Atari 2600 Emulation for Classic 68k Macs

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The classic Mac OS had a plethora of emulators targeting various platforms like Apple II, NES, TRS-80, IBM PC, and so forth. You would think Atari 2600 would be one such example – but Alas, there wasn’t any 68k-built Atari 2600 emulators back then… or so we thought.

Atari Games on the Mac

Back in the 90s, Activision released a few anthology games on floppy for Macintosh. They included classics like Pitfall, River-Raid, and Keystone Kapers. In fact, I owned a copy of this software back then – but I never realized that behind the scenes it was actually an Atari 2600 emulator.

When installed, the Activision Action Pack provides you with a folder full of game icon applications – one for each game. Each one individually is an emulator and if you inspect one in ResEdit, you can actually see a resource inside containing the Atari game ROM itself.

So theoretically speaking, you can take an individual game icon and replace it’s ROM with another Atari game ROM, and play it!

Hacking the Activision Action Pack Games

To make the process of swapping out the ROM easier, there’s a tool designed for this called the Action Pack Plugin Hack, and can be downloaded here.

Here’s what the tool includes:


I found the README slightly confusing – but generally the process is:

  • Make a copy of one of the Activision game application icons. This copy will become the “emulator” for your ROMs. I named my copy “AtariHack”, and from here I’ll refer to it as that. Keep this copy in the same folder as the other games, per the README.
  • Open this copy (“AtariHack”) in ResEdit and change its CREATOR to ATRI
  • OPTIONAL: For fun, the hack includes a “.rsrc” resource file you can copy and paste into the “AtariHack” application for additional icons. You can also go into the STR# resource, open up #129 and change the various strings to something else – in my case I renamed the old game name to “AtariHack”
  • Take your (legally-owned, of course) Atari 2600 game ROMs and drag them unto the “atari cart typer” AutoTyper, as shown in the above screenshot. This will set up your ROMs to open up correctly.
  • From here, double-clicking your ROM should do the trick. If it does not, you may need to rebuild your desktop. The ROM should play within “AtariHack”, but it’s actually getting side-loaded via the “plug” application shown in the screenshot above. The plug application plugs the ROM into the “AtariHack” emulator, from what I can tell.

This may take a little trial and error. I suspect that Activision tailored the emulator slightly for the various games. The author of the hack also found that it really depends on the game and one doesn’t stand out as the best choice to use as a basis for your copy. I have had some personal experience with Atari 2600 game development and the games have a variety of fascinating hacks, differing ROM sizes and bank switching abilities, along with custom hardware. Each game will have its own quirks for sure.

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But here we are, an Atari 2600 emulator on 68k Macs!

Pedantic People: Please Proceed

  • Yes, yes… there is a version of the Atari 2600 emulator Stella that runs on the classic Mac OS – it just requires a Power PC
  • I’d love to know if there are any other 68k Atari emulators out there, it’s clearly possible and very playable on 040 hardware.