O'Reilly logo

Gaming Hacks by Simon Carless

Stay ahead with the world's most comprehensive technology and business learning platform.

With Safari, you learn the way you learn best. Get unlimited access to videos, live online training, learning paths, books, tutorials, and more.

Start Free Trial

No credit card required

Emulate the SNES on the Dreamcast

Make your Dreamcast act like an SNES, Neo-Geo, or even a home computer.

Although we’ve dealt with emulators for consoles in several other hacks, Dreamcast emulators really deserve a hack of their own. For one thing, it’s easy to burn your own discs full of emulators and ROMs without having to use any legally dubious hardware hacks to boot unofficial discs. For another, the cheap, aging, and fairly easy to buy ( [Hack #50] ) Dreamcast has a relatively swift Hitachi SH-4 RISC 200-MHz processor, so it can run many faster emulators. However, the spartan 16 MB of main memory limits some of the larger ROMs that need more memory. This problem afflicts even the mighty 64-MB Xbox on some MAME ROMs.

Nevertheless, there’s plenty of emulation fun available for your DC. Possibly the best example of Dreamcast emulators is DreamSNES, the Super Nintendo emulator.

DreamSNES

Vying for the title of best emulator on the Dreamcast, this Super Nintendo emulator is a conversion of the seminal PC emulator SNES9X. Its features include the ability to save SNES games to your VMU; a handy and functional upfront menu; working four-player support; and mouse, keyboard, and lightgun support.

Making self-booting CDs isn’t completely easy, but the DreamSNES creators have a custom application that allows you to add ROMs and burn the CD in one fell swoop. This clever move takes away all the hassle of finding compatible burning software. See the tutorial at http://www.lysator.liu.se/dreamsnes/tutorial/ for a little more insight. Here are the basic steps:

  1. Let Pike install. The ZIP file for Windows includes a copy of the Pike programming language (http://pike.ida.liu.se/). It’ll take a little while to install unless you already have it.

  2. Check for ASPI drivers. If your CD-ROM drive doesn’t show when you first load the utility, consult ASPI Drivers Explained (http://www.ncf.carleton.ca/~aa571/aspi.htm) to clear up the messy situation.

  3. Edit your ROM names. After selecting your burner of choice, switch to the ROM list and add in the ROMs you want to burn. If you’d like a choice of freeware ROMs, try PDRoms (http://www.pdroms.de/). From here, you can edit the names under which the games and demos appear in the menu.

  4. Burn a CD or image. Switch to the Burn tab, and burn the CD. Alternately, you can write out a Nero disc image if you prefer to use your normal disc-burning software, or if you need the flexibility of an image.

  5. CD-RWs generally don’t work on the DC.

DreamSNES also supports standalone ROM discs. As usual, DCEmulation explains how to create them (http://www.dcemulation.com/roms-dreamsnes.htm). Here’s the scoop:

  1. Organize your ROMs to burn. Take the ROMs you want to burn to CD and put them in a separate roms folder. This is very important; the next step may arbitrarily rename any other files in the folder.

  2. Make a ROM list. Download the Provlist.exe Windows executable from http://www.dcemulation.com/files/needed/Provlist.exe. Copy it into the new ROMs directory, and run it. This creates the ROM.LST file that the emulator needs.

  3. Add menu music. If you’d like to listen to music while selecting ROMs, add a sound subdirectory with the MP3s of your choice.

  4. Burn a multisession CD. Unless you’ve filled up the CD completely, use your CD-burning software to create a multisession CD. This allows you to add more ROMs later.

Now boot your Dreamcast with the normal DreamSNES disc, then switch to the ROMs disc of your choice.

The Best of the Rest Dreamcast Emulators

The very first place to look for other Dreamcast emulation-related material is DCEmulation.com (http://www.dcemulation.com/). Not only do they have a great, comprehensive list of Dreamcast emulators, but they host all the emulator executables locally. As long as the site stays up, you won’t have the problems of broken external download links that plague many other sites. In addition, it features an up-to-date news section and often runs tutorials on installing many of the emulators.

Here’s a quick run-through of other wonderful and sometimes obscure emulators you can use on your Dreamcast.

Dream-O-Rama

An example of why the Dreamcast is also home to some intriguingly different emulators, Dream-O-Rama reproduces the Japan-only Sega SG-1000/3000 hardware. For those wondering what it is (I also had to look it up), it’s Sega’s first piece of games hardware, properly released in Japan back in 1983. There are several neat, waaaay out-of-print titles for it, including classic arcade titles such as Galaga and even a James Bond 007 game, so this emulator is well worth checking out.

Download it from http://www.dcemulation.com/dcemu-dorama.htm.

DCFrotz

You can find out more about making your own text adventure ( [Hack #85] ), but if you have a keyboard or keyboard adapter for your Dreamcast, you can play text adventures here. There are plenty of freeware Z-Machine interactive fiction pieces available. DCFrotz even supports sound effects if you want to use or program a game that plays spooky WAV files.

Learn more at http://www.c99.org/dc/frotzdc/index.php.

MDCNG

This Neo Geo-specific emulator isn’t exactly well-tested or stable yet (it runs somewhat short of a 100% frame rate, although turning off sound will improve that a little), but it’s impressive nonetheless. It works best for early-’90s Neo Geo titles that haven’t blossomed past the Dreamcast’s memory limit. You’ll need to use the Selfboot.exe Windows utility to create a self-booting Dreamcast CD with both the emulator and then ROMs contained on it (see http://www.dcemulation.com/selfboot-mdcng.htm). Even better, DCStuff (http://www.sesonsite.com/Ten-321/DCStuff/Apps.shtml) includes a helper application that explains how to make a self-booting DC disc from the plan files of the Neo Geo CD emulator.

See http://www.dcemulation.com/dcemu-mdcng.htm.

DreamZZT

Finishing with another ravishing obscurity, DreamZZT is a Dreamcast conversion of Tim Sweeney’s famous ZZT PC game-creation tool. (Back in the early ’90s, he wasn’t yet famous for Epic’s Unreal series.) ZZT graphics are entirely made up of ASCII characters. There’s a multitude of public-domain games available, both turn-based and real-time. Many are RPG-like. The Chocobo.org site has a decent ZZT game selection (http://www.chocobo.org/~butz/zzt.htm) if you’d like to try some third-party titles, all of which seem to run reasonably well.

Find it at http://www.c99.org/dc/dzzt/index.php.

As well as these different choices, several emulators mentioned elsewhere have Dreamcast versions, including Frodo for the Commodore 64 (http://www.dcemulation.com/dcemu-dreamfrodo.htm) and Stella for the Atari 2600 (http://www.dcemulation.com/dcemu-stelladc.htm). Again, see the DCEmulation.com page for more details and thank your lucky stars that the Dreamcast is such a cheap and versatile engine for cool software.

With Safari, you learn the way you learn best. Get unlimited access to videos, live online training, learning paths, books, interactive tutorials, and more.

Start Free Trial

No credit card required