Heyyyyyy, it’s emulation time! At this moment I’m writing Read Only Memo on the shinkansen, en route from Kyoto to Tokyo; my first time in Japan since 2019. I’m excited to be spending some of my vacation sighing in deep contentedness while watching cherry blossoms flutter in the breeze, and the rest of it hitting up retro shops for future emulation candidates. Yesterday I picked up a copy of Boku no Natsuyasumi 2 in anticipation of Hilltop Works’ fan translation (for more, see ROM #1!).
There’s been quite a flurry of emulation news in the last two weeks. Initially I was worried about tracking down the Big Two while traveling, but uh, I ended up having more trouble deciding what to feature! A blessed problem. For example: one that didn’t make the cut is Project EGG coming to the Switch. EGG sells licensed emulated re-releases of Japanese PC games from platforms like the MSX and PC-98, dating back to Nintendo’s Virtual Console. Cool to see these games remain available digitally on modern systems.
Thanks to everyone who’s already subscribed to ROM — the interest so far has been invigorating, especially since I’ve only spread the word via Twitter, mid-death spiral. If you like it, tell your friends!
Please do not tell your enemies; I don’t need that kinda heat.
The Big Two
1. Dolphin goes full Steam ahead
The open source GameCube/Wii emulator choo-choo-chooses Steam — which is not quite an unprecedented move for an emulator, but a really exciting one nevertheless. Emulator frontend RetroArch is on Steam, as is 3dSen, which pulls a neat 3D-ifying trick on NES games. But Dolphin’s release on Steam is likely going to be a lightning rod for conversations around emulator legality, Nintendo’s litigious zeal and open source software. This is exciting: it’s an educational opportunity for a big-name emulator to test Valve’s laissez-fair attitude and show millions of PC gamers that the software itself is legal.
A few more details:
- Dolphin has a Steam store page now
- It’s set to release fairly soon, sometime between April - June
- Dolphin currently doesn’t have a controller-friendly UI, but one is planned
- Dolphin is distributed under an open source GPLv2+ license (tl;dr via the Dolphin blog, this means “you may use Dolphin and its source code for any purpose, but distributing Dolphin requires that the source code be released and attribution given”)
Nintendo, or anyone, can peer into Dolphin’s code to ensure it contains nothing proprietary (the Steam store page also notably doesn’t use copyrighted images from any released games).
I asked longtime Dolphin developer Pierre “delroth” Bourdon to give me a little background on how this Steam release came to be. Here’s Pierre:
Dolphin on Steam is both a small thing and a big thing for the project, depending on how you look at it.
It's a small thing because essentially it's just our existing Windows, macOS and Linux versions repackaged for a different app store. We haven't launched any Steam specific features - we get Steam Cloud integration for free but that's it.
… But it's a big thing because it's the starting point for something bigger. We do intend to have some kind of Big Picture UI that can be used with controllers in the future, and usability with Steam is a major reason why. We do intend to support Steam's controller support to address one of the biggest hurdles to using Dolphin (configuring controller mappings). All these ideas have been revitalized now that we're launching on Steam and we know we'll have a large audience of users who will appreciate them. And as new Steam features appear we'll definitely evaluate which ones make sense for Dolphin.
Finally, it's also the first time we shine a light on the administrative side of the project. I'm a bit biased here because I've been dealing closely with these aspects. You'll notice Dolphin is published on Steam by the Stichting Dolphin Emulator, our nonprofit foundation registered in The Netherlands. This is something we established a few years ago to have a legal entity to assist the project when needed -- managing money and things that need a single point of control like infrastructure, domain names, etc. We don't really talk about it much, not because it's a secret, but mostly because it's a boring implementation detail. Still it feels good to have all this time doing paperwork be useful to the project!
I’ll be talking to Dolphin’s developers more about the behind-the-scenes dev process, and digging into the discussions around piracy and all that, when the Steam release drops in the near future. 🐬
2. Super Nintendo, now with Turbo button
As highlighted by GBATemp last week, game hacker kandowontu has assembled one hell of an impressive collection of Fastrom hacks for SNES games. What’s FastROM? The short version is that depending on the quality of the ROM chips in SNES carts, the CPU could run in fast (3.58 MHz) or slow (2.68 MHz) mode. More Hz, more hurts ($$). Today, modders like kandowontu and Vitor Vilela convert SlowROM games to run in FastROM, improving performance and responsiveness etc.
Check out this list of almost 100 games that kandowontu has FastROMified so far. More are being added literally daily. Some have even been verified to work on Canoe, the emulator Nintendo designed for the SNES Mini. A few games I’ll call out:
- Pocky & Rocky
- Mega Man X2
- Super R-Type
Macintosh.js hits version 1.2.0 - I love a niche emulator. How about one that specifically emulates a 1991 Macintosh Quadra 900 running Mac OS 8? 1.2.0 is a performance/stability update. Sexy? No. But it can run The Oregon Trail real good.
Game-specific PCSX2 fixes - PCSX2 devs have logged a few fixes for bugs that amused me. Specifically:
Fixed lens flare in MGS3: Snake Eater
Fixed busted background in Ratchet & Clank 1/2
Helped alleviate some issues in Shrek 2 - This one amused me so I reached out to contributor JordanTheToaster about it. Ready for some details?
“For Shrek 2 they use mipmapping for some effects like light shafts and foliage rendering and before I made a change to use fully generated mipmaps by PCSX2 it had issues with odd colour distortions and plants being shaded incorrectly,” JordanTheToaster explains. “My changes made it so plants render correctly and only draw in at a close distance as it did on PS2.”
Unfortunately light shafts are still broken in hardware emulation, but perhaps this high degree of scrutiny on classic, universally beloved videogame Shrek 2 will spur PCSX2's finest into action.
I’m still kinda figuring out if I should devote this section exclusively to FPGA & MiSTer core developments. But maybe this is a good fit too:
Gamshara hits MAME - MAME developers have gotten Namco System 10 emulation working, apparently quite a tough one to crack. Here’s MAME dev Haze talking about it. It’ll be out next month.
Of particular interest to some people here is that System 10 was used for Gamshara, the sequel to Cabal. I’d never heard of Gamshara, but I’ve seen a few people psyched on ResetEra and elsewhere that this rarity’s going to be playable via emulation, as PCBs are damn hard to come by.
MiSTer M92 goes alpha - Programmer Martin Donlon released a core for the Irem 92, though with some work remaining to do on sound and compatibility. Do we all need to play the Hook beat-em-up again? Nah. Do we need to play Ninja Baseball Batman? I think yes.
My heart goes doki doki - Tokimeki Memorial 2 is coming! I swear to practice responsible emoji usage, but this one’s truly worthy of a 🤯. Translator Tom, who’s contributed to dozens of fan translation projects over the years, is tackling the PS1 dating sim a year or so after translating the SNES version of the original game. (You may know Tom’s work from the team that tackled the Ganbare Goemon series a few years back). Back to teenage romance, though: Here’s Tim Rogers’ video review of the original, which is a great watch if you don’t know why Tokimemo is both a great game and a deeply influential one.
I didn’t think we could see a bigger deal in the fan translation scene than Boku no Natsuyasumi 2, but here we are just a couple weeks later with another whopper. Don’t expect to see this one soon, though; it’s a big game.
A Tom twofer - Should we just make this the Tom section this week? Pretty much. At the same time he announced Tokimemo 2, Tom tweeted that he’s already completed a translation of a Super Famicom survival horror game called Otogirisō, which I have just learned got a sequel in 2016, 24 years later… and that sequel was also a crossover with Danganronpa? Wild.
You can finally play Final Fantasy in English - Wait, what? Well, if you refused to play any version of Final Fantasy 1 except the MSX2 port, your day has finally come. It’s been in the works for awhile, as you can see from this video posted last year.
The Sword of Kumdor - More!? Good lord the fan translation scene is on fire right now. Here’s a cool-lookin’ PC-98 game that’s kinda-sorta a Mavis Beacon RPG? Hit the link for a really interesting breakdown of the localization process (including considerations for game balance when translating a spell word into more or fewer letters!) and more.
- Trying to get that perfect CRT glow via the MiSTer. Warm fuzzies.
Xenosaga is probably too ungainly to ever get a full trilogy remaster, but a year-in-the-works upscale project is now available and mostly finished.