Three monthly highlights from the emulation world
Rather than taking a vacation from writing code and reverse engineering the chips inside old gaming machines, emulator developers use the hottest period of the year to release updates for some of most significant projects in the modern emulation scene. During the last three months new versions of ScummVM and Dolphin arrived, while a project seemingly started to absorb all the emulators in the world presents an important innovation regarding one of the most beloved consoles from Nintendo.
ScummVM’s update is the emulation highlight chosen by Sir Arthur for the month of May: release 1.8.1 of the old graphic adventure fans’ preferred virtual machine comes shortly after the previous version 1.8.0, bringing a significant improvement to the Android port, adding support for Nintendo 3DS handheld console, improvements for Windows and OS X versions and fixing bugs within the game engines of Drascula, Legend of Kyrandia, Labyrinth of Time, localized versions of I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, Broken Sword 2.5.
If ScummVM 1.8.1 is an admittedly minor update for the adventurers’ VM, Dolphin 5.0 is presented as a major release with an excessive amount of new stuff to say the least: the latest version of the open source emulator capable of running most of the games for GameCube and Wii on PC with better graphics than the original includes 10,000 code commits spanning crash fixes, compatibility, new features and much more. Dolphin 5.0 was released on June and is more compatible and efficient than it ever was, the developers say, emulating the hardware components of the two Nintendo consoles with a higher accuracy degree.
A higher emulation accuracy doesn’t mean reduced performances, because the countless optimizations in graphics management and source code cleaning contributed to the release of what the coders describe as the fastest Dolphin version ever. Dolphin 5.0 makes use of all the possible hardware extensions (on CPU and GPU) to increase emulation performance, even though the price to pay for the goodies is an updated list of minimum hardware requirements including a 64-bit CPU and operating system (from Windows 7 onward), a GPU compatible with Direct3D 10/OpenGL 3 and 2 Gigabytes of RAM at least.
The last news coming from the advanced emulation scene is from this month of July, a porting project managed by the developers of Libretro and committed to low level emulation of Nintendo 64 graphics hardware. Libretro is an API written in C, mostly used to make gaming engines and emulators in the form of multi-platform “cores” to be managed by a frontend like RetroArch; sort of a “Borg of emulation” which is rapidly growing in popularity by assimilating a great number of console emulators previously available only as stand-alone projects.
The new N64 emulator in Libretro format is hence named paraLLEl, and is described as the first, revolutionary implementation of an emulation engine capable of exploiting the features of the Vulkan graphics libraries: paraLLEl reimplements in hardware the Angrylion plug-in, ie the most accurate software replica of the Reality Display Processor (RDP) in the fifth generation Nintendo machine, and in the long run it will fix all the broken stuff that have thus far prevented an accurate emulation of the console at full speed.
With paraLLEl the Angrylion routines for RDP low level emulation (LLE) are managed entirely by the GPU, the emulation accuracy is considerably higher and it doesn’t require specific hacks for every game while the bugs that are still delaying the revival of the N64 on modern computing platforms should soon become just a bad memory of the past. A first “pre-alpha” version of the emulation core is already available with the new versions of Libretro and RetroArch, and in the future paraLLEl should become the state of the art in Nintendo 64 emulation for the entire Libretro project and beyond.