The Gamer’s Conscience 05.14.03

Woah ho ho! Yes! After well over two months in the abyss you have come to know and love called “real life,” I’m back in the saddle again. The UC’s finals system kept me in check, along with my 22nd birthday this past March, and Pelican’s in-house Gestapo interrogating me about me talking smack about their sub-shit X-Box controller extension. Lent also plays a part, for the self-deprivation of caffeine until Easter puts a real show stopper on any activity whatsoever (this column? An activity? Hmmm!). A weeklong spring break doesn’t help the update effort much either; Chris can attest to that.

However, after all those forces of madness tried their best to put me under the thumb, I can safely proclaim to you, the readers of 411’s many facets of pop-culture, “I’m back.” Like Brett Geurwitz on The Process of Belief or He-Man on Cartoon Network, after too long of an absence I return to rock the Kasbah like a reunited Police for Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame induction.

But you don’t read me for the witty musical references. Well, God forbid you do. What you come for is the thoughts on games. Now, ever since I started writing this column, I’ve wanted to take a detailed look into a scene that only a few gamers have had contact with, and even fewer play a hand in: homebrew development.

What is homebrew, you might ask? Well, scattered across the world are a few characters that possess a level of programming skill and cunning that far surpasses the fan-boy realm, who for some reason or another decided to make their own apps and games for consoles. Everything from a home-made alternatives to Dance Dance Revolution to being able to play Commodore 64 games on your Dreamcast. Chances are, you might have come across some titles and programs that just make you drop your jaw in awe. If you haven’t, you might be asking yourself where you can find such magical programs. Outside of the two above links, there are more to come.

And with that said, we get jump into the topic for this edition of the Conscience: Homebrew Emulators on the Dreamcast. It’s a scene that has been active since the inception of the DC itself. But rather than discuss the history of the scene in this particular edition (which other people and sites have done extremely well), I’d like to showcase 3 emulators that are definitely worth your attention; if for nothing else, to get that magical machine out from under your door and plugged back in your TV.

“Oh, man. Fred’s really gone off the deep end,” some may say. “Homebrew emulators playing non-DC games! on a DC?!?!?!?? Can he be serious?” Oh yes. Yes indeed. And while every fiber in my body tells me not to paraphrase NBC’s rerun tagline, it’s all too proper when I type this line: “If you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you!”

Damned NBC.

Before I proceed though, I’d like to say something about the handling of ROMs: find em’ yourself. And if you’re a decent moral person, then check your game collection just to make sure you’ve got what you’re downloading. Can’t very well appreciate the quality of these works without em,’ but be mindful- no- be “consciencious.”

You’re gonna probably wonder on how to get these things on disc too. Don’t worry about it; towards the end of the article, I’ve got ya covered.

Now! on with the show! And, as keeping within the framework, the 411 model for reviewing games will be used with the utmost lethargic scrutiny known to man. Also, I’m going to be so bold as to add a new category for this special occasion: Emulation Quality. Why? Because you deserve better than just 4 categories; comprehensiveness is the name of this game.

NesterDC Version 7.1
by Takayama Fumihiko (formerly by Ken Friece

Exercise some insight, and right off the bat you can tell that this is a NES emulator for play on the Dreamcast. They’re clever because they care.

This one was originally started sometime back by Mr. Friece, whose attempt to port the Nester emulator for the PC has become, via the hands of Mr. Fumihikio, the best pound for pound emulator you can download. The transition took place after version 3.0, which in itself was a damned great emulator. However, “Mr F” took it to the next level by adding the good stuff; like full-screen rendering, “save state” to the VMU, and support for so many mappers your ROB will spin (bonus points to those who get that one).

Godly. Nothing short of it.

Not that the DC controller couldn’t handle the NES-era madness of 2 buttons, but NesterDC does old faithful good. How good? Ninja Gaiden 2 controlled smoother than any time I’ve ever played on the NES. Little Mac ain’t got no woes on Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!, for it is all intact. Flawless Mega Man control via 1-6 is a great thing to behold. The Konami code? You bet your ass; it’s intact in all its glory.

And the most important thing with mentioning about the gameplay is that all games tested played at 100% speed with perfect sound. You can’t slice this loaf any better.

Fumihikio does the graphics good. Orientation, mapping, speed- all here.

Prior releases of the emulator had the screen filled only partially, with a more vertical orientation. However, 7.1 brought the fullscreen in effect into the emulation game, keeping the show flowing at the immaculate 100%. Also, you’ve got options for bilinear filtering in effect (enabled from the onset), and if the default screen position doesn’t suit you TV or your fancy, a simple visit to the options screen and you can hit Y to adjust it. AND, it’s all savable too. Gotta love it.

There’s really no contest here. None. But I’ve gotta type something of substance, no?

The sound on NesterDC is played wonderfully. ABSOLUTELY WONDERFULY. All you oldschool gamers out there are going to reminisce over the tunes you forgot about from Ice Climber, the Mega Man series, and Castlevania III (because you and I know that 3 was the best) and almost be brought to tears. It’s that good. Mono never sounded so good.

Fun Factor
Skip this column. Now. You are depriving yourself of one of the most faithfully represented nostalgic feelings known to gamers like us. If you grew up on the NES, YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST FIRE THIS UP and start playing. Quit wasting time- go and download it now!!!

Emulation Quality
100% knockout on all fronts. EVERY GAME TESTED PLAYED LIKE A CHARM. So what are you waiting for??!?!?!? Go get it!

Game Boy/Color
DCGNUBoy Version 1.03-06
by Takayama Fumihiko

The same mind behind the NesterDC miracle has put his talents behind this Game Boy/Game Boy Color emulator, and on this one he doesn’t disappoint. From what I understand (or rather reference offhand, because I’m just that damned thorough), it’s a port of the GNUBoy emulator for the PC. While not as overtly flashy as NesterDC, DCGNUBoy is stylistically a no-nonsense emulator. It’s the kid that got into UC Berkeley based on academics alone, and no extra-curricular activities. Sure, it needs a nudging due to lack of onscreen prompts, but it’s the best emulation solution for the Big N’s favorite portable monopoly.

What’s rather interesting, however, is that this emulator has the effect of magnifying everything about the game being played. You’ll know what I mean when you read on!

Pretty much the same deal as NesterDC. The control you’re using in-game is dead on to their counterparts. That means that if you loved it on the GB/GBC, you’re in for more of the same; like in Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins. Conversely, if you couldn’t control it worth beans the first time around on the portable, you’re going to feel that hatred all over again; think Probe’s “port” (HA HA!) of Mortal Kombat. In the case of MK, you’ll get frustrated on a whole new, larger level. Fun fun fun.

Overall, it does a great damned job of replicating the GB’s controller scheme- for better or for worse.

This is where it gets interesting. Not necessarily because DCGNUBoy does a damned good job of emulating both the old-school GB look AND games designed to take advantage of the GBC, but because of how GB games look on a TV. Seeing an old-school GB game (let alone a GBC one) full screen on a TV is downright eerie. To tell to you the truth, I’m not even sure it’s a wholesome presentation. All I could think of while I was playing Ninja Gaiden was “Damn- this is how a developer must feel when he’s playing a portable game.” Everything about the game is huge. Fucking huge! You never notice it when you’re looking at that tiny screen, but when it’s all up on lights on the home TV it’s a whole new ballgame. I’m tellin’ ya- Mega Man was never meant to look that large! ever.

But all in all, DCGUNB does the job well. And the developer’s perspective on things is a real quirk to behold.

Once again, not too much to discuss here. Mr. F does a fabulous job of putting all the dings and whistles from the GB library into fruition. Which leads me to point out again: along with the gameplay and graphics, the sound is magnified as well- which means that some sounds might come across as just plain garbled or sound like absolute crap. But you’ve gotta remind yourself, though, that these sounds were probably never meant to be heard on a TV, let alone a sound system- if that is indeed your cup o’ tea.

Sound check is A OK.

Fun Factor
Now call me crazy, but I didn’t find nearly as much enjoyment in this GB emulator than I did the NES one. Maybe that’s because I can’t carry the DC with me for the true, portable experience. It doesn’t help that each subsequent GB model released is backwards compatible with its predecessor either. Nothing really to write home about.

But if you wanna find out how the insiders probably enjoy Oracle of Seasons or X-Men (I’m sorry- you can’t really “enjoy” that last one), then be like that one chick ninja in GI Joe: The Movie and give this whirly-bird a twirl.’

Damn, that sounded horrible.

Emulation Quality
Suffice it to say, I didn’t put DCGNUBoy through the rigors that I did NesterDC, but I’d say that this is probably a good 95% playability of all your favorite GB/GBC titles; all magnified to your hearts, ears, and eye’s content. Extremely heavy stress on the “magnified.”

Super Nintendo
DreamSNES Version 0.9.8
by Marcus Comstedt, Peter Bortas, and Per Hedbor

OK, my “peeps.” It’s time to kick it up about 8 more bits!

Of the three prominent SNES emulators out there, DreamSNES has been the one that has gotten the most consistent attention by way of public release. While there have been others to grace the stage, the amount of flash delivered unto this emulator is unparalleled. And despite it’s relative shortcomings speed (about 50-60% for most games), this one gets my pick.

DreamSNES did the graphics far beyond my wildest expectations, as the processing of all that 2D glory from the SNES days apparently can take a toll on the DC. However, despite some slowdown, which will be discussed more in depth in Gameplay, the visuals were for the most part crisp and clean. There were some scaling issues in Super Mario RPG, as the screen did it’s quick dissolve into the name entry level and areas like that; something I can only assume must be because of a scaling effect like in Star Wars or Super Mario Kart. But other stuff that was thrown at it, like Phalanx and Mortal Kombat 2 held up pretty damned good.

Now, while most of the games did indeed look nice, they’ve gotta move right too. And in this department, I’m not so forgiving!

For all the splendor that DreamSNES has to offer, it’s the speed that really hurts an otherwise superior emulator. After sitting down with the aforementioned games- especially the scaling dependant ones, the speed really hinders the overall playback of what’s on-screen. Speedwise, this is closer to Driving Miss Daisy than Fast and the Furious, let alone any future cinematic adaptation of Twisted Metal: Small Brawl.

Granted, however, there has to be some sympathy to work into this equation; these games were not made for the hardware. Also granted, I’m the last one to preach about proper coding, but maybe coding in an alternate language just might help the speed? I mean, sure some C++ might work for the NES projects, but just delve into the ASM madness for the harder-core stuff, and all might be well.

Essentially the same plague that hinders gameplay also takes a fatal bite into the sound portion of DreamSNES. Like other emulators, sound can be an extremely tricky portion of the game to put forth properly- and this piece of code is no exception. What’s interesting about DreamSNES, though, is the compromise that you might find yourself plagued by:

Do ya turn off the sound, gaining anywhere from a marginal to a substantial speed increase, or!
Do ya keep the sound on, thus further bogging down the gameplay overall, sacrificing your nostalgic hopes and dreams?

That is the conundrum you’ll face. But if you’re a stubborn purist like myself, you’re going to leave the damned sound on anyways. Sure, it’s a pull-down on the overall speed, but tell me this: is Blanka really Blanka is he doesn’t sound like Blanka? I think not.

But that being said, the emulation of the sound, despite needing work here and there, is acceptable to the overall playability of the emulator.

Fun Factor
Once again, speed is of the essence here. While playing Final Fight on a Dreamcast might wow some of your more socially-introverted friends, it will be you who will fall into one of two camps:

You will really dig this emulator, and thus forgive it’s shortcomings. You will dismiss the slowdown encountered in Super Mario RPG and Phalanx and play these games to your hearts content. Sure, it’s not a perfect emulation of an SNES, but your day isn’t ruined by such frailties.

OR, you will loathe the DreamSNES team for making you, John Q. BurnerOfCDs, waste your valuable 2 dollar a piece CD-Rs on an app that plays splotchy at best. You hate the fact that you can’t play Mortal Kombat 2 or 3, and you curse the day you mailed off your SNES to Funcoland to get 5 dollars off the purchase of a new Nintendo 64.

Choose your destiny, fan boy.

Emulation Quality
The gameplay of DreamSNES does leave a little something left to long for, but I’ve got faith in the characters behind this app that future wonders can be pulled out from under the hood of the DC. While a substantial chunk of the SNES library runs at a snail’s pace, it’s still a wonder that they run at all. So, yes. DreamSNES is indeed worth your bandwidth and CD-R.

Heck- just as long as one day, when the PS4 is a reality in most homes, I can rot in a friend’s basement with my lone DC playing Phalanx at full speed.

And now for!
Now that you’ve read what I’ve had to say concerning 3 of the big-name emulators in the scene, you’re probably wondering how to get them onto a CD anyways. Chances are you might be scratching your head, thinking silently to the monitor “but Fred, I can’t burn GD-ROMs, man. I have neither the will to hunt one down in a remote newsgroup nor the funds to procure one from that unemployed SEGA hardware engineer on the corner of my street.” Well, I’m here to show you the light- and it’s a lot more easier than you may have thought.

Oh, and aside from all else obvious, you’re gonna need to need a CD-Burner and a CD-Burning program. Like Nero. Another thing to bear in mind is that this goes for the PC only- so all you Mac heads, you’re gonna have to search it out. You have been warned.

  • Get your ass over to DC Emulation and find the emulator/s you wanna put to the disc. Not too hard.
  • Then, in you’re most obnoxious style, head on over to Google and look for said games to put alongside your emulators. I’m not going to describe this step in any further detail, simply because I value my existence as a free man, and do not wish to have it taken away by certain copyright holders.
  • Now, go back to DC Emulation and find a program called “DSSBS Final,” sans quotes or commas, located in the DC Tools section of the site. Trust me- there are other methods, but this one is as effortless skipping Alex on the Street Fighter 3 rosters.
  • Install said program.
  • Follow the instructions in the supplied README files as to where to put your ROMS, and anything else you might need to set prior to burning. Also, make sure that all your ROM files are NOT “read only.” (To change this, select all the roms files, press Alt+Enter, and uncheck the box labeled “read only”)
  • Now, take the entire program (including the ROMs), and place them in DSSBS’s “new” directory.
  • Hit DSSBS.bat, and it will ask you what type of image you want to compile the files into. Nero is my personal choice, but there are others. You can choose those, and no one will think lesser of you. Maybe.
  • As soon as the image is ready, burn it to a CD with the program of your choice and you will be good to go!

Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?

And friends, there you have just a taste of a niche part of the gaming world that I’ve known and followed for over 2 years. Programs like NesterDC, DCGNUBoy, and DreamSNES help to bring a refreshing flavor to the proverbial gaming table.

There indeed does exists homebrew scenes for the other consoles on the block; the PS2 has some notable apps, and the X-Box is proving extremely developer-friendly, despite the fact that most of the work isn’t exactly legit to distribute. However, the Dreamcast offers the most accessible homebrew platform for non-commercial development to progress. So I say give these above emulators a whirl and see if they fit your fancy- it’s definitely worth the effort. And once you’ve put it through, you’ll wonder why you’ve never tried it in the first place.

Where necessity breeds invention, homebrew rocks your lame ass! and mine.

That’s the Gamer’s Conscience.

Before I head out, I wanna thank DC Emulation and all the heads over there who make the place so damned great. Also, if you like choices in your surfing leisure, then also check out ConsoleVision, as they cover the whole entire map for homebrew development. They get my thumbs up too.

And after another belated stretch, there you have it. In the coming months, I’ll still have school to contend with, so updates to the Conscience might very well be as scarce as they have always been. But know this- the whole 411 Staff does what they do as a labor of love to the craft. Yip, Stanley, Pankonin, Berg, Bebito, Lucard, myself, and the others live for this stuff- so read them all and send feedback accordingly.

Until next time!