The Guide to Writing Music for the Atari 2600 on the Macintosh
Using Music Kit 2.0 on the Mac OS

by michael barber


This guide is for Macintosh-based musicians and game developers looking to create music and sounds for the Atari 2600 or 2600 emulator. The document explains how to gather all software and documents necessary to get started.

Paul Slocum's Music Kit 2.0 is the arranging tool we will be focusing on. It's laden with limitations, partly because of the poor sound capabilities of the 2600 and partly because the Kit is a work-in-progress. Either way, it is a state of the art tool for such legacy programming and best yet, it's free! The Music Kit as downloaded is for DOS/Windows; follow the instructions in this guide to use it on the 7.x - 9.x OS Macintosh.

Much thanks to Ruffin Bailey whose help has been indispensable; his Mactari resources are the foundation of this document.


• 2-note polyphony
• 10 unique instruments/sounds; 8 may be used per song
• single tempo per song
• poor overall instrument tuning
• Music Kit is based around a 4/4 time signature

If an Atari/Atari emulator cartridge is not your song's destination format, you can work around these limitations fairly easily. Otherwise, apply your own creative workarounds and be sure to study the demos on the Music Kit web site.


There are legal notices attached to all of this stuff; all should be free to download, but use accordingly.

Music Kit 2.0 download size: 56KB

The kit contains some tools you will need to use with the MPW program below. Some of the files us Macintosh users won't use at all.

Macintosh Programmer's Workshop (MPW) download size: 23.9MB

This is the big program you will be using to turn your song files into Atari 2600 files. It's a hefty download, about 1 hour 15 minutes over a regular 56k modem. Download the file MPW-GM.img.bin from the following link:

If that link doesn't work, go to, click on the "Developer" link and search for MPW. Currently, you can access an FTP page from the MPW main page. To find the MPW-GM.img.bin file, follow the path indicated in the ftp link above.

Double click on the file once downloaded; that should automatically launch a utility called Disk Copy on your Macintosh to convert the disk image into a folder titled "MPW-GM" which should appear on your desktop. If you have trouble, check out the Mactari page for more information.

DASM download size: 224KB (for the whole folder)

The 6502 chip cross assembler.

Download the July 17, 2003 DASM folder, which has the DASM that will work with your classic/pre-X Mac OS. While an OS X version is available, I am unaware of any tools that will allow you to use the Kit on OS X.

Mactools download size: 92KB

More Macintosh tools for 2600 compiling.

Stella 1.2 Atari 2600 Emulator

If you don't have a 2600 emulator, download it here:

*** If you have any problems expanding/unstuffing any of these files, visit to download the latest expander for your OS. It's free.


"A > B" is my directory notation; e.g. a folder named "B" is inside a folder named "A".

1) Find the Mac Classic DASM file, unstuff it, and move it into MPW's TOOLS folder:

DASM > BIN > MAC > CLASSIC ...unstuff DASM file in the CLASSIC folder & put it (dasm) here:
MPW-GM > MPW-GM > MPW > Tools

2) Move most of the contents of Mactools' Tools folder into MPW's TOOLS folder":

mactool > Tools ... move DiStella and makewav into:
MPW-GM > MPW-GM > MPW > Tools

3) Move 6502, vcs.h and suite6502.asm into the MPW folder (the same folder that contains MPW Shell program, Worksheet, Tools folder, etc.):

mactool ...find 6502, vcs.h, and suite6502.asm in the mactool folder and move them here:

4) Move song.h, songfont.h, songmain.asm, songplay.h into the MPW folder (the same destination as #3 above):

music_kit_2 Folder ... find song.h, songfont.h, songmain.asm and songplay.h and move them here:


Double-click on the MPW Shell program in the MPW folder.
Scroll to the bottom of the window ("worksheet," it is called) and enter this line of code on a blank line:

dasm songmain.asm -f3 -ohelloworld.bin

This should convert Paul Slocum's demo song into a playable Atari 2600 .bin called helloworld.bin. The "o" before the helloworld title in the code is not a typo. You will always be compiling the songmain.asm file into the 2600 file of your naming. However, you will be arranging your songs in the song.h file; this is referenced in the songmain.asm file that you are indicating in the above line of code.

That should be enough to get you started. You will need to read all of Paul Slocum's instructions included with the Music Kit you downloaded and other relevant documents available from his website. You will also want to read through the Mactari website to learn more about the other tools you are using to compile your .bin files. Check the following Essential Links to connect with more information and 2600 developers.

If you know of any other tools for music/sound development on the Atari 2600 that will run on the Macintosh, send me an email at

Good luck!


... and these sites will link you up to even more resources!

Home of the Music Kit:

The Complete 2600 Frequency Guide:

Macintosh-based Atari 2600 Programming:

The Stella Developers' Mailing List:

Massive Atari Resource:

Casio SK-1 Sampling Keyboard modifications: