Emulation: MakeUef & FDC

By Dave E

Originally published in EUG #65

When you're finally ready to enter the world of Acorn Electron emulation on your PC, it can be difficult to decide on the utilities you are going to need. Of course it goes without saying that you need an Acorn Electron emulator utility, and we'll be taking a look at ElectrEm, the preferred choice, very shortly. From a conceptual standpoint though, it makes more sense to begin a series of articles exploring all of the utilities available with the 'tools' that allow the physical transfer of Electron games from the original to tape or disc.

But first, a word of warning to the complete beginner. Generally, you do not connect a tape recorder to your PC, press play on tape and load Electron games into it in the same manner as you do on a BBC series machine. Nor do you take the disc drive out of your Electron Acorn Plus 3 expansion and by means of some hi-tech jiggery pokery connect it to your PC and load games directly off it. This is just not how emulation works and you will probably not appreciate why until you have indeed read and operated an Electron emulator. Think about it this way though: if emulation required the PC user to use parts of the original hardware and to have the original software to boot, playing an emulated game would be a very laborious process, and one restricted to owners of the original media.

What you do instead is, by means of a utility program on your PC, create a file that is an 'image' of a tape or disc program. The image is saved to the hard drive of the PC and can subsequently be loaded into the separate emulator utility. Now, as you are all aware, large libraries of images are available already on the internet so it is usually unnecessary for the individual to create an image from an original tape or disc he happens to have kept from his Acorn days. Frankly, it is usually easier just to download the image of the game you want than to go through the rigmarole of making one of your own. But if you do have a hitherto undiscovered game in your collection and a burning desire to either play it again or share it with the world then you'll need one or both of the following utilities: MakeUEF and FDC.

These are not the friendliest of names and they give no clue as to their actual use. Be not discouraged - think of this article as an Idiot's Guide To Transferring Elk Software To Your PC and operating them should be a piece of cake. To get them in the first place though, you need to visit the ElectrEm homepage (for MakeUEF) and www.bbc.nvg.org (for FDC) and download them. Each is presently archived in the common 'WinZip' archive format meaning you download one file which is the equivalent of a 'bag' containing the appropriate utility, its user guide and any other data required to make it work. The next step therefore is to 'extract' the individual files from the 'Winzip' format and put them in a new folder so they are ready for use. If you don't have the Winzip extractor program then you also need to pay a visit to http://www.winzip.com and download it as well!

So what exactly do the names mean? Well, although it is far from obvious these days thanks to the Windows OS, a PC file has a filename and a three letter suffix. The suffix denotes the "type" of the individual file: for example 'Document1.doc' is a Microsoft Word document, 'EUGlogo.jpg' is a picture format, and 'index.html' is a web page document. The name 'MakeUEF' comes from the "type" of file the utility creates, i.e. the filename has a '.uef' suffix and UEF stands for Universal Emulator Format. The utility to "make UEF files" is therefore known as 'MakeUEF'. Now, as MakeUEF only creates images of cassette-based programs then perhaps a better suffix would be '.cas' or '.tap' but '.uef' is now established as the image of a BBC or Electron cassette and, for better or worse, we're stuck with it.