29 July 1997

Finally, a brag! [2600 Sesame Street games, Commando Raid, Raft Rider, Pooyan, Intellivision & Intellivioice]

[Originally posted to rec.games.video.classic.]

Finally, I found something worth bragging about. It's been months since I've seen anything at the local thrifts, but yesterday I picked up these 2600 cartridges for $0.50 each:

Cookie Monster Munch(R, light Actiplaque)
Big Bird's Egg Catch(R, very light Actiplaque)
Commando Raid(R, my third)
Raft Rider(ER)
Pooyan(ER, !!!)

Plus a Kid's Controller with Cookie Monster Munch overlay for $0.25. Pooyan is the first Konami cart I've ever seen (which is no surprise since all three are ER, according to VGR). Can anyone tell me how to play Raft Rider? The manual isn't on Greg Chance's page. It claimed four game variations on the label, but I can't get the game select switch to do anything and I didn't notice the game difficulty switches making a difference.

Today I went back there and picked up the Intellivision with Intellivoice for $5 I had to leave. (I didn't have enough money for it and the carts before.) I've only tested it briefly with a Bomb Squad cart I happened to have, but it seems to work fine with a little coaxing. ("Mattel preezentz...Boom Squad." 8) The Intellivoice didn't seem to be making contact with the cart slot at first, but hopefully it just needs cleaning. I've resisted buying Intellivision stuff up to now, but since it's so hard to find anything any more, I think I may start.

[This, indeed, was the start of my buying Intellivision games. — 17 Jun 2010]

18 July 1997

Is It Live or Is It Emulated? - Part 2: Commercial and Upcoming Emulators (originally for Suite 101)

[Suite 101 articles introduction]

Last time I talked about shareware and freeware console emulators you could download from the Internet. This time I'm going to discuss commercial emulators available in stores and those that are still under development. The advantages of commercial emulators are primarily support and games. Commercial products have an entire company's support line open to answer any questions or problems you might have. Commercial emulators also come with a selection of games, so you don't have the legal or moral conflicts of using illegal ROM images.

The first commercial emulator was Activision's Atari 2600 Action Packs. It was actually the first ever, full Atari 2600 emulator. There have been three Action Packs released, each with 15 games included. The first two Action Packs were for Microsoft Windows 3.x. Later, versions were released for the Macintosh and Windows 95. The third Action Pack was released briefly for Windows 95. Unlike the first two, which only contained titles written by Activision, the third Pack had a few games Activision licensed from Atari (notably Yars' Revenge and Combat). (Actually, the second Pack contained Atlantis, a game by Imagic. Activision had bought all the 2600 titles produced by Imagic and Absolute some time after the 1984 video game crash.) Apparently the Action Packs have not sold as well as Activision thought they would, so it doesn't look like there will be any more. The third Pack was actually recalled. If you're industrious, you might still find the first two with all three versions (Windows 3.x, Windows 95, and Macintosh) in a single package.

Currently, the only other commercial emulator is the Personal Arcade, a Colecovision emulator by Telegames. It is for Windows 95 only. So far only one volume containing ten games, few of which are among the best known titles, has been released. Unlike Activision, Telegames has a free sample version of their emulator available for download.

Don't despair because of the lack of commercial emulators. There are more on the way! Perhaps the best recent news on the emulator front is the upcoming Intellivision emulator. The Blue Sky Rangers have formed a new company, Intellivision Productions Inc., and bought the rights to the Intellivision system and games. Although they currently do not have a publisher, the Blue Sky Rangers are hoping to release a CD with the emulator and a complete catalog of Intellivision games, including some unreleased ones that were in development but never marketed, in the fall of 1997. You can get a demo copy now that allows you to play Astrosmash on your PC. The final emulator package should also be available for the Macintosh.

Another emulator under development is an Atari 2600 emulator created by the Cyberpunks, a group of 2600 enthusiasts who coordinate via the Internet. Their emulator will include full emulation of the Starpath Supercharger, a very nice peripheral for the 2600. (See the above link for a full description.) They are currently negotiating with Atari and Activision. If things go as they plan, they will use Activision as their publisher (thus probably officially bringing and end to the Action Packs) and the CD will contain the complete Atari, Activision, and Starpath catalogs, including some unreleased games.

There's no telling what other emulators might be in development, either commercially or just has hobby projects by individual programmers. I have heard rumors of a Magnavox Odyssey² emulator for the PC and a Vectrex emulator for Macs. In any case, there has been a large surge in emulating classic video game consoles now that today's personal computers are up to the task. Expect it to continue for a few years to come.

Copyright 1997, i5ive communications inc. Used with permission.

[2013-04-28: Needless to say, you can't buy any of these any more.  Although you can still get the Intellivision emulator sequel, Intellivision Rocks, from the Blue Sky Rangers.  And sadly, the Cyperpunks project never made it to market.]

04 July 1997

Is It Live or Is It Emulated? - Part 1: Shareware and Freeware Emulators (originally for Suite 101)

Being a classic home video game enthusiast doesn't just mean seeing how many Atari 2600 cartridges you can amass. It can also mean just playing and enjoying the games of yesteryear, back when game play came first, not fancy graphics and sounds. Not everyone has the space, money, time or luck to collect all the games they’d like to play. That’s where emulators come in.

An emulator is a program that replicates one processor, computer, or system on another. The system that runs the emulator usually must be more powerful than the original system. Believe it or not, only recently have personal computers become powerful enough to emulate the video game consoles of the 1970s and 1980s. Most of the emulators I'll discuss require a 486 processor at minimum. This time, I'll cover shareware and freeware emulators available on the Internet. Freeware refers to software that you can obtain at no cost. Shareware is software you can download and try before you pay for it. Next time, I'll cover commercial emulators available in stores.

Note that all emulators require you have copies of the game cartridges (called ROM images) on your computer in order to play the games. It is illegal to own a copy of a commercial game you do not have in actual cartridge (or other original) format. I am not even entirely sure of the legality of having ROM images of games you do own. Although there are many Internet sites to get ROM images, I will not discuss them here nor in e-mail, so please don't bother to ask. This does not apply to the new shareware and freeware games I have discussed in a previous article.

The most popular classic system, the Atari 2600, has also spawned the most emulators. Probably the most complete one is PC Atari, which runs under MS-DOS. One of the nicer features is a built-in front-end, which makes selecting the game you want to play easier. Most other emulators require you to specify the ROM image on the command line when you invoke it. This includes Stella, another fairly complete emulator which runs on UNIX, MS-DOS, Windows 95/NT (although the latest version isn't available for Windows yet), OS/2, and Power Macs. One feature Stella has that PC Atari lacks, however, is support for Supercharger games. Stella, like PC Atari, is still being updated with new features. Some other Atari 2600 emulators are Virtual 2600, which has versions that run on UNIX, MS-DOS, Amiga platforms, and A26 and VCS 2600, both for MS-DOS.

There are three Atari 5200 emulators. One of the oldest is Rainbow, which began as an Atari 400/800 computer emulator on the Macintosh. (The Atari 5200 is actually an Atari 800-type computer with some modifications.) There is now a version for Windows 95 and NT as well. The other two emulators are both for DOS and are called Pokey, which also emulates Atari computers, and Virtual Super System (VSS).

Marat Fayzullin is, as far as I know, the only person to write a Colecovision emulator. It is called simply ColEm. There are versions for MS-DOS, Macs, UNIX, Windows, and OS/2, although not all are up to date. The emulator is fairly complete, so Mr. Fayzullin has not made any updates since 1996. There is also only one Vectrex Emulator. It is called DVE, which stands for DOS Vectrex Emulator. It is also mostly complete and has not been updated recently. Note that what I said about copying ROM images does not apply to the Vectrex because the copyright holder has released them for copying for non-profit purposes.

If you get tired of having to remember funny file names for different cartridges, you might try a front-end program that lets you pick cartridges from a menu. One I have used with DVE is Console Menu, which can be used with several different emulators.

Copyright 1997 i5ive communications inc. Used with permission.

[April 28, 2013: PC Atari Emulator is still available and now has a Windows version. Stella, however, is probably the dominant Atari 2600 emulator now. Virtual 2600 is available, but no longer being maintained. Official sites for A26 and VCS 2600 no longer seem to exist.

Rainbow is still available.  Pokey doesn't seem to be.  VSS is, but looks to not be maintained.

ColEm is still around.  DVE can be found, but doesn't seem to have a site of its own.  ParaJVE, a Vectrex emulator written in Java became a DVE competitor.

However, pretty much all these systems are now emulated by one emulator called MESS (Multi Emulator Super System).]