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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.

Running a Game & Final Thoughts

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.

nullDC Sega Dreamcast Emulator

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.

nullDC Sega Dreamcast Emulator
San Francisco Rush 2049

nullDC Sega Dreamcast Emulator
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater

nullDC Sega Dreamcast Emulator
Sonic Adventure 2

nullDC Sega Dreamcast Emulator
GigaWing 2

nullDC Sega Dreamcast Emulator
Dead or Alive 2

nullDC Sega Dreamcast Emulator
Jet Set Radio

nullDC Sega Dreamcast Emulator
Crazy Taxi

nullDC Sega Dreamcast Emulator
Capcom vs. SNK 2

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

Discuss this article in our forums!

Have a comment you wish to make on this article? Recommendations? Criticism? Feel free to head over to our related thread and put your words to our virtual paper! There is no requirement to register in order to respond to these threads, but it sure doesn’t hurt!

Page List:

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

    • 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?

    • 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?

    • 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.

        • 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).

    • Zach

      up/down is change settings, left/right is select setting. v is a…why?

  • Gregory Price

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

    • 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:

  • 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.

    • 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?

    • 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!

        • 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

  • 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.

    • Rob Williams

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

      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

    • 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!

    • 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?

        • 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.

          • 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!