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                           The Emulation Rambler
                             By:  Jason Compton 
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For openers: My apologies for a complete lack of a review of PC-Task 4 and
PCx yet.  Next issue, I promise.  Here's a preview: Both are definitely
more capable than their predecessors and match up well, but both are also
something of a disappointment considering how long we waited for their
release.

A few months ago, I posted a message to comp.sys.amiga.emulations a lament
about what I perceived to be an "emulation gap", where emulators were not
being ported to the Amiga from other platforms (or being developed
independently) despite the fact that the Amiga was perfectly capable of the
task.

Apparently, that fact was on a lot of other people's minds as well, because
very soon after, the situation began changing.  Within a few weeks, two
emulators of the Sega Master System (and Game Gear) appeared.  A little
while later, the arcade emulator MAME materialized for the Amiga.  And now,
Mark Van Hal has released DarkNESs, the first publicly available Nintendo
8-bit emulator for the Amiga.  Another is scheduled to follow very soon.
Is this great or what?

AMAME: Currently in version .20 on the Amiga, MAME is designed to emulate a
number of different arcade games which shared common-ish hardware, mostly
from the early 80s.  A number of the MAME games are personal favorites:
Pengo, Donkey Kong Jr., Mr. Do, Mario Bros, and a number of others.  AMAME
is still pretty rough around the edges and isn't as up to date as its PC
and Mac counterparts but, in time, I'm sure it'll be a winner.

AmiMasterGear: From Juan Gomez, the author of AmiMSX2 and AmiGameBoy comes
this assembly-optimized emulator of the Sega Master System and Game Gear.
As is trademark, the emulator defies you to multitask or use mode
promotion, but what it does offer is quite a bit of speed and partial sound
emulation.  Compatibility is fairly high.

MasterGear: Mark Van Hal's port of Marat Fayzullin's MasterGear is in some
ways completely the opposite of AmiMasterGear.  There is no custom GUI
screen (however there is now a GUI window), no sound, and multitasking and
mode promotion are possible.  (If you do choose to promote, be sure to
disable double buffering.)  If it wasn't for the lack of sound I'd prefer
MasterGear for the CyberGraphX element but for now it's pretty even money,
depending on how important sound or graphics card use is to you.

DarkNESs: A very early release version.  DarkNESs supports the common ROM
image formats of PC NES emulators, but is not fully compatible with all of
the different types of Nintendo game configurations.  At present, DarkNESs
is entirely in C and is quite slow--the author gets about 5-8% performance
on his 030 setup.  There seems to be something wrong in the way it is
compiled as the performance doesn't get much better--I got 16% on an 040/40
and 18% on an 060/50.  Van Hal tells me he's looking into it.  I'm quite
interested to see where this leads--so far, DarkNESs is too slow to be
playable and lacks sound (a common problem since very few people know how
the NES' sound works), but in time it could be excellent.

ANES: Not released yet, but the project has been announced and the authors
promise some very fast performance in store for users--although sound is
again a problem.  Below are some excerpts from mail one of the authors sent
me:

-  From: Morgan Johansson <morgan.johansson@mbox301.swipnet.se>

   It all started a sunny day (nah, it was probably quite rainy) in the
   beginning of may 1997.  I just tried out a PC NES emulator (called
   Nesticle) using Pc-Task (!)..  It was slow but it worked.  And then I
   started to think about why nobody have written a NES emulator for the
   Amiga.  The NES has bitplane graphics, just like the Amiga, so there is
   NO slow chunky2planar conversions needed, which you need in for example
   "shapeshifter" or "pctask".  My friend joined me in this project
   (Fredrik Schultz)..  We had never done anything like this before so it
   sure was (and still is) a great challenge.  We got some NES technical
   specifications (they are NOT easy too find, because the guys who
   actually has the documentation, often doesn't wants to share it!  Too
   bad..) First, we started working on the cpu emulation.  We have never
   worked with the 6502 processor before so it was a bit hard in the
   beginning...

   Well, the cpu emulation is now finished.  (if you don't count those
   awfull bugs, crawling all over the place!) :) The graphics conversion is
   also finished, and also most of the sprite routines.

   We've got lots of support in this project.  And I mean lots!  I've been
   answering lots of e-mails concerning A/NES every day for the last weeks
   now.  But I don't mind..  :)

   Most people wonder if we are going to support Cybergraphics /
   graphicboards The current answer is no!  Not for the moment.  We are now
   using OCS/ECS/AGA (yes, it runs on OCS!), hardware screens for getting
   maximum speed.

   Also alot of questions is concerning sound, if we're gonna support it. 
   Well, as we have got NO technical information about how the sound works
   on a NES, it's at the moment impossible.  The people out there who
   actually have information how the sound works, doesn't wants to share
   it..  It's a pity!

   And speed then?  How fast will it run?  Well, it's incredible fast on my
   060.  And it runs about 50fps on my friends 020/28mhz with fastmem
   so...:)

--

And there you have it.

Also, Microcode Solutions has released press preview copies of their Atari
8-bit and Apple II emulators, dubbed ACE and A-II, respectively.

ACE is the highlight of the two.  Finally, a usable Atari 400/800 emulator
for the Amiga!  While ACE promises to support the later models of the Atari
line, at this point it actually emulates a modified Atari 400 which looks
like an 800.  That's still good enough to play around with most of the fun
Atari software out there.  ACE supports the popular .XFD disk image format
(the .ATR format is the .XFD format with 16 extra bytes which you'll have
to strip by hand) and I've found it to be delightfully compatible, although
some games with complex graphical tricks do confuse it.  For something
which is, as we've been told, not quite done, I'll take what I can get.
Sound seems to be quite well emulated.

Unfortunately I haven't been able to get the original Alternate Reality to
run on the Atari, which is one of the things I was specifically hoping to
do.  I sent the images off to Jim Drew who said he got them working
fine--so we are at a bit of an impass.  The bottom line is that ACE is a
welcome product and anybody who's been frustrated with the extremely slow
Unix port of Atari800 will be quite pleased to see it.

A-II, on the other hand, is so far quite a disappointment.  It really
doesn't seem to offer much that Apple2000 doesn't do already.  Most notable
is the speed slider and the ability to toggle write-protect on the disk
images (which, among other things, allows you to play Wizardry.)  Support
for machines beyond the Apple II+ is promised but as of today, only the
Apple II+ is emulated, meaning that the emulator is pretty much the same as
Apple2000.  Apple2000 is easier to use in one regard--neither mode
promotes, but Apple2000's image requester screen is on the Apple screen,
while A-II goes to the workbench for its ASL requester.  If you're using a
manual monitor switch like I am on a graphics card without a passthrough
(like the CV64/3D), this is INCREDIBLY inconvenient.

ACE and AII will be sold together in a package for about US$40.  The idea
was bandied about to place both on a CD with a large quantity of Atari and
Apple FD software, which makes it sound like a pretty good buy to me.

So, all of a sudden we're far more up to date with emulation!  Good deal.

Emulation fan tip:  If you've got ridiculous amounts of emulation software
built up on your hard drive as I do, you should seriously consider a ZIP
drive.  They're now US$140 for external models and are perfect for this
sort of "when I'm in the mood" use.

ACE and AII will be available from Blittersoft through dealers worldwide. 
AMAME is not in general Aminet release but you can link to it through the
Emulators on the Amiga page,
http://www.pncl.co.uk/~martinc/emulators/index.html.  AmiMasterGear,
MasterGear, and DarkNESs are available on Aminet in misc/emu.