Nintendo DS Retro Emulation sheds a light on Pandora's potential

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Mark Vergeer
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The Nintendo DS has had a lot of its emulators updated which means that quite a few systems are running full speed now.
Nintendo DS battery life is far better than the gp2x, gp32 ever had and the emulators now are of comparable quality. It is amazing to see so much progress and power coming from a device that has a slower processor but does have advanced specialized multimedia chips lacking in the gp2x, gp32 design. Perhaps comparing the DS's emulation capabilities - despite its slower CPU - to the gp32 and gp2x does show some of the potential locked in the Pandora. Emulation on the DS - some small movies I created demonstrating the power of the DS when it comes to emulation of old 8 and 16 bit systems. Emulation is pretty much full speed for:

- SpeccyDS emulates the famous ZX Spectrum home computer from the 80's at full speed, zero frameskips.
Anarchy - Hewson, Zynapse and Boulderdash are shown here.

- Nintendo NES & Snes emulation is pretty much full speed on the DS now. Mind you a lot of people only know about the GBA Nes emulator but there is a native DS mode NES emulator that does scale to the full size of the screen and is much faster than the already 100% GBA version.

- Colecovision and Gameboy emulation on the Nintendo DS. Both full speed and the gameboy emulator Lameboy has a nifty 1.5x zoom function that allows switching between 1x and 1.5x screen stretching.

- Nintendo DS Amstrad CPC emulation works with dsk & sna files. The emulator has a very nice interface and quite a few games run near full speed or are actually full speed. The Amstrad games often look very much like c64 games or spectrum games. The latter are the result of quite a few lazy ports on this machine!

- Et la piece de resistance Sega Megadrive / Genesis - including sound!!!
The Nintendo DS is powerful enough to emulator the 16 bit Sega Genesis/Megadrive system. The jEnesis 0.6 version even does sound which makes the whole experience complete. The screen sometimes scales and sometimes just leaves out the peripheral parts of the screen focusing on the action. There is no nifty scaling function yet. Emulation of NTSC games is most often 100% running to 60fps.
Some PAL games fare less well and some have inconsistent speeds and have some refresh issues.

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Mark Vergeer
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Nintendo going 'the official route'

I see an opportunity for Nintendo to go virtual console on the DS as well. People with Wii's could have a special virtual console channel where games could be downloaded from the Wii to the DS and stored on a special cartridge (using flash memory) to house a whole game library.
If you use proper encryption or use proprietary memory cards for game storage that keeps 'hackers' at bay for a little while. I for one would applaud an official retrogaming-virtual-console service on the DS! Nintendo step up to the plate and let's do this!



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Mark Vergeer
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On the screen I agree with Stu - a little....

Not all emulated systems need a big screen like the gp32/gp2x have. The Spectrums native resolution can be easily displayed, as do the gameboy and the 2600 resolutions. But you are right the DS has a lower resolution than the gp2x/gp32 and it does need some scaling down for some emulators. But hardware scaling can produce pretty cool effects and the use of subpixel technology makes it possible to actually display a larger resolution screen on the DS screen. Both the gp2x and gp32 suffer from a screen refresh problem causing small lines to appear and that needs to be calibrated on the individual machines. Then there's the different display types used both on the gp2x and the gp32 generations which makes some software not function properly on the different incarnations of both gp32 and gp2x devices. This was more or less fixed with later versions of the software and the f100/f200 firmware now includes a tool for calibrating the screen refresh/timing.

But when it comes to controls I must say the DS is superior. Controlling an arcade game with the gp2x f100 stick is just masochistic - try hitting horizontals and verticals with the standard stick - and I always wonder how long it is going to last. Granted the f200 thumbpad/keypad is a bit better though but it is in fact 4 different buttons and not a real thumbpad. The DS comes with a good solid durable thumbpad, touchscreen and shoulderbuttons that can withstand playing many games.

Both machines have their merits, but homebrew emulation on a handheld for the masses is easiest achieved on the Nintendo DS in my opinion. The gp2x/gp32 machines are for techno-minded folk but are not suitable for the 'general public', they are still 'too beta' for that.
Don't get me wrong - I still am a huge fan of the gp32 and gp2x machines - the latter 1st edition let me down due to the horrible build quality. I truly wonder how the f200 build quality is compated to the original gp32 predecessor - which was great - and the gp2x f100.



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www.markvergeer.nl

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yakumo9275
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the problem is the DS has a

the problem is the DS has a crap resolution as far as emulators go. I'd still take gp2x emus over ds emus.

I have never liked nintendo's handhelds, and I dont really like the DS. Its too underpowered, poor resolutions, lacking ram.
Retains the idiotic nintendo tiling modes, at least there is a framebuffer mode tho.

One thing to note, the pandora resolution is not native 320x240

-- Stu --

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Mark Vergeer
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Using emulators on various backup devices

A device capable of running .nds files is needed. Most modern emulators on the DS cater for use on various backup devices through the dldi-system which is a utility and a set of patch files that allows the compiled binaries to be patched to work with the filesystems used by these devices ranging from microSD to compactflash.
There's a windows utility - which also works on OSX through Wine - that allows this patching of the .nds binaries to take place.

dldi-wiki. Use google to search for the tool - which includes predefined dldi patch files for most devices.



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Mark Vergeer
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I've just moved it to the front page

Emulation capabilities do compare well to the gp2x (f100/f200) and gp32 devices. The coders are achieving a completely similar experience emulation-speed-wise and are able to introduce nifty things like using the touch screen which is not possible on the fx100 and is somewhat complicated on the fx200 which only has one screen. Some emulators on the gp2x,gp32 do use virtual keyboards which sort of pop-up on the screen when you press a specific button or use the shoulder buttons, but the Nintendo DS solution using the lower screen just feels very natural.

The special video/sound functions incorporated in the Nintendo DS design enable the machine to compensate for the lack in raw CPU power it has, provided the homebrew authors are able to utilize the hardware. Despite the fact that the gp2x has two cpus and more ram it does not have any designated sound chips or a video chip capable of 3d trickery and scaling resulting in the need to use more raw CPU power to do those calculations. Then there's the unfortunate fact that the 2nd gp2x cpu is significantly hindered from accessing memory directly resulting in it not being able to reach its full potential.
The most recent Nintendo-DS based emulators do use the DS hardware very well. Quite a huge stride has been made since I last wrote something about emulation on the DS. Of course the Gp2x is a more versatile machine capable of doing more different things but the DS and its build-quality are preferable over the somewhat lacking build quality of the gp2x f100 and f200 machines.

Bill it is high time you venture some steps into this Nintendo DS homebrew world, it is fun!



Editor / Pixelator - Armchair Arcade, Inc.
www.markvergeer.nl

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Bill Loguidice
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Emulation

Wow, looks good. I must admit, even though I have the necessary hardware, I have not tried any homebrew stuff on my DS yet. In your opinion Mark, how does it compare to the F-100/200? I've been happy thus far overall with emulation on the F-200, but obviously having a virtual keyboard on the DS's lower screen seems like it would be terribly useful.

(By the way, why isn't this a front page formal blog post, Mark? It's too cool for not being on the front page!)



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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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Seb
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Whoa!

Thanks Mark, it's very interesting stuff.

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