Who can say why, but the gaming community is currently burning through a mightily poignant streak of nostalgia. Online emulators are a more relevant topic than they’ve ever been before, and many gamers are on the hunt for the best emulator for the long-extinct Sega Dreamcast. Even though its demise was particularly ugly, the console and its expansive games library nevertheless have a firm hold on many hearts. Quite a few people regard it as a classic that never saw its full potential, so who can be surprised when all of those fans want a way to emulate those games?
After all, it’s not like you can walk into a store and find a Dreamcast on the shelves. Read on, to find out how you can go about emulating your favorite titles from the last console that Sega ever developed.
When asked to explain why the Sega Dreamcast failed, you’re probably going to hear quite a few varied answers. Some will talk about how the console was ahead of its time, trying to pave the way for an online gaming experience that most households didn’t have the connectivity to support. Others will point to proprietary elements of the system’s memory cards and controllers, that they were too odd compared to what gamers were used to. Others still will point to the game library itself, arguing that the Dreamcast just didn’t get enough support to keep it afloat. To be certain, it was quite a powerful system; while it couldn’t quite compete with the graphics fidelity of the Nintendo Gamecube or Sony PlayStation 2, it came pretty close. Not bad, for a system that debuted far ahead of either of its two closest competitors.
But circumstances being what they were, the Dreamcast did not succeed. In spite of some truly stellar games and a collection of vocal fans and supporters, Sega ended the console’s production, and that was apparently that.
Of course, it was only the end in terms of actual production. Like anything else that disappears ahead of a sizeable following, the “death of the Dreamcast” was initially followed by outrage.
- “How could Sega do this to their fans?” many wondered.
- “What went wrong, and what are we supposed to do with our beloved consoles?” Those were all fair feelings; it doesn’t feel good to be so attached to something that isn’t receiving further support.
- No new games, no further announcements, and no foreseeable hype on the horizon.
It took a few years of wallowing after the Dreamcast’s fall for fans to come back around, but emulation has been a major source of renewed excitement. There’s currently little-to-no chance that Sega is going to wade back into console development — it doesn’t have an avenue to do so, any longer — but the current wave of trending nostalgia has expanded the discussions of what emulation is capable of.
The State of Emulators
Game developers have caught onto the popularity of emulators, which have been widely used by anyone with a PC for decades. However, there’s more to most emulators than meets the eye, and they usually require some fairly clever programming to get off the ground in the first place. After all, it’s not enough for a computer to simply have equivalent or greater power than the platform it’s emulating — it needs to occasionally pull double or triple-duty as it mimics an entirely different hardware and software architecture.
Thankfully, the Sega Dreamcast isn’t as difficult to emulate as the infamous Nintendo 64. And because it uses disc-based media, anyone who has a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive won’t have to worry about downloading games in the form of ROM files. It removes a great big legal concern that we’ll talk about, shortly.
Emulating the Dreamcast
In spite of the Dreamcast being an easier platform to emulate than some others, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the internet is rife with software that does it. There are only a handful of Dreamcast emulators that are still receiving support, but the very best of them are still working quite well on the Windows platform. Heck, one of them even kicks butt on Android devices, which speaks to the versatility of Google’s flagship operating system, meant for mobile devices.
Below, we’re going to introduce you to some of the better emulators available online. They’re all free, of course, but you may find your experience with some to be better than others, based on the devices you’re using and your own hardware specifications. And after you’ve downloaded the emulator of your choice, we’re going to close out this brief guide with some tips for running your favored Dreamcast emulator and answer some specific questions about the legality of emulation.
Best Dreamcast Emulators
Remember what we said about emulators, above — the platform that you’re emulating on is going to have to be exponentially stronger than the one that it’s mimicking. And for the Sega Dreamcast, that probably means you’re going to want to be emulating on a machine that has a dedicated graphics unit (GPU). It doesn’t have to be a state of the art graphics chipset, but it should be able to handle rendering loads separate from your computer’s CPU. Intel dedicated graphics — a common graphics solution on less expensive machines — aren’t going to cut it if you want frame-for-frame emulation.
Out of the three that we’re shining a spotlight on, DEmul is very likely the best Dreamcast emulator you’re going to find. Not only is it incredibly stable — especially by emulator standards — it’s consistently updated to run on Windows. In fact, the most recent update was only as far back as the end of 2016, which is impressive for such a large-scale effort being led by a small group of people.
DEmul truly captures Dreamcast graphics and allows you to virtualize your game saves efficiently, without many risks of crashing. It even has a DirectX 11 plugin that allows your dedicated video hardware to take the greatest advantage of the emulator’s flexibility.
While DEmul might be the best option for PC gamers, those of you who prefer to do your gaming on Android (even emulated Android) are in for a treat with Reicast. This is an incredibly well-developed emulator that’s built for the simplicity of Google’s Android OS. And while you think that might be a limiting factor rather than a boon, the truth is anything but that. This is a very stable emulation platform, and it has successfully worked with dozens of great Dreamcast games.
In fact, if you’re willing to give it a try, we might even recommend you give this one a try in addition to DEmul. This emulator also benefits from having dedicated hardware acceleration for your graphics, but it’s not quite so dependent upon it. The only limitation that you’re going to run into comes with not being as familiar with the Android OS, but if you are, then we highly recommend Reicast. It might just be your emulator of choice.
To be entirely clear, NullDC hasn’t seen much in the way of updates for quite a while. However, when you’re looking at emulation software, that shouldn’t necessarily dissuade you. As long as you’re downloading the emulator from a secure source, there’s a good chance that it’s going to work. Windows is particularly good about allowing older software to function perfectly well on newer iterations of the operating system.
Those responsible for developing Reicast and DEmul above also worked extensively on some of the file structure for NullDC. And it does work extremely well, in spite of not seeing any major, recent updates. You can download various plugins for the base emulator, that will give you more varied controller and graphics support, too!
Best Practices for Emulation
So, you’ve got your new emulator. Now what? What about the games, which are the entire reason that you sought the thing out in the first place? As is the case with most emulators, games tend to be where legality enters the scene.
Even though the Dreamcast is “dead,” so to speak, all of the copyrights and trademarks on its hardware and associated software (read: games) are firmly in place. This means that the distribution of these games, or copies of them, is actually quite illegal. So, how are you supposed to get games for your emulator?
Thankfully, the Dreamcast was built to support disc-based media. Because of this, all that you’ll need is a DVD-ROM drive to play your games, once you have an emulator installed. And if you’d prefer to create ISO images of your games for easier playing and archiving, you can feel free to do that, too! You’ll be perfectly safe as long as you refrain from distributing or copying those games, outright.
No matter the sad demise of Sega’s final console; many people still regard it as a legendary entry in gaming history. If you’re fond of the Sega Dreamcast — or simply want to know what all of the fuss was about — give one of our emulator recommendations a try. They’re among the best that you’re going to find online, and give you quite a lot of leeway with regard to the operating system and hardware that you’re using. And if you have any trouble getting them set up, don’t be afraid to talk at us in the comments section of this article!