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

Saturn says:

@ sh
I don’t know if you ever played Saturn games using a SCART cable on a hi ress flatscreen tv but they are also pixelated thats just the saturns low res graphics. This console and EMU where never intended for HD graphics or modern day lcd screen

David says:

To be honest SSF needs as fast a processor as you can give it, remember the Saturn had 2 processors these where especially effective in fighters against the cpu.
The Saturn will never look good on an LCD monitor or tv, it just wasnt made for it, to get good emulation you need a CRT monitor, then it will be like using a Saturn.
I give full cedit to the writer of SSF, i have been a fan of the Saturn since its launch day and was diapointed with its short life but i continue to love its games and the way it is.
To really apreciate the SSF emulator you need a Saturn bios, as you get the proper start up music and graphic, that really makes me feel im using a Saturn.
I would say 99% of games work but be aware some need a little bit of fiddling with in the settings to get them running but its worth it.
I love the SSF emulator and it amazes me its as good as it is, the creator is nothing short of a genius, long live Saturn games 🙂

Nope.avi says:

I like how people are not reading the post dates and are replying to month old posts to yell at people even though they probably will never read this article again. The only brain damaged here are the ones who bash months old or even year old posts. Unless you understand how the Saturns dual CPU’s work and want to create a emulator with graphics enhancements while keeping SSF’s compatibility you are just yelling at a brick wall basically because SSF uses software rendering to ensure accuracy. SSF has not been updated for 2 years and the site for it is down so the chances of more graphics enhancements are very slim. The Saturn is not a system you can just make an emulator for easily because of its dual CPU’s and so graphics enhancements are the last thing Saturn emulator coders are thinking about. Stop complaining or make your own emulator.

Saturn fan says:

I agree with Nope.avi. What people don’t realize is that SSF is basically the MAME of Saturn games. It is not meant for high def graphics because it uses software rendering and so it cannot use anti aliasing, anisotropic filtering, and other graphics enhancements. If you are going to complain to the developers about graphics quality you might as well complain to the MAME developers about Tekken 1 through Tag Tournament and Virtua Fighter having bad graphics because they don’t care about high resolution rendering because that makes the emulator require the GPU and that causes inaccurate rendering of games. SSF is meant to be accurate and play a ton of Saturn games with great compatibility , it is not meant to render a few games in high definition and play the rest terribly. Emulators that use dynamic recompilation such as Dolphin, PCSX2, NullDC, and other emulators utilize the GPU and are far less accurate than SSF and MAME. When you add the ability to enhance a game’s visuals using the GPU you lose accuracy and then sometimes the game can have unexpected behavior that would not be present on the native system.

Accurate emulation FTW says:

Making the emulator open source would not help because there is a scarce amount of people interested in Saturn emulation. All that it would do is allow a few novice coders to make some lousy revisions of SSF that cause some games to stop working unless someone skilled with Saturn emulation comes along which is highly unlikely. Open source only works if their is a huge interest in the system being emulated which is why it worked for MAME, ZSNES, medanfen, DOSbox, qemu, and Raine because those emulators were for popular systems. There is no Mcgyver of Saturn emulation that can make a emulator that is as accurate as SSF while allowing for graphics enhancements comparable to EPSXE, ZSNES, Dolphin, NullDC, PCSX2, Final Burn Alpha and other emulators with good graphic enhancing capabilities. The reason why the games are very pixilated is because they were meant for interlaced displays such as a CRT TV, they were not meant for LCD monitors and TVs because those use progressive scan. What graphic enhancements do in emulators is they attempt to filter out the pixelation caused by deinterlacing the game. This causes the emulation to be inaccurate which is not what the SSF developers are hoping for. Maybe in the future when CPUs are MUCH more powerful than they are now it could be possible for high resolution rendering with accuracy intact. If you want the games to not be pixelated, you will need to hook up your computer to a CRT TV.

SSF works better than Yabuse says:

For the people who wish to use Yabuse you may not want to because it has far less compatibilily than SSF. Yabuse seems to have scratchy audio on most of its games and the control settings will not let me use my directional pad on my controller. The next update might make Yabuse have better audio but it still has a long way to go to be as good as SSF.

David says:

Actually PCSX2 does not work that well, it as you may have seen takes a very powerful processor and graphics card to run it (at least the developers recomend it) this is because it is all done in software, they have not figured out how to emulate the emotion engine properly yet, if they had it would run on hardware like the PS1 emulator does.
SSF as far as im concerned acurately emulates the saturn cpu, most games run perfect, use a crt and you are hard pressed to tell its not a saturn you are using.
Yabuse is not in the same league as SSF it works for some games, but as said it has issues with audio and controllers, for the moment SSF is the only emulator for Saturn.
We need this emulator as the Saturn itself will not be around forever, the oldest saturn is now 19 years old.
Soon only the cds will survive and to have nothing to play some of Segas greatest games would be a shame.
I know the games have been ported to modern consoles, but is it the same ?

Sh says:

Nobody said anything about running the games in higher resolutions than on the real hardware or enhancing the graphics. In fact, NOT being able to run the games at native resolution is the problem. The point is that SSF always renders games at an unfiltered scale of 2x, making the graphics look too pixelated, without offering the option to run them at 1x.

@Nope.avi
I love how you’re bashing people for replying to months old posts by responding to months old posts. I guess you’re brain damaged by your own account, then?

fivefeet8 says:

New version of SSF out. Bilinear filtering, mesh transparency to true transparency, scanline adjust bar.
Get it at the usual places.

Sh says:

@fivefeet8
Thanks for the notification. Those feature you mentioned have been available for years, though.

Doom says:

I need a Sega Saturn Emulator that works with World Heroes Perfect. have been looking for one for years. Help me!

Nabeday says:

Has anyone been able to get The Crow – City of Angels working? I’m working on a Hyperspin project and this game is the only one in my collection that I can’t get going with SSF. Thanks

DukeX007X says:

In case anybody is looking for the official SSF Website, according to the author’s (FessX) Twitter Page: https://twitter.com/FessX

It seems it has been moved to Geocites Japan: http://www.geocities.jp/mj3kj8o5/ssf/index.html

Thanks to this thread for the update: http://segasaturngroup.proboards.com/thread/7921/ssf-website

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