Emulate Other Classic Systems on the Mac

Play classic games from even more popular consoles on your Macintosh.

If you get a taste of emulation on your Mac [Hack #39] [Hack #21] , it won’t be long before you’re ready to find some more systems you can play around with. You won’t be disappointed—the Mac has plenty of emulators available that cover all the popular systems: the Super Nintendo, Atari 2600, Vectrex, and more.

As you’re accumulating a collection of emulators for your Mac, one name will keep coming up over and over: Richard Bannister (http://bannister.org/software/emu.htm), who has written or ported over two dozen free emulators for Mac OS X. In addition to his emulators, Richard offers two shareware applications: Emulation Enhancer and ROM Organizer, both of which are shareware. Emulation Enhancer works with many of Richard’s emulators, and brings full-screen support, network multiplayer, and USB game-pad/joystick support to his emulators. ROM Organizer helps you keep track of your ROMs, using the ROM images themselves to extract identifying information from the ROM.

Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)

The hugely popular SNES brought some incredible games into living rooms around the world. With an emulator and a copy of the games you want to play, get ready to delight in this 16-bits, 3.58 MHz, and 192 KB of glorious gaming gear.

There are two major ports of SNES9x [Hack #41] that you should check out on the Mac. You can find the official port at the SNES9x home page (http://www.snes9x.com). SNES9x Custom HQ (http://chrisballinger.info/public/snes9x) is an unofficial variant of SNES9x that uses different algorithms for rendering the display, and boasts fast performance even on low-end computers. You ought to give both of them a try.

Both variants of SNES9x are free and open source, and you can download a disk image containing the ready-to-run application, or grab the source code if you feel like tinkering. To run SNES9x, put the application in its own folder somewhere—avoid the temptation to drop it into the /Applications directory, because SNES9x will create several subdirectories wherever you put it, including: Cheats, IPSs (used to patch a ROM, often used for user created translations of import games), and SRAMs (for saved game snapshots).

SNES9x will let you record (Option Record Movie) a movie of your game (you’ll need to pause the game with Emulation Pause to make that menu available). After you play video back to completion with Option Play Movie, SNES9x restores the state of the game so you can pick up where you left off at the end of the recording. If you want to create a QuickTime movie, pause the game and then select Option Export to QuickTime Movie. So start recording, and get ready to show off your retro gaming skillz or create some really wild retro-machinima.

Nintendo Game Boy

Nintendo’s Game Boy and Game Boy Advance (GBA) brought handheld gaming into the mainstream. Despite an unlighted grayscale screen, the original Game Boy was hugely successful, and gamers are still enjoying its vast library of games through the Game Boy Advance’s backwards compatibility.

For Game Boy Advance emulation, Boycott Advance (http://www.bannister.org/software) and VisualBoyAdvance (http://software.emuscene.com/view.php?softid=158) provide excellent performance and compatibility. Visual-BoyAdvance will emulate Game Boy and Game Boy Color games as well.

If you’re just going to be running Game Boy or Game Boy Color games, you may as well run a dedicated emulator, since a Game Boy Advance emulator will make your Mac work quite a bit harder. KiGB (http://www.bannister.org/software/kigb.htm) offers excellent Game Boy and Game Boy Color emulation on the Mac. Figure 4-27 shows KiGB in action.

KiGB has a feature whose value may not be immediately apparent: the ability to record audio. If you haven’t caught on to the “chiptunes” trend, it’s time to do so. Amateur and professional musicians alike are turning to retro games for samples, beats, and more. In fact, Beck released an online album of chiptunes called “GameBoy Variations (Hell Yes Remix).” Some musicians are remixing sounds from videogames, others are writing their own homebrew applications to make the music. All the intrepid Mac musician needs is KiGB’s audio recording feature, a composition application like GarageBand, and it’s time to rock and roll retro style.

A Game Boy Color classic that never was

Figure 4-27. A Game Boy Color classic that never was

Atari 2600

For Atari 2600 emulation, there is one choice: the cross-platform Stella (http://stella.sourceforge.net). Although you could grab the X11 version [Hack #43] and compile it, you can download a disk image file and install. Stella likes to live in its own directory, so if you do install it in /Applications, be sure to create a subdirectory for it there, and be sure to include everything that you found on the Stella disk image—there are a few essential files that should remain in the same directory as the Stella executable, such as stella.pro (not to mention the documentation you’ll want to keep handy). Stella isn’t particular about where you keep your ROMS. As soon as you start it up, it will prompt you to choose a ROM. Figure 4-28 shows Stella in action.

Other Systems

There are many more systems you can emulate on your Mac. Here are a few that you might enjoy:


(http://www.bannister.org/software/sms.htm) is a Sega Master System and Game Gear emulator.


(http://bannister.org/software/handy.htm) is an emulator for the Atari Lynx handheld system.

Stella for Mac OS X running the very addictive QB

Figure 4-28. Stella for Mac OS X running the very addictive QB


(http://bannister.org/software/fmsx.htm) is a port of Marat Fayzullin’s original fMSX to the Mac.


(http://www.bannister.org/software/vecx.htm) is a Vectrex emulator. You can delight in the fact that the copyright holders of the original Vectrex ROMs allow them to be distributed freely (see http://www.classicgaming.com/vectrex/emu.htm or search for “vectrex roms”).

For more Mac emulators, check out Richard Bannister’s site (http://www.bannister.org).

Brian Jepson

Get Retro Gaming Hacks now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.