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The Quest To Build Xbox One and PS4 Emulators 227

Posted by samzenpus
from the if-you-build-it-they-will-play dept.
Nerval's Lobster writes "Will Xbox One and PS4 emulators hit your favorite download Websites within the next few years? Emulators have long been popular among gamers looking to relive the classic titles they enjoyed in their youth. Instead of playing Super Mario Bros. on a Nintendo console, one can go through the legally questionable yet widespread route of downloading a copy of the game and loading it with PC software that emulates the Nintendo Entertainment System. Emulation is typically limited to older games, as developing an emulator is hard work and must usually be run on hardware that's more powerful than the original console. Consoles from the NES and Super NES era have working emulators, as do newer systems such as Nintendo 64, GameCube and Wii, and the first two PlayStations. While emulator development hit a dead end with the Xbox 360 and PS3, that may change with the Xbox One and PS4, which developers are already exploring as fertile ground for emulation. The Xbox 360 and PS4 feature x86 chips, for starters, and hardware-assisted virtualization can help solve some acceleration issues. But several significant obstacles stand in the way of developers already taking a crack at it, including console builders' absolute refusal to see emulation as even remotely legal."
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The Quest To Build Xbox One and PS4 Emulators

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  • by Kohath (38547)

    You can get almost all of the same games for the PC you're using to emulate the console. They're probably much cheaper on the PC. The PC versions will probably work better than the console versions plus the emulator. The online functions of the consoles will probably never work on the emulator.

    It seems like a lot of effort to build something inferior.

    • by cultiv8 (1660093)
      And there are much easier ways to get over a mountain than climbing it.
    • Exclusives

    • by MBGMorden (803437)

      Not all games are available on PC. The latest Halo's have not been. Nothing by Naughty Dog (Uncharted, The Last of Us). A lot of Square Enix's titles are not (a lot of JRPG's in general actually).

      I love gaming on my PC - particularly with Steam sales making many games pretty much dirt cheap, and I just plug in a wired XB360 controller to my PC and get console controls for most of them. That said, there's still a lot of titles that simply aren't available there. For those you need emulation (or to just

    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      You can get almost all of the same games for the PC you're using to emulate the console. They're probably much cheaper on the PC. The PC versions will probably work better than the console versions plus the emulator. The online functions of the consoles will probably never work on the emulator.

      It seems like a lot of effort to build something inferior.

      It depends.

      A lot of PC releases these days are $60, and ship months after the console release. (You do get the odd one that's same day - usually limited to FPS

    • by neokushan (932374)

      Preservation? The work that went into building emulators of old has meant that we can now play SNES games et all on modern hardware - such as Android tablets. I have no idea what the computing landscape will look like in 10 or 20 years time but it'd be nice to be able to play today's games on whatever hardware I own at the time without having to dust off the PS4 or whatever.

      • Unfortunately all the license authentication and multiplayer servers will be down long before then...

        • by neokushan (932374)

          License authentication is largely irrelevant, an emulator would just ignore any licensing flags and play content indiscriminately. As for MP, that is a different issue and one faced by all platforms, but it's not inconceivable for emulators to be able to form their own network.

          The 360 can already play networked content outside of Live, it was little more than disabling a ping limit for local multiplayer. Not quite as elegant as a fully-fledged Xbox Live replacement but a start.

  • I'd rather see people working on emulating the last generations consoles. Or the one before that even. The PS2 has one emulator, PCSX2, which is about 80% compatible. The original Xbox has no currently developed emulators.

    There's no shortage of ways to play old 8bit and 16bit games. There is a shortage of ways to play last generation games. When our 360s and PS3s finally give up in 5 to 10 years, there's a large number of games that simply won't be playable anymore.

    • by H3lldr0p (40304) on Monday December 09, 2013 @12:24PM (#45640299) Homepage

      Since the original Xbox was running mostly off the shelf hardware, I'm not sure it needs an emulator (aside from whatever security/copy protection hardware).

      But the 360/PS3 is going to be tough. Tougher than average, I'd say since those were both custom CPUs. Yes, there is some papers out there covering how they did their execution but that doesn't cover some of the weird stuff. Stuff like with the PS2 and original PS that took years to sort out.

      Those of you who don't remember the Bleem! saga and the fact that Sony not only lawsuited them to death, but also make emulation even harder by changing the way their compilers did certain undocumented graphic blits and other memory tricks. This was why Bleem! had a specific target list of compatible games.

      Still not sure that all of that was documented.

      Bad memories.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Since the original Xbox was running mostly off the shelf hardware, I'm not sure it needs an emulator (aside from whatever security/copy protection hardware).

        The original Xbox has the same problem as the new Xbox, and the newer Xbox. They all run Windows. The OS was derived from Windows 2000 and then carried forward from Xbox to Xbox, presumably receiving regular infusions from the Windows codebase along the way. This is [again, presumably] analogous to the way that various Unixes received regular infusions of code while maintaining their old code, whether from SysV or BSD.

        Or, you know, Microsoft broadly lied about the way the Xbox OS was developed, and they act

        • In my (admittedly layman's) understanding, the difficulty with the XB360/PS3 isn't so much that their cores are all that cryptic (the xbox, and the PS3's main core, are all basic PPCs, and the PS3's 'SPE' elements are weird; but IBM talked a lot about them in the course of trying to build interest in using them as accelerator cards for compute applications); but because they aren't x86; but are clocked as high as contemporary x86s, which makes it difficult to get emulation at anything remotely resembling us
        • by neokushan (932374)

          The original Xbox has the same problem as the new Xbox, and the newer Xbox. They all run Windows. The OS was derived from Windows 2000 and then carried forward from Xbox to Xbox, presumably receiving regular infusions from the Windows codebase along the way.

          http://blogs.msdn.com/b/xboxteam/archive/2006/02/17/534421.aspx

          One of the first questions I get when someone hears I work on Xbox is "So, what operating system do you guys use? Windows 2000, right?" I am honestly not sure where the Win2K misperceptio

      • I remember hearing that PS2 was a nightmare to code for, and that the only reason games came out on it was because it was the clear winner. I also heard that the 360 would dominate in the next round because it's MS and easier to code for. And that no one would buy a wii becuase it was so dramatically underpowered. I've since stopped listening to clerks at gamestop when they are giving their expert opinion on consoles. I probably should have known better even then.
    • Even the more obscure 5th gen consoles still have no working emulators. (Jaguar and 3D0 to name two) and the ones that do exist aren't always that great either (Sega Saturn)

      Emulating modern systems is a very tall order. If you want to play 360 titles in 5-10 years hit craigslist and stick one in your attic.
    • by anss123 (985305)

      The original Xbox has no currently developed emulators.

      There is an Xbox emulator that play games, unfortunately it's for the Xbox 360.

  • Zelda was cool when you were 10 BECAUSE you were 10.
    Move on.

    • Sorry if it annoys you that I still enjoy Zelda, but I'm not sure what you expect me to do about it.

      • by Nyder (754090)

        Sorry if it annoys you that I still enjoy Zelda, but I'm not sure what you expect me to do about it.

        Well, he said to move on, so I took that to mean to move on to Zelda II.

  • But several significant obstacles stand in the way of developers already taking a crack at it, including console builders' absolute refusal to see emulation as even remotely legal.

    Well that's not surprising. The battle isn't to win the hearts of Microsoft and Sony. The battle is to win rights from the governments that enforce these restrictions.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday December 09, 2013 @12:22PM (#45640259) Journal
    On the plus side, emulating an AMD x86 and GPU is likely to be considerably easier (especially since AMD's current or near-future PC parts are likely to be extremely similar in most respects, though you will probably have to go up a few speed grades to deal with the emulator running on top of a full OS) than emulating either the relatively fast PPCs of the previous generation (PPC-on-x86 is done; but doing that really fast is another story) or the slow-but-somewhat-esoteric-and-absolutely-every-oddity-was-used-and-abused architectures of the older consoles.

    On the minus side, the odds are good that both new consoles (especially the Xbox, given MS's software side; but probably the PS as well) contain a lot of software that, while not integral to the tightly-optimized-graphics-twiddling aspects of the games, will probably have to be given a fairly precise "WINE-like" treatment to avoid breaking things all over the place. Not necessarily impossible (as WINE itself demonstrates); but definitely a different game than the 'emulate the hardware and let the ROM do as it will' emulators that work for older consoles.

    On the very minus side, it would not be out of character for either MS or Sony to have added some nasty copy-protection-related cryptographic goodies that will be very hard to emulate. MS, given their PC background, might well have gone for a TPM. Architecturally, emulating one of those would be cake by the standards of what the emulation scene has taken on, except for minor matters like the endorsement key. A TPM emulator that emulates a TPM loaded with the 2048-bit RSA private key of your choice? Sure, no problem. The correct private keys? That might be an issue.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I'm not really a gamer but aren't most of the Top games already written on existing game engines that have been ported to desktop even if a particular game hasn't? How hard would it be to modify the game engine to allow stripped resource files from a console game to be run on the desktop? Would it be more or less difficult to modify all the popular game engines than create an emulator?

  • Despite the hardware platform being x86-64, there is probably a ton of hoops to jump through to discover precisely how the hardware works and to crack the protections. Systems are so complex these days that a loosely-knit group of unpaid hackers might not be able to make a strong result anymore.
  • It should of created a $99 ad-on, that would allow the Xbox One to play 360 games. Essentially, all it would be is an Xbox 360 processing core, which would use the already available hard drive, controllers, I/O, and Kinect 2.

    I'd wager it'd sell like hot cakes, and be profitable. Because the entire Xbox 360 is now what $150-$200? Minus case, controllers, hard drive, all output components, they should of been able to pull it off.

    • 1. Interesting point. Makes sense to me. 2. Should HAVE! Should HAVE! Should HAVE!
    • by realmolo (574068)

      Nobody cares about backwards-compatibility.

      Why do you think both Sony and MS gave up on it a few years ago? It adds cost to the system, and it doesn't increase sales. A $99 add-on? Hardly anyone would buy it. Sony and MS aren't stupid- if backwards-compatibility was something that would help them sell more systems and/or games and make more money, they would include it. But it doesn't, because hardly anyone wants to play old games. And those that DO want to play the old games play them on the OLD CONSOLE!

      • by PRMan (959735)
        They DON'T WANT you playing your old games. They want to sell you another version for the new system.
    • I'd wager it'd sell like hot cakes, and be profitable. Because the entire Xbox 360 is now what $150-$200? Minus case, controllers, hard drive, all output components, they should of been able to pull it off.

      The question I would have is how will this be an add-on? A daughter card or a separate module. With the daughter card, there comes into question cooling and engineering. With the module there comes into the question of power and bandwidth. Thunderbolt or external PCI might be the only two interfaces that could handle it but I don't know they could supply the power. Then there is the software side in that the OS has to two run on two different modes. All that into consideration, I don't think it would

    • except there's definitely new, non-trivial engineering required to integrate an existing 360 core system w/ new one storage, display, etc. even giving it that capability via an add-on module would raise the base cost of the system, that is already $100 more than the competitor.

      not to mention, these don't really want that. they take a loss on the system. they make money when people buy new games. any actions that allows you to enjoy that hardware doing anything other than buying new expensive games isn't in

  • Games, both downloaded and on optical media, are likely to be encrypted eight ways to Sunday on modern systems. Before you can even begin to emulate games from a modern console, you need the unencrypted binaries, or you need to resign yourself to running community-developed homebrew. This means extracting the console key from a console, which is not likely to be a trivial matter.

    • Games will be the hardest thing about emulation. While I don't doubt that emulating the hardware can eventually be done, getting the games will be harder. Also, legally, emulating hardware could fall under exceptions like reverse engineering whereas copyright law would make games harder.
  • I'm not emulator writer, nor am I an x86 expert, but I'm pretty skeptical about this. If there are any experts out there, feel free to chime in.

    The original XBox [wikipedia.org] had a custom Pentium 3 processor clocked at 733Mhz, and to date there haven't been any reasonable emulators for it. There have been a few attempts, but no big successes have been made. Last I checked about 6 months ago, interest was also waning on the development of it.You would think a quad core i7 clocked at 3.2 GHz would run circles around that

    • as long as I'm not subjected to MS monitoring and policing my swearing

      you must really like swearing if that is keeping you from enjoying your favorite game.

  • by thevirtualcat (1071504) on Monday December 09, 2013 @01:03PM (#45640689)

    I think some people here are missing the point.

    I don't think anyone is saying that PS4/Xbox1 emulation will be easy. Just that it will be easier than PS3/XBox360 emulation.

    Both generations will have a significant amount of hacking and reverse engineering involved and will be fraught with legal challenges. The current generation just has the advantage of being more or less based on hardware that's readily available at a reasonable price. The previous generation is not even remotely similar to anything you can buy easily or cheaply. (Other than the PS3 and XBox360, of course.)

  • GameCube and Wii? (Score:5, Informative)

    by wisnoskij (1206448) on Monday December 09, 2013 @01:23PM (#45640889) Homepage

    Um, no....
    Not really, some computers, really powerful computers (about the same as playing the most intensive computer game on the absolutely highest graphics possible), can play a few of these games without huge game wrecking glitches. At best I would call the emulator a very early alpha; Proof of concept.

    And we still do not even have something even that good for the original Xbox. The only reason we have something that is even decent at emulating the PS2 is because it is far older than even the Xbox and by far the most popular console of all time. And really that is only like 50%. Very popular games have been made to work, but you can pretty much forget just getting some random PS2 game popping it in and playing it.

    Which is not to say that the current gen will not be easier to emulate, but that is a lot of power to be emulating even if it is already basically 99% a normal PC already.

    The N64 was probably the last decently complete emulator, and you have to go all the way back to the SNES era to get one that is 100% working, every game works, launch and go.

    • Dolphin plays most games acceptably, with few notable exceptions (that can be traced to a small number of issues that can be solved, but the project is focusing on Android instead). This goes for GameCube and Wii.
      PCSX2 is similar when it comes to compatibility, but major titles are in a better state (bugs, if any, are cosmetic, like reversed controls for movement in two rooms in FFX - yeah, it's weird, but minimal).
      The N64 emulation scene is a mess - more emulators than I can count, plus more plugins for ev

    • The N64 was probably the last decently complete emulator, and you have to go all the way back to the SNES era to get one that is 100% working, every game works, launch and go.

      It depends on what you mean by "decently complete emulator", since many of them contain hacks to function correctly on certain games. The n64 alone has at least 5 emulators come and gone, and pj64 I'd contend is roughly 70% complete in terms of the library it can play. The SNES is a different beast altogether and even it isn't 100%. The SuperFX chip really threw a wrench in the works and forced quite a few ugly hacks to just "make it work". That's the whole impetus behind the bsnes project, and even that i

  • The PCSX2 developers said a PS3 emulator will be possible around 2020...so good luck with a PS4 emulator.

  • by adiposity (684943) on Monday December 09, 2013 @03:29PM (#45642225)

    Back in the day I played around with CXBX because I didn't want to buy an XBOX. It was more of a research project, but it proved it could be done. What it actually did was turn XBOX executables into Windows executables, with call redirection. It was a very cool idea but by the time it was working, no one was playing XBOX games anymore.

    I would imagine it would be significantly harder with the XB1, but still very possible considering the architecture.

    Apparently the project lives on and is pretty compatible with many games, today: http://www.caustik.com/cxbx/ [caustik.com]

  • The Retrode is a brilliant little gadget: http://www.retrode.com/ [retrode.com]

    It's basically an old-school console cartridge -> USB adaptor. It also supports old Megadrive / SNES gamepads and doesn't require host software (which is actually rather neat - it'll appear as a USB mass storage device with a cartridge image on it, plus presenting the controllers as either gamepads or keyboards). With further adapters you can plug in Mastersystem, Gameboy and N64 carts (plus two N64 controllers).

    It's just a really nice pi

  • The original XBOX used an off the shelf Celeron processor that we easily run circles around today, and an nVidia chip that was somewhat custom, but not so far out there we can't work around it, not to mention a customized version of Windows as a front end.

    Last time I checked only the original Halo worked on anything else with emulation. The original XBOX should be among the easiest things to emulate all things considered.

    I don't put much stock in X86 = guaranteed emulation at all.

  • console builders' absolute refusal to see emulation as even remotely legal

    Wrong. The Wii, Wii U, PS3, and Xbox 360 all run emulators for various downloadable games, and it will be no different with the Xbox One and PS4. The Xbox 360 also has an Xbox emulator for those who buy the hard drive add on.

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