SSF: A Nearly-Perfect Sega Saturn Emulator

 

Presented by: Mozgus

It’s no secret that many developer interviews in the mid-90’s cited the Sega Saturn as a very complex and challenging machine to work with. In fact, it’s one of the key factors which led to machine’s downfall in the face of the Sony Playstation. Developers struggled to produce the experiences they envisioned within the time-frame allotted. If such a console were so hard for experienced, professional programmers to work with, the notion of emulating the machine must strike fear and doubt into the hearts of all who dream it.

So how did just one person accomplish that which all others could never quite reach, including Sega itself? I wish I had that answer for you, but I’ve yet to find any kind of interview with this mysterious Japanese programmer, who goes by the alias, Shima. There’s bound to be some knowledge to be had in his forum, but we’ll need someone to translate.

What I can tell you, and this is pretty much inarguable, is that SSF is by far the best means of playing a Saturn without actually owning one. Game consoles don’t last forever, and without projects like this, entire libraries of software could essentially lose it’s function someday. This is why the importance of emulation should never be underestimated. If this backlog is authentic, Shima has been dedicated to the project for over 9 years now. Very impressive.

Yes, I know there are other attempts such as Giri Giri and Satourne, and I know they deserve respect too. However, this is more of a practical introduction to Saturn emulation, and as such, I feel that SSF is the most reliable and easy to setup, and produces the most authentic experience. I would provide technical guides and such, but fortunately, others have already done this for me.

The Basics of SSF

  • To start with, SSF’s Wiki page provides a quick breakdown of what it is and what it does.
  • The official SSF page can always be found here, or try this link for a Google Translation. You can also obtain the newest builds, although not always on the same release day, at Zophar’s Domain or the like.
  • SSF Tribute’s FAQ is an absolutely essential read.

Requirements to Run SSF

  • SSF does not require a BIOS file to run, however it will raise the compatibility rate of the app, so I suggest you find one. I dare not link to one, but if you’re reading this and clicking things I share, you’ve already got a tab open to a site that offers it.
  • Check out the required hardware specs.
  • It really just comes down to a powerful CPU. A video card merely needs Direct-X 9 functionality, and I’m not even completely sure that’s true.
  • Regardless, updating your Direct-X couldn’t hurt.

Configuring SSF

  • A very detailed guide to all of SSF’s configuration options can be found here.
  • Although, in most cases, you only need to go to Option > EZ Setting > Set Highest Compatibility achieve the best results.
  • If you have a decent dual-core CPU, this will not have any real performance impact.

What Games Work on SSF?

  • Software compatibility lists can be found here, here, and here.
  • Check out an absolutely gigantic selection of screenshots taken with SSF.
  • For good measure, here’s a video I recorded of Panzer Dragoon Zwei running on SSF. It demonstrates how extremely close to perfect the emulation can be.
  • Some games like Virtua Fighter 2 require the deinterlacing checked or they look pretty tore up.  I assume it’s because the game runs in 480i, whereas most games are half that, and can’t display any interlacing to begin with.
  • Deinterlacing can slowdown the gameplay if your CPU isn’t up to snuff.

Getting Support for SSF

Is SSF for you?

If you once owned a Saturn and have occasionally felt nostalgic about the titles you’ve let go, stop reading this and acquire SSF immediately. It should find a permanent home on your hard drive. For those who’ve never had a Saturn, I highly suggest you acquire some of Racket’s listed gems, by any means neccessary. You’re bound to find something fun in there. Although, perhaps you’re the historical type, and want to see which games defined the Saturn. Or maybe you’re strapped for time, and require the ones that still matter today. No wait, I’ve got it. You’re a penny pincher!

Ironically, the only people it might not be for are those who still have fully working Saturns, like myself. You see, SSF has yet to implement any real advantages over a Saturn, unless you just hate dealing with discs (you can rip your game discs to ISOs and play them mounted to virtual drives), or you hate replacing the internal CMOS save battery each year. It also offers no visual enhancements, besides de-interlacing and a full screen bilinear filter (not to be confused with texture filtering). Beggars can’t be choosers however, and I certainly agree that emulation accuracy needs to be nearly flawless before visual enhancements come to play.

While by no means recent news, I hope this overview gives you guys something new to mess around with for a while.


63 Comments

Js says:

Saturn was a very good console, especially for quality arcade ports. One unfortunate thing, however, is that eventually (I mean, in your natural lifetimes), every Saturn is going to die. It’s just the technology, so it’s great to see that Saturn emulation is getting better and better, as a video game enthusiast.

One thing, Racketboy: Radiant Silvergun is not as rare as many Westerners think. It’s actually relatively common in places like Akihabara and the like. The actual price of the game, however, defies an even simpler logic, because it can be very expensive.

racketboy says:

Yeah, I know RS isn’t very rare at all. 🙂
Curious to see what a XBLA release would do to the game…

Js says:

The same thing it did to Ikaruga, probably.*

* — That is, nothing at all.

Mozgus says:

@Reverend Fred Gherkin, I forgot no such thing. I said it requires a powerful CPU and I linked to a requirements page. Athlon XPs are not powerful.

The Hon. Reverend Fred Gherkin says:

That’s arguable. The fact that is still capable of playing many of the latest would seem to contradict that. Instruction sets, in addition to things such as pixel shader requirements, are not indicative of a processor’s “power”.

randyrandall says:

Fantastic. brings a tear to my eye!Runs lush on my Core Duo 1.8ghz!

One point of note- PAL emulation isn’t quite right- it runs at 60hz, making the games faster. Fantastic for certain game that had PAL slowdown, makes optimised games too fast! Music generated by the Saturn (for example, NiGHTS) runs too fast due to the higher NTSC style speed. Music streamed from the CD is obviously fine.

Amazing work here!

Joe says:

Does Astal work on the ssf emulator or yabuse?

linlhutz says:

“Does Astal work on the ssf emulator or yabuse?”

Works on SSF. Just tested on the newest version (0.10 Beta) last night.

Note: You must go to the options screen “Program3” enable SH2 Cache and restart SSF. Otherwise you will just see a black screen as the game fails to load.

Master_OrHan says:

SSF is a great emulator that I haven’t got working at full speed yet on my P4 HT and I’m not certain it will either. Have to try some of those configuration options suggested in the link, thx for the great article. I know the Saturn is a beast to emulate so I’m not pointing fingers. Wish there was a Saturn emulator that enhanced the image like ePSXe or Project64 can do. Heard Steve Snake, creator of the excellent multi-Sega system emulator Fusion was working on a Saturn emulator, hope that pans out.

CHRISTOPHER says:

II LOVE THE SATURN AND THE SSF IS ONE OF THE BEST SO FAR RUNNING EMULATORS FOR THE SS. ITS RUNNING FINE FOR ME ALL I HAVE A IS A DUO CORE 2 AT 1.8 GHZ. NOT BAD, RUNS ACTUALLY PERFECT, I USED NIGHTS FOR THE TEST AS IT USES THE SATURNS TRUE POTENTIAL, AND I FEEL LIKE IM PLAYING ALMOST ON THE SATURN. AS STATED IN THE ARTICLE ITS NOT AT 100% IM SATISFIED WITH 85% AS LONG AS I CAN PLAY THE GAME THRU THE END

jbltecnicspro says:

As mentioned above, this is a great Saturn emulator. A Core 2 Duo or better is a must. I also want to add that running the emulator on Windows Vista requires a better CPU than on Windows XP. My parents’ laptop and my friend’s laptop both have a Core 2 Duo at 1.8 ghz. The Vista notebook runs Astal at 47~60fps, while the Windows XP one runs at constant 60fps.

Girigiri, or whatever it’s called, supposedly has a “Transparency Hack” that can blend dithered transparent effects (that the Saturn is notorious for) in to true Translucency. But I haven’t verified it.

thuan_nguyen says:

So I ask …? I play games on the emulator Shining Force III SSF 007 beta r2, configure the game was running very slowly fluttered should I do ….???
I’m using computer intel (R) Celeron (R) 430@1.80 GHz CPU 1 GB Ram

Alex says:

I have a problem with SSF 010_alpha_R1 as well. Just bought a brand new HP desktop with Intel Core i5-650 running Windows 7 Home. The emulator will not launch the Saturn’s boot-up sequence and the dashboard at all, so I cannot do anything with it. I have the correct Bios and the exact same emulator works perfectly on my office laptop which has the Intel Core i5-M520. Does SSF not run on Windows 7 PC’s?

PlumbDrumb says:

There are newer versions out now. Try those first.

CheapTechnobuff says:

My Comps Specs are not that impressive but still runs SSF near perfect. I have tried the emu on many computers and it seems the Processor is never the bottleneck. It is usually always the Amount of RAM in you system and the (FPS) Speed ability of your video card. Since my computer has onboard graphics anything less than 2GB of Ram will make the emulator run Slow on 3d games.(remember the saturn had 8X32bit processors) I have also tested on a machine that was a single core AMD 1.8GHZ onboard graphics(geforce 6100) with 4GB of ram [ddr 800], and it plays the 3D at 100% speed. Even better than my comp at 2.1GHZ.
———SPECS—————————————–
CPU: AMD 1.7GHZ Sempron(single core) O/C’d to 2.1GHZ
Mem: 2GB DDR 800
Grafx: Onboard Geforce 6100 Nforce 430
HD: 120gb 7200rpm

this Comp runs the emulator at
100% for 2d games
90% for 3d games
(newer versions (0.10+) take more processing power I use 0.8 -for House of the dead, 0.9 -Nights, Panzer Dragoon and .11 -Shining Force 3 You get the hang of it after a while)

I owned a Saturn for many years. Spent a bunch of time playing Shining force 3 scenario 1 and then was pissed for years that they never planned to bring the other 2 discs of the same game over to english. Years later it turns out I wasn’t the only one pissed, Rom Hacking Fans have taken the Japanese ISOs and Translated the other 2 discs and the premium disc. It feels like someone just handed me a daydream from the past. Many other Jrpgs (nearly as many original rpgs as the PlayStation) were never brought over as well, some of these are now being fan translated. To us who only speak English though it’s as if a brand new game for an old console has been released for free.

Sh says:

“Open Source should only happen when the author has quit. Any earlier than that, and the emulator never reaches its potential. I’ve watched this happen way too many times. No one ever adds anything good to an open source project, at least regarding emulators. They just add pointless video filters and other unnecessary stuff, while breaking functionality left and right and killing off the fanbase.”

Pointless MY ASS. The graphics (including the polygons) look extremely pixelated in SSF and it makes the graphics UGLY as fuck, which is a shame as some Saturn games have gorgeous graphics. Whether it’s the emulator or the Saturn’s fault I don’t know, but fact is, they look much sharper when played on the actual hardware and with a TV screen. Before filters came out, SSF was in SERIOUS NEED of them, and filters that smooth the image not only make the graphics prettier, but they make them look CLOSER to what they would look like if played on a real Saturn (as they look smoother on a TV screen than on a computer monitor).

Chron says:

I’ve never heard such an ungrateful person complaining about a free program he uses to play his free games.

Dere says:

Best Saturn emulator. Too bad it runs games at a unfiltered scale of 2x that can’t be disabled, making the game look REALLY pixelated and ugly. I would rather play the games in a small window using the games’ real scale, as SSF’s pixelated-looking polygons make me want to poke my eyes out and it totally ruins the graphics of beautiful games like NiGHTS.

sam says:

why hasnt there been a better emulator out for too many years???
the same with psx2, gamecube, Nintendo64 or N64

David says:

I’ve used this emulator to play expensive games like Panzer Dragoon Saga. It ran very slowly on my old laptop, but on my gaming PC it runs perfectly. You can use usb controllers, also, so I play w/ my 360 controller (wireless w/ adapter). It’s not ideal for fighting games, but for other games it’s great.

I usually try to play all games on the real hardware with the real game, but some games are just too expensive.

Ian says:

@Chron
Ah, the old “It’s free, therefore it should be criticism-proof!” fallacy.

Sh says:

Chron:

So Mozgus complains about people adding extra features such as filters to emulators for free, yet I’m the one who gets called an “ungrateful person complaining about a free program he uses to play his free games” when I defend them? What?

Josh'n u says:

Well well… I should comment by saying congrats RacketBoy. I’ve been playing SSF for many years now with no complaints. In fact, I’m still on my same PC. Yeah, I don’t need a powerful PC when this one has all the power I need. Been playin N64, SS, Sega G, SNES, NES, GB, NDS, PS1, PS2, and last but not least DC. I’ve not had a problem with any of these and I’ve had my PC since 05. Single core processor at that. The accuracy of SSF however I have noticed plays slightly better on a 64bit system albeit it is faster. Other than that, I love these games still to this date and the only addition I can say is the Shining Force 3 translation for sc. 2 & 3. I never got to play these when I was younger. Could have, but did not want to take the time to learn Japanese. Now, I am playing scenario 2 bout halfway through with no bugs still. For all those complainers… either buy the system or figure out how to emulate it. It isn’t that complicated if you know how to google and read or ask a good question, mind you every stupid question deserves a stupid answer. The PS3 remote for my games also is awesome and RacketBoy… Keep up the work dog. Looking forward to xbox emulator one day that plays more than Halo. 😉

Josh'n u says:

Oh by the way… the idiots who say it looks pixelated… learn how to use the settings and your PC. Mine has never looked better. WAAAAAAAYY better than the real system, so if you don’t know why or your mad because of this… why don’t you ask questions on how to fix the problem and maybe, just maybe, you might be pleased by the outcome or just stay the retards you are. SSF Ver0.11 alpha is my version. Under screen check Bilinear fitering, auto field skip, strech screen, full size, and v-synch in full window. Under sound check linear filtering and change to 2048. Program one only check both VDP2’s and set thread numbers to 11 and DSP Dynamic Recompiler. If you can’t set to 0 and it will automatically set to 11. Program 2 set from top to bottom: 24, 4.00, 110, 100, 50, 200. Program 3 check check sprite priority, check cycle pattern, and memory access wait. Fianally, Program 4 check hook back up and deinterlace and enjoy you game. Do not use easy settings. Have fun. Been using that setup since the first emulator was out. RacketBoy… 2 thunbs up bro

Sh says:

@Josh’n u

Clearly you’re brain damaged, as I just used the settings you recommended graphics still look pixelated as ****. So unless you can upload a screenshot to ImageShack or some similar service and show us that your emulator really renders graphics as smoothly as you claim, I’m going to call BS and tell you to take that stick out of your arse.

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