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Improving Your Emulation Experience


Lordmonkus
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Disclaimer:
This is going to be aimed more towards the people that are newer to emulation and I really am only talking about the mainstream consoles like the commonly known 8, 16 and 32 bit consoles. The reason for this is because that is what the vast majority of people are interested in emulating and those consoles tend to have the most mature and well developed emulators.

I will start out by saying that you really should take the time to learn how to use and setup Retroarch. Yes, I know stand alone emulators are easier to get up and running out of the box but they really lack the level of tweaking you really need. Retroarch has amazing audio syncing, audio delay, and settings to reduce input latency to as low as 1 frame off of what a real console would do. I wrote up a guide on getting Retroarch up and running, the settings section pretty much covers everything you need to know.

Retroarch has the best or equal to the best stand alone emulators out there. BSnes is for all intents and purposes just as good as Higan, GenesisGX is better than Fusion, Mednafen for TurboGrafx 16 / CD, Playstation and Saturn are especially unmatched in quality when you take into account the audio and input latency settings mentioned above. The NES is one place where stand alones can beat it out (puNES and Mesen are great) but really while those emulators are more accurate and can run all games the Nestopia and Fceumm cores will play 99% of the games perfectly fine and has the benefits already mentioned.

Next up invest in a good controller, in particular one with a good d-pad. Since I am focusing on the 8,16 and 32 bit consoles here you generally don't need a controller with analog sticks though they can be handy for the PS1 and Saturn. I would even go so far as to suggest having 2 controllers, one analog stick controller such as an XBox 360 or Playstation controller and one "proper retro gaming" controller. The 360 and PS controllers have horrifyingly bad d-pads and playing NES, SNES and Genesis games really do benefit greatly from a good d-pad. Aside from the good d-pad you want enough face buttons to handle SNES and Genesis layouts and there really is only one good option in this department and that is the Hori Fight Commander which you can get on Amazon for $40.

https://www.amazon.com/HORI-Fighting-Commander-PlayStation-Officially-Licensed/dp/B01GVOFIAA/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1504768638&sr=8-1&keywords=hori+fight+commander

I have the previous model of one of these and it truly is perfect for retro gaming and it really isn't difficult to set up different cores or even different games in Retroarch to use the controller you want using the "per core" and "per game" configs. I know this controller is not wireless and many people want a wireless controller but it does have a long (approx 10 foot) cable so it should reach most peoples systems.

Last up is a good display for gaming on. I know this one is going to be bit more difficult and many people aren't going to go out and buy a new TV or monitor to game on but this is something that can greatly improve you emulation experience. I mentioned input lag earlier and TVs are a really bad (the most) source of input latency when using a modern TV instead or a CRT. If you must use a TV be sure that "Gaming Mode" is enabled, check your TVs manual for enabling this, it will reduce the input lag. But even the best TV with gaming mode on will have significantly more input lag than even the most basic of modern PC monitors. If you are willing to go the extra mile and get a dedicated gaming monitor get something that is at least 27" in size and supports 1440p or 4K resolution. 1440 and 4K resolution allows you to fit a proper (or much closer) integer scale than a 1080 display. 240p does not fit evenly into 1080 so you will either have black bars at the top and bottom of your screen or you will have "double height" pixels every so many rows. Also higher resolution makes CRT shaders look better if you like that sort of thing (I do). Look for a monitor that has low input latency, the BenQ gaming monitors are known for their low input lag in the single digit milliseconds which is well below a TV in gaming mode which has 80+ milliseconds delay which is 5 frames of animation at 60 fps. If you really want to go balls out and you are willing to spend the money I can personally recommend a G-Sync (or Freesync) display but it really is experience so I would never suggest it to anyone unless they have the money and really want the very best. These displays have very low input lag (5-6 ms) and you get to turn V-Sync off which reduce input lag even further.

In the end you want a great controller and a low input latency display and I should add as a final note having more CPU power than required to run games at a smooth 60 fps does not go to waste. With a really good and fast CPU you can turn up the "Frame Delay" setting in Reroarch and the higher the frame delay the less input lag you will have.

I know this sort of guide is not going to be for everyone and many people are more interested in a more casual setup they can play from their couch with a single wireless controller and don't care about input latency and that is fine. The purpose of this is for the people interested in really improving the way they play their games through emulation. Collecting real hardware and playing on a CRT is simply not feasible for many people anymore but with all the things I said above you can get extremely close to it. I have everything I mentioned above and some real consoles hooked up to a CRT and they really are that close in experience and feel.

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Nice post, thanks. This inspired me to check out Retroarch again. I tried very hard to like it about a year ago, but gave up because I just wasn't able to get per-core controller configs working. It looks like the system has come a long way since then, and core overrides are now easy to set up. Great!

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That controller is good as a jack of all trades, especially for Mega Drive and Saturn, I'm probably going to pick one up at some point as the cheapo ebay saturn style pad I got isn't great. However if someones priority is SNES I highly recommend the 8bitdo SNES/Famicom controllers. If MAME is a priority then the Hori Fighting Stick Mini 4 is great for it's price (currently around £30)

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The Hori FC works just as good for SNES as well since it has the shoulder buttons and you can map those to mimic the SNES controller. It has the 6 face + 4 shoulder buttons so you can pretty much map anything the way you prefer it. I personally setup the L + R buttons on the 2 far right buttons on the Hori but having them on the shoulders would be easy enough if preferred.

I know there are some people out there that would rather use real controllers combined with USB connectors and that is fine too to me that gets really messy and can really screw with Retroarch when swapping them in and out. I just feel the Hori FC really suits so many systems  and combined with a 360 or PS controller you got everything covered.

I should also add that the older version of the Hori FC even has a small switch on the back and one of the settings on that switch makes it more difficult to accidentally press a diagonal. This almost turns it into a 4 way joystick making it much better for games like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. Now it doesn't turn it into a proper 4 way but you are much less prone to accidental diagonal presses.

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I can see your point but there is something to be said for using a pad with the same button layout and feel as the system you are emulating. For me using the FC for snes would just feel wrong, It looks like a great option though if you are just after a single pad for everything. I went to look for one after your original post and they are ridiculously expensive here in the UK.

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I keep forgetting to get that hori, it would be great for the genesis and Saturn.  I hate having to try to remember how I mapped those systems out on the xbox360 controller.  But for snes and nes I use the original snes controllers with USB and extension cords so it reaches the couch. Those come out the middle rack of My ent. System. Then GameCube controllers in the may flash adapter I have hanging on a holder left side of ent system. Original PlayStation controllers are in the right side of ent. System in one of those official plastic stands. Then the two Xbox controllers in a holder on the right side of the ent. System. There are a lot of wires but since most go to their own side, it doesn't really get messed up ever.  It is hard to beat genuine controllers.  I'd like to try the 8bitdo but I'm scared of what will happen when it gets turned off and on so much, with mappings being reset for any wired controllers

Edited by damageinc86
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I guess I can see why people would want controllers that are either original or remakes of them but to me I have had and held so many different controllers over the past 35 years of gaming that I really don't care. The Hori FC just simply handles everything (non analog) so well it's basically perfect and consistent. The d-pad and the buttons are top notch, extremely responsive and I don't have to muck about changing controllers every time I want to change systems.

In the end it is personal preference but to me it's a choice of having 2 controllers (Hori FC and analog controller) or buying a whole bunch of controllers and adapters and deal with swapping them out. I will stick with the former, the Hori FC is just that good in the hands.

Edit:
I should add that I am not after "nostalgia feels" when playing my games. I just want to have a good performing controller and the Hori FC is top notch in every way, I don't care if I am not holding a stupid square NES controller when playing Super Mario. Many times those old controllers have serious flaws especially in my larger adult hands. Hell, even on my physical Atari 2600 I won't use a real 2600 controller, I use an old Genesis 6 button controller because it actually plays better with it.

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