Unlocking the Mysteries of Sega Saturn Emulation

Unlocking the Mysteries

The Sega Saturn.  It’s like a planetary system.  It’s like an atom.  Complex, yet ordered.  Dual CPUs and six other processors make it like a binary star system with six planets, or some mysterious element with a proton and neutron and six electrons.

Sega Saturn

Nah, it’s actually a really fun console to own and play.  I’m just glad I got all my games for it about a decade ago before they really shot up in price.  And because I own the console itself, it’s among the last consoles that I’ve bothered to emulate on a PC.

There are a few reasons for that.  First of all, whenever I wanted to play a Saturn game, all I had to do was just turn on the TV and the Saturn and go.  Second, my emulation PC wasn’t actually powerful enough – keep in mind those eight separate processors that have to be emulated.  Third, it turns out that the only Saturn emulator worth using is a real fucking pain in the ass to use.

So now that I have a PC with enough power to run it, I can use SSF.  But SSF is the most finicky and complicated console emulator I have ever used.  And it’s buggy as hell.  It dumps settings frequently, and controller settings have to be reassigned before playing every game.  But, if you are aware of its bugs and the way it works, it can be used, and it has a very high compatibility rate.

First (and I mean before you even start the program) you need to have a Saturn game in your CD drive or have a Saturn game disc image mounted using virtual disc mounting software.  In this regard, it’s like the way Magic Engine operates when playing TurboGrafx-CD games, so I’m already used to that.

I personally use Daemon Tools Lite, though I can’t really recommend that program because it apparently uses your internet connection to “phone home” and collect data about what you’re doing.  None of my emulation computers are connected to the internet, so I don’t have to worry about that.

Anyway, once you have mounted the disc image, you can start the program.  You will need to change a whole bunch of options first before you can use the program.  You will have to set the BIOS file and then the region.  You will also have to tell the program whether or not you have any kind of RAM expansion cartridge plugged into your emulated Saturn.  These last two settings get dumped and reverted frequently, and prevent games from loading if they are incorrect.  You will have to open the program’s Options screen every time you load the program.

Not only that, but your changes to the options will not take effect until after you close and re-open the program.  After you change an option that has been dumped and reverted by the program, you will have to exit the program and restart it and check to see if it retained your selection before you proceed.  And then, like I said before, you will have to reassign the controller settings.

You should also go to the option marked EZ Setting and choose the highest compatibility that your computer will allow.  If you have a relatively new computer, choosing the highest compatibility shouldn’t be a problem.

It’s also worth noting that after you make any changes, you will get a strange confirmation window with a bunch of question marks all over it.  Just click that and don’t worry about the question marks.  The emulator’s programmer is Japanese and it’s been speculated that the program’s GUI was translated to English using translation software.

Once you have gone through the options and made sure the correct BIOS file, region, controller assignments, and compatibility have been set, and once you have exited and restarted the program if necessary, you are ready to start the game.  ALT+ENTER will toggle fullscreen, and it should keep its aspect ratio.

So far, all but one game I have tried (Actua Golf from Japan) have worked in SSF.  The games play in native resolution, but they look great.

Ripping your Saturn discs couldn’t be easier either.  I use ImgBurn to generate bin/cue files.  The cue files get mounted in Daemon Tools Lite with no problem and they play in the emulator just fine.  As an added bonus, I had a couple of badly scratched CDs that would always fail at a certain point in my Saturn.  To my delight, ImgBurn read these all the way through and was able to make perfect error-free disc images out of them that play perfectly in SSF.

I should also mention another Saturn emulator that has nowhere near the compatibility of SSF, but is open source and currently under development.  Yabause requires a little more power to operate, but it doesn’t need disc images mounted for it, and it can upscale polygon graphics, much like the PlayStation emulator ePSXe.  This emulator doesn’t work all the time, but when it does, it sure is pretty.