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Make your Mac mini into a retro game console
written by CheatZILLA Support; 2006-03-26 10:30 PST

Why wait for the Revolution?

You've probably heard that the Revolution is going to allow you to play old console games. How is it done? Emulation. The way it works is you get an application that acts like a sort of "game engine" that interprets the original game. It's sort of like those engines that let you play the Infocom and Sierra adventures on different operating systems just by having the data file. Emulators are a little fancier than that, but the principle is similar.

A good place to go to find a list of emulators that work with Mac OSX is the Pure Mac Emulator List. The list doesn't cover everything, but it sure does cover a lot. I'm sure there's some platforms you've never even heard of.

Some platforms have several emulators to choose from, some only have one. The emulators I went with were SNES9x, KiGB, Nestopia, Generator, and SMS Plus. I also tried out RockNES, Genesis Plus, VisualBoyAdvance, Stella, KEGS and TGEmu. A majority of these emulators have been ported to OSX by Richard Bannister, you can view his site here. If you use any of his ports you'll also want to get his Emulator Enhancer add-on. Emulator Enhancer adds the Mac specific code like USB gamepad support, sound options, full screen video support, plus some other things.

SNES9x works great. My only real complaints are I can't set the window to run at a 4:3 aspect ratio (but full screen will), and I can't map one of the extra buttons to a turbo shooter button like I can on ZSNES for Windoze. It'd also be nice if it worked with the ZSNES .CHT files, but I didn't find a way.

VisualBoyAdvance was rather unresponsive, even on my 1.5ghz G4. It also didn't have USB gamepad support and seemed kinda crude. Stella was also very very crude. It felt like a direct DOS port. No gamepad support here either. KiGB plays games just fine, although they can't be in zip files. A little confusing at first because it didn't tell me that and happily loaded a zip file and then crashed.

RockNES played fine, but I honestly couldn't see what it offered over Nestopia. They both make the same claim of features, so why bother with RockNES that requires a 1ghz processor when Nestopia will do the job with an 800mhz processor? Sure my mini has enough horsepower to run either, but why make it work harder than necessary.

Genesis Plus makes the claim of being exactly like a real Genesis. Unfortunately when I tried to play Krusty's Fun House on it, the sound didn't work and mostly played static. Altered Beast and Double Dragon played just fine though. Also, Genesis Plus can emulate the 6 button controller, while Generator only does a 3 button controller. Under Generator, the emulated screen is fairly square. Genesis Plus seemed to try to maintain the 4:3 aspect ratio of a TV. Generator also doesn't like the games inside of zip files, not sure about Genesis Plus, I had already unzipped everything by the time I tried it.

I had no problems with SMS Plus. It loaded and played Zillion just fine. I didn't try out any of the games that use the 3D glasses or the light gun so I don't know what they would do or if they would be playable at all.

TGEmu wouldn't let me play Bonk. What the heck?? There was a note that said CD support was missing and it could only play Hu cards. What good is it then? Beats me. Isn't Bonk the only game the TurboGrafx16 had? Is there even anything else that's worth playing? Not only that, how am I supposed to know which games are Hu card and which ones are CD?

KEGS I only tried enough to see that it ran and I could get it to boot up a ProDOS disk I had. I haven't yet tried playing any games on it, I didn't feel like unpacking my Woz //gs and seeing if any of my 5.25" disks would still read. It also was a little crude, but man that thing was fast! These guys know how to code. Unlike other emulators out there which emulate the machine slower than the real thing, my emulated //gs was running at 250mhz! That's almost 100 times faster than the real thing! Wow!
When using KiGB, Nestopia, Generator, or SMS Plus you may notice the window seems pretty small. You can go full screen which will blow up the video and block out everything else, but at least for the Game Boy games, it looks kinda weird. You'll see there's no place to grab with the mouse to resize the window. What to do? Click the green maximize button. Each click will step up the window size, until the next step would be too big for your screen which will then return it to the original small size.

Of course when making the window bigger things get blockier. I liked using the Super Eagle, HQ2X, or Sal2x video processing modes. Most of the emulators have one or more of those variants. You'll have to play around to see which suits you best.

 
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