Saturday, September 19, 2009
Videogame emulators might be freely coded by generous people in their spare time, but damn, if there isn’t a large quantity of annoying, lacklustre, or half-assed pieces of work out there. And some great ones, too. But few seem to differentiate between them. (oh, and I explain how to get an excellent PC88 emulator working on your PSP).
I woke up this morning intending to give you a guide to getting the PC88 running on your PSP, but instead I’ve decided to take a stand and criticise lazy emulator authorship – because if nobody says anything, nothing will be done. My programming skills are rudimentary, but by using various emulators it’s quite easy to see that a lot of coders putting out shoddy work, and people in turn are lapping it up and praising it.
But first, the PC88 guide:
Anyone who reads HG101 will know about the PC88, that nifty, obscure Japanese home computer. The site covers various games for it, like The Scheme, Popful Mail, and Sorcerian. There’s also some decent emulators for it on PC, and an excellent emulator on PSP. That is QUASI88 0.6.3 (a lot of English sites have 0.6.1, but this isn’t as good since the menu is clunky). Google it and find it.
My trouble with it though was that I couldn’t get it to load, leading me to think the emulator or my PSP wasn’t working correctly. I’d placed the BIOS files in the root directory, and even tried putting them in folders called BIOS and ROMS. But nothing helped. Turned out, the standard BIOS you use for the PC emulators won’t work:
After a lot of Googline through Japanese sites and Wikis, I eventually discovered the cure, I needed to add two “pseudo” BIOS files.
They don’t use NEC’s code, so they’re legal, I believe. Just chuck ‘em in the directory along with the EBOOT, pop this in your GAME folder on the PSP, and away you go. Perhaps you knew this already, but I didn’t and the documentation, even in Japanese, is patchy at best. If there’s enough interest, I’ll do a mini-review round-up of cool PC88 games, since due to the amount available, it’s quite daunting. Quick tip: get Battle Gorilla, it's an amazing cross between Commando and a traditional roguelike.
Anyway, here is my list of annoying-as-hell botch-ups in the emulator world:
Fceugc – NES emulator for the Wii
This one really annoys me. There’s a visual glitch due to there being too many horizontal pixels, which results in a blurred wave-like effect when anything in the background scrolls. Reported HERE.
And the guy’s reply was: “not going to work on this, I personally think it's 'good enough'”
If you’re not going to aim for precise and exact fidelity, then why bother with anything? Why bother adding sound? Or pad support? Or even coding an emulator. Sadly this seems to be the only NES emulator on the system. Well, no thanks, I think I’ll stick to injecting games into custom WADs. The wave effect renders games unplayable, like someone is squiring lemon juice in my eyes.
This used to be an excellent NES emulator for the Dreamcast, up until... Was it V3 or V4? Well, at some point it changed authors, and from around V5 onwards the emulator’s visual output changed to include a mandatory, and non-switch-offable anti-aliasing filter. Why? It looked fine before. It had the correct aspect ratio for NES games. Things were sharp, and clear, and there was some excellent V-syncing going on which meant no screen tearing. The change in authors destroyed that emulator. Frankly I don’t understand why anyone uses filters. It ruins the beauty of pixel graphics and makes things look blurry. Like I’d rubbed Vaseline all over my TV. If you want to include these damned annoyances, fine, but let me switch them off. I never found a way to switch it off in NESter DC, so I threw away the discs and reburned an older version. I’ve never bothered going back to see if they’d corrected their mistake.
I have a slight problem with the Xbox emulator scene. Xport is a great guy, and his work is excellent, I have absolutely no complaints. But it annoys me that the Xbox emulator scene always pussyfoots around distributing the emulators. Because it uses the XDK? Because they’re frightened of the legal implications? Hellooo. You’re using them to run illegally distributed ROMs. ROM sites don’t get shut-down, so why are the emulators so difficult to find? Using the FTPs is annoying. Look, I’m not even going to bother trying to explain this, Reverend Stuart Campbell has them all on his website, no fuss, no fear. They’re out of date, but if he can do it, so can you.
I love Dreamcast emulators because, except when the author puts an unnecessary filter on them, they tend to produce a better picture over RGB SCART than Xbox emulators. What I don’t like is the incredible, infuriating timidness those in control have, which is worse than in the Xbox scene. From what I remember, due to fear of legality or some weird, bent moral code, no one wanted to use Sega’s Katana development tools. As a result, when I was there, everything progressed slowly and most things were crippled. They seriously needed to drop this warped mentality, grow some courage, and just run with what they had. I don’t know if it improved, since I jumped ship to the faster and more powerful Xbox.
I was also banned three times from the DC emu forum for trying to discuss the hacked Sega Smash Pack. But let me put this into context: it was the only working Sega Genesis emulator on the system. Homebrew attempts were dreadful would not function, and Sega's hacked emulator was almost perfect - with the exception of some sound issues. It was the best there was.
Anyway, I’d been given a disc with the emulator, except it had an awful blur filter on it, which I was trying to work out how to switch off. Banned, three times. First rule of DC Emulation, we don’t talk about SegaGen. Second rule of DC Emulation, WE DON’T TALK ABOUT SEGAGEN. Well, I eventually went to the French DC emulation community, and they were like: Viens dans mes amis et boire du vin français et faire l'amour avec de belles femmes françaises et que vous voulez le Sega Smash Pack, pas de problème mon ami, prends tout ce que vous voulez nous n'avons pas peur de rien. Nous sommes courageux. Nous sommes français et de vivre avec brio, Vive la France!
Anyway, they gave me a different hacked Smash Pack, with different GUI and graphics filter so it was pixel perfect and sharp as a knife (it could have been the Obsidian version? – I don't recall). I don’t know how or why it was different from the other hacked version doing the rounds on English forums, which I'd originally had, but god, was it good. I finished a lot of Genesis RPGs using that emulator! Oh, and it was actually available, unlike in the English-speaking DC community. Follow the French, I say.
Turbo Duo emulation
This, on a PC, generally sucks. Or at least it did before I jumped ship to the Xbox. Maybe it's improved. For a start the emulator hailed as the best for several years, Magic Engine, the author requires purchasing of the emulator for full use, which I object to for numerous reasons. So I cracked it. Charging for a program which allows you to freely and illegally play games is hypocritical, and goes against the spirit of the emulation scene. Plus other authors do it for free. I say boycott Magic Engine. Then there’s the fact that it won’t load ISOs or any kind of CD rip (perhaps newer version do). My CD drive broke, so I bought an external USB one, and then it wouldn’t recognise that, thereby leaving me unable to load any CD games. Other emulators thankfully came out, but these were either in Japanese, required mounting via virtual drive (a messy business), or required exact rips with correct audio track lengths and an annoying text file listing the order of tracks and when they start and stop. Why? Sega CD emulators don’t need TOC files or virtual drives for CD rips, just load and go. Those things will run anything. I just want to click on an ISO or a BIN and have it work without question. Eventually I gave up on emulating the Turbo Duo on my PC, having gone through several emus, and switched to the latest Xbox emulator (I think it was MednafenX-PCE - it has the Bonk's Adventure skin/theme with it). Regardless of the format or the quality of the rip, it loads stuff, and every conceivable TOC was included, saving lazy people like me the hassle. Hell, it loaded everything. I hear Hu-Go on the PC is very good, but I can’t face returning to the world of emulating the Duo on a PC. Turbo Duo emulator authors needs to start focusing on ergonomics and ease of use – virtual drives? TOC files? What the hell. Just make it work.
Posted by Sketcz at 4:18 AM