Dream? More Like Nightmarecast!

Long time, no write, fellow Dreamcast enthusiasts! When I first started writing for the Junkyard, I had assumed it would be easy for me to think up topics for one of my favorite systems of all time.

Apparently not. However, recent events lead me to a (potentially) troubling topic. Well, at least for me.

Emulators. (Disclaimer: Umm... I don't support piracy, emulators are tricky legally, don't steal from the companies, etc...)

They're great fun! I mean, without them, I would never have been able to play most of the Final Fantasy series. Or Earthbound. At one point, I had several programs, spanning from NES all the way to N64. Recently, though, I got a new laptop. Because it was a Mac, I needed to find alternate emulators, which was not as big a problem because I would have done so anyway. Gradually, I moved from generation to generation. NES & SMS --> SNES & Genesis --> N64 (that situation was complicated. Not a topic for this blog, however) --> PS1.

Then I reached a road-block. I obtained emulators for both GameCube and Dreamcast. I'll be the first to acknowledge that my snazzy Mac isn't all about what's under the hood, so to speak. But gosh-darnit I have 2.4 GHz processor and more than enough RAM for older generation emulation! These emulators, though, were still a pain! I'll save you the details from the GameCube one (I only tried a few games, by the dubs. The games are still pretty big to download.)

The offender for the Dreamcast emulator was called "lxdream." On my main source for Mac emulators, it was the only option available. Ech. Naturally (for me) the first game I try on it is Sonic Adventure. And then, because I must have a penchant for misery, Sonic Shuffle. After trying these games for just a few minutes, here's a tip, at least for Mac users considering running the Dreamcast:

Don't.

As I played through Sonic Adventure while writing this article, I had to deal with messed up graphics, choppy music, and controls occasionally sending me to fall into the water. I could understand the graphical and control issues, but the speed? Really? And in previous play-throughs, it locked up partway through the first level. Uggh. Oh, and certain audio samples were missing, or way too loud. Even their own site gave it a poor rating in the compatibility section.

The other game I tried was Sonic Shuffle. I'll admit, I didn't really try playing Shuffle until now. As per usual, it ran slow, but the graphical errors weren't as bad as Adventure's. The sound however, was practically nonexistent in-game. I think at some point it played something, but really softly. In-game was mute. Knuckles got to the first Precious Stone (sp? Not sure, don't care at this point) and the battle screen saw some weird graphical errors. Plus, the slowness of the emulator and having to wait through the CPU's turns made it unbearable to play, even for mere minutes.

Anyway, further play and writing would lead to an obvious conclusion: the Dreamcast emulator kinda works, but is far from finished. As it is, I own a Dreamcast and those games. I can enjoy Sonic Adventure or torture myself with Shuffle whenever I want. It is unfortunate that the emulator doesn't work, though, because of emulator features I appreciate: namely, save-stating and ROM hacks. Like, I dunno, a hack that makes the CPU characters less awful and cheat-y.

That all being said, I haven't tried any of the non-Mac-specific emulators, of which I've found at least 4. Through all these exploits with emulators, from the excellent ones to the mediocre ones, and these OK ones, I've gained more appreciation for console developers. The lesson I learned was that there is more to emulation than just raw processing power. It may seem obvious at first; however, I am one of the people who are disappointed whenever it is announced that a system is not backwards compatible.   I'd much rather have a good current gen console than one that plays older games, but at risk to the hardware itself.

TL;DR? Well, the simple point is that a crappy Dreamcast emulator helped me understand that emulation is not always a easy task to accomplish.

B# Major General out!

3 comments:

neko68k said...

nulldc for windows is excellent. reicast for android is also quite good. too bad you're running mac :(

Tomleecee said...

Nice post! Yeah - I use a Mac too, and the poor performance of emulators for OSX has just made me realise it's better to play on the real Dreamcast system! As neko68k says though, other platforms do have much more luck with DC emulation - Reicast being the main example (we covered it here a while back). Also - I had to Google TL;DR...never heard that phrase before!

neko68k said...

reicast isn't really a good "main example". It's awesome because its mobile and not much else. No MMU, poor z-sorting(this is a mobile limitation), no volume modifiers(no shadows in SA2, for example). Though the developer is the same, nulldc is pretty superior to reicast if you're using a Windows desktop.