PlayStation Emulation on the Pi: Enhancing the Experience with the Options Menu – Part One: Basic Features and Save States

The Libretro Options Menu – the Key to Enhanced PlayStation Emulation

PlayStation. Rage Racer, In Game. Standard Resolution - Smoothed
Libretro Menu - Core Options submenu
PlayStation. Rage Racer, In Game. Enhanced Resolution - Smoothed

 

This post builds upon the information in the preceeding article entitled RetroPie Emulation: RetroArch, Libretro, and the Power of the Options Menu.

Edit: This post has been extended to account for differences in RetroPie 3.6’s version of RetroArch/Libretro. The PlayStation emulator remains the same in both the 2.x and 3.x RetroPie revisions (Pcsx-ReARMed r22). The original post was based on RetroPie 2.x

Topics Covered In Part 1

PlayStation Emulation on PiPlay and RetroPie

As noted in the aforementioned post, before discovering RetroPie I’d been running PiPlay on the Raspberry Pi 2, which provides a broadly similar emulation platform to RetroPie. Whilst the graphical emulator selection front-end is different to Emulation Station, many of the same emulators are in place; however all is not as simple as it appears.

Unfortunately, with the build of PiPlay I was using I ran into problems with various emulators; virtually all Megadrive / Genesis games I tried had corrupted sound, many would freeze at random, and there was no support at all for the 32X. The PlayStation emulator initially appeared to be excellent, however as I tried more titles I uncovered a number of shortcomings; I’m planning a future post on this topic, as the same emulator in RetroPie has a few different issues, and I became obsessed with understanding the problems in a bid to have the best of both worlds.

PiPlay Emulator Selection Menu
PiPlay Emulator – Main Menu
Emulation Station - Main Menu - PlayStation Focused
Emulation Station – Main Menu

I should note that, being impatient to see if the Raspberry Pi was a solid emulation platform, I quickly switched to RetroPie and have not subsequently installed any newer PiPlay images; nonetheless the PiPlay distribution has many sound ideas, and is definitely worth further investigation.

One core feature which the PiPlay incarnation of the PlayStation emulator has is a comprehensive in-built options menu, accessed via the Escape key. This allows access to various settings, affecting the graphical and audio output, save states, controllers, and more. The following screen grabs show the native menu being accessed whilst a title is running:

PiPlay PCSX ReARMed Native Menu - Advanced
PiPlay PCSX ReARMed Native Menu – Advanced
PiPlay PCSX ReARMed Native Menu - Controls
PiPlay PCSX ReARMed Native Menu – Controls

Coming to the RetroPie version of the same emulator, I was surprised to find that this menu no longer existed; at the time I had no knowledge of the unified environment shared by Libretro-enabled emulators, but found various references to the ‘core menu’ in forums. As I was to discover, and as detailed in the preceding post, RetroPie’s PlayStation emulator implements the standard Libretro menu system.

Note: the terms Libretro menu and RetroArch menu appear to be used as synonyms in documentation and in forum posts.

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RetroPie Emulation: RetroArch, Libretro, and the Power of the Options Menu

What is the Libretro Options Menu, and Why Does It Matter?

consoles and home computers
RetroArch Menu - Welcome Screen
RetroArch logo

For a while after installing RetroPie, this question plagued me. I found references to the ‘Options Menu’ seemingly everywhere, but as to where it resided or how it manifested, that seemed some closely guarded secret.

Why was I looking for the elusive menu? Well, the Options Menu holds the secret to really getting the most out of many of the RetroPie emulators, from tweaking the controller settings to switching graphics rendering engines.

In my earlier post ‘What is RetroPie? System overview, software and hardware’ I provided a brief description of RetroPie, which contains numerous home computer and console emulators, up to and including the N64. As noted in that post:

RetroPie can be thought of as a framework which wraps and extends other software components, ultimately handling the loading of a selected game image into the relevant video game emulator.

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Libretro Logo

Many of the console emulators included in RetroPie are what are known as Libretro cores; these ‘cores’ are existing emulators, modified to utilise the Libretro API, which provides a common interface and experience across multiple systems:

Again, from the aforementioned earlier post:

The system also provisions management and configuration of numerous elements, including:

  • Loading button and axis (analog) control maps, matching upon detected Usb controller(s)
  • Setting video resolution
  • Applying filtering and video overlay effects
  • Providing state management (providing loading and saving of in-progress games)

The Libretro page on the emulation-general.wikia.com site describes Libretro in the following terms:

Libretro is an lightweight C/C++ API designed for emulators… It specifies how to write a library, called Libretro core, so that it can be loaded by a frontend supporting Libretro API like RetroArch… Libretro API can be used for example to strip emulator of it’s GUI components and convert it into dynamic library called Libretro core. (sic)

On the Libretro forum, user hunterk expands on the concept of retrofitting an emulator with the Libretro API:

Libretro porting is generally a case of mapping/wrapping the emulator/game/whatever’s internal API to the corresponding libretro functions and/or callbacks. So, many ports are very shallow and require little-to-no modification of the existing core code.

Thus, the RetroArch framework brings a set of consistent features to a broad range of emulators which were written entirely independently. All ‘core’ enabled emulators feature a common menu, the elusive Options Menu, which can be accessed and navigated via keyboard or a suitably configured control pad.

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Emulation Station – beneath the covers

What is Emulation Station, and what does it do?

Emulation Station is essentially a launcher for emulators; when RetroPie has been installed, it loads automatically when the Pi is booted, and allows user to select a game from the library, which is loaded into the required emulator.

Please note: the following assumes some familiarity with Linux, the terminal / console, and commands for basic navigation and file editing.

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Emulation Station logo

A future post will cover core information which may be useful when getting to grips with the Pi at a lower level. Whilst the command line can be daunting if you’re only ever used to GUI systems, you really only need a smattering of commands to manipulate the files necessary for customising a RetroPie installation*

A couple of important questions to address regarding the emulators shown in the Emulation Station User Interface, before looking at the main configuration file:

Q. Why isn’t the Megadrive (Genesis/SNES/PlayStation etc) emulator showing in the list?

A. Emulation Station shows the emulators included in RetroPie in a gallery-style list which the user can scroll left or right, however a large number of the supported emulators are not shown by default. It is necessary to place at least one game ROM/image file in the emulator’s corresponding ROM folder for the emulator entry to appear in the UI.

Emulation Station - Emulator Selection
Emulation Station – Emulator Selection

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What is RetroPie? System overview, software and hardware

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When I began to assemble my Raspberry Pi-based emulator setup, one of the core issues was simply understanding the elements which comprise the system, namely the hardware and numerous software components which RetroPie relies upon, and which in turn rely upon RetroPie.

Understanding this stack became more crucial once the initial installation was complete, and I subsequently began to explore and customise the system (including setting individual emulator video resolution, display filtering and analog effects, and controller / joypad support).

Firstly, what is RetroPie?

According to petrockblock.com, the home of RetroPie:

“The RetroPie Project is a collection of works that all have the overall goal to turn the Raspberry Pi into a dedicated retro-gaming console.”

RetroPie can be thought of as a framework which wraps and extends other software components, ultimately handling the loading of a selected game image into the relevant video game emulator.

The system also provisions management and configuration of numerous elements, including:

  • Loading button and axis (analog) control maps, matching upon detected Usb controller(s)
  • Setting video resolution
  • Applying filtering and video overlay effects
  • Providing state management (providing loading and saving of in-progress games)

Continue reading