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The Atari 8-bit New User, Emulator Help FAQ

Revision 2.1, August 29, 1997
By Bill Kendrick

For general help (hardware, magazines, etc.) please check the Official Atari 8-bit FAQ file:

If you want the latest copy of this FAQ:

Recent Changes:

Summary of Atari 8-bit's and emulated 8-bit Atari's:

Capabilities of an Atari 8-bit:



Objective of this file:

At the time of its release (mid 1994), much discussion went on in the comp.sys.atari.8bit Usenet newsgroup about the Atari 8bit emulator for IBM / MSDOS based computers, PC Xformer 2.0 (XF2 for short). Many people in the 8-bit community had gotten fed up with the XF2-based questions which did not pertain to them, or to the very simple questions which came up time and again which bothered regular readers / digest subscribers.

This file was created to reduce the number of 'newbie' and XF2 questions. Now it's becoming a fairly good reference, and of course includes information on all of the other emulators that have come since then.

This FAQ will present answers to simple questions like "how do I turn off BASIC" (a good answer to that of course is, READ THE FRIGGIN' MANUAL) and "how do I get a disk directory?"

It will also direct people who are unaware of the large amount of Atari 8-bit support (NOT NECESSARILY EMULATOR SUPPORT) and perhaps become a supplement to the many official and unofficial files floating around the net (like the official FAQ, the Vendor/Developer List, the Who's Who list, etc.).

-- Questions and Answers: --

This section contains some typical new-user and emulator-user questions. The answers are directed to both regular Atari users and emulator users.

  1. What does "READY" mean?
    This is the Atari BASIC prompt. See below for hints on Atari BASIC.

  2. Why doesn't this program load?
    The program may not work under the Atari 800 Operating System, it may require the XL/XE Operating System. Be sure you're in 800XL or 130XE mode. (Note: Not all (versions) of emulators support XL/XE modes!)

    It may not work under the XL/XE Operating System (rare cases), switch to 800 mode.

    Be sure you turned BASIC off before trying to load it if it cannot run with BASIC on.

    It might be a BASIC program! Be sure you're in BASIC and use the BASIC "RUN" or "LOAD" (and then "RUN") command. Also, be sure it works with the BASIC you have. Some programs only run in BASIC XL or XE (which are both cartridge-based BASIC's not easily available to an emulator), and some run with TurboBASIC XL (disk-based). (Note: BASIC files usually end in the extension ".BAS," ".BXL," or ".TBS," for Atari BASIC, BASIC XL, and TurboBASIC XL, respectively.)

    It may just refuse to run on the emulator.

  3. How do I turn off BASIC?
    To toggle BASIC on and off in PC Xformer, press [SHIFT]-[F10].

    To toggle BASIC on and off in Rainbow, ???.

    To toggle BASIC on and off in Atari800, ???.

    To toggle BASIC on and off in XL-It!, ???.

    To toggle BASIC on and off in ST Xformer, ???.

    To toggle BASIC on and off in ACE, ???.

    To turn BASIC off on a real Atari, hold the [OPTION] key as you're booting. (This should work on emulators, too, but is usually difficult to accomplish!)

  4. Why doesn't this game/program run correctly?
    It may use player/missle collision detection which is not supported on some versions of emulators.

    See "Why doesn't this program load?", above.

  5. How do I exit the emulator?
    To exit PC Xformer, press [F5]. Note: this does NOT temporarily 'shell' or 'jump' to MSDOS.

    To exit Rainbow, press [Apple]-[Q] or select "Exit" from the "Apple Menu".

    To exit Atari 800, ??? or close the window (in X Window).

    To exit XL-It!, ??? or close the window (in X Window).

    To exit ST Xformer, ???.

    To exit ACE, ??? or close the window (in X Window).

  6. How do I get to Atari DOS?
    In BASIC, type "DOS" at the "READY" prompt.

    Reboot without BASIC on.

    Be sure you have a DOS-bootable disk image installed in drive 1 ("D1:").

  7. How do I use files which are not in disk images with an emulator?
    To "install" files as though there were plain disks with PC Xformer, simply add the files to the command line and use them as their respective drives (be sure the first drive is a DOS-bootable disk image).
    Example: XFORMER MYDOS45.ATR filename.ext To use a file from your Mac in Rainbow, make sure the disk image in drive 1 has enough space for the file, and select ???. The file will be added to that disk image.

    To use Unix files in Atari800, use the H drive. ???.

    To use Unix files in XL-It!, ???.

    To use MSDOS or Unix files in ACE, ???.

    Use the MSDOS program S2PC which allows you to access files within a MyDOS/compatible .ATR disk image. S2PC let's you read, write, delete, change directory, and view the directory of a MyDOS/compatible .ATR disk image. It can be used via command-line parameters from MSDOS, or as a menu.

    Use the MSDOS program ATARIMG, which is much like S2PC but has a nicer, more graphical (less-menu driven) interface. (Unfortunately, this doesn't run on all IBM's!)

    Use the Mac program Virtual Disk Editor ???.

  8. Just what ARE .ATR, .PRO and .XFD files?
    Refer to the XFormer, SIO2PC and APE manuals for details on these files.

    Simply put, they are Atari disks, stored as files which are as big as the disk they represent (an 88k disk image will be approximately 88k.) .ATR files are used by SIO2PC and APE (see below) as well as most Atari emulators. .XFD files are used by ST Xformer and PC Xformer. .PRO files are like .ATR files, but they include some copy-protection scheme information; these files are used by APE.

  9. What are SIO2PC and APE?
    Refer to the SIO2PC manuals for details on this program.

    Refer to the APE manual and SIO2PC hardware manual for details on this program.

    These are a programs which run on IBM/compatibles under MSDOS. (APE also runs fine under "dosemu" for IBM/compatibles running Linux). With the use of of a simple (and relatively inexpensive) cable, the software makes the IBM act as though it were a number of Atari peripherals. SIO2PC emulates up to four disk drives (any drive ID numbers from 1 to 8 are allowed) and a printer. APE emulators up to eight disk drives, a printer, and a modem (RS232). They use disk image files (.ATR's) and can also let the Atari access plain IBM files. SIO2PC does this much like PC XFormer does, making the single file its own disk. APE allows you to navigate your PC's drives through an Atari drive. The printer emulation of these programs redirect Atari "P:" writes to the PC's printer. SIO2PC can also direct the output to the screen or to a plain IBM file. Different text translations/conversions are available. (APE also allows keyboard macros, command key redefinition, the ability to save the current drive/etc. configuration and load it later as a "block", and the ability to both emulate copy protected disks (with it's own extension of the ".ATR" format, the ".PRO" format (which will hopefully be used in future versions of Atari emulators)) and create disk images from copy protected disks (with a special cable). SIO2PC may soon have this ability as well, since the documentations say it has been planned for a while.)

  10. What is XFSIO?
    Refer to the XFSIO manual for details on how to use this program.

    XFSIO is a shell for PC XFormer, XLiT!, APE and SIO2PC which allows you to set the command switches for the previously mentioned programs. It also allows you to comment each 'virtual disk' with up to 132 characters, and can search the database to find which disk a particular title is on.

-- Getting around on the Atari: DOS and OS --

Note: This section will simply discuss Atari BASIC, the Atari OS, and Atari DOS 2.5 and MyDOS 4.5x (because these topics seem the most relevant to the less-knowledged/experienced Atari 8-bit users). No emulator-specific information will be presented.

-- Getting around on the Atari: BASIC --

  1. What does "READY" mean?
    Again, this is simply the prompt that Atari BASIC (and most older BASIC's) presents the user when it is in "Immediate" mode.

  2. Where can I learn Atari BASIC?
    See the "Atari BASIC Instructions" document for info! (http://student.uci.agh.edu.pl/~tatar/Atari/Langs/abasic.html)

  3. How do I quit BASIC?
  4. Why don't strings work?
    Strings must be "dimensioned" (declared) like arrays in Atari BASIC. Strings are special character arrays. See the BASIC usage/etc. files mentioned in the answer to question 2. Simply put, to make a string that will accept up to "#" character, use DIM [name]$(#). Example: DIM A$(10) - now A$ can contain between 0 and 10 characters.

  5. How do I make graphics?
    Use the "GRAPHICS" command to switch between the following OS-based screen modes:
    (Note: All modes except 0, 9, 10 and 11 have four lines of 40 x 24 x 2 sized text covering the bottom of the screen. Add "16" to the mode number to remove this window (but do not make any PRINTs or PUTs to the standard output otherwise a GRAPHICS 0 screen will appear!))

    (Note: Add "32" to the mode number to keep the screen from clearing when it appears. One problem, however, all screens overlay each other so unless you only use certain modes at certain times, parts of some screens will become (or start out) with 'garbage' on them.)


    Commands available in Atari BASIC for manipulating simple graphics include:

    Setcolor Hue Values:

    This is a simple table of Atari's 16 hues. For now, I've just pointed out major color points. In-between values are in-between colors. (Since 1 is yellow, and 4 is red, 2 and 3 are oranges.)


    Note: COLOR command colors are not identical to SETCOLOR command colors:

    In 4-color drawing modes, all four of these colors map to the SETCOLOR palette locations:

    In low-resolution 2-color drawing modes, these two colors map to the SETCOLOR palette locations:

    In the high-resolution 2-color drawing mode (GRAPHICS 8), and in the 2-color text mode, (GRAPHICS 0 and the text windows), these three colors map to the SETCOLOR palette locations:

    In the GTIA luminence-only graphics mode (GRAPHICS 9), the color specified with "COLOR" is the brightness of the pixels you plot (0 is black/darkest, 15 is white/brightest).

    In the GTIA paletted graphics mode (GRAPHICS 10), the following colors are used:

    In the GTIA hue-only mode (GRAPHICS 11), the color you specify is the hue of the pixel (see the "SETCOLOR" color table, above). The luminence of the pixels is based on the value for the background luminence:

  6. How do I make sound on the Atari
    The easiest way is to use the BASIC "SOUND" command:

    SOUND c,p,d,v

    The buzzer character is CHR$(253) aka [CONTROL]+[2] (NOT [CONTROL]+[G])

  7. How do I move the cursor and edit?
    The Atari "E:" device (standard input/output which is the "editor") allows the following characters for editing:

    (Note: "Sh" means "[SHIFT]" and "^" means "[CONTROL]")

         Key:             AtASCII #:      Use:
         ----------------- -------- ---------------------------------------------
         Atari              none    Turn inverse on/off (Atari 400/800 kybds)
         Inverse [Triangle] none    Turn inverse on/off (Atari XL/XE kybds)
         CAPS               none    Turns caps-mode to lowercase (400/800 OS)
         CAPS               none    Toggles caps-mode from upper to lower (XL/XE)
         Sh-CAPS            none    Turns caps-mode to uppercase (all OSes)
         Ct-CAPS            none    Turns caps-mode to [Control]-[Lock] (all)
         Up ([^-])           28     Move cursor up
         Down ([^=])         29     Move cursor down
         Left ([^+])         30     Move cursor left
         Right ([^*])        31     Move cursor right
         Space               32     Move cursor right (overwrites w/Space char)
         BackSpace           126    Move cursor left (deletes previous char)
         Delete ([ShBkspc])  156    Deletes a (logical) line (1-3 physical lines)
         Insert ([Sh>])      157    Inserts a physical line
         Ct-Delete ([^Bksp]) 254    Deletes char under cursor, pulls rest left
         Ct-Insert ([^>])    255    Inserts space under cursor, pushes rest right
         ClearScn ([^<])     125    Clears screen
         Bell ([^2])         253    Sounds buzzer
         TAB                 127    Moves cursor to next TABstop
         ClrTAB ([^TAB])     158    Clears any TABstop under cursor
         SetTAB ([ShTAB])    159    Sets a TABstop under cursor
         ESC                  27    Sets ESCape (next edit char after is shown,
                                    not done, non-edit chars shown (like normal))
         RETURN              155    Sends End Of Line (moves cursor to lowerleft
                                    of next line, accepts input)

    Note: Inverse characters have values of the normal version of the characters plus 128. (The only non-viewable inverse character is inverse-ESC, or what would be the [ESC],[RETURN] combination. The character exists, but must be set into screen RAM by hand.)

  8. How do I make the editor characters appear
    As shown above, you must have an ESC sent before them.

    Set the memory location "766" to "1" with the command "POKE 766,1" to turn on the no-edit mode (ALL characters except End Of Lines will appear, even ClearScreens!) When you want to go back into normal mode, set the location back to "0" with "POKE 766,0".

  9. What's with the colors changing?
    This is called "Attract mode" as was used on the Atari 8-bit computers and the Atari 2600, 5200 and 7800 game systems. When a key hasn't been pressed for about 8 minutes the screen colors begin changing, thus protecting your TV or monitor from having an image burned on it.
  10. How do I access 'devices' on the Atari?
    The following commands are available to Atari BASIC's (and also variations on these are available in most other Atari languages!):

-- Getting Atari files to an IBM: --

  1. How can I read Atari disks on my IBM?
    Note: Someone please give more details or corrections here! Thanks!

    If you have double-density Atari disks, you can use the program "Util" on the IBM which can read double-density Atari disks. Please see the Atari 8-bit FAQ for more details.

    If you have an Atari 1050 disk drive, you can use the program MULE to copy files, one file at a time, 20k chunks at a time, from the Atari to the IBM. You first must format a 180k disk on your IBM, then run MULE on your Atari to get a file onto the MULE disk, then run MULE on the IBM to get the file onto the IBM. Tedious, isn't it? MULE wasn't meant to be a fully-functional program, just a demo to show that this was even possible.

    If you're fortunate to have a Black Box interface on your Atari, you can get an external IBM drive and the Black Box's add-on, the Floppy-Board and simply copy files from your Atari disks or hard drive(s) onto IBM disks via the floppy board, then load them up on your IBM.

  2. Ok, I can't do any of that, now what?

    -- Where to get or FTP files mentioned in this FAQ: --

    -- The End --


    Other Atari 8-bit and emulated Atari 8-bit users can be reached on the comp.sys.atari.8bit and comp.emulators.misc newsgroups.
    PLEASE add questions and report any mistakes or bugs to me as soon as possible! Thank you!!!