Last revised: 8 August 2017
- Before you start
- Building the system
- Changing the Workbench (RTG) display mode
- Setting up a shared directory with Windows
- Creating Amiga filesystem icons
- Changing wallpaper and tidying up the desktop
- Installing and running WHDLoad games
- Updating WHDLoad .slave files
- Game resolution and scaling (native display mode)
- Sound settings
- Choosing an input method
- What if the game I want to play isn’t available as WHDLoad?
- Can I use WinUAE’s save states?
- Troubleshooting and additional tweaks and settings
- Once you’re up and running
- Useful WinUAE keyboard shortcuts
- Useful resources
These days, there are multiple ways to emulate and play classic Amiga games on your PC. The simplest method is to acquire ADFs (Amiga disk format) of your favourite titles and run them through either FS-UAE or WinUAE using one of their configurations presets or through Cloanto’s Amiga Forever interface. In fact, FS-UAE connects to a handy online database that recognises your games and configures itself accordingly to provide decent compatibility for each one.
However, my preferred method is using WinUAE (the most fully-featured and configurable Amiga emulator available) to run games from a virtual hard drive through an emulated Amiga Workbench environment. Essentially this is a heavily upgraded A1200 running Workbench 3.1 with a disk image containing the system drive (for booting/running the OS) and a “Work” drive that appears in Windows as a fully accessible and modifiable folder that allows me to effortlessly copy pre-installed WHDLoad versions of games over to my emulated Amiga.
The advantage of my current system is that it’s lightning fast, runs smoothly in fullscreen at my desktop resolution, outputs to 5.1 surround sound (which sounds great), and I can easily tweak WinUAE settings, when required, to improve compatibility with certain games/software. Once I boot my system I can quickly 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. Plus WHDLoad game variants often come with essential compatibility fixes and quality-of-life tweaks as well as options that allow you to skip intros/cutscenes, choose levels or enable all manner of cheats/trainers.
And of course, I get a nice, warm sense of nostalgia running my own virtual Amiga with a Workbench environment customised to my own tastes, a bit like in the old days when I used to own an A1200 with a 400Mb hard drive, Blizzard 1230 IV CPU expansion, 32Mb fast ram, and SCSI CD-ROM drive (why the hell did I sell it, why, oh why!!!)
Anyway, if you’re interest in running a similar emulation set-up, I’ve put together what I hope is an easy-to-follow guide for those who want to be able play Amiga WHDLoad games without too much fuss or technical knowledge. This guide may also be useful to people just looking for some general WinUAE tips and tricks.
Oh yeah, feel free to ask questions, leave feedback or point out mistakes or omissions in the comments below.
Before starting you will need to acquire both an Amiga 1200 ROM and some Workbench 3.0 or 3.1 ADFs, both of which are still copyrighted materials (fortunately most Amiga games are now abandonware). You cannot emulate Amiga software or hardware without a kickstart ROM (regardless of method) 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. This comes with all the Amiga kickstart ROMs and original Workbench ADFs, as well as some games and a selection of pre-installed Amiga systems/configurations that run through Cloanto’s own interface (which, to be quite honest, is a bit pants and hugely lacking in configuration/compatibility options),
Alternatively you can rip the ROM from a real A1200 (e.g using TransROM) and the ADFs from real Workbench disks (Lemon Amiga ADF creation guide), if you still happen to own these and have a floppy drive on your PC or a null modem cable.
Fortunately, a nice chap called Bloodwych has done all the hard work so we don’t have to. 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 (most of which I used to run on my real A1200 back in the day).
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. 1920×1080, 1920×1200, etc) while running Workbench. 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. Note that when I originally wrote this guide I was using version 3.0.0, but it’s usually worth updating to the latest version.
2. Download Bloodwych’s P96 ClassicWB and extract the files.
3. 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.
4. Run WinUAE, go to the “configurations” tab, select Bloodwych’s config file (“ClassicWB_P96”) and click on the “Load” button.
5. 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)”
6. In the “CD & Hard drives” tab, click on “Add Hardfile”, then the ellipsis (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.
7. 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 fullscreen press CTRL + F12):
4. Changing the Workbench (RTG) display mode
I like to run my Amiga Workbench desktop in fullscreen at my monitor’s native resolution, but you can set it to your own taste/requirements. By the way, this is the RTG resolution, which is not the same resolution that your games will run in – for more on that head to the game resolution and scaling section.
To change the Workbench 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 (and any other windows) 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.
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.
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, you may need to “RAM” tab of WinUAE and increase the amount “Z3 Fast:” RAM (e.g. 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.
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, most 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 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. 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 may 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 (keyboard RAWKEY codes), but don’t choose anything needed to play the game!
Follow the same procedure for installing other games.
For some WHDLoad games, when you run them you will receive a message informing you that a newer slave is available. While not essential, updating the slave can improve compatibility or provide additional pre-game options (cheats & tweaks).
To update the slave head over to the WHDLoad installers page and download the relevant package. Now simply open the archive and copy the .slave file over to the game directory on your Amiga hard drive. You will need to replace or rename the existing .slave file. Also note that the name needs to be idential to original .slave file.
Resolution scaling/display emulation of classic Amiga games can be something of a divisive, not to mention complicated, issue. However, at the end of the day it’s about choosing a resolution, scaling method and filter that suits your own tastes or needs.
It’s worth pointing out here that with this system we’ve built, WinUAE will switch to the “Native” screen mode when you launch a WHDLoad game and then switch back to the “RTG” mode when you press the quit key and return to your Amiga Workbench desktop. This means that the resolution you set in Workbench can be different to one that your games use, which is set within the WinUAE GUI.
Original Amiga games used to typically run in lores at either 320×256@50Hz in PAL regions or 320×200@60Hz in NTSC regions (with an overscan area of up to 376×288) on monitors and TVs with a 4:3 or 5:4 picture aspect ratio. Most of the games you come across will be in PAL. (I’ve included some references on Amiga display characteristics in the Useful resources section if you want to read more on this).
By default, WinUAE outputs at either 640×512 or 640×400 – i.e. hires, double lines. Obviously, this is tiny compared to what modern display hardware can output and significantly different in aspect ratio. This leaves you three main options:
- Run the game in a window and then size/scale as desired (720×568 or 720×576 are often recommend as a good PAL equivalent)
- Set WinUAE to a much lower fullscreen resolution, e.g. 800×600 (4:3) or 1280×1024 (5:4), etc (note that running at a screen mode below your monitor’s standard resolution may result in a less sharp or blurry image)
- Scale the game display area to better fit your monitor’s native resolution
To change WinUAE’s “native” output resolution, simply head over to the “Display” tab and select the desired resolution and bit depth from the “Fullscreen:” and/or “Windowed:” drop down menu. Personally, I choose to set the “native” output to my monitor’s standard resolution.
If you want to run games in fullscreen by default, you’ll need to ensure the “Native:” mode is set to “Fullscreen”. By the way, if you’re running in fullscreen and still want to be able to see WinUAE’s on-screen display, then head to the “Miscellaneous” tab and check “RTG on-screen display” and/or “Native on-screen display”.
If you don’t have a G-sync or Freesync monitor and you experience jerky movement or scrolling in games, then you may need to enable vertical sync in the “display” tab. For PAL games you will need to set the refresh rate to either 50Hz or 100Hz, for NTSC either 60 or 120Hz (whichever your monitor supports). For the double refresh frequencies, you may want to check “black frame insertion” in the “Miscellaneous” tab to reduce motion blur.
To choose how the game is scaled relative to WinUAE’s output resolution (either windowed or fullscreen), head over to the “Filter” tab. Here you can set the horizontal and vertical scaling and screen positioning manually or you can choose from one of the options from the drop down menu in the top right corner (make sure the one above it is set to “Native”).
There also some aspect ratio correction options, various scaling filters (including a PAL display simulation) and the ability to save and load custom presets. The drop down menu in the “extra settings” box also allows you to apply and adjust post-processing effects such as scanlines and bilinear filtering. If you choose the PAL filter, you can additionally tweak brightness, contrast, saturation, gamma, blurriness and noise.
Personally, I usually set it to either “Automatic scaling” or “Automatic resizing” and disable the filter and aspect ratio options. This will normally fill my entire screen (without black bars) and be correctly centred. It works well for most games and, in my humble opinion, looks good (check out my Amiga videos or some of the screenshots taken in one of my retrospective pieces). Some may disagree with my heathen ways 🙂
If you want something more in-line with an original Amiga output aspect (i.e. less stretched horizontally), then try loading the “D3D Autoscale” preset. This should give you a 4:3 game output with vertical black bars for widescreen resolutions. Setting “scanline opacity” in the “extra settings” to something between 15 and 100 will also provide a nice CRT scanlines effect.
Check out the gallery below to get an idea of different scaling/filter possibilities on a widescreen HD display. Unscaled and integer scaling (the last two images) should be the closest to the original Amiga pixel aspect. Anyway, don’t be afraid to experiment with the various filter options to get the look you want. And remember that you may need to adjust these options for different games (for instance, due to varying use of the overscan area).
There are also a range of sound settings (in the “Sound” tab) that can be tweaked as desired. 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 five seconds (just like it did in the old days!). These are the settings I normally use:
- Channel mode: 5.1 Channels
- Frequency: 48000
- Sound Buffer Size: 6
- Interpolation: Anti
- Audio filter: Always
- Stereo separation: 70%
WinUAE is compatible with a range of controllers including the Xbox 360 pad (my personal preference) and these can be selected in the “Game ports” tab. For increased functionality, you can try setting to drop down menu below “CD32 pad”. In some games this will allow you to use additional joystick buttons. 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. It’s also possible to completely remap joystick/pad and keyboard controls to your own preferences in the “Game ports” and “Input” tabs respectively.
For two player games, you will need to either change “Port 1:” (your mouse by default) to a second controller or a preferred keyboard layout once in the game. This is equivalent to disconnecting the mouse and plugging in a second joystick on a real Amiga. Note that some games also have their own options for choosing or customising keyboard controls for additional players.
Sometimes you can find the WHDLoad game installer but not a pre-installed version. For this you will need to acquire the ADFs (jump to the resources section below). 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 a standard A500.
Techincally, WinUAE’s save states function is not supposed to work with hard drive configurations. However, I’ve found that it does work with a surprising number of WHDLoad games (but not all). Pressing the game’s quitkey will usually cause the emulation to crash, but trying out save states will not harm your Amiga system (still, it’s always worth backing everything up!).
To create a save state head to the “Miscellaneous” tab, press the “Save State” button (or press SHIFT + END + F5) and then give your save a name. You load save states from the same location (or with END +F5). Before loading, ensure that you’ve first loaded the correct configuration into WinUAE first.
Remember that emulation is rarely perfect or flawless (though WinUAE does a very good job of emulating the Amiga) and from time to you may experience brief glitches with the speed, sound and graphics of a particular game. Or even crashes, freezes or the dreaded “Guru Meditation”, the Amiga’s rough equivalent of a BSOD. If you are having issues, here are a few things you can try.
General game issues
With general issues, such as the game running too fast or simply not working, the first thing to usually try is unchecking JIT (Just-in-time) in the “CPU and FPU” tab. This will slow down the emulation resulting in longer Workbench load times, but will increase game compatibility.
You can also try checking “More compatible” or playing around with “CPU Emulation Speed” (e.g. by setting to “Approximate A500/A1200 or cycle-exact”) or heading over to the “Chipset” tab and checking the “Cycle-exact” options.
It may also be worth simplifying your memory configuration. Bloodwych’s original WinUAE configuration well exceeds the needs of most users and games. I find my system runs perfectly well with just 8MB of Chip RAM and 32MB of Z3 Fast. In fact, I could probably get away with less Chip RAM. Some older A500 games may benefit from adding 512Kb of Slow RAM.
If you’re experiencing graphical corruption, head into the “Chipset” tab and check “Wait for blitter”. This will fix most graphical issues.
If you’re having audio issues, it may be worth disabling “Interpolation”. If you’re experiencing choppy or distorted sound, try increasing the “Sound buffer size”. If you’re getting audio lag/delay, try reducing it.
Now that you’ve set-up your virtual Amiga, why not celebrate by launching Eagleplayer and listening to some classic Amiga tunes. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to back everything up 🙂
Some handy keyboard shortcuts:
- F12 – brings up the WinUAE interface
- CTRL + F12 – toggle fullscreen and windowed mode
- Middle mouse button – returns you to the Windows desktop with WinUAE still running in the background
- CTRL + F11 – quit the emulation
- SHIFT + F12 – opens WinUAE’s debugger
- PRTSC – copies WinUAE’s current screen to clipboard
- END + PrintScreen – save screenshot file to location specified in the “Paths” tab
- END + F5 – brings up the load state window
- SHIFT + END + F5 – brings up the save state window
- PAUSE – pauses the emulation
- PAUSE + END – activates warp mode (i.e. speeds up the emulation), press again to return to normal mode
- END + F1, F2, F3 or F4 – change floppy disk (ADF) in corresponding drive
- SHIFT+END+ F1, F2, F3 or F4 – ejects floppy disk (ADF) in corresponding drive
It’s also worth noting that in WinUAE, the left and right Amigas keys are mapped to the left and right WIN keys on your keyboard. So if you want to do a soft reset, you can press CTRL + LWIN + RWIN. Also, the Amiga’s HELP key is mapped to PAGE DOWN. These keys can be remapped in the “Input” tab.
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
- Vintage Is The New Old (formerly Commodore is Awesome) – general retrogaming resource with a heavy focus on all things Commodore; includes downloadable Amiga games (both ADF and WHDLoad versions), box art, an archive of Amiga magazines and tonnes of other stuff
- Hall of Light – Amiga game database
- Amiga TOSEC – a free downloadable 37GB (yes 37GB!!!) archive containing multiple sources of nearly every Amiga game, demo, programme and cover disk ever made (though excluding original Workbench disks and Kickstart ROMs)
- English Amiga Board – Amiga forums
- Amiga.org – Amiga portal, news site and forums
- aminet – Amiga software repository
Understanding Amiga display characteristics/modes:
- Amiga screen modes – a useful guide by the Amiga Graphics Archive
- Display Sizes, Offsets and Clipping – an informative Retroplatform discussion on Amiga overscan and how CRT TVs work
- Effect of Display Overscan on the Viewing Area – from the AmigaOS 3.5 developer docs