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.
Two years after the arrival of the eighth generation of home gaming consoles, the market situation and the endless speculations allow us to identify some firm points next to many uncertainties: Sony PlayStation 4 is still enjoying a seemingly unapproachable success, while Microsoft is trying to come out of its beaten-up boxer corner by playing the card of exclusive features - which in the end aren’t so exclusive, or at least not quite so. The uncertainties? They mostly apply to Nintendo, a company with an outlook that never seemed so frail.
Good news are coming for ResidualVM and PCSX2, two virtual machines that in the near future should improve considerably (in the PCSX2 case) and add support for new games beyond the software’s original mission (ResidualVM). Both cases are a useful reminder for the fact that, unlike someone’s opinion, emulation is a world that doesn’t stop moving forward and it’s far from having reached saturation as for ideas, techniques and new old things to replicate on modern PCs.
DICE is a small emulator dedicated to recreating on a modern computer the arcade games based on discrete circuits, ancient and bizarre entertainment machines where the electronic components required for the game experience were soldered individually on the circuit board and where there was no trace of a CPU. It’s an obscure and fascinating kind of emulation, the one served by DICE, and the offering of emulated games grows richer and richer with every new version of the software.
A year and half after its first major release, in the last days PCSX2 got updates again with the release of two new versions in a short timeframe: the only existing (open source) emulator capable of replicating in software the complex hardware of Sony’s PlayStation 2 console reached release 1.2.0 at the beginning of February, followed the day after by release 1.2.1 aimed at correcting some last-hour bugs. PCSX2 is now able to run 2130 games in playable state, a remarkable result considering the about 3900 games making up the total PS2 titles library.
The new year started with the release of updated versions for two “small” 3D emulators, projects essentially managed in a personal way by developers used to take all the time that’s needed - and often more so - to cook the code and publish the resulting executable builds. And as for procrastination no one is better than ElSemi, a long-time mamedev that doesn’t fear reverse engineering on complex platforms the likes of Capcom’s CPS3 and Sega’s Model 2.
The seventh generation of home consoles is about to reach the last stage of its commercial life, a new console war looms on the horizon and the emulation scene delivers the nth project with an “impossible” objective, ie a software replica of the powerful hardware components of the Sony PlayStation 3. The new emulator is called RPCS3, the development team has great ambitions but right now the software isn’t more of a multi-window shell with little to show on the screen.
Born from the ashes of the deceased FreeDO project, 4DO is an emulator of the historical 3DO console released under an open source license. 4DO aim is to improve on the already remarkable accuracy level of the FreeDO main core by adding new features, bringing bugfixes and making the software compatible with more games from the actually-not-so-large library of titles published for the 3DO.
Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies and their noxious inclination to spoil the day for PC gamers are steadily at the focus of the gaming debate, and almost everyone takes for granted the fact that it’s a contemporary issue not concerning games of the past at all. Nothing more wrong: maybe some years ago (or many years ago) they were more trivially called “copy protection”, but DRM restrictions continue to do harm even among people that engage in the noble art of retrogaming or are interested to digital contents preservation.
What follows is a report for a long series of news occurred in the emulation world during the last period, and by “last period” I mean the latest months before the beginning of the new year at least. For this reason, in some cases I can’t exactly talk about “news”, but it felt right to me to emphasize them considering that these are already established advancements that will be the foundations on which to build the future ones. After all emulation is an ever-evolving world, and I want to start over to tell its progressing without losing too much important things along the way
NullDC, the Dreamcast emulator released with an open source license by its author after years of inactivity, remains a noteworthy example of what kind of results the community devoted to emulating the newest gaming machines can achieve. Although there is wide room for optimization and the implementation of still-lacking features, nullDC is a powerful engine which renders with ease - granted it run on a suitable hardware - several instances of the Sega console at the same time on a single PC.
Followers of the VOGONS board and DOSBox official forum are already aware of this: one of the forthcoming versions of the best PC-with-DOS emulator out there should include a very important architectural novelty, ie the software implementation of the historical Voodoo Graphics chipset created by 3dfx Interactive in the Nineties. “Kekko”, the programmer working on the project with the aid of the DOSBox crew and the coding-capable VOGONS users, says that his aim is the complete and faithful emulation of SST-1, the first Voodoo chipset marketed in 1996 inside the first 3D graphics accelerated cards on the PC.
During the past few days two important facts happened in the emulation world: DOSBox, the virtual machine that accurately replicates the PC world obsolete hardware has been updated with a new version release, while the Dreamcast emulator nullDC has found itself at a crossroad in its erratic history. Both cases concern software that are almost unique in their kind, and both the news are worth being told for the practical effects they have on the many fans using them.
UPDATE: After a few months the CPU upgrade turned to be a remarkable failure. I advise anyone against this kind of practice and I invite you to read the post regarding my useless troubleshooting efforts.
I purchased my latest computer in absolute emergency conditions, and except for an annoying, sound-related issue when I extensively use the network (a fact for which I would be inclined to blame and damn Vista SP1) I’m satisfied with it until now. But being obliged to spend a limited budget obviously didn’t hinder me to upgrade the system main component, the CPU, overlapping to satisfaction the pleasure of having a fairly recent setup to let me use it in scenarios that are a little less retrograde than the ones I’m usually accustomed to.
I had already talked about Dolphin’s remarkable qualities in a previous post, being it the only emulator currently capable of replicating a Nintendo Wii console on PC and running some commercial games. Another, impressive confirmation of the emulator capabilities comes from this YouTube video (via Joystick Division), that in a single shot shows off what the recently added Full HD video clips viewing (1080p, or 1920×1080 pixels) is really useful for while it demonstrates the growing Dolphin compatibility with the latest games published for the Nintendo console.
This news would have come out a bit earlier if I hadn’t have to deal with some other stuff, nevertheless the subject is interesting and deserves to be reported anyway: MESS, MAME twin emulator which embraces its philosophy of completeness and accuracy shifting the focus from the arcades to the home machines hardware, has recently added support for Philips CD-i, ie what almost certainly is the worst videogame “console” ever appeared in the not-so-young history of the medium.
As the yet partial success obtained by PCSX2 with PlayStation 2 emulation demonstrates, adequately recreating the last generations videogaming machines on a PC screen - it doesn’t matter how much powerful and advanced equipped CPUs and GPUs are - isn’t an easy task. For this reason the results recently achieved by GameCube and Wii emulator Dolphin are exceptional to say the least and let foresee a bright future for the Nintendo machines emulation “scene”.
After the release of DOSBox version 0.73, I was asking myself why the emulation status page wasn’t updated yet and kept reporting the own features of version 0.72. Actually mine was a rhetoric question because I knew that sooner or later, as already happened in the past, the page would have been updated with the current status of the several subsystems of retrogamers PC/DOS preferred emulator.
On the occasion of SourceForge.net’s project of the month award granted to DOSBox, I asked the crew behind the best PC/DOS emulator out there to reply to some questions about the project. The developers were busy with the last works on the new version of the emulator, thus the interview was changed to include some DOSBox 0.73 related features and finally in the past days the crew was kind enough to send me back the replies I was seeking for. There is no Big Scoop (tm) here nor I was asking for one, but I hope the conversation is an interesting reading anyway.
Even though the last works on the code have been slowed down by some last hour bugs, around the end of May the DOSBox developers have kept their word by releasing the new version of the best PC/DOS emulator out there. After almost two years since the previous official main release, DOSBox 0.73 comes to improve the already remarkable compatibility level of PC retrogamers’ preferred virtual machine and introduces a lot of new stuff in practically every aspect of the emulation.