OK, so this is not a virtual museum. It is really about the modern day concept of the Atari ST Emulator. But I did sneak a few of my interests into this site. You may have found my collection of old, black & white iai sword videos. Or my synopsis of my trip to the post-Soviet state of Armenia. Skip past these unless you feel like taking a diversion of questionable value.
In 1984, the Macintosh introduced the world to a PC with a mouse, windows, and the concept of a graphical user interface (GUI), or “gooey”. I was a Carnegie Mellon University employee in 1984, and they had an agreement with Apple where you could purchase a Macintosh for a lot less than the public could. The CMU bookstore had Macintoshes, and the CMU publication department where I worked had both a Mac and a Lisa (the predecessor to the Macintosh. But the Mac still cost more than $3000 (about $7500 in 2020 dollars). No way did that fit into my budget.
But in 1985, a crazy story emerged that resulted in Atari, then a video game company that had a line of home computers with custom graphics and sound chips, 512 colors, graphics — releasing a PC with a mouse, overlapping windows, a full GUI – just like the Mac – the first ever GUI in color. And it was sold with a high quality color monitor for $1000ish. Still a lot of money, but far cheaper than a Mac, and in color! The PC was called the Atari ST.
Atari sold millions of these PCs and they become beloved by their owners, even more so in Germany and other parts of Europe. The ST also become the standard for musicians to use for MIDI setups because the ST had built in MIDI ports that had some kind of perfect timing capability for timing instruments. The ST is still remembered fondly. So much so that there is a group of programmers who created a very good emulator for the Atari ST. You can now recreate the full Atari ST experience on a PC or Mac screen today – running all your favorites at full speed – and even faster than the original ST, which ran a Motorola 68000 CPU at 8MHz.
I’ve put together some downloads and information that will help you get up to speed using an Atari ST emulator. I’ve found that two of the many available emulators, STeemSSE and Hatari both work very well.
THE ATARI ST EMULATOR
First, you will some downloads:
- TO RUN STEEM SSE
- this is the STeem Atari ST Emulator – learn more about authors and history here.
- Windows version download here
- Games that I have tested and run with STeem (ZIP file)
- Some notes on games (which TOS version works, how much RAM to use, which machine type to use, etc)
- Don’t assume bigger is better – most games can run with 1MB RAM on an STF (original ST) and TOS 1.02 )or 1.04 for hardrive emulation) but for emulating the STE with extra colors, stereo sound, hardware scrolling you need at least TOS 1.62.
- TO RUN HATARI Atari ST Emulator (my favorite and the one that runs the Falcon software as well as ST/TT/STE)
- this is another great Atari ST emulator – I use this to run some things that I had issues with running on STeem
- Hatari makes it easy to set up an ASCI (an Atari version of the SCSI hardware bus) hard drive – I had a lot of difficulty with this on STeem
- Downloads can be found here
- I use Hatari when I run Flight Simulator (get it here) and Jet (get it here) and some other titles.
- Some titles require an ASCI hard drive (emulated in this case) and I have never gotten one to work with STeem although some people have
- The ASCI drive for Hatari is a file. You point Hatari to this file as its hard drive. Here is an empty 80MB file for you to start with
- TO RUN ANY ATARI ST EMULATOR
- You will need TOS ROM images for any emulator. A good collection is here
- The versions that I use are 1.02, 1.06 and 1.62 and occasionally 2.06 but 3.06 and 4.04 are also stable and used for Falcon and TT machine emulation. But the original Atari ST ran just about everything using TOS 1.02.
- The Atari STE (vs the original ST) had 4096 colors, a blitter graphics coprocessor and more RAM and ran TOS 1.06 and 1.62
- Lots of information on TOS here
- There is also a free “clone” version of TOS available called EmuTOS that avoids all potential license issues (although at this point all this stuff is probably abandonware)
- You will need TOS ROM images for any emulator. A good collection is here
When I moved to central Pennsylvania, the Atari 8 bit computers went on sale at a local store called Boscov’s and there was an Atari Users Group nearby. I got an Atari 800XL and a bunch of games, a couple floppy drives, an Atari 1020 printer/plotter, a Koala drawing pad and other stuff dirt cheap. I’m talking game carts for $0.99 and the plotter for $10.
When the Atari ST came out, Boscov’s was one of the first stores to offer it. And it also went on super sale at one point. I got a 520ST with TOS 1.0 on disk (with 512MB RAM). I first had the monochrome monitor and then got the color one. The Atari ST sensed which monitor you had and either booted to color (320×200 16 colors or 640×200 4 colors) or monochrome (640×400). The monochrome screen was rock steady and crystal clear and was great for desktop publishing. It actually had a better refresh rate and more screen real estate than the Mac.
I later got the upgraded STE with 4096 colors, stereo sound, a blitter graphics coprocessor and more RAM.
I learned 3D modelling on the ST using Tom Hudson’s Cyber Studio and Jim Kent’s Aegis Animator. These allowed 320×200 16 color animations to be created. Spectrum 512, Render 512 and Deluxe Paint 4096 allowed 512 and 4096 color painting and animation on the ST (the same as the ST’s arch rival, the Amiga).
Later Atari machines, as well as the Atari ST last incarnations, called the TT and Falcon, took resolutions and colors far beyond this and had a full multi-tasking version of TOS called MultiTOS – but I had moved on with Tom Hudson to the PC and was using his excellent Autodesk 3D Studio and Jim Kent’s Autodesk Animator. These were far better versions of the ST software and very similar in interface and philosophy.
As I write this in mid-2019, the Atari ST emulator scene is (weirdly) still strong. Thousands of software packages (many many great games included) have been tweaked to fix bugs, run on many versions of TOS (The Operating System), and run directly from a hard drive. These emulators allow you to replicate a full speed Atari ST on your Mac or Windows PC. You can still find Atari ST hardware – even fully reconditioned from several online companies. Most people that I know who have actual ST hardware have replaced the floppy drive and hard drive with a disk emulator that uses a compact flash memory card. You can pretty much fit most of the ST software ever made on a compact flash card or two. Not that there wasn’t a lot – there was a lot of software – but it was really small compared to today’s megagiga size installations.
The oddest thing about the Atari ST and Amiga era is that the ST is really the upgrade from the Commodore 64 or 128 and the Amiga is really the upgrade from the Atari 800. Here’s that story:
Atari had invested in the company that was building the graphics coprocessor chips and sound chips plus the Amiga’s multitasking OS, headed up by Jay Miner, who had designed the chips in the Atari 800. The Atari 800 was always far ahead of it’s competitors technologically – the Atari 800 had 512 colors vs the C64’s 16, it had custom chips for graphics and sound, real keyboards, stuff like that – and this was to continue with the next Atari PC, as yet unnamed.
But Jay Miner’s company ended up being purchased by Commodore, and the people behind the C64 and C128 bought Atari who then — in one year flat — came out with the Atari ST. In an example of brand loyalty, most Atari owners upgraded to the ST. For all it’s technical shortcomings compared to the Amiga, it was and still is loved by it’s community and really held up against the Amiga and surpassed it in some areas (like disk speed and MIDI applications).
How the new Atari came out with a machine that was so good in so short of a time is truly amazing. I always thought it was a great example of doing more with less. I still like it’s simple OS and interface and speed. It boots super fast even in emulators, and software loads quickly.
I was impressed with how programmers pushed the ST hardware over time, too. When the STE (ST Enhanced) came out, we got a 4096 color palette, 8-bit digitally sampled stereo sound and a DMA chip, hardware scrolling and a blitter chip and more. But clever programmers created games using 60+ colors that used huge animated sprites. The game Lethal Xcess shows all this off well and there are other programs that allowed the ST to do things far beyond it’s “out of the box” capabilities.
The ST never got true multitasking until just before Atari went away – something the Amiga had from day one (and was ahead of IBM and Apple by many years). But again, most of the things I did regularly, were able to be done using a form of multitasking. Things like file downloads and printing were handled with clever software interrupts so you could effectively multitask in the background while you did other things.
But both companies made a fatal strategic blunder and competed against each other rather than IBM and Apple, even though both machines were far superior in those days to the PC or Mac. Neither machine really made a dent in markets other than gaming, though the later Amigas had add in boards that allowed it to do truly professional video work and the ST became the number one machine for musicians working with MIDI worldwide.
The ST and Amiga fates were sealed when a little video mode called VGA came out for IBM PCs giving them 256 colors – simultaneously addressable – and on screen at one time. The advent of a game called Doom soon after did things that only the very highest end ST or Amiga could do. Doom was a 3D shooter operating in a nearly true-3D environment. All ST and Amiga games looked “last generation” overnight and neither platform’s hardware could recreate the Doom experience. Doom doomed them.
ST enthusiasts ported a version of Doom to run on the last Atari ST ever created – the Falcon030. The Falcon came out too late to save Atari but it had a 16Mhz 68030 with a 68881/2 FPU and an amazing chip – the 56001 – a true DSP chip, plus MultiTOS, an multitasking version to TOS, video modes that competed with VGA and SVGA, and a lot more. Doom runs great and even runs with enhanced graphics and sound on the Falcon030.
It’s all history now and being kept alive by a small group of enthusiasts.
MY LIST OF BEST ATARI ST EMULATOR GAMES
- Bubble Bobble (the overall greatest game of all time – see all the levels and solutions for each here)
- Lethal Xcess (amazing game for the ST and Amiga – great sound, music, graphics, and playability – lots of info here)
- Magic Boy – great game showing off the STE
- hardware smooth scrolling
- blitter graphics chip
- stereo sampled digital sound
- more than 50 colors on screen during gameplay
- Gunship – check out Gunship Academy
- F15 Strike Eagle II
- Chaos Engine – superb gameplay – shows off the STE color palette, smooth hardware scrolling, stereo sampled sound
- F19 Stealth Fighter – check out this great strategy guide
- Dungeon Master
- Crystal Castles
- Fire and Ice – another STE enhanced game with more than 30 colors, hardware scrolling and stereo sound
- Prince of Persia
- Captain Blood
- Sentinel – a really innovative and cool game
- F16 Falcon
- Flight Simulator 2
- Buggy Boy
- Gauntlet 2
- Moon Patrol
- Saint Dragon
- Silent Service
- Star Glider
- Wings of Death (the prequel to Lethal Xcess)
- Zork I, II and III