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The MiSTer challenges the 64-bit barrier, Nintendo and Xbox give emulators the 🖕
They said it couldn't be done. It's being done anyway.
Greetings from Hyrule, emulation warriors. I’ve been deep in the rupee grass on researching and talking to folks in the Breath of the Wild mod scene this past week — I’ll have a couple PC Gamer articles coming soon as Tears of the Kingdom closes in. I’ve also written a couple already: first about the very cool Breath of the Wild multiplayer mod available to play via Cemu… and then about how that mod was taken down after Nintendo issues copyright strikes against the YouTuber who helped fund and develop it.
This bit from YouTuber PointCrow’s video response really stuck out to me:
The thing is, without even considering fair use, all of these videos are very clearly in line with Nintendo's own game content guidelines for online video and image sharing platforms… What they've demonstrated here is that they will ignore their own policies and licenses to selectively enforce their intellectual property. So if you've uploaded any video that features any Nintendo content, no matter how transformative or directly in line with their published guidelines, you are at risk.
If you’re reading this newsletter you are almost certainly not shocked that Nintendo is anti-emulation and anti-modding. It is especially disheartening, though, to see the company vindictively copyright strike videos from people who spend years playing their games. They use emulation as a means to keep those games interesting for themselves and millions of viewers! These strikes are not just saying “you can’t do that” — it’s a real “taking my ball and going home” move to start claiming non-emulated videos too.
Nintendo can’t really stop modders or emulator developers from spending their time making awesome stuff, but if someone’s livelihood depends on making videos about them, the Big N’s going to make their life miserable eventually.
Moving on — we’ve got a similarly disappointing move from Microsoft this week as one of our Big Two stories, and a much, much more exciting bit of news out the MiSTer community. Lots of cool MiSTer stuff going on right now, actually. The Irem M92 core from last issue has been rolled into the official project, but you’ll have to scroll down for all the new stuff.
One more quick hit before we get to it: someone created a romhack of Goof Troop called Le Goof Troop and it is not, as I first assumed, just a French translation. It’s a freaking sequel! Unofficial Goof Troop expansion. I love Goof Troop. Good cartoon, good movie, bona fide classic SNES puzzle game. Gawrsh, did Shinji Mikami already know what he was doing back in ‘93 or what.
The Big Two
1. MiSTer Sixty Fooooooouuuurrrrr!?!?!?
How powerful is the Nintendo 64? So powerful that this news smashed its way into the Twitter trending algorithm with a single tweet. MiSTer core developer Robert Peip (FPGAzumSpass) has a dizzying number of cores to his name — he most recently brought the PlayStation to the MiSTer, improving it over the course of 2022. I didn’t keep close track of it, but I remember it going from “runs games but there’s no audio yet” to fully operational pretty damn fast. Now Peip is going for the
final frontier undiscovered country of MiSTer development: the N64.
But wait… didn’t they say it couldn’t be done? The DE10-Nano isn’t powerful enough for the N64’s CPU, is it? So goes the conventional wisdom… so I asked Peip to share his wisdom, instead. His take:
“The N64 CPU is quite advanced for 5th gen, running at 93.75Mhz. This will likely not be possible on the DE10-Nano. However, I have some ideas to work around that issue. Also people often think the memory is an issue, but fortunately we have more than enough bandwidth with the DDR3 to replicate the RDRAM of the N64.
After posting a video of Mario Kart 64 running in his fledgling emulator, Peip clarified that what he’s programming right now is not a MiSTer core. It’s more like a functional white paper that will pave the way for an eventual core. Peip told me he’s used this approach for all of his cores, lowering the risk that he runs into a major snag while writing a MiSTer core. “These emulators are not like the usual emulators you use to play games. They are very slow, as they are more written like hardware where every component is running pseudoparallel in every clock cycle.”
So we’re still quite a way off from a playable MiSTer core. But how optimistic should we be? Pretty optimistic. Robert again:
At the current state this is very hard to say, but there is a good chance that this will be working for a large number of games. The only real data point I have is the PSX core, where I made a special version that runs the CPU at 66 Mhz, still with air to go higher. As the N64 is using the same CPU architecture (MIPS), this is very promising and the main reason I even started working on the N64.
Currently about 50% of the games don't boot up at all and 90% have heavy graphical glitches. Typically I aim for about 80% games working somewhat fine in the emulator before I start with the FPGA core. When starting with the FPGA core, I will go the same path I went with the emulator: First get some basic homebrew running, then work my way forward touching more and more subcomponents of the system until eventually the first game will boot. I'm not the one to verify each component and put them together later on, instead I work on the parts that currently prevent progress, like finding a path through a jungle. This helps me getting the first visible result fast, which in return greatly improves the motivation.
May your machete be ever sharp, Robert. Support his Patreon, if you want to follow the N64 core’s progress.
2. Microsoft boots emulators off the Xbox (with an asterisk)
Bummertown, population: Xbox owners. One of the surprising perks of Microsoft’s new consoles was the ability to essentially run Windows apps on them. Back at launch in late 2020, ModernVintageGamer made a video about running RetroArch on the Series S, calling it an emulation beast. At the time installing an emulator required running the console in developer mode, which is freely available, but won’t let you run retail software without rebooting into the ol’ standard pleb mode. But then folks found a clever workaround: you could put up a “private” app listing of an emulator in the Microsoft Store, accessible via a browser link, and then anyone could download that emulator and use it on a retail system. According to Retroarch Xbox contributor Gamr13, most emulators didn’t even go that route; they simply stayed on the Microsoft Store for awhile until Microsoft got around to taking them down for violating its terms of service, an apparently manual process. Live, die, repeat.
Microsoft finally said no more of that.
If you try to boot an emulator on Xbox in retail mode now, you get a big fat error. In a statement to Kotaku, Microsoft said “We continually evolve our mechanisms for reviewing and taking enforcement actions on content distributed to the Store to ensure alignment with our Microsoft Store Policies. Per 10.13.10, Products that emulate a game system or game platform are not allowed on any device family.”
This isn’t the end of emulation on Xbox, but it is an end to the carefree party days that made it easy. Dev mode requires a $19 account fee, and the annoyance of flipping back and forth between modes to play emulators or Xbox games.
Emulators may not be illegal, but they were against Microsoft’s Terms of Service. Nevertheless, I’m with John Linneman here: it’s a petty move to render the software already installed on Xbox owners’ consoles non-functional. Who’s organizing the protest on Xbox party chat? Hit me up on the Game Bar and I’ll be there the next time I accidentally hit Win+G and remember it exists.
Yuzu sharpens its Xenoblade - Among a host of updates covered in the March progress report, Yuzu’s devs highlight a couple fixes for bugs in the Xenoblade games that made textures and lighting go all screwy. One of those bugs had been hanging around for 2 years, so that must’ve felt real good to scratch off. And since we love a good bug screenshot:
Metroid Prime, FPS - Another sweet Yuzu update: “Not satisfied with the mouse and keyboard experience when playing Metroid Prime Remastered, german77 set the default mouse sensitivity to 50% and removed the smoothing filter, improving the performance on high DPI gaming mice… He also lowered the motion threshold, clamped the rotation speed, and accumulated all input until delivery, which fixed the delay and choppiness of the previous implementation.”
Saturn FPGA core update - Ukrainian developer Sergey Dvodneko has been working on the Saturn MiSTer core since at least early 2021. This includes a smattering of fixes relevant to individual games, but the addition that jumps out to me is this one:
Add support for DRAM cartridge
There were quite a few Saturn games that needed that extra 1MB/4MB of RAM. Score.
Haunted Castle may be unloved stepchild of the Castlevania series… but now it’s on the MiSTer, thanks to Jotego! It’s currently in beta, but the CPU powering it was used in other games including The Simpsons. Nice!
MiSTer Tamagotchi?? - My favorite anecdote of this Twitter thread about emulating the tama is that they got the ROM by delidding a chip and optically reading it. In this context, is that kinda like… carving open the skull and sucking out the brains? 🔪🧠
Boku no rabbit hole - An illuminating thread from Hilltop Works explaining every step he had to take to solve a single crash in Boku no Natsuyasumi 2 caused by switching to English: Modify the text renderer in assembly code, create a compression algorithm, implement perfect text kerning… just to fix dialogue with one character. NBD!
Play Mahjong, defeat perverts - Translation and romhacking trio SnowyAria, Yuvi and Blametherobots translated this ‘90s oddity from famed designer Kenji Eno, in which you beat up pervs trying to peep on teenage girls by playing mahjong. A refreshing twist on strip mahjong games, of which there are far too many to count.
Eno talks about the game some in this old 1UP interview with Shane & Mielke, kept alive by the Internet Archive.
I’ve used this texture pack myself and can personally vouch for it being freakin’ gorgeous. If Nintendo ever remasters this game, guarantee it won’t look as good.
Shadowrun with a Retrotink slot mask, hnnnngh.