Thursday, May 30, 2013

Playstation 2 Emulation: PCSX2

A recent Twitter conversation with Jonn Shute from How to Murder Time got me wondering about the current state of PS2 emulation. A quick google search revealed that the leading contender is a programme called PCSX2  which is a highly developed emulator that already works with over 1800 PS2 games. Impressively there are Windows Mac and Linux versions available.

Disclaimer: The combination of hacking and gaming makes emulation a facinating subject but there are legal issues. You might feel that it is morally justifiable to emulate older systems and games that are no longer commercially available (abandon-ware) but I am not sure that a court of law would agree with you. In any case the PS2 only went out of production in January this year so even the abandon-ware argument is a bit unconvincing. The two main points of legal contention with regard to PCSX2 are the games themselves and Sony's PS2 bios. You can still buy PS2 games in second hand shops and on Ebay but the only legal way to get a copy of the PS2 bios is to get your own PS2. Even then I am not sure the law allows you to copy the bios from your console and install it in another device.  In any case, just to be clear, the following post is in no way an admission that I did anything illegal. It is merely a summary of observations that I have gathered from browsing publicly available websites and youtube videos. It is not my intention to give the impression that I undertook any of the activities described below myself.

You can pick up a second hand PS2 for as little as €20 these days so you might wonder about the need for an emulator. The PCSX2 website points out that there are advantages to emulation:  The ability to run games at higher graphics resolutions with features such as anti aliasing, greatly expanded storage facilities for games and save games, the ability to take screenshots, the abilty to save game states other than at checkpoints (you might consider this cheating but it is a biggie). It is important also not to overlook the fun that comes from hacking around with a complex piece of software that will reward those who invest time in it with control over just about every aspect of their games.

The disadvantage though is that emulation is not plug and play. The PCSX2 has been in development since 2001 and is very polished but even so it come with a choice of plugins for graphics, sound, controllers etc. and most of these plugins have further options to tweak on a game by game basis. Happily the default pugins and settings work well for many games. Advances in PC technology allow a fast modern processor to brute force its way through many of the difficulties that were encountered in earlier days. Nevertheless you do have to be prepared to get stuck in and play with individual settings on a game by game basis to get the optimal experience. There is a wiki which can be searched for individual game settings. There is no guarantee these settings will work on your hardware but they are a good starting point.

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