I recently built a new virtual Amiga (emulated via WinUAE) for the purpose of playing classic games. My previous build mostly worked okay, but I was having a few issues primarily from upgrading to OS3.9 as well as installing software in a haphazard manner, so I decided to start afresh. Now that I have a solid system based around an Amiga 1200 running OS3.1 (in my experience the best configuration for running the vast majority of games) with dozens of classic games installed on a virtual hard drive, I thought I’d put together what I hope is an easy-to-follow guide for those who want to be able play Amiga games without too much fuss or technical knowledge.
Before starting you will need to acquire both an Amiga 1200 ROM and Workbench 3.0 or 3.1 ADFs (Amiga Disk Format), both of which are still copyrighted materials (fortunately most Amiga games are now abandonware). You cannot emulate Amiga software without a kickstart ROM and you cannot build an OS without the Workbench disks.
The easiest way to obtain these legally is to purchase the plus (or premium) edition of Amiga Forever from Cloanto. As well some games and a selection of pre-installed Amiga systems/configurations that run through Cloanto’s own interface, this comes with a variety of Amiga kickstart ROMs and Workbench ADFs. Alternatively you can rip the ROM from a real A1200 (e.g using TransROM; see here for a guide) and the ADFs from real Workbench disks (see here for a guide), if you still happen to own these and have a floppy drive on your PC or a null modem cable.
You may then ask: why not just use the Amiga Forever interface to run games? Well, to be frank, it’s clunky and crap (I’m not a fan), and although it uses WinUAE as its emulation backend, configuration options are severely limited and fullscreen performance is highly variable and sometimes causes sound issues.
The advantage of my current system is that it’s lightning quick, it runs smoothly in fullscreen at my desktop resolution (1920×1200) and I can easily tweak WinUAE settings, when required, to improve compatibility with certain games/software. Once I boot my system I can effortlessly switch between the pre-installed games without ever leaving the Amiga environment or having to faff around with ADFs. It’s also a doddle to capture screenshots and record gameplay footage using my preferred tools – MSI afterburner for screenshots and Nvidia Shadowplay for video capture.
Building the system
Fortunately, a nice chap called Bloodwych has done all the hard work so we don’t have to (wish I’d found this before!). Similar to Jaybee’s Amiga in a Box (AIAB), Bloodwych has put together a comprehensive and elegant-looking Workbench 3.0/3.1 environment, which features everything needed to bring the GUI up to date and make for a much more user-friendly experience than the original Workbench, such as Scalos Desktop, MagicMenu, Magic User Interface (MUI) and New Icons. Importantly, it includes Picasso96, an RTG (ReTargetable Graphics) that interfaces with uaegfx (a virtual Amiga gfx card) to provide support for 16/32-bit colour and modern desktop resolutions (e.g. 1920 x 1080/1200). As an added bonus, there’s also a tonne of other software, much of which you’ll probably never need, and a small selection of classic Amiga game tunes.
1. Install the latest version of WinUAE. For this guide I’m using version 3.0.0.
2. Download Bloodwych’s P96 ClassicWB from here and extract the files. Move Bloodwych’s config file (“ClassicWB_P96.UAE”) into the WinUAE configurations folder, for me this in “C:\Users\Public\Documents\Amiga Files\WinUAE\Configurations\”. Check the “Paths” tab in WinUAE to find where yours is located. You can place “System.hdf”, which is the hard drive file, anywhere you want.
3. Run WinUAE, go to the “configurations” tab, select Bloodwych’s config file (“ClassicWB_P96”) and click on the “Load” button.
4. Select a ROM from the “ROM” tab. If I remember correctly, if you already have Amiga Forever installed WinUAE will automatically detect the available kickstart ROMs that come with the package. Otherwise you will need to direct it to where you have them stored in the “paths” tab. If you only have the Workbench 3.0 ADF, you will need to select “KS ROM 3.0 (A1200)”, otherwise select “KS ROM 3.1 (A1200)”
5. In the “CD & Hard drives” tab, click on “Add Hardfile”, then the three dots next to “Path:” and direct it to where you stored “System.hdf”. Type DH0 (that’s a zero) in the box labelled “Device:”. Then go back into the “Configurations” tab and save the changes.
6. Click on “Start” to boot the system and follow the instructions. When asked for the Workbench disk, hit F12, go to the “Floppy drives” tab and click on the three dots next to the “Eject” button for “DF0:” and direct it your ADF. If you have Amiga Forever installed, this will be somewhere like: “C:\Users\Public\Documents\Amiga Files\Shared\adf\”.
If using a Workbench 3.1 ADF, you will be asked if you wish to upgrade to Workbench 3.1. I suggest doing this (just type “y” and press enter), but you will need to provide it with the rest of the Workbench ADFs when prompted. At the end you will be instructed to remove the Workbench disk and to reboot (hit F12, eject the ADF and press “reset”).
If successful you should end up with something looking like this, displayed in an 800×600 window (to go full screen press CTRL + F12):
Changing the display mode
Personally, I like to run my system in fullscreen at my monitor’s native resolution (1920×1200@32-bit), but you can set it to your own taste/requirements. To change screen mode, double click on the “Run” icon on the Amiga desktop and then click “Screen” from the button menu that appears; alternatively, open “System” drive, go into to the “Prefs” folder and double click on “ScreenMode”. Note that you need to click “Save” to make the screen mode permanent, “Use” will only apply it for the current session. Also, if you used the button menu to get to the display preferences, you will need to close this before it can change the display (you will be prompted).
If you don’t see your desired resolution or colour depth available in the list, you will probably need to allocate more video memory to the RTG. This is done in the “Expansions” tab of the WinUAE interface (press F12 to return) by moving the VRAM slider. I’ve set mine to 256mb. Remember to save your changes by going into the “Configurations” tab. You will need to reset the Amiga for this change to take effect.
If successful you should end up with something like this (we’ll sort out the slightly unsightly tiled wallpaper later):
If you want to start in fullscreen by default (rather than windowed mode), you need to go into the “Display” tab and set the “RTG” dropdown to “Fullscreen” and then save the configuration. If running at your desktop resolution, you can also choose to the have the display scaled when you switch back to windowed mode. To enable this, go back into the “Expansions” tab and check “Always scale in windowed mode”. Then go back to the “Display” tab and set a desired window resolution in the “Windowed:” box.
Setting up a shared directory with Windows
Although you can browse the internet through your Amiga environment (e.g. using AWeb) and download games/software straight onto your system drive, it’s useful to create a shared directory. This provides a simple method for transferring files between Windows and Amiga, and the same directory can be used for multiple Amiga configurations.
To set this up, first create a new folder anywhere you like in Windows and give it a name. Then in the “CD and hard drives” tab of WinUAE click on “Add Directory or Archive”, direct it to this folder and then label it “DH1” in the “Device:” field. The “Volume label:” field is what the drive will be called on your Amiga, if you leave this blank WinUAE will automatically name it for you. Save the configuration and reset your Amiga, you should now see this folder mounted as a drive on your Amiga desktop.
It you want to create folders for this drive, it’s best to do it on the Amiga side. On the Amiga folders are called drawers. To create a new drawer simply right click in the desired drive or directory and select New>Drawer; you will be prompted to give it a name. Drawers created on the Windows side will not have an associated .info file, so they’ll not have an icon and you will only be to see them if you right click inside the window and select View>All Files.
If you want to give a drawer an icon (or any file for that matter), right click in the window and select Icons>Filetypes. This should bring up two new windows. One window should display a range of icon styles, simply drag the desired icon to the “Source” box of the other window. Now drag the iconless drawer to the “Destination” box. This drawer should now have an associated .info file and you will be able to see it by default.
To improve icon support I also suggest that you install PeterK’s icon replacement library, which provides support for PNG icons, otherwise many of the games you download will have nondescript dots as icons. To do this open “Drawers” (next to “Run”), then navigate to “MyFiles\Install\Icons” and run “Install_Icons_Support”. Type “y” when prompted. The system will reboot twice during the installation process.
Changing wallpaper and tidying up the desktop
Obviously this step is not crucial. Ideally your wallpaper needs to be the same size as your Amiga desktop as OS won’t resize the background, so you may need to resize in an image editor. To support large image files, I suggest going into the “RAM” tab of WinUAE and setting “Z3 Fast:” to 256mb.
The image will need to be a JPEG, PNG or GIFF (or IFF the default Amiga image format). Simply drop the image into your shared directory and then copy over to “System:Prefs\Patterns\”. Then double click on “Run” to bring up the button menu and select Settings>Scalos>Pattern. Highlight the current pattern in the list and the click the icon to the right of the text box below, you should then be able to find your image in the subsequent list.
To tidy up your desktop, simply drag icons into position, right click and select Snapshot>All. You can do the same for the contents of drawers. Be aware that if you have drawers or files with no associated .info, this will not save properly.
Installing and running games
Fortunately, unlike the ROMs which are still under copyright, the vast majority of Amiga games can be legally obtained for free on the internet as abandonware. As a bonus, many are available in a pre-installed WHDLoad format, which means that they can simply copied onto your Amiga’s hard drive and run from there without extra steps. To able to run these you first need to install the WHDLoad user package. Bloodwych’s build already comes with this installed (v17.1), but it’s worth updating to the latest version (v18.0 at the time of writing). Download it from here (WHDLoad_usr.lha), extract (e.g. using 7-zip in Windows or on your Amiga by double clicking and choosing an extraction path) and copy to your shared directory. Run the installer using the default options.
WHDLoad format games require access to the Amiga kickstart ROMs to work. Again we can use the ROMs that came with Amiga Forever. These need to be copied across via the shared directory to “System:Devs/Kickstarts/ and must be renamed as outlined here. You will also need to copy across the “rom.key” file; however, the relocation (.RTB) files should already be in the “Kickstarts” drawer, so you can ignore that part.
Now it’s time to grab a game, these can also be found on the WHDLoad website here. Let’s head over to WHDownLoad to download a pre-installed version of Alien Breed II AGA, one of my favourites. Extract it and copy across to your shared folder. Before running, it’s a good idea to create a quit key, otherwise you will have to reboot the Amiga when finished playing. To do this right click on the game icon and select “info”, then click on “Tooltypes” followed by “Add new”. I want to use “Del” as my quit key, so I’m going type “QUITKEY=$46” into the text box and then press save. You can use anything you want, see here for a list of key codes, but don’t choose anything needed to play the game! Follow the same procedure for installing other games.
WHDLoad is shareware, so unless you purchase a key (£15/€20/$30) from the creator, you will have to wait a short period (around 20 seconds) each time you run a game. If you want games to run in your desktop resolution, go in back into WinUAE’s “Display” tab and select the correct resolution from the “Fullscreen:” dropdown menu and save your configuration.
If you choose to do this, it’s also a good idea to go into the “Filter” tab and set the scaling to “Automatic scaling”.
WinUAE is compatible with a range of controllers including the Xbox 360 controller (my personal preference) and these can be selected in the “Game ports” tab. If you don’t have a controller, you will need to select a suitable keyboard layout (such as arrow keys or numeric keypad) for games that require a joystick.
What if the game I want to play isn’t available as WHDLoad?
Sometimes you can find the WHDLoad game installer but not a pre-installed version. For this you will require the ADFs. Simply run the installer, choosing a suitable installation location, and provide the required ADFs through the “Floppy drives” tab when prompted.
If you can only find ADFs for the game you want to play, you can still use your configuration to boot from these. Simply insert the ADFs into the virtual drives through the “Floppy drives” tab. You can set-up up to four disk drives to reduce disk swapping. If you’re having compatibility issues (usually with really old A500 games), then you can use WinUAE’s “Quickstart” function to effortlessly set-up an A500.
Troubleshooting and additional tweaks and settings
Here are my sound settings, these can be configured according to taste and set-up. If your having audio issues, it may be worth disabling “Interpolation” or reducing the “Sound Buffer Size”. If you’re feeling particularly nostalgic you can emulate the floppy drive sound, which will click loudly at regular intervals until you insert a disk, but this becomes extremely annoying after say 5 seconds.
If you’re having issues with games, the first thing to usually try is unchecking JIT (Just-in-time) in the “CPU and FPU” tab. This will slow down the emulation, but increase compatibility. You can also try checking “More compatible” or playing around with “CPU Emulation Speed”. If you’re experiencing graphical corruption, head into the “Chipset” tab and check “Wait for blitter”.
Just because I can, I have provided my Amiga with extra memory. This doesn’t seem to cause any compatibility issues for me, but you can play with these settings if you’re having any problems with your system or certain games.
Now that you’ve set-up your virtual Amiga, why not celebrate by launching Eagleplayer and listening to some classic Amiga tunes:
You may also be interested in my guide to emulating Amiga CD32 games.
For finding games:
- WHDownLoad – repository of pre-installed WHDLoad games
- WHDLoad – official WHDLoad site, which also contains a repository of game installers (note that these are not pre-installed like above and you need the ADFs to install the game to your hard drive)
- Lemon Amiga – general Amiga resource, includes database of games and links to where you can download
- Commodore is Awesome – general Commodore resource, includes downloadable Amiga games (both ADF and WHDLoad versions), box art and an archive of Amiga Format issues
- Hall of Light – Amiga game database
- English Amiga Board – Amiga forums
- Amiga.org – Amiga portal, news site and forums
- aminet – Amiga software repository