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.
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.
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.
The PC video gaming market is dying, states a certain common thought expressed by publishers and embraced by users unaware of the real facts. The numbers are actually talking about a view that is completely opposed to the one about the perpetual falling of personal computer as a gaming platform worth of the name, an always-evolving platform that continues to grow in revenue and represents a non-secondary part of the entertainment market overall value - estimated in 57 billion dollars in 2009 according to research firm DFC Intelligence.
What do the (relatively) recent exploit of Nintendo’s Wii console, the iPhone popularity and the videogaming velleities of social networks like Facebook share? They all are facts which have contributed to open the video games market to a broader and broader audience, establishing the principle that casual gaming, that kind of ludic activity which does not force you to know the magic sequence “WASD” or the difference between a hack’n slash and a “pure” role playing game, is a growing phenomenon that will eventually shape the entire industry alongside its traditional technological and commercial models.
MAME is surely one of the most active emulators out there. After more than 10 years since its first release the development work continues at a sustained pace, the coders contributing to the project are so many for they are Legion and almost every week there is an intermediate version (marked by the “u” suffix) before the next main release. Since January 2009, the month in which version 0.129u1 has been distributed with support for two new lasergames, in these days MAME has arrived to release 0.131 that, among the other things, shows some advancements in the emulation of a powerful 3D arcade system.
There’s no doubt about the fact that ElSemi take his time when it’s about updating his Sega Model 2 arcade board emulator, but it’s similarly true that any new Model 2 Emulator update offers such an amount of improvements to give meaning to the time gone-by between a release and another. Seven months after the last revisions, therefore, the talented Spanish coder has in the past days delivered the 0.9 version of his thoroughbred arcade emulator.
Dark clouds await on the horizon of MESS, the all-inclusive emulator of home systems that shares a great part of the MAME base code and that above all embraces its philosophy of great fidelity to the inner workings of the hardware reproduced within the software. According to Haze, one of the eldest mamedevs that has been a long-time coordinator of the development on the Nicola Salmoria’s emulator, “the MAME framework is too fundamentally flawed to actually emulate these things properly“.
The recurring theme of this new round of scattered suggestions is the lie. The lie of politicians, that in the United States have turned the citizens rights in waste paper and then have provided legal safe-conducts for the involved telcos, the lie of tobacco companies used to kill their customers with radiations and the lie of majors which continue to talk about “theft” every time a digital copy of an audio track is shared on P2P.
After nine months of waiting and the recent foray in the meanders of the technologically gifted (but maybe not enough) handhelds, nullDC returns on PC with version 1.0.3 released in these days. The plug-in based emulator that has renewed the glories of the Sega Dreamcast console, offering its most advanced and accurate emulation available by now, is for this time coupled with its arcade counterpart, that is the NAOMI system supposed to be impossible to emulate in the past years and now turned into the nth technological wall knocked down thanks to the work of drk||Raziel & fellows.
He has recently opened one of the most burning debates in the emulation scene and now drkIIRaziel, maker of the awarded Sega Dreamcast emulator nullDC, steps in to establish some steady points for his last adventure, namely the conversion of the above said software originally developed on PC, for the Sony PlayStation Portable console.
The news run fast, newbies begin to become excited and spread the happy tale: Sony PlayStation Portable is able to emulate the Sega Dreamcast! And the credit of this epochal event would go to the author of nullDC, an emulator that can already reproduce, with remarkable fidelity, the Japanese console on Wintel PCs. Obviously reality is very different, pretty unlikely nullDC will emulate Dreamcast on PSP and his author has ragged a great deal of gullible unable to reckon a bit before exalting themselves for nothing.
These aren’t exactly last hour events but, taking into consideration the specific gravity of the mentioned software and the twist that emulation has taken in the last months/years, it seems to me due to report that two of the more advanced and appreciated standalone emulators out there haven’t stopped their race yet to the development and termination of bugs and assorted defects.