el_pollo_diablo's EG Emulation Group for MOAR.|
Big subject this, but I'm not one to shy away from anything much, so armed with balls of steel and a tentative grip on the English language I bring you another in my series of shonky guides for beginners.
Emulation for the PC in 3 easy steps *
The PC is easily the best piece of kit for emulation, through sheer number crunching brute force and a dash of slick coding it can disguise itself as anything from a teeny weeny Pokemon Mini to the slightly less diminutive Xbox. the Emulation scene is vast, with everything imaginable and more on offer. Obviously this is me that's writing this, and I can't be arsed to create myself more work than I have to, so I'll just cover the basics and try and show you some of the odder sights along the way. Okay? Okay.
Before I lead you by the hand through the finer points of playing games you haven't paid for, I'll slap a disclaimer in to appease Lutz: Emulators are perfectly legal piece of software, it's the games you'll be playing on them that aren't so I'll avoid all reference to the thousands of ROM and bittorrent sites that pepper the net and yap about the ways to play instead. They're all out there with a mere tinkle of google after all.
Emulators come in various types, the simplest of which is an executable file and a rom directory, put a rom in the directory, select it in the exe and play. No problem. Where it begins to get complicated is for the more recent systems such as the PSone or the N64. You'll find you have plugins which cover everything from controllers, graphics, sounds, image mounters, etc. I'll try to cover each of these as I cover the emulator in question. Suffice it to say, it's normally down to a little effort tweaking different options for 10 minutes and once it's done, you needn't bother messing about with it anymore. Emulators that use plugins are not really the best solution, they bottleneck the emulation process where a complete program should ideally run games as they were intended.
Another big boon to accurate emulation is the speed of your computers processor. Take into account that console X should run at speed Y, you'd need to have a computer at least triple the speed of the consoles to get close. With more recent consoles, this poses an obvious problem that only time will solve.
Another necessary evil are bios. As with your PC, your console needs a basic operating instruction to start loading a game. These bios aren't normally included when you download an emulator, so need to be leeched from the original hardware. Some scallywags are said to have put them up on the net though. Disgusting.
Only one way to start this, really. The daddy of all emulators, it's practically a household name up there with the likes of Hoover and Sellotape. MAME, Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator, started life 10 years ago when a young programmer named Nicola Salmoria began working on single hardware emulators. Eventually merging them together to create what has to be the best emulator of all time.
Now with a vast team of coders, MAME boasts support for 6147 games spanning dozens of arcade systems, has up to 5 incremental updates per month and comes in more shapes, flavours and forms than any other emulator. Admittedly not all of those games are supported, but it's only a scant matter of time and the list grows with each of those frequent updates. At this time, the official version stands at 0.105b.
Of course, the best version is the original, but for those of you not so comfortable piddling about with command line operation, there's always MAME Plus! which is updated just as frequently (although usually a week behind) and has all the usual options available with a click of a mouse.
Some of the games such as the require a BIOS to successfully emulate hardware such as ST-V and NeoGeo, they can all be found here should you need them.
The most loved set of consoles have a big following on the emulation circuit and unsurprisingly are some of the best emulated around. They are many and varied, but I'm not about to start from the bottom up, I'll just give you the ones that are essential instead.
Only two spring instantly to mind, ZSNES and Snes9X. I'm not a big fan of ZSNES, although it's the most compatible of the two, I find the 16 bit interface about as fun to use as a tax form. Snes9X's windows gui is far easier on the eye and does a perfectly good job as long as you don't mind missing out on some of the more obscure PD tech demos and betas. Also some of the funkier graphical effects with ZSNES such as Super Eagle aren't available on 9X, but being a purist i don't miss them. You on the other hand should give it a whirl.
The best of the pack is Visual Boy Advance. Much like Snes9X it has a simple to use windows gui and plays everything you throw at it.
For many the holey grail of emulation. In it's short life, the N64 had some of the greatest games ever ever. Ever.
You'll be happy to know that they've pretty much nailed it with two emulators, Project64 and 1964. The bad news being, these both use those plugins I mentioned earlier. The good news is I'm going to tell which are the best plugins to use, and since they both share the same code structure, you can use the same plugin setup for both of them. Yay. But not right at this second, I'll finish the rest of this guide and have a break first.
There are several of these knocking about at the moment, the best one being Dolphin. There's actually less of a point to this one than the others, but interesting regardless. It's more of a curio than a playable emulator, but it does work and you can play games if you really want. Just don't expect to get to the end of a level in your lifetime. It's slooooow. Couple that drawback with the fact that you can't play GC disks with your PC's CD/DVD drive and it looks like a loser from the start. However, it's a start and usable GCM files are knocking about to combat the disk problem.
I fully expect this to be a fully usable emulator within a year, they just need to speed up the 3D rendering.
CD image note
From here on, a lot of the emulators require disk images, these aren't hard to find, but they come in all shapes and sizes, the best and most compatible way of mounting an image in whatever flavour it comes in is Daemon Tools 3.47 (look down the page for the right version). It's a piece of cake to configure.
Like the N64, this has a well maintained emulation following, some of you might remember the now defunkt Bleem! which used to be commercially available until Sony stopped them in their tracks for trying to earn money by using their bios (Scph1001.bin and scph7502.bin) and possibly damaging the sales of the PSone. As if.
The seminal ePSXe which is way better than Bleem! for speed and compatibility. You'll need to mess about with the plugins, but there's not much faffing about to do, and once you've got it, you've got it.
Another forum favourite is PSX which is currently at version 1.9. It doesn't use plugins, so technically is a little faster. However, most recent computers can handle the higher specs of ePSXe, which gives better control over graphical options and so forth. The most recent versions combat copy protection problems that were encountered in some games which weren't previously unemulatable in any other form than disk images.
Like the GC emulator, this is a mixed bag. The best one, however is PCSX2, which while not being able to emulate all that many games (around 80 to varying degrees and counting) beyond the menus, some 25 or so are said to be playable. I've personally had mixed success with this one. The difficulty comes from different regions not appearing to be emaultable in the same way, so while a US version of Burnout 2 ticks along at 20 or so frames, the Pal version won't even boot. Exciting stuff and worth watching for. The complete set of bios roms (PS2 Bios 30004R V6 Pal.bin, PS2 Bios 30004R, V6 Pal.MEC, PS2 Bios 30004R V6 Pal.NVM, rom1.bin, scph10000.bin, scph10000.NVM, scph39001.bin, scph39001.MEC, scph39001.NVM, SCPH-70004_BIOS_V12_PAL_200.BIN, SCPH-70004_BIOS_V12_PAL_200.EROM, SCPH-70004_BIOS_V12_PAL_200.NVM, SCPH-70004_BIOS_V12_PAL_200.ROM1, SCPH-70004_BIOS_V12_PAL_200.ROM2) might be a little difficult to come by, mind.
Much talk on the forum about MDs recently, and like the SNES, it boasts a couple of spot on emulators - Gens and Fushion. Gens is very much like Snes9X in style and excecution, but Fushion stands above it for the fact that it also emulates almost every other piece of Sega hardware, from the Game gear to the 32X. The only things it doesn't emulate is the Saturn, Dreamcast and some obscure arcade hardware, but it's not a problem, because for those we have...
Bit of a heated war raging over this one. For years people tried and failed to create a working Saturn emulator with varying degrees of success until from out of nowhere came Giri Giri (meaning "just in time"), which was created by Japanese programmer Shinya Miyamoto with the help of Sega for their planned download delivery service. The service was soon scrapped and copies of the canned Giri Giri leaked onto the internet to be pulled apart by coders and crackers from everywhere.
The first of the backward engineered emulators was SSF. I can't comment on this one personally, I'm not too tip top at hacking my way through Japanese error messages and have never got this one to work.
The second is Cassini which is considered by most to be a complete rip off of Giri Giri, not even bothering to change the file icons. In fact the only difference I can see between the two is a few filename changes and the "programmers" responsible have been ripped appart from every angle. Their forum is still awash with fans of the original Giri Giri trolling about, looking for a fight. Anyway, the war wages on. I've actually found the easiest version of Cassini to use isn't the one on the site (which is frankly complete shit), but the Lite version.
Essential if you ask me, not least for it's Naomi arcade hardware ports such as Ikaruga and other stuff like REZ. Chankast is about the best one at the moment, sadly the project has been on "hold" for about 18 months (dead as a coffin nail to you and I), but it's very playable if you've got the power to throw at it. You'll need to sap the dc_bios.bin off your DC and pop it in the dir before you can play. Chankast EX is better than the original as it has various fixes for popular games such as Ikaruga and SFIII
Demul is the most recent and is currently back in development and available to the public right now. It's a little shakey and the framerate isn't as good as Chankast's, but considering the Russian programmers responsible for it are slaving away as I type this to unleash ever brighter versions into the frey, we can hope to expect some great things. \o/
NullDC is a new emulator which has questionable parentage, but appears to be almost fully functional and is set to be a Chankast killer IF it gets released. So far there's been a lot of hype and speculation but the community remains quietly contemplative about it since it's forefather, Icarus didn't deliver in any way.
As much as I'd like to, I'll refrain from going sub-16bit into the gritty, monochrome underworld of ogres, goblins and Blerk. However, I couldn't resist giving this one a mention for it's sheer audacity.
Of all the ridiculously ambitious projects I've ever head of, MESS has to be the maddest. So far it emulates 427 home computers and consoles, and counting. All of the 80's classics from the Speccy to the Amiga right up to some recent platforms I've listed above all the way across the board to pieces of hardware so obscure even their creators don't know about them: WAVY PHC-35J, CF-2700, Fellow, Microbee 56, Jupiter Ace, Sord and Mato are all in here, each one bringing a lump to the throats of perhaps as many as six or seven people.
One day they'll probably have an emulator to emulate a user playing an emulation of a emulator emulating everything from the start of this sentence. Mind boggling stuff, MESS for the absolute win.
Edit: Nearly forgot!
* Not actually 3 easy steps, more like 9.
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