Some help for a newbie.

discuss bbc micro and electron emulators (including mame) here!
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Tomkun
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Some help for a newbie.

Post by Tomkun »

Hi there everyone.

I had an Acorn Electron as my first computer and have very fond memories of it. I currently use MAME to emulate it using roms of cassette tapes and loading them with the usual *tape and chain"" commands.

However, this feels very clunky and as MAME is so accurate, it takes ages to load the cassettes. I know I can FFW in MAME, but I'd like to be able to load straight into a game as quickly and with as few steps taken by the user as possible.

I had a look at the other emulators, but it seems from their websites that they are no longer maintained. I also read that disk images (.ssd) are quicker to load. I got my hands on a copy of StarshipCommand.ssd, but MAME spits out an error when I try to load it.

Code: Select all

Mame.exe electron -flop1 "StarshipCommand.ssd"
"Fatal error: Device 3.5" double density floppy drive load failed: Incompatible image format or corrupted data"
Please bear in mind I was a young child when I last did all this stuff, so I probably won't know a lot of technical stuff.

Anyway, I am sorry for the word salad, but I suppose my question boils down to this:
What is the quickest, least involved method of booting into a game possible on a currently supported Acorn Electron emulator?
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rmbrowngr
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Re: Some help for a newbie.

Post by rmbrowngr »

If you’re struggling with mame emulation I’d try elkulator emulator. It works just fine in Windows. I haven’t had problems with it even if it isn’t maintained.

There’s also ElkJS JavaScript emulator which I think is maintained.
Richard B
Acorn Electrons issue 4 and 6, MRB, Plus 1, AP6, AP5, Pegasus 400, BeebSCSI, Gotek, Raspberry Pi, GoSDC MBE.
BBC B+ 64K (128K upgraded) with Duel OS, Raspberry Pi and Gotek.
Tomkun
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Re: Some help for a newbie.

Post by Tomkun »

Thanks for the reply. I will certainly check out Elkulator. I am not having problems with MAME per se, it's just that I have no idea of what commands to use and there are so many variables, it's impossible to work out what my mistakes are.

What is the correct method for loading disks on an Electron? I have only ever used tapes so I am used to:

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*TAPE
CHAIN""
I managed to get MAME to load with a disk by using an older version, but now I don't know what to do. I tried:

Code: Select all

*CAT
which I read would initialize a disk, but it gave me a "disc error 50".

I'm also getting confused typing disc all the time instead of disk. #-o
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jms2
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Re: Some help for a newbie.

Post by jms2 »

Hello Tom. MAME is designed for emulating the widest possible range of machines and add-ons, so I'm not surprised you find it challenging to use. For everyday situations, Elkulator is much easier.

To use discs you will need to enable the Plus 3 emulation via the Hardware drop down menu. If your disc images are .ssd, you will need to enable the DFS filing system. For .adm and .adl images, you will need ADFS. It's OK to enable both and then swap between them.
Screenshot 2021-10-14 065141.jpg
Once DFS is present, you can use either *DISC or *DISK to enable it (in fact, if it is the only filing system present it will be enabled by default anyway). *ADFS selects ADFS if you are using that.

The commands to load files are actually the same as tape, with one crucial difference - CHAIN"" doesn't work because that means "load whatever file is next on the tape". With disc, you must specify a filename. To know what is present on the disc it's actually the same command as for tape, *CAT or more normally "*."

Here's what you see if you insert a disc image for Repton. The two columns are the list of files. Note there is a file called !BOOT - this means the disc can be automatically booted. Most game discs are loaded by this method. To do this, hold down shift and then tap Break (which in an emulator will be f12).
Screenshot 2021-10-14 065817.jpg
Alternatively you could try CHAIN"REPTON" or if that doesn't work *REPTON (there are ways to work out which one will work but I won't bamboozle you with that now).

There are more commands available, but you probably won't need them. To see details, type *HELP DFS and *HELP UTILS.


I hope this is useful.
Tomkun
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Re: Some help for a newbie.

Post by Tomkun »

This is very useful, thank you.

For reference, how was adfs and dfs enabled on a real Acorn electron? Were they addon cartridges?
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daveejhitchins
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Re: Some help for a newbie.

Post by daveejhitchins »

Tomkun wrote:
Thu Oct 14, 2021 7:32 am
This is very useful, thank you.

For reference, how was adfs and dfs enabled on a real Acorn electron? Were they addon cartridges?
There were/is several cartridge options: Cumana Disc Interface (DI) - this, however was a non-standard DFS : The P.R.E.S. range of DIs - AP3 (DFS) and AP4 (ADFS) also AP3/4 : The Slogger Pegasus DI (DFS) - still available through me : the Acorn Plus 3 (ADFS) and another from Solidisc (I think?). The Acorn Plus 3 can now be upgraded with Prime's ROM/RAM board which gives ADFS and DFS keeping Page at E00.

Dave H.
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Re: Some help for a newbie.

Post by Tomkun »

OK, now I think I am getting out of my depth.

I may be completely wrong here, so please correct me if that's the case. On the back of the Electron we had a sort of plugin thing which I assume was a plus1? It had two cartridge slots in it on the right hand side. One of them was always occupied, but I can't remember with what, but the cartridge had a green and orange grid pattern. The empty slot had a sort of sprung cover on it I think. Does that sound about right?

Now, were I to add a disk drive to the Electron, I would buy a cartridge like you mentioned and plug it into the plus1? And then plug a disk drive into that?

I am sure that all of these questions are trivial for you guys, but I think the last time I saw our Electron was going on 35 years ago, so thanks for all the help!
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jms2
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Re: Some help for a newbie.

Post by jms2 »

Your memory is about right. The Plus 1 is an addon which provided two cartridge slots. By default, neither would be occupied, so your childhood Electron must have had something permanently plugged into one of them. I'm not sure what this might have been, but it was probably one of Dave's products! :lol:

Here's a photo of my Electron showing:

- The Acorn Plus 3 disc interface, with its integral disc drive (this is the only disc interface product which is not a cartridge, all the others were)
- Plus 1
...and for demonstration purposes only (you can't have two disc interfaces plugged in at the same time):
- Slogger Pegasus disc interface plugged into the Plus 1. As you say the disc drive attaches to the top of this via a ribbon cable. This features a superb modern case which came from Dave and which is a replica of the original.
IMG_4095.JPG
Last edited by jms2 on Thu Oct 14, 2021 8:41 am, edited 1 time in total.
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jms2
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Re: Some help for a newbie.

Post by jms2 »

From your description, was the thing that was plugged into the Plus 1 this Lisp cartridge perhaps?
lisp.jpg
Tomkun
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Re: Some help for a newbie.

Post by Tomkun »

jms2 wrote:
Thu Oct 14, 2021 8:40 am
From your description, was the thing that was plugged into the Plus 1 this Lisp cartridge perhaps?

lisp.jpg
You know, I don't remember what it was exactly, but if it wasn't that, it looked very similar. I don't remember the code on the right of the label though. Was there a word processor cartridge or something along those lines?

You guys are great. It's nice to pick the brains of people who really know their stuff.

Now, assuming I have an .ssd file of a game.
.ssd means DFS
So I would need a DFS addon plugged into the Plus 1, but I can't use it at the same time as a Plus3? So something like:
Base Electron -> Plus1 -> Slogger Pegasus -> FDD
Does that sound about right?
Were DFS/ADFS disk format specific or could I plug in any drive to any addon? I.e, if I had a single 3.5" drive, could I use it for both file types by plugging it into a different addon?
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jms2
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Re: Some help for a newbie.

Post by jms2 »

Tomkun wrote: You know, I don't remember what it was exactly, but if it wasn't that, it looked very similar. I don't remember the code on the right of the label though. Was there a word processor cartridge or something along those lines?
Yes there was - Acornsoft View.
.ssd means DFS
It does. There is also .dsd which is a double sided DFS disc (there is some debate around whether .ssd means Single Sided Disc or not, apparently it doesn't, but in practice you can think of them as that).
So I would need a DFS addon plugged into the Plus 1, but I can't use it at the same time as a Plus3?
Yes I would forget about the Plus 3 unless, like me, you just kind of like the "completist" approach of getting all the official Acorn bits.
Base Electron -> Plus1 -> Slogger Pegasus -> FDD
Does that sound about right?
Yes. Or you could use a PRES AP3/AP4, they are functionally equivalent to the Pegasus.
Were DFS/ADFS disk format specific or could I plug in any drive to any addon? I.e, if I had a single 3.5" drive, could I use it for both file types by plugging it into a different addon?
Yes, this is what I do. A 3.5" disc is what most Electrons work with, but 5.25" works as well.

An alternative would be to get a Gotek drive. This is a very cheap Chinese made floppy emulator, into which you can plug a USB stick containing all your .ssd, .adf, and .dsd files. Using a little rotary dial on the front and an LCD screen you virtually "insert" the disc of your choice. This is better than a real disc drive unless you want the real drive hardware. You will still need one of the standard interfaces for this though.
Tomkun
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Re: Some help for a newbie.

Post by Tomkun »

jms2 wrote:
Thu Oct 14, 2021 9:28 am
Tomkun wrote: You know, I don't remember what it was exactly, but if it wasn't that, it looked very similar. I don't remember the code on the right of the label though. Was there a word processor cartridge or something along those lines?
Yes there was - Acornsoft View.
That's it! I googled the image and immediately recognised it! Thanks!

Now, I have this working in Elkulator, but I'm still a bit confused. For the SSD file to be read, I need to enable the Plus3 emulation, but I was under the assumption that the Plus3 was ADFS and that you couldn't use 2 disk interfaces at the same time? I'd like to forget about the Plus3 as you say, but in Elkulator it seems necessary.

Edit:
I also managed to get MAME running .SSD files by loading it with the Plus3 and using the "Advanced 1770 DFS 2.10" BIOS. Does anyone know how to get MAME running SSD files without the Plus3?
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Pernod
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Re: Some help for a newbie.

Post by Pernod »

Tomkun wrote:
Thu Oct 14, 2021 9:44 am
I also managed to get MAME running .SSD files by loading it with the Plus3 and using the "Advanced 1770 DFS 2.10" BIOS. Does anyone know how to get MAME running SSD files without the Plus3?
For DFS you'll need to use a DFS capable floppy cartridge, such as the Pegasus 400:
mame electron -exp plus1 -cart1 peg400

If you just want to quickly load and run games why not use the Mega Games Cartridge:
mame electron -exp plus1 -cart1 mgc (SHIFT-BREAK for menu)

PS. There's a bug in the latest MAME 0.236 release with floppy images, recommend you use 0.235 until this is fixed.
- Nigel

BBC Model B: ATPL Sidewise, Acorn Speech, 2xWatford Floppy Drives, AMX Mouse, Viglen case, BeebZIF, etc.
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jms2
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Re: Some help for a newbie.

Post by jms2 »

As you rightly say, you are getting a bit confused between the Plus 3, ADFS and DFS!

There are two parts that are needed in order to use discs - some hardware (the interface) and some firmware (ie, software on rom, such as ADFS or DFS). And a drive as well of course.

All the hardware products came with the necessary firmware built in, so the Plus 3 came with ADFS built in, and the Pegasus came with DFS. But because almost all the interfaces use the same 1770 floppy controller, you can mix and match firmware. So the Pegasus' DFS rom will work with a Plus 3 interface and vice versa.

For convenience, Elkulator's Plus 3 emulation includes both DFS and ADFS roms, which you can switch on and off as you please.
Tomkun
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Re: Some help for a newbie.

Post by Tomkun »

Pernod wrote:
Thu Oct 14, 2021 12:45 pm
Tomkun wrote:
Thu Oct 14, 2021 9:44 am
I also managed to get MAME running .SSD files by loading it with the Plus3 and using the "Advanced 1770 DFS 2.10" BIOS. Does anyone know how to get MAME running SSD files without the Plus3?
For DFS you'll need to use a DFS capable floppy cartridge, such as the Pegasus 400:
mame electron -exp plus1 -cart1 peg400

If you just want to quickly load and run games why not use the Mega Games Cartridge:
mame electron -exp plus1 -cart1 mgc (SHIFT-BREAK for menu)

PS. There's a bug in the latest MAME 0.236 release with floppy images, recommend you use 0.235 until this is fixed.
Thanks so much. It's a bit late here tonight, but I'm going to try your suggestions tomorrow.
The reason I want to get these things done on MAME is because I can much more easily get my head around what the hardware/software is doing. Elkulator is a great emulator, but it doesn't really let me know what's going on under the bonnet.
If I am going to transfer my experience into hopefully investing in some real hardware in the future, then MAME seems to be the way to go.

I've already learned so much from everyone here. Thank all of you for your help and advice. I'll let you know how I get on.
Tomkun
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Re: Some help for a newbie.

Post by Tomkun »

jms2 wrote:
Thu Oct 14, 2021 12:54 pm
As you rightly say, you are getting a bit confused between the Plus 3, ADFS and DFS!

There are two parts that are needed in order to use discs - some hardware (the interface) and some firmware (ie, software on rom, such as ADFS or DFS). And a drive as well of course.

All the hardware products came with the necessary firmware built in, so the Plus 3 came with ADFS built in, and the Pegasus came with DFS. But because almost all the interfaces use the same 1770 floppy controller, you can mix and match firmware. So the Pegasus' DFS rom will work with a Plus 3 interface and vice versa.

For convenience, Elkulator's Plus 3 emulation includes both DFS and ADFS roms, which you can switch on and off as you please.
This is really good info too, thanks. I finally understand why the Plus3 worked!

One last question before I go to bed, how can I tell MAME to use a 3.5" DD drive instead of a 5.25" one on the command line?
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Pernod
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Re: Some help for a newbie.

Post by Pernod »

Tomkun wrote:
Thu Oct 14, 2021 1:57 pm
One last question before I go to bed, how can I tell MAME to use a 3.5" DD drive instead of a 5.25" one on the command line?
That gets quite complicated from the command line as you need to know exactly where the fdc is, which depends on the relevant hardware you've selected. So for the Pegasus 400 it would be:
mame electron -exp plus1 -cart1 peg400 -exp:plus1:cart_sk1:peg400:fdc:0 35dd
- Nigel

BBC Model B: ATPL Sidewise, Acorn Speech, 2xWatford Floppy Drives, AMX Mouse, Viglen case, BeebZIF, etc.
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Re: Some help for a newbie.

Post by jms2 »

Just for my understanding - what's the difference in terms of emulation? I would have thought that both were identical from a functional viewpoint.
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Re: Some help for a newbie.

Post by Pernod »

jms2 wrote:
Thu Oct 14, 2021 2:24 pm
Just for my understanding - what's the difference in terms of emulation? I would have thought that both were identical from a functional viewpoint.
If you're loading software from MAME's software lists then each floppy image is assigned an interface, depending on the form of the original image. So MAME knows whether it's a 3.5" or 5.25" floppy and won't allow you to put the wrong type in the wrong drive.

See https://github.com/mamedev/mame/blob/ma ... n_flop.xml for the software list and how some games were released on both 3.5" and 5.25" and are documented as such.

If you're simply loading loose files from a folder them MAME won't know the original form, so will try to mount it anyway.
- Nigel

BBC Model B: ATPL Sidewise, Acorn Speech, 2xWatford Floppy Drives, AMX Mouse, Viglen case, BeebZIF, etc.
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jms2
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Re: Some help for a newbie.

Post by jms2 »

I see, thanks!
Tomkun
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Re: Some help for a newbie.

Post by Tomkun »

With many thanks to everyone here, I managed to get MAME doing what I want.

I ended up using this command:

Code: Select all

./Mame.exe electron  -exp plus1 -cart1 peg400 -flop1 "StarshipCommand.ssd" -autoboot_command "*EXEC !BOOT\n" -autoboot_delay 1
And it seems to work well!
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