 6502 found in the Commodore 64 which ran at less than 1MHz, it could display more colours 16 from a maximum of 27 and in better range of resolutions too. The later release of the Amstrad CPC Plus and GX4000 range of machines in late 1990 improved things further still with more colours and an enhanced sound chip that made games look and sound more like the 16-bit machines that were around at the time.
Amstrad CPC software typically came in tape or disk format and the later CPC Plus and GX4000 machines also had a cartridge port. The two emulators I am going to look at here cover both sets of formats so if you are looking for files to run elsewhere I would suggest concentrating on disk software that comes in a .dsk suffix and also cartridge games which come in a .cpr format for maximum compatibility.
The AmigaOS 4 offering is a port of the well-known emulator Arnold and can be downloaded from Dr. Hirudov’s website here. This version stands at version 1.15 and was last updated in December 2012.
Once you unpack the emulator there is a small read me text file and the program file launcher and pretty much that’s it.
Game files can run from any location on the machine, however for convenience, if you prefer to have the game files stored in the same folder as the game executable this will speed up searching of disks and cartridges.
Once we open up the launcher, we are presented with the above screen in a window. You may want to press F8 to double the size of the window before pressing F9 (full-screen) as depending on how your resolutions are set up on your video card pressing F9 will give you a windowed display inside the full-screen resolution.
To load a disk file you will need to press F1 and then select the relevant .dsk file.
For those not familiar with the Amstrad CPC series, running disk software can be done by entering CAT to display the files and you will need to look for the .BAS or .BIN files so in this particular instance above, I will enter run”enduro.bas
Cartridge games can be run by selecting the F4 command and from the menu you just select the relevant .cpr file.
The MorphOS offering is called ACE and is written by Philippe Rimauro. This has been in development since 2011 and is currently at version 1.17 which can be downloaded from here.
ACE is slightly different to Arnold in that it is not a port and has been done specifically for MorphOS from the ground up. It is also a lot more feature rich than Arnold and makes use of the MUI Graphical User Interface to present a very user-friendly experience.
Once you have unpacked ACE, you are presented with the above folder which nicely breaks down where you can store relevant tape, disk and cartridge files as the emulator will be looking for these folders by default. You also have the option to start one of a number of pre-configured machines from the range. Strangely the GX4000 is missing from the list but as you will only be able to run cartridge software on a Plus machine, if it s a quick round of Pang you are after, you will need to select one of these options.
Personally I have gone for the ACE-6128Plus icon on my Ambient dock as the 6128 has 128K and is the top specification machine.
When you open ACE for the first time it displays the initial emulated system in a window. You have the option to remove the GUI by entering in Left ALT+* key but be aware that the display window still remains, so compared to Arnold the actual game playing screen space will be less here.
Personally I found ACE the more user-friendly to use as selection of the relevant drives can be done from the tabs towards the top of the screen which you will notice above are marked Drive A, Drive B and Cartridge port. You also have the option play around with the emulator settings at the bottom to speed up or slow things down and even record what is on-screen.
Both sets of emulators work pretty well, the loading of disk software in particular is quite quick, ACE has the upper hand though as it handily shows you a red drive light in the top right hand corner to let you know when it is accessing the disk drive
Gryzor loads up in about 30-40 seconds and as you can see from the title screen, the colours on some CPC titles can be very colourful certainly in comparison to their C64 and Spectrum counterparts.
However I did find Arnold not to perform as well as ACE when it came to like for like games and this was largely down to the emulation of the sound in Arnold which at times sounded a little garbled.
Pang which is one of the standout titles of the GX4000/Plus range of machines, looks quite nice with Arnold and the screen size is filled a little more, but listen very carefully for the music especially during the interval level.
Using ACE, the sound emulation sounds much more realistic, however it is a shame that it sits in a window rather than utilise the full screen area.
On other games the garbled sound issue is less noticeable. Here I am playing another cartridge favourite and a game most synonymous with the GX4000 series Burning Rubber under Arnold.
Here is the same game under ACE. For those who have actually played on a proper GX4000 or CPC Plus machine, you will be pleased to know that the controls on this particular game are just as dodgy and unresponsive as they are on the actual hardware.
I’ve been testing this out using a Speedlink Xeox SL-6556-BK and both the D-Pad and analogue sticks work well with both classic CPC and upgraded CPC titles across both emulators.
Amstrad CPC software is rich and varied and can range from Spectrum ports which most hardcore CPC users will tell you is not a true representation of the CPC’s capabilities, through to colourful games like Gryzor, Chase HQ and Prince of Persia which make really good use of the CPC colour palette.
Non-European users may also find the catalogue of the GX4000 cartridge games a little interesting and running these on either emulator gives you the opportunity to try these out. Released in late 1990, this machine resembled a battleship and flopped big time.
A total of 27 were officially released for the system and truth be told, some of these like Dick Tracy or Pang when they do on the rare occasion appear on eBay routinely go for over £100.00. Pang in particular is for me the standout conversion of all the 8-bit versions. Navy Seals is another superlative conversion.
If I had to make a choice between the two emulators on my X5000, I would give the nod to ACE here as it is the more user-friendly, feature rich and accurate emulation especially when it comes to the sound. My only gripe is the windowed screen display even in supposed full screen mode, but hey wasn’t the original Amstrad CTM-644 CRT monitor just a 4:3 model??
Whichever version you decide to use, you will have fun discovering a machine that more than held its own in comparison to the other 8-bit machines.
Until next time have fun with your Amigas!