How to Play Atari 2600 Games on Ubuntu

If you saw our post on how to run old DOS games from your youth on Linux, and you happened to be an Atari brat while you were growing up, then you’re not left out in the cold. With the right software, you can relieve your 8-bit glory days on your Linux machine.

To play your Atari games, the best emulator on any platform is Stella. Stella is an Atari 2600 emulator that works on Linux, Mac OS X, Windows and even more obscure systems like IRIX. It provides a very accurate emulation of the classic gaming system, and plays nearly every game ever released for it.

To install Stella, you can either install it from the Software Center or use this command:

sudo apt-get install stella

The official Ubuntu repositories lag somewhat behind the Stella project’s version, so if you absolutely must have the latest and greatest version, you can download the .deb package and install it manually.

Stella Berzerk screenshot

To do that, just navigate to the directory you downloaded the .deb file and issue this command:

sudo dpkg -i stella_3.7.2-1_i386.deb

This example shows the i386 version. If you’re running a 64-bit system, jut replace “i386″ with “amd64″.

You can then launch Stella in the usual way you’d launch any other Ubuntu app. When you first start it up, you’ll have to point Stella to where you keep your Atari games. You’re on your own for actually getting them, though, as they’re still under copyright. On the other hand, there haven’t been a whole lot of RIAA-style lawsuits over these games.

You’ll also have a number of options available. The most important is between software and hardware rendering for OpenGL. Even though these are 8-bit games from the ’80s, you’ll get a smoother experience using your video card to do most of the work. You’ll also have the option of choosing from a variety of effects meant to simulate the look of an old CRT TV to play your games. Many of the games were designed specifically to take advantage of the way those old TVs worked. Remember, LCDs and plasma screens weren’t available in the ’80s.

You can also set up how the controls work. In the default settings, the function keys control the game reset, game select, black-and-white/color, difficulty, etc. The arrow keys control the joystick, and the mouse controls the paddle for games like “Breakout” and “Kaboom!” The defaults work pretty well, though you’re always free to customize. You might want to tweak the mouse sensitivity if you keep missing the ball in “Breakout,” though.

Stella launcher

Once you’ve got everything set up, you can then start your game by double-clicking on it in the launcher.

With the right hardware, however, you can plug in real Atari controllers. The Stelladaptor plugs into your USB port to let you have something closer to the real Atari experience. Of course, you could dig out your real console, but who knows how 30+-year-old hardware is going to work. On the other hand, those old cartridges are pretty hardy.

If you’re pining for your Atari 2600 but it’s pining for the fjords, if you’re a Linux fan, you can play games like “Pitfall” again using some free software.