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Atari 2600 Emulator Review

for DOS and Win95
(Now in alphabetical order!)


 These are all the working 2600 emulators I've ever heard of.  If you know of any other please e-mail me.
 
Emulator
OS
Version Tested
Plays Solaris
Speed
Sound
Joystick
Save Game
Cheat
Screen Capture
Source Available
Notes
A26
DOS
0.15: 12/96
No
Fast
PC Speaker
Yes
No
No
No
Yes
Discontinued
MAGE
?
Beta 2
?/?
No
?
?
?
?
?
?
?
Not Reviewed
PCAE
DOS
2.1a: 7/98
Yes
Very Fast
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Best emulator available
Stella
DOS
1.1
2/99
Yes
Fast
Yes
Yes
No
No
No
Yes
Great
StellaX
Win32
1.1.2 2/99
No
Good
OK
No
No
No
No
Yes
 DirectX, Pretty Good
VCS2600
DOS
?.?
?/96
No
?
Yes
Yes
?
?
?
?
Test Version
Virtual 2600
DOS
0.81: ?/98
No
Slow
No
No
No
Yes?
No
Yes
Discontinued
Z26
DOS
 1.32: 7/30/99
Yes 
Fast 
 Yes
 Yes
 No
No 
 Yes
Yes 
Excelent

Notes



Layout
I lay my comparisons out into the following format:

Name (Notes)
and description: breif overview of the emulator.

Info: the sound, controls and play speeds.
Features: saving, cheating, screen capturing, help menus.
Play: Astaroids, Solaris, Pitfall 2.
Misc: source code available, bugs, other comments.
Astaroids is a benchmark game as it was one of the originals and ought ot work on any emulator.
Solaris is also a benchmark as it is an "advanced" game using bank switching and collisions.  Besides, is my favorite and I know it inside and out.
Pitfall 2 uses it's own standard and is usually the one game an emulator can't run, so it's a mark of maturity.

A26 (Discontinued)
A26 is the founding father of 2600 emulators.  It was not the first, but it was the fastest and has become the foundation of all other high speed emulators.  It has remained at version 0.15 for two years now, and I believe it will stay there.  The most challenging part of programming an emulator - the opcodes - has been implemented and the programmer has moved onto new challenges.

MAGE (Not reviewed, yet)
I just learned about this budding project.  It allows people to play games against each other across networks or modems.  I will be much more excited about it once it supports Warlords.

PCAE
In my opinion this is the best emulator by far.  Based on the A26 it has always been my favorite, and version 2.1a adds everything I thought was missing.
Info
It runs in DOS and Windows and has a simple menu system and detailed help screens.  It runs at the right speed on my P166 and the sound and joystick work perfectly.

Play
Astaroids and Pitfall 2 run perfectly and Solaris has one superficial bug.

Features
It is the only emulator with save and load (a seemingly simple feature), and the only emulator that allows RAM and ROM debugging/disassembling (cheating) that actually works.

Misc
Complete source is available.
The color map doesn't seem to be the same as on my 7800, though, but it's close.  Stella's is better.
In Solaris on the radar screen, object float over the crosshairs.  When the radar is jammed, you can still see the outline of objects float over the crosshairs, making jammed radar still usable.  This is the only emulator on which this occurs.  Weird.
In debug mode, RAM value changes are not reflected on the screen.  To update the screen you must change resultion.
I have a 4 button joystick, so PCAE maps the two joystick buttons, select, and reset.  There is nothing more frustrating than accidentally hitting reset in the middle of a good game.  I see no logic in mapping reset to where it was never meant to be, and for good reason.


Stella
This emulator is portable to many OSes and I assume they all work the same.  It works very well.
Info
I tested the DOS version and it worked well.  It comes with a beutiful pdf document with a brief history of the Atari VCS.  There is no help screen or game menu but that's on the todo list.  The command line prompt gives you help if you screw up, though.  In windows you can drag the rom file onto the exe instead of using command lines.  I had no trouble with the speed, sound or joystick.

Play
Asteroids and Solaris work perfectly.  Pitfall 2 is not supported.

Features
It does not support any extra features.

Misc
Complete source is available.


StellaX
This is the only true Win32 emulator and it uses DirectX.
Info
The speed was fine on my 233 but I should try running it on a slower machine.  The sound didn't work well in all games.  I could not get the joystick to work even though it worked in previous versions.

Play
Asteroids worked perfectly.  Solaris's sound was all screwed up, though.  Pitfall 2 is not supported.

Features
It has a nice looking graphical menu with an excelent feature for scrolling ot games -- typing the first letter brings you to that place in the alphabet, and typing a second letter with a short period of time further refines your search.  No other features are supported and the Help button didn't do anything.

Misc
Source is available.
Very accurate color maps.


VCS2600
This release does run but is a "test version" with collision detection disabled.  I don't think there is a game that doesn't require colision detection, so you can't really play anything on the VCS2600.

It requires dos4gw.exe to run, so hopefully you already have a copy of that somewhere on your computer.  The download is huge - almost 2 Mb - because is comes with 487 roms, which is a 90% complete collection.  This can take a long time to download, but once it arrives, the self-extracting file makes itself a well-organized directory struucture.

It has an awesome intro screen and the best interface I've ever seen on an emulator.  It displays a list of games, bolds the ones you own, and tells you info about that game.  Pressing a letter brings you to the position in the list - very convenient.

Info
It runs under DOS or windows.  The sound works great as well as the joystick.  However, at least on the keyboard, the fire buttons for joystick 1 and 2 are mapped to the spacebar.  For games that utilize both buttons for different functions, like Solaris, this makes it impossible to play.  It runs way to fast on my 233, though, and when I select frame limiting it crashes.

Play
Astaroids works perfectly, but runs too fast.  However, most of the other games I tried don't work at all.  Solaris's graphics are a mess, the wrong enemies attacked, collision detection doesn't work, and it crashes on its own quite frequently.  It does not play Pitfall 2.

Features
I couldn't get screen-capture to work, which only works if you run games from the command line, which itself did not work.  The docs say "10 saves the screen position for a game -- If the game had been loaded from the menu;".  I assumed this meant that pressing F10 might save a game but it didn't.

Misc
Source is not available.
The docs really could use a proof-reading by someone with a firm grasp of English...
This emulator shows great potential but for now it is just interesting.


Virtual 2600, a.k.a. v2600 a.k.a. v2600dos a.k.a. VCS (Discontinued?)
This emulator is a disaster.  It's an emulator portable to many different OSes.  I'm only interested in the DOS port and that is all I can review.  The DOS executable link was broken (and has been for many, many months now - 9/98) and the source wouldn't compile.  I finally found a "working" copy.  It played one game.  Poorly.  Anyway, this emulator became "VCS" which later became "VCS2600," I think.

Z26
This emulator has made the most progress recently.  Starting as an extention of the DOS command-line A26, it now sports a graphical interface and help screens.
Info
All ASM opcodes makes for a very fast emultor.  The sound was perfeted long before other it was in other emulators.

Play
Asteroids, Solaris and Pitfall 2 all work perfectly.

Features
It supports screen capturing and has graphical menus and help screens.  It does not allow cheating or saving,

Misc
It supports many video modes and 2 color pallettes.
I'm mentioned in the readme!


For some details, alternate links and alternate versions, see Dave's page.

Last updated 12/4/98



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