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The Emulation Rambler: Re-Enter the 64!
By: Jason Compton
Ahhhh...sometimes it's nice to forget I'm the editor, kick back, and just
write about a topic I find fun--emulators.
We could also talk about my usage of punctuation. In the above sentence,
for the first time in memory, I've caved in to the complaints I get about
my use of dashes, and used the "proper" form of two consecutive hyphens
rather than the single hyphen some people seem to find distracting.
Now that I've gotten that out of the way, let's talk C-64 emulators.
The last time I really touched on this subject was A64 V3. Wow, that was a
while ago. A64 was in development for a long time but seems to have fallen
off the face of the planet. Perhaps because while the author did a very
admirable job of providing "modify-on-the-fly" options, the emulation
didn't multitask and didn't do a very good job of playing old games and
demos. It did come with a nice, if slow, 1541 interface, and its own
emulated ROM code, although stripping the ROM code from your 64 and
transferring it over was highly recommended.
Anyway, a few people (three, in fact) have decided that isn't a very
efficient way to do things. So Christian Bauer, Borge Nost, and Michael
Kramer sat down and created, respectively, Frodo, AXF-64, and MagiC64. All
three are currently in development (although understandably, Frodo
sometimes takes a back seat to Bauer's other emulation masterpiece,
ShapeShifter, which will be getting some MUCH deserved and MUCH overdue
coverage in the next issue of AR), and all three bring different advantages
and baggage to the party.
Frodo V1.5 from Christian Bauer
Frodo is a fully multitasking 64 emulator that aims to provide the maximum
in system compatibility (it supports EGS, CyberGraphics, Picasso, and
Merlin graphics cards) while emulating the 6510 and VIC chips of the 64 at
a high level of usability. Sound emulation is borrowed from the A64's
6581sid.library, or can be added by building a custom Zorro-II SID card.
An impressive array of specific modifications can be made to the timings
Frodo uses, to allow for special tinkering.
You'll be wanting OS 2.1 or better, some fast memory, and a REALLY fast
processor. Frodo is slow, there's really no way around it. Even the
documentation points out that on a 4000/040 the speed is roughly half that
of a real 64.
When it does get around to running programs, though, it tends to have a
high level of compatibility. Programs that halted AXF with unimplemented
opcode errors got by on Frodo. On my 030/25, sometimes I almost wished
they hadn't, but playing Giana Sisters on a 4000/040 and Spectrum card
running CyberGraphics was quite enjoyable.
Frodo is also the only one of the three emulators to provide direct
possibilities for access with real C64 floppies and printers--schematics
are included for a quick 'n dirty interface, and Bauer theorizes that the
A64 box may work. We haven't had a chance to check yet, but will by the
time the next review of these three rolls around. The program also allows
you to read AmigaDOS directories as 64 devices.
Loading from these AmigaDOS devices, even RAM:, seems needlessly slow-not
nearly as slow as a real 1541, but still rather sluggist.
For those who want to test Frodo's demo-supporting capabilities, some quick
implementations of common 64 demo tricks (DYCPs and the like) are included
WITH Frodo, for evaluation.
Frodo comes with an AmigaGuide manual, in German and English, and is
AXF-64 Alpha 30 by Borge Nost
Unlike both Frodo and MagiC64 which provide a GUI for control settings, AXF
relies on only a few command-line options. Also, it is the only emulator
of the three that doesn't allow Amiga multitasking--and requires you to
quit if you want the Amiga back. (A64 disabled the Amiga's tasks but
allowed you to freeze the emulation and return to the Amiga through a
AXF is rather sparsely documented, coming only with a 10k README, about
half of which is dedicated to update information from previous versions.
The keyboard mapping isn't explained, but is designed to be "like a real 64
keyboard" meaning shift-2 is once again your quotation mark key.
Obviously, you'll want to have some familiarity with a real 64 before using
Certain other 64 traits are missing. DOS is only partially
implemented-most notably, you can't get a directory from within the
emulator, so you have to start it knowing what you want to load. There is
no implementation of the RESTORE key.
AXF's emulation uses the standard, real 64 ROMs. No utility for obtaining
them is provided, but can be found in the A64 package or typed in from the
Frodo documentation. (Nost uses Frodo as a model of sorts to spring off
AXF's aim is to provide the fastest 64 emulation possible, not the one with
the most frills. Unfortunately, I'm having a difficult time finding
software that is both compatible with AXF and faster than the other
offerings. I'll keep you posted.
AXF is now listed as Shareware, with $15 getting you a floppy and your name
on the list of donating users.
MagiC64 by Michael Kramer
The latest addition to the emulation line, MagiC64's options and features
closely parallel Frodo's (GUI layout, timing options that can be modified
on the fly, 6581sid sound, etc.) but stands out in its support of .D64,
.T64, and .P00 files.
On the PC, where 64 emulators are quite stable and quite fast, file formats
have been devised to make transferring 64 disks and files from place to
place easier. MagiC64 supports the most popular of these.
The upside is that it will be easier to acquire 64 software from online
sources, if that's your thing. The downside is that support for AmigaDOS
and real-1541 devices isn't there. This can be a big problem if you have
no way to generate these file formats. (There is a program on the PC that
will convert from the 64's ZIPCode format into .D64, but none for the
Amiga.) However, for disks with filenames that are AmigaDOS-illegal (such
as those which consist of a directory-style slash), the formats are
Graphic display uses the Amiga display database, but did not function on my
A2410 EGS emulation, forcing me to use NTSC modes. Speed was, well, less
than spectacular on the 030/25.
MagiC64 allows you to use built-in ROM emulation, but as usual, real ROMs
While file compatibility is reasonable, I found the keyboard emulation the
least reliable (with AXF's handling slightly better response-wise than
Frodo's). Characters were eaten, added, and returns ignored much of the
The PAL/NTSC 64 emulation switch is a feature unique to MagiC64.
MagiC64 is $25 worth of Shareware, which gets you the ability to save your
preferences and hear sound. It is worth noting that Frodo provides both
There's no "best" emulator, and if you're serious about 64 emulation, it's
well worth your while to investigate all three-provided you have at least
an 030, a few megs of fast RAM and a good deal of patience, not to mention
some way to get 64 software on your machine. They can be found on the
Aminet site of your choice in pub/aminet/misc/emu.
As for these emulators versus A64, they haven't accomplished the 680x0 code
recompilation A64 featured, nor the built-in ML monitor, nor the extensive
serial/parallel support, nor the GEOS support. But a programmer's work is