Matthew's Atari Emulation Series

CastCE, a Pocket ST?


Having developed a bit of writer's block, I thought I would take a little rest just after Christmas. Just my luck, no sooner had January arrived, than news of an ST emulator rumoured to be available for Pocket PC by February. I checked the web only to find no substance to the rumour and only snippets of information in the forums. But soon they had a web site, simple but informative and together with their own forum the rumour quickly became reality. Now I have got excited before about emulators, but the thought of using a real Atari ST in the palm of the hand was unbelievable. Emulating old 8-bits is a tricky business, and getting even these relatively simple machines to run smoothly is a real task on a cut-down PC device like a Pocket PC. So to emulate a 16-bit machine like the ST is a mean task to undertake.

[Screen-shot: Main menu]

The authors have taken "CastawayPC" which I believe was written in C for multiple platforms, and have done a superb job of porting this to the Pocket PC platform. Keeping it simple, and by following the progress of the forum, the authors have optimized code, module by module until they had a working emulator that was both stable and would run at true ST speeds. CastCE's primary function is to play the thousands of ST games that people own and allows you to take them with you on the move. After this initial "wow" factor I have taken a closer look at the emulator and have found it to be pretty rock solid, terrific for games, but also for other tasks such as designing GIFs, writing music, or using your favourite ST word processor.

[Screen-shot: About CastCE]

Before I show you around CastCE, I will assume that you have some knowledge of emulators already and are quite comfortable with downloading files from the internet and installing to a device such as a Pocket PC. The web site has device-specific downloads so take a good look at their use before trying them on your Pocket PC. By the way, for the benefit of those who may own a newer Pocket PC than mine, the ARM-specific download works perfectly fine on my friend's Pocket Loox with the new Intel processor, so don't be put off thinking that you must use an iPaq.

[Screen-shot: GEM desktop ST low resolution]

[Screen-shot: GEM desktop TOS information dialog]

[Sceen-shot: GEM desktop ST medium resolution]

This is what you get when you reset the emulator. Yes, you have to reset it to make it go! Makes sense when you think about it, one button does two jobs. This virtual ST emulates most of what you would need from an ST, but without the MIDI support. You can use TOS 1.0 through to 1.4 and KaosTOS. Both low and medium resolutions are available so most games will run just fine. There is no facility for the high resolution mode, but quite honestly it would look like nothing on a device so small anyway, maybe they could include it in a later version and scroll the screen? The really cool thing about this emulator is the virtual pointing device. Early on, many people complained that the arrow was erratic and slow to move around the screen. You don't use it in this way, it is a true point and click device like a touch screen. It is very natural to set up the function buttons as the mouse buttons and use the stylus as the mouse by touching folders and menus and double-clicking a button.

[Screen-shot: Configuration options]

It is a simple task to map the joystick and mouse to the iPaq function keys.

[Screen-shot: File selector]

Loading a virtual disk in CastCE.

At the moment CastCE does not use folders on the Pocket PC, it will only recognise virtual disks. This is not a problem if you already use an emulator like STeem on your PC/Mac. There are also several ways of configuring CastCE for better performance. One quick fix is to turn off sampled sounds. You can also alter the frame skip, this skips frames where it can, I left it on "auto" and have had no slow-downs, but it is there if you need it. There are other functions for getting around copy protection problems on virtual ST disks, but I won't go into that here! Let's take a look at some screen-shots for you to drool over, like the other screen-shots, all bar one have the virtual keyboard visible, this is because they looked untidy with it present.

[Screen-shot: System 3 loading screen]

[Screen-shot: International Karate]

[Screen-shot: CastCE virtual keyboard showing]

In this screen-shot the virtual keyboard is clearly visible.

But as I stated earlier, CastCE is not confined to just playing games, no, it can also be used as a serious alternative desktop to the PC one on the Pocket PC. I have been using Audio Sculpture on my iPaq and although I am new to making MOD files, I found it to be great fun, and forgot it was an emulator. Great fun!

[Screen-shot: Audio Sculpture]

I took my iPaq to my local amateur radio club in Milton Keynes where we sat and played International Karate, people actually thought it was software for Pocket PC, they could not believe it was a portable Atari ST. Here are some shots of 1st Word and Prism Paint for ST, running in CastCE.

[Screen-shot: 1st Word]

[Screen-shot: Prism Paint]

In conclusion, CastCE is a welcome part of my emulation collection, well set out, pretty easy to install and rock solid to use. For more information and downloads, see the web site below.

Useful link


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MyAtari magazine - Feature #4, April 2003

Copyright 2003 MyAtari magazine