Getting Started with the Atari ST
So here’s what you’ll need.
- The STEEM emulator. This will give you an ST to play the games. You’ll still need the operating system and some games however. If you want to be a bit more hardcore you can get a MiSTer FPGA box – MiSTer gives you effectively real hardware.
- The TOSEC archive. Basically contains EVERYTHING. The operating system (TOS) images, a shedload of games, magazine cover disks, public domain, application software, the lot. A fantastic archive. You should grab it just in case it disappears some day.
- The ST Format shrine. This is where you’ll find the ST/Amiga Format magazine and its follow-up ST Format in PDF form to peruse. They’re a great way to go back to a bygone age.
In terms of ST configurations, for gaming there are basically two main configs to use.
- A 1MB STFM with TOS 1.4 will play most things. For some really old games you might have to drop to TOS 1.2.
- A 1MB STE with TOS 1.6 might struggle with a few things, but for what does work it’s the best environment. Atari weren’t too clever with compatibility so some STFM stuff doesn’t work on an STE (though cracking groups patched quite a few things) but it is the superior machine.
The STFM was the first machine, initially released as just the ST with most machines having 0.5MB of RAM, running the 8MHz Motorola 68000 CPU that characterised the range (exceptions being the Mega STE, Falcon and TT but they’re fairly specialised and we will worry about those another time). The ST had no internal floppy drive or TV modulator but revisions came and the STFM had both of those. The machine had three screen modes: 320×200 with 16 colours on screen at once, 640×200 with 4 colours on screen, and 640×400 monochrome. The colour modes all selected from a 512 colour palette. One could swap palettes as the scanline progressed which would allow display of more colours, though at a considerable cost to speed.
The STFM had an awful sound chip, no hardware scrolling and no blitter to move sprites around, unlike the Amiga. However, it was cheaper and it found a place in the music industry due to its built-in MIDI ports and attracted a good range of music software. For a good while most of what was in the charts involved an ST at some point.
The STE came later adding hardware scrolling, a blitter and an enhanced sound setup, though frankly the latter was still poor. Further, the 512 colour palette was enhanced to 4096 though the graphics modes remained the same.
Atari would later release the Mega STE which had a 16MHz 68000 processor, the TT which had a 32MHz 68030 and eventually the Falcon which had a 68030 running at 16MHz. All of these machines would remain niche, though they maintained some compatiblity with ST software (in the ST’s afterlife work has been done to patch old games to be hard drive installable and work on these more powerful machines).
Anyway, enough waffle from me. Grab the emulator, grab the archive, go look at some magazines, then meet me back here for some reviews.