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Running MSX games on Linux with openMSX

A long time ago, before the PC era, there were these amazing devices called “Home Computers”. Popular systems in Europe were the Commodore 64, Sinclair ZX Spectrum/ZX81, the various Atari computers, and of course MSX. The first home computer my family owned was a Sony “Hit Bit” HB-75P MSX computer. My parents bought it in 1985, together with the game “Space Busters” (a Space Invaders clone on cassette, published by Aackosoft) and a cassette player. A few years later we upgraded to the newer generation of MSX computers and got a Sony HB-F700P MSX2. We had tons of fun with MSX and thanks to emulators like openMSX it’s possible to get some of that same fun on modern PCs.

MSX retro heaven is only 5 steps away:

  1. Get some MSX game cartridge image files
  2. Install openMSX, the emulator
  3. Install Catapult, the graphical user interface
  4. Load and play some games
  5. Add some MSX system ROMs (optional)
Konami MSX game cartridge Antarctic Adventure
Konami MSX game cartridge Antarctic Adventure

Get some MSX game cartridge image files

First you should find some games. Preferably .ROM files, which are the games extracted from the original ROM cartridges to image files. You should extract those from your own game cartridges because most of the software is still copyrighted. But if you own a particular game and prefer doing things the easy way, you will probably be able to find the image file somewhere on the interwebs 😉

Install openMSX

If you are running a Debian Linux distribution like Ubuntu or Linux Mint, installing the emulator is very easy. Open a terminal window and type the command:

sudo apt-get install openmsx

This will download and install the software and required components. After installation is finished you can start the application from the command line (or append ” -h” to see some options):

openmsx

If you don’t like typing commands you can also install a GUI (graphical user interface), as shown in the next step.

Install the graphical user interface

There is a very nice GUI available called “Catapult”. Installing it is just as easy, just use the following command:

sudo apt-get install openmsx-catapult

After installation has finished, you can start Catapult via the application menu of your operating system. Or simply by typing:

openmsx-catapult

During the first startup Catapult will do some file checks and ask for file locations. The defaults should do just fine. After that is done, you will be greeted by Catapult’s main screen.

openMSX Catapult default screen
openMSX Catapult default screen

Load and play some games

Catapult will let you choose what type of MSX computer you want to emulate. By default you will be able to select the included C-BIOS (MSX, MSX2 or MSX2+). If you leave it to the default setting (“<default>”), it will be running the MSX2+ emulation.

Starting the emulation with C-BIOS system ROM and no cartridge image file selected will show a message asking you to restart with a cartridge image file selected. So click on the “Cart A” button to load your .ROM file. Note that Catapult can also handle archive files so you don’t have to extract those ZIPs first. Then press the Start button and let the MSX gaming fun begin!

Starting openMSX with Catapult and C-BIOS
Starting openMSX with Catapult and C-BIOS
Konami Antarctic Adventure on openMSX
Konami Antarctic Adventure on openMSX

Install system ROMs (optional)

MSX computers consist of hardware and built-in software like the BIOS, MSX-BASIC, MSX-DOS etcetera. That software is strored in ROM chips inside the MSX computer and is therefore called “system ROM”. Different models of computers usually have their own specific ROMs. OpenMSX emulates the hardware, but it doesn’t provide the system ROMs because those are copyrighted. Not to worry though, because openMSX does provide C-BIOS. This is an open source alternative ROM written from scratch. It will allow you to run most cartridge based MSX1/2/2+ software.

If you want to run disk images, MSX-BASIC programs, do anything that is very specific to a certain computer model, or when your chosen software is not compatible with C-BIOS, then you will need a system ROM of that computer. You should consult the documentation if you want to know how to get those ROMS and where to install them on your system.

openMSX Catapult with Sony HB-75P system ROM installed
openMSX Catapult with Sony HB-75P system ROM installed

In the screenshot below I installed the system ROM of my Sony HB-75P and started openMSX without any cartridge, cassette or disk files loaded. This will get you into the Sony HIT BIT built-in applications.

Sony HIT BIT MSX HB-75P system ROM buit in software
Sony HIT BIT MSX HB-75P system ROM buit in software

And of course, you can also have some fun with good old MSX-BASIC 1.0!

openMSX Sony HB-75P MSX BASIC 1.0
openMSX Sony HB-75P MSX BASIC 1.0

This post is also available in Dutch.

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