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Review of Mac PCSX Test 3

Manufacturer: Gil Pederson
Price: Free
Requirements: Mac OS X 10.2 or later

February 2, 2005 PlayStation emulation on the Mac has a sorted history. Mac users were the first to get a PlayStation emulator when Connectix released Virtual Game Station in 1999. VGS was compatible with most PlayStation games and offered few if any gameplay problems.

In 2000, Sony sued Connectix for trademark and patent infringement, but lost the lawsuit. In the end Sony won when they bought VGS from Connectix... and immediately discontinued the product.

Developer 2510 released Flarestorm in 2003, and Mac users were hopeful for an OS X-based PlayStation emulator that would rival VGS. Flarestorm showed promise, but as with many private underfunded projects development slowed. Flarestorm 2.0 was released in January 2004 and offered some great features, but was generally less compatible with games than previous releases — and both Flarestorm releases were far less compatible than VGS had been. It appeared as though PlayStation emulation on the Mac was officially dead.

Just when many Mac users had given up, open-source software and developer Gil Pederson came to the rescue. In mid-2004, Gil announced that he was working on a Mac version of the Linux-based PCSX. There was so much demand for the emulator that Mac PCSX was voted the Most Anticipated Release of 2004. In January a beta version was released for everyone to test and enjoy.

Armored Core on Mac PCSX Test 3

Armored Core on Mac PCSX Test 3

Why Care About Old PlayStation Games and Emulating Them?

With the far more advanced graphics of the PlayStation 2 and the much anticipated PlayStation Portable (PSP), why would anyone care about a PSOne emulator?

There are so many games in the PSOne library that it is impossible to not find something worth playing. Even better, PSOne games are now usually very inexpensive. Used and guaranteed copies of PSOne games can be found at local game retailers and online for as little as $1.50 each. For what would have been an investment of thousands of dollars a few years ago, $100 will buy many of the best and most innovative games created in the last decade. We spent under $40 to buy a dozen of what were reviewed as the best games for the PSOne.

Mac iBook and Powerbook users can enjoy PSOne games anywhere they go. For travelling gamers, even a 12" iBook screen is great for gaming... and significantly larger than the 4.3" PSP screen.

Modern games may have great graphics, but most have not significantly improved on past gameplay. It is surprising how much fun an "archaic" but well-designed PSOne game can be. Some of the most successful video game franchises, such as Resident Evil and Tomb Raider, were originally made popular by the PSOne games.

Crash Bandicoot on Mac PCSX Test 3

Crash Bandicoot on Mac PCSX Test 3

Using Mac PCSX

Many emulators require an original ROM to operate, but PCSX can be used with either PlayStation BIOS ROM emulation or an actual ROM image file. Some games work with the BIOS emulation, but best game compatibility is with a real PlayStation BIOS image. As with all emulators, it is only legal to use a ROM image for hardware that you own.

PCSX offers several options in Preferences that increase compatibility with games. Most games work well with the default settings, but other options may need to be activated to improve performance.

There are multiple options for controlling games. The keyboard can be used for one-player games, but the controls are currently not configurable — don't expect to be able to change the keystroke commands. If the HIDInput is chosen in Preferences, users have a choice of either digital or analog controllers. We found the digital controller option to work perfectly with both a Gravis Gamepad Pro and a MacAlly iShock 2. While the iShock 2's controller was recognized in the HIDInput analog setting, the thumbsticks were unusable during gameplay.

We purchased a PSX to USB Game Adapter from Radio Shack for $10.99 to test real PlayStation controllers. As with the iShock 2, the digital controls performed flawlessly but the Dual Shock analog controls did not. There was limited gamepad function, but the thumbsticks and directional controls did not perform well enough for gameplay. An analog steering controller suffered from the same problems. There was no vibration "shock" game feedback with any of the capable controllers.

Games that require a Dual Shock controller (such as Ape Escape) would not recognize the Dual Shock or any other analog controller. For the time being, this makes games that require an analog or Dual Shock controller unusable.

Jet Moto on Mac PCSX Test 3

Jet Moto on Mac PCSX Test 3

Because PCSX Test 3 is still a beta, not all emulation is working. CD audio, usually heard as background music during gameplay, often does not play. Character speech is also often missing when it uses the CD audio playback. CD audio support is planned for future releases.

Start PCSX, insert the PSOne game into your Mac's optical drive, wait for the disc to appear on the desktop, and choose Run CD (Command-R). The original Sony PlayStation logo screens do not appear, and the game starts at where the logo screens would have finished.

Games can be played in full-screen mode, activated with the ESC key. Memory Cards are supported, but even better is the Freeze State/Defrost State feature. Using Freeze/Defrost, gameplay can be saved at any time and not just at the Memory Card save points specified in the game. There are three Freeze/Defrost choices per game title. Defrosting a saved game was the only time PCSX unexpectedly quit during our use, but when the application was relaunched the frozen game defrosted correctly with no errors.

Compatibility

We have found PCSX's compatibility to be much higher than expected, especially for a beta version. Many game titles run perfectly with full 60 frames-per-second playback. Some games are not perfectly emulated because of the CD audio playback limitation, but otherwise completely playable. We found 45 out of 59 of our PSOne games worked with this beta version of PCSX... that's a 77% compatibility rate! PlayStation Underground disks that were included with the magazine have also worked well. Resident Evil 3: Nemesis and several other games required Dynarec CPU Core off to work (in preferences) — we suggest trying this before determining that a game is incompatible.

Descent, Descent Maximum, and Tekken 3 all experienced video display issues where part of the screen was either garbled or missing. In all three games this problem was limited to an area near the top 5-15% of the screen. The games were still at least partially playable.

R4 on Mac PCSX Test 3

R4 on Mac PCSX Test 3

Dino Crisis and Dino Crisis 2 were difficult to play because the games are very dependent on character speech. Many games that use background music (especially racing games) are more bearable with background music turned off in the game options, since for now the music usually repeats as annoying distorted noises. Both of these issues should be resolved when CD audio is enabled in future PCSX releases.

Different users have experienced differences in game compatibilities. These variations are usually based on Mac hardware (processor speed and the graphics card), the BIOS ROM image used, and compatibility options selected in PCSX Preferences. Before deciding that a game doesn't work at all, try testing it with other compatibility options in Preferences.

Experiments with Toast to create playable disk images have been very successful. The Toast disk images load slightly faster than the original PSOne disk, but otherwise game performance is identical. This technique is useful for iBook and Powerbook users who want to extend battery life, since playing a game from the hard drive uses less power than the optical drive.

Results: Good

For many years Mac users have been complaining about the scarcity of Mac gaming options. With very high compatibility, even this beta version of PCSX opens up Mac gaming to a new world of possibilities. The wide range of PSOne titles offers many new fighting, FPS, platform, racing, RPG, and strategy games to Mac users.

While we only gave this beta version a rating of good, it is important to remember that PCSX is only a beta and definitely going to improve in future months. Discussion has hinted at improved graphics that will make emulating PSOne games on the Mac even better than the games are on the original hardware.

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