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.
Prior to running a game, it’s important that you boot into the system BIOS in order to setup your VMUs (memory cards). To do this, you click on System, Start and then No Disk. Just like on the real console, you’ll be able to go into the File menu and format the faux VMUs.
With that done, this is where things begin to get a little complicated. Whereas an emulator like ePSXe has the ability to run a game right off of the CD, nullDC doesn’t. This is due to the fact that the Dreamcast uses GD-ROMs, not CD-ROMs. Ripping your own games isn’t an easy process either, so your best bet is to seek out proper CDI, MDS, NRG, GDI or CHD rips. There are likely a hundred different sites out there that host these image files, so they won’t be hard to find. Be careful with the sites you do land on, and always use your better judgement.
Note: Before downloading ISOs of Dreamcast games, it’s important that you understand your local laws. To err on the side of caution, stick to downloading ISOs of games you own a physical copy of.
Below is a showcase of some of the games I’ve run through nullDC. In all cases, I ran the games with the “Extra Geom” setting enabled as mentioned earlier. In some titles, this doesn’t bode too well, but it’s never detrimental to gameplay (and can be disabled just as easy as it was enabled). The first two games below, San Francisco Rush 2049 and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater are two examples where the setting makes no difference; all you will see is black outside of the game area. The remainder of the games happened to work fine with the setting however, resulting in some nice widescreen action.
In most cases where the graphics don’t look stellar, it’s not likely nullDC at fault, but rather the fact that the objects are static (not vector). In effect, they are being stretched due to the higher resolution. Fonts and various icons tend to show off this problem well, but it’s a minor issue in the grand scheme.
In the time I’ve used nullDC so far, my experience has been good, and I’m thankful that such a robust solution exists. It’s not the most stable emulator out there, but I’ve only ever had it crash on me when switching discs or on a rarer occasion, when configuring a plugin. I’ve never had it crash while inside of a game, even when running one for a couple of hours.
As good as nullDC is, there are two problems that might keep people from using it. First is the lack of WinCE support, which some popular games do support. Second is the fact that the “extPlugin” doesn’t seem to work. That means no BBA (broadband adapter), dial-up or modem emulation. For this reason, nullDC is not likely appropriate to connect to a private Phantasy Star Online server, or the net in general.
Though I’ve never been successful with getting DEMUL to run, that’s another emulator well-worth checking out. If I ever manage to get it running, I might follow-up with an article on it and compare it to nullDC. For Dreamcast fans though, having these options is amazing, given it took so long to get them. Huge kudos to the devs of both projects for helping to keep one of the best consoles ever (imo) alive.
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