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Stella for OS/2- by Colin L. Hildinger


It was Christmas 1979, and I was only 5 years old when I got my first video gaming system. It was a shiny new Atari 2600 system. (OK, it was mostly black and not really that shiny.) The games that came with the system were Combat and, by my 19 year old brother's recommendation, Space Invaders. For years, the Atari 2600 was the only home video gaming system worth having, not because there weren't other good systems, but because everyone had a 2600 -- you could always borrow games from and trade games with your friends.

Jump forward to 1996. Bradford Mott, a computer science student at North Carolina State University pulled out his dusty Atari 2600. He suddenly realized just how much we were all missing; we don't need CD-ROMs and polygon engine's to have fun, we just need 2k to 16k of quality programming. So what if all the levels look the same? Who cares if the score only goes to 99,999 and then starts over? These games were the best. But what to do about it? Rewrite all the games? They weren't that good. What Mott decided to do instead was write an Atari 2600 emulator.

Stella

Stella is the result of his efforts. It is capable of playing any of the games for the Atari 2600 from image files which you can either make from your old cartidges (instructions are provided) or get from one of several on-line archives. During Stella's evolution, several different programmers have taken it upon themselves to port the system to various platforms. Darrell Spice, Jr. is the developer kind enough to take the time to port Stella to OS/2. The current version (fully functional, but still at v0.61) takes full advantage of OS/2's DIVE and MMPM to make the games look and sound just like they did when you first played them on your television way back when...

Getting it together

There are several steps to turning your modern OS/2 system into a 1970's game playing wonder. First, get the latest version of Stella for OS/2 from Darrell's page. Unzip it and, if you have a joystick, install OS/2's joystick support. (Darrell's package includes IBM's joystick drivers in a file called joystick.zip which you'll need to install to use your joystick under OS/2.)

After you've done this, go to one of the several on-line archives and start downloading your favorite games. It's recommended that you download both the .bin and .vcs file for each game. The .bin files are the actual games and the .vcs files contain recommended settings for the games. A proper .vcs file can supposedly make a game play more smoothly, and Mott supplies over 70 .vcs files for some of the most poplular games.

Gameplay

I played several games that I had for my Atari 2600, the first being Space Invaders (GIF, 4.2k), and I must say, it brought back fond memories. From the graphics to the sound, everything was exactly the same; the only thing I couldn't do was activate a cheat that was possible on the 2600 that allowed you to shoot double bullets, but Darrell said that he had not been able to reproduce it either.

On my P133 system, the game ran at its original speed in a window. When I maximized the window under my normal resolution of 1024x768x65k, it did slow down a little but this won't be an issue for many of you who are running faster video cards than my Trident 9860 card, or who are running at lower resolutions and color depths.

After Space Invaders I played a little Pac-Man (GIF, 5.4k), and while I remember waiting anxiously for the release of Pac-Man for the Atari 2600, I think it might not be the best game to use as an example of Stella's performance, since there are native OS/2 versions of Pac-Man that far excede its quality. I did have a lot of fun with other games like Pitfall (GIF, 5.3k), Defender (GIF, 4.4k), and River Raid (GIF, 4.8k) though.

Conclusions

If you ever owned an Atari 2600, take a few minutes to download Stella and all the games you couldn't talk your parents into buying. You can't beat Stella's price (free), and it's worth doing just to bring back the old memories.

Look for an updated version of Stella/2 in late May with even better performance.


 * Stella for OS/2
A Spiceware Conversion
Registration: Free
Colin Hildinger is an Aerospace Engineering senior at Oklahoma State University and has been using OS/2 for the last 3 years. In addition to being the Games Editor for OS/2 e-Zine!, he maintains The Ultimate OS/2 Gaming Page and the AWE32 and OS/2 Page in his "spare" time.

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