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Running Sega Dreamcast Games on Your PC with nullDC
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by Rob Williams on May 3, 2012 in Gaming

Want to play your Sega Dreamcast games but don’t want to haul the console out of the closet? You’re in luck, because there exists an outstanding emulator that I recently became addicted to: nullDC. This article covers all you need to know about it, including how to get started. So what are you waiting for? SoulCalibur is waiting.

Introduction

As a gamer, one of the worst experiences is finding out that your favorite console is reaching its end-of-life stage. Yet, it’s inevitable. Also inevitable is the fact that fans will create an emulator to make sure that the platform never dies. Luckily, pretty-well every console prior to and including the Sega Dreamcast have stellar emulator options available. That = a lot of gaming potential.

Nearly five years ago, I wrote a how-to entitled “Game Emulation in Linux“, which as the title implies, talked about getting various emulators working under the OS along with a gamepad. At the end, I stated, “The only other system I really wanted to see an emulator for, but didn’t, was the Sega Dreamcast. I guess we can’t have it all!” This sentiment was directed at Linux, but the truth was that the options were ultra-limited for Windows as well.

As it’s been a while since I last gave any Dreamcast emulator a test, I decided to once again seek out the available options and see how they fared. To my surprise, I found two popular choices: DEMUL and nullDC. For various reasons, I didn’t have luck with DEMUL at all, after a couple of nights of testing. nullDC on the other hand, I had working no problem, so that’s the focus of this article. Unfortunately for Linux and OS X users, neither of these emulators are designed for either OS – though Wine might be an option on the Linux side.

What Makes nullDC Great

It’s open-source. Want to contribute? You can!

The most important factor that sets an emulator apart from the rest is how well it works. In the case of nullDC, my overall experience has been amazing – much better than I anticipated. In all of the games I tested with nullDC (about 80), each one that worked delivered the same audio I’d expect to get from the console, and for the most part, the same could be said about the graphics. There are occasions where texture glitches occur or fonts may not render ideally through the emulator as they would on the console, but so far I haven’t encountered any problem too notable.

You might have noticed that I mentioned “each one that worked” above, and that’s because not all games are going to work with nullDC. The limiting factor is WinCE. If a game happens to use it, then it will not work in nullDC. It’s worth noting that DEMUL does support WinCE, so that is one thing that does set the two emulators apart. Select games that run on WinCE and subsequently won’t operate in nullDC are Resident Evil 2, Armada, 4×4 Evolution, Matt Hoffman’s Pro BMX, POD SpeedZone and Ducati World.

If you’re familiar with emulators, chances are you know how tedious it can be to find the right plugin for each module of a console, such as graphics, audio, gamepad and so forth. This is one area where nullDC shines (or doesn’t, depending on your view), as it pre-bundles all of the plugins right inside of the main package. That means that you’ll be able to get going fairly quickly without having to hunt down different plugins from a bunch of different websites. The downside, however, is that if one plugin doesn’t really agree with you, then you are somewhat out of luck. I’ve been unsuccessful in trying to find alternate plugins for nullDC.

Setting it Up

nullDC doesn’t have much of an official website, but rather is hosted via Google’s ‘code’ project hosting here. You’ll want to download the non-NAOMI version of the emulator, and then extract it. There’s no installer for this emulator, so wherever you extract it is where it will run from.

nullDC Sega Dreamcast Emulator

Like most emulators, nullDC requires a BIOS to operate, and adding to the similarity, it’s the one thing that doesn’t come included with the program. The reason for this is that the developers don’t want to risk angering Sega’s lawyers, and I don’t blame them. A quick Google search for ‘nullDC BIOS’ will yield quick results, or for a safe download I recommend grabbing it here. You will need to place the BIOS and other files in the archive into the ‘data’ folder within the nullDC folder.

Once that’s done, nullDC should load up without a hitch. If it complains about not being able to find the BIOS, double-check that it was extracted to the proper folder (‘data’) and also that its naming scheme is appropriate (‘dc_boot.bin’).

Your first stop should be Options > Select Plugins. The first four options can be left alone; it’s the “Maple” section that’s to be tackled. Maple is the plugin for gamepads, VMUs and other things. For some reason, I couldn’t get my Xbox 360 gamepad to work with the default plugin here, so I changed it to “PuruPuru Dreamcast Controller”. For extra save space, I added a second VMU to the first gamepad, and then two more to my nonexistent second gamepad.

nullDC Sega Dreamcast Emulator

At this point, there’s just one more important thing to take care of: gamepad configuration. To handle this, you need to go to Options > Maple > Port A > and then use the configuration tool for whichever plugin you’re using. Here’s the configuration screen for PuruPuru and also how I have my Xbox 360 gamepad setup for it:

nullDC Sega Dreamcast Emulator

With gamepad configuration dealt with, you’re effectively done and ready to go. You might however want to spend a couple of minutes looking through the various tweaks in the Options menu, such as changing the default region or altering some of the graphics modes. Two options I personally enable are Per Triangle under the Sort section in the PowerVR menu, and also Extra Geom under the Aspect Ratio section in the same menu. The latter option helps reveal more of the game on each side, effectively making 4:3 games run with a widescreen ratio. This is not done by stretching, but rather revealing the extra area that the console itself would crop out. You will see some garbage on the sides on occasion, but the widescreen effect once in a game that supports it is generally worth it.

nullDC has the tendency to crash on occasion, so once all of your configuration tasks are handled, I’d recommend closing down the program and reopening it before loading up a DC game, just in case.

Page List:
Top

1. Introduction
2. Running a Game & Final Thoughts


  • Serin

    Had anyone compiled for x64? I get message about incompatibility on win 8 and it won’t launch. I have been using chunkast which launches and boots to main screen but can’t read utopia or otherwise boot

    • http://techgage.com/ Rob Williams

      That’s bizarre. I have no problem at all running it on Windows 8 / x64.

  • bamminer

    Hi, I’m not looking at my PC right now, but I can tell you that I run Dreamcast games almost perfectly on NullDc 1.6 or something like that. My specs are as follows: P4 HT 3 GHz | 80 GB HD on 2 drives | 3 Gb Ddr-Ram | Int. Graphics circa 2005-ish| WinXP. I do run every non WinCE game perfectly with one exception: Sonic Adventures pauses occassionally(2-3% of the time), but is very, very playable otherwise. I know that NullDc has WinCE issues(most games will stop before completion). NullDC 3 and 4 will not run with games. Is there a way to play WinCE Dreamcast games via emulator with my specs?

    • http://techgage.com/ Rob Williams

      It might be worth testing the games out with DEMUL. When I wrote this article I had poor luck with it, but since then it’s treated me a lot better. As far as I was aware, nullDC didn’t run WinCE games at all. It’s a little unfortunate to see the project hasn’t been updated since 2011 (DEMUL was updated late 2013).

  • joeace

    The emulator is working but when I get to the time and date setting screen I can’t do anything. Is something wrong with the emulator or is it just my computer?

    • http://techgage.com/ Rob Williams

      Are you able to play a game, or is it just the BIOS section of the program that’s not working? Is a gamepad configured properly?

      • joeace

        I tryed to boot up the rom for sonic adventure but it just went to the date/time screen and wouldn’t do anything. I can’t figure out how to configure the gamepad.

        • http://techgage.com/ Rob Williams

          It kind of sounds like the image you’re trying to boot from isn’t working right with nullDC, or, something might still be off with the configuration. Note that some games you procure online might not be designed to work with nullDC; you’ll want ones that have a .bin and a .cue. If you have a release that has a bunch of files, it’s either meant to be burnt to a CD so that it can run on a real Dreamcast, although it might also work in Demul (for .gdi Demul is the go-to emulator).

  • Gregory Price

    I have windows 8 I can’t get a smooth play out of my emulator I’m using a hp 2000

    • http://techgage.com/ Rob Williams

      Is that the low-end HP 2000 notebook? If so, that right there is the reason for the poor performance; emulation requires beefy hardware to run at its smoothest. You might be able to eke additional performance out of that notebook, but it’s hard to say. I’d recommend submitting a question here as someone might already have a solution to your problem: http://reddit.com/r/emulation

  • vaealive5

    I am also having a issue with this emulator. Been playing skies of arcadia, a .gdi file, and randomly it starts asking for the date and time. It never did this for the hours of time I’ve put into playing. Now whenever I set the time and continue I am met with a black screen of death. This makes no sense because it never did this and I’ve spent about 9 hours playing without A SINGLE problem.

    • http://techgage.com/ Rob Williams

      You might want to see about continuing the quest from Demul. The memory card files are plugin based, so you can carry your nullDC saves over as long as you are using the same plugin. If you do this though, make absolute certain you back things up just in case.

      That’s unfortunate about that game though. SoA is one game I had on my list to play through again down the road.

  • Shane

    Hey I downloaded NullDC and I got it up and running. But when I try to normal boot a game a message pops up saying that NullDC has stopped working and it just has me close it. What should I do?

    • http://techgage.com/ Rob Williams

      That’s usually the result of a bad plugin configuration. You’ll need to double-check all of the settings. If you configured the video, you might want to reset it to default settings until you can get the emulator working at all.

      • Shane

        I re-downloaded the emulator and now every thing is all up and running! Thank you very much for your help!

        • http://techgage.com/ Rob Williams

          I’m glad that you got it sorted out!

  • chris thorns

    I have nulldc it’s a Cool emulator but my issue is the choppy audio I’m getting I’ve tried numerous configuration and it’s still there but gameplay runs smooth just the audio choppy and echoing any solution

    • http://techgage.com/ Rob Williams

      That’s the problem with emulation in general… all of our PCs are different, and so one configuration might work well for someone, it might not for another. When it comes to a problem like that, it’s best to seek out alternative plugins. It could just be a sound card issue though (and I’m sure it’s obvious, but it wouldn’t hurt to tweak the audio settings for whichever plugin you’re using).

      • chris thorns

        Cool thanks for the Reply now with that been said how can I go by using alternative methods for this issue are there any downloads I can do or website I can go to or do u have a link I can go straight to?…..again thanks for your response

  • chase

    I need help. Whenever I start up a game on nullDC it just doesn’t do anything. I’m not sure what’s going on and I’d appreciate help.

    • http://techgage.com/ Rob Williams

      Are you trying to boot a Win CE-based game? A list can be seen here:

      http://www.dcemu.co.uk/vbulletin/threads/43804-WinCE-games-List

      DEMUL would be required for those titles. If that’s not the problem, you’ll want to double-check all of the plugins. See if you can make it so that you can boot into just the BIOS.

  • dustin

    im using null and when I load my rom it freezes on the sega screen

    • http://techgage.com/ Rob Williams

      Are you running this on an older PC? Does it do that with every ROM? I’ve had issues with certain ROMs on occasion, but it’s not that common. You might want to try DEMUL to see if you have better luck.

  • Robert

    Howdy, I have an issue I hope someone can help with. I been playing Skies of Arcadia on this thing for the last couple weeks. I’ve had no issues except minor texture ones (and the fact it’s a nightmare to find chams w/o the VMU indicator lol) Yesterday, it crashed after playing it for around 11 hrs straight. Being late, and the fact I’d saved like 5 mins prior, I went to sleep without restarting it. (First time it’s ever crashed) Today, I went to resume but after clicking start and selecting the gdi, it popped up with a blue screen asking for a date and time (never has done that before, has always just loaded the intro for Skies) after setting date and time, the screen goes black and it doesn’t do anything else. I can’t figure out what’s wrong. I went and looked at all settings and plugins, no changes. I restart and it asks for date/time again. restarted computer too. I’ve got like 40-50 hrs logged on the game, PLEASE HELP!

    • http://techgage.com/ Rob Williams

      First and foremost, backup your VMU data (the vmu_data_portXX.bin files). Also note the “Date modified” to make sure that the last time you saved your game, it actually did save it. As for that issue ,it sounds bizzare. It almost seems like it’d be a good idea to redo your entire nullDC installation, and then import your VMU data.

      If you want to email me your VMU files ([email protected]), I can have a look at them and make sure they are not corrupt. I am really hoping the crash didn’t affect those.

      • Robert

        Thanks for the ultra fast response. It’s working perfectly now, The thought had crossed my mind to re-extract a new nulldc folder but I didn’t know where the games saves were, Still no idea what changed with the crash, but at least I can continue play. On a side note, I don’t suppose there’s any way of playing the pinta’s quest VMU minigame?

        • http://techgage.com/ Rob Williams

          I’d still make sure you make regular backups of the VMUs, because it’s going to be painful if you ever do experience a serious crash.

          If you can control the VMU minigame with the gamepad, you should be able to just use windowed mode and view the VMUs, but if it requires the VMU controls themselves, then you might want to look into a VMU emulator, or a plugin that might allow it. This is not something I’ve done before.

          • Robert

            It’s not playable from within skies at all. from what I understand, Skies downloads it to the VMU and then you play it in the VMU exploring and collecting items which are then retrieved by Skies when you select he option in the menu to redock pinta’s ship. Kinda similar to the way FFVIII on playstation linked to chocobo world on pocketstation.

          • http://techgage.com/ Rob Williams

            You might want to Google around a bit. I’ve found a VMU explorer and also some emulators, but it looks like a lot of them haven’t been updated in a while (as in, up to 10 years). The VMU editor would allow you to edit variables and resave the file I think, but it might be more of an advanced tool. I am not sure exactly why VMU players wouldn’t be a part of DC emulators. I remember thinking about looking into it before for Sonic Adventure, but never actually did.

          • Robert

            Alrighty, Thanks a bunch. Might look into it later, not too terribly important it would just be nice to find a few extra moonberries lol. anyways, back to playing!