Emulator developers spend years of their free time working on software they’ll never make money with, often looking for obscure programming solutions that make old console games run on our PCs. The developers of GameCube and the Wii Dolphin emulator estimated last year that they had completed more than $ 10 million of work over the lifetime of the project. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that a similar amount of work has gone into PCSX2, a PlayStation 2 emulator project that started two years before Dolphin. Thursday, PCSX2 had its first “stable” version since 2016, bundling years of performance and compatibility development into one major release.
A four-year gap may make it look like PCSX2 has not been in active development, but it is not. Dolphin, despite being an extremely active project, has not had a stable release since Dolphin 5.0, released in the summer of 2016. This is because the programmers working on both emulators are focused on improvements and upgrades. additions that are added to development builds, which probably aren’t rock solid.
New releases appear almost daily on the PCSX2 Github page, with notes such as “Robin Hood Fixes” and “[skip ci] GSDumpGUI: Add context menu to GSdx and internal log “(no, I don’t know what that means either). The new functionality is not fully optimized. The downside for gamers is that we are either trying to try our luck on these versions, or we are using an older version of the emulator which may lack years of interesting additions.
This riddle makes this version of PCSX2, version 1.6.0, an exciting milestone. A publish on PCSX2 website rounds up the last few years of changes, but it’s hard to appreciate what they all mean if you’re not a software developer. They are really vast, however. GUI revisions, support for modern display features like Adaptive Sync, better gamepad configuration tools, better support for sprite-based games, and countless improvements to base and bug fixes.
You can dig into the finer details of these improvements with a bunch of progress reports like this one from 2019, or just take it for granted that it’s good news. This pair of screenshots from James Bond 007: Nighteye is a good example of the types of small graphics glitches that may require individual attention, just to get a single game to render properly.
Or that of Jak 3, a notorious black eye problem.
Other fixes are more dramatic, shifting games from unplayable to playable.
It’s amazing how much work it can take to just fix shadows in a game like Sonic Heroes or Big Mutha Truckers, but over time these fixes bring the emulator closer to a perfect representation of the PlayStation 2.
Sony’s upcoming PlayStation 5 won’t have PS2 backward compatibility, at least not for the entire library. A limited emulation program on the PS4 added about 50 games you can buy digitally. The point is, PCSX2 is already the best way to play those old games on modern hardware, at much higher resolutions than the PS2 could produce. Five years ago, I argued that playing these PC games was already the way to go.
I think that will be just as true five years from now – fingers crossed, we’ll have seen a few other stable versions of PCSX2 coming out by then as well.
You can get 1.6.0 from the PCSX2 site here.