Nintendo 64 emulators
The Nintendo 64 is a 64-bit, fifth-generation console released by Nintendo in 1996.
|Name||Operating System(s)||Latest Version||Active||Controller Pak||Rumble Pak||Transfer Pak||64DD||Libretro Core||Recommended|
1.2 r146 (SVN)
|Virtual Console||Wii, Wii U||-||✓||✗||✗||✗||✗||✗||✓|
|Wii64||Wii, GameCube||1.1 beta||✗||✓||✓||✗||✗||✗||✗|
Although many Nintendo 64 emulators have been made and many games can be run between them, complete compatibility and/or accuracy still leaves a bit to be desired. For half a decade, Mupen64Plus and Project64 have vied for most playable emulator, and which has been more compatible has depended on when and in what configuration each emulator has been tested. Both emulators default to lackluster plugins, but, as of August 2017, both emulators have roughly equal graphical accuracy when run with GLideN64. Mupen64Plus arguably has the edge in audio accuracy over Project64 + Azimer's audio plugin.
- Mupen64Plus is a cross-platform, open source emulator based on Hacktarux's Mupen64. As of July 2017, the codebase has reached compatibility parity with Project64, when both emulators are run with GLideN64, however its last official release build was in 2015 and is generally inferior to Project64's more recent releases. Mupen64Plus lacks a native GUI, instead being run either from the command line, or by dragging and dropping ROMs onto the executable and editing the config with a text editor such as Notepad++. There are several third-party GUIs made for it, of which M64Py may be the most solid. The end-user experience has improved in 2017 with m64p, which combines new versions of Mupen64Plus with GLideN64 and a new Qt5 GUI. This is as compatible as N64 emulation gets as of August 2017, and the package can be played out-of-the-box without having to mess around with plugins. Mupen64Plus has been ported to a number of different platforms. BizHawk and OpenEmu use shallow forks of Mupen64Plus and its plugins for their N64 emulation.
- Project64 is a mostly open-source emulator for Windows. Its official release builds are more up to date than Mupen64Plus's, and the current version, 2.3.2, is roughly as accurate as the development versions of Mupen64Plus when both are played with recommended plugins. It has a more user-friendly interface than the Mupen64Plus attempts, and supports more features, such as overclocking and transfer pak emulation. However, it doesn't come with GLideN64 out of the box, and the default video and audio plugins aren't even the best in the box. It presently remains confined to Windows, though work is underway to port it to Android and Linux. It works well in WINE for the most part, but if you're on a different platform, use Mupen64Plus instead.
- RetroArch's N64 libretro core is based on Mupen64Plus and its plugins, but with heavy modifications. It introduces many features and optimizations not present in mainline alongside RetroArch's general features, including Project64-style overclocking for faster framerates, 3-point texture filtering, superior A/V sync and latency, and even an exclusive LLE Vulkan renderer based on Angrylion's pixel-perfect plugin, making it a better alternative to the standalone version in most cases. Its developers have expressed intentions to eventually rewrite the core and brand it as its own emulator called ParaLLEl.
- CEN64 is an up-and-coming emulator that aims for cycle accuracy, while at the same time aiming to eventually be usable on modern PC hardware. It currently lacks many features and has spotty compatibility, but it's gradually improving. It can already emulate some well-known edge cases, such as the picture recognition in Pokemon Snap.
- 1964, along with its various versions and forks, was once a decent, speedy open source alternative to Project64 and Mupen64, though it usually lagged behind the two in compatibility. Nowadays, it has completely fallen off the radar, as development has stopped, is Windows-only, and there is no longer a central code repo to speak of. There is little reason to use it nowadays outside of historical purposes, very specific edge cases, or if your device is too slow to run Mupen64Plus or Project64.
- Daedalus is an N64 emulator for the PSP, which has been ported to Windows, but results are even more hit-and-miss than on other emulators due to being made for PSP first and foremost. On PSP, most games are unplayable, but there's a small amount of them that work really well with the right settings (Quest 64, for example).
- Sixtyforce is Mac-only, closed-source, and asks you to pay for full access to its features. It was once one of the only choices for Mac users, particularly those with older Macs since it's the only emulator with a PPC dynarec). But with the switch to x86 and Mupen64Plus being ported to OS X, it has now become irrelevant.
- Wii64 and Not64 are both based on Mupen64, with Not64 being a fork of Wii64. Not64 claims to be better optimized, as well as having higher compatibility and more frequent updates. N64 emulation on Wii is not very good, and it is recommended to stick with the Virtual Console N64 releases whenever possible.
- UltraHLE marked a milestone in Nintendo 64 emulation, in that it was the first to play some popular N64 titles at full speed on hardware made at the time of its release through high-level emulation; it isn't without its drawbacks though - pressure from users combined with legal threats from Nintendo forced them to discontinue development. Besides being for historical value, there's not much to expect from this emulator anyway due to compatibility issues.
- Main article: Recommended N64 Plugins
Emulation for the N64 is not at the point where many would expect it to be by now. The system is extremely complex compared to its contemporary consoles. With almost no documentation being available to emulator developers, it is difficult to create an emulator with a high degree of compatibility with games. Many games require specific plugin setups with specific emulators to be played decently.
High-level vs. low-level graphics
One of the biggest hurdles in the road to proper N64 emulation has been accurately emulating the N64's graphics hardware, known as the Reality Display Processor, itself a part of the N64's Reality Co-Processor. The N64's RDP was the first real 3D accelerator GPU on consoles. In fact, it was the most powerful consumer-grade GPU in the world at the time it came out. It is very hard to emulate all of its functions accurately due to the RDP's complexity & flexibility. Many RDP functions in addition have to be reproduced in software for accuracy, which takes a lot of processing power.
For this reason, most developers have instead opted to approximate the RDP's functions using high-level emulation (HLE) through various APIs such as Direct3D, OpenGL, and even Glide. While this results in much more reasonable system requirements for emulation along with prettier, higher resolution graphics, this method can be hit and miss. It often requiring per-game tweaks and settings to prevent graphical glitches on many games. Some games that implemented custom graphics microcode which has yet to be reverse-engineered. For example, Factor 5's games do not work no matter what using high-level graphics plugins. Other games may have issues with such RDP quirks as frame buffer/depth buffer access (issues with how the frame buffer is used as well as performance issues), VI emulation as well as issues with how combiner/blender modes are emulated (such as noise issues and combiner accuracy).
Low-level emulation can be handled in two ways, complete low level software emulation, or a hybrid approach of LLE RDP emulation which involves using graphics APIs to simulate the RDP while using low level RSP emulation to emulate the graphics microcode. Low level software emulation of the RDP involves replicating all RDP functionality in software, which allows for very high accuracy, but can suffer from major performance issues, unless optimizations such as vectorization and multi-threading are performed. Hybrid LLE emulation can allow for performance enhancement over low level software RDP emulation, but can suffer from various problems due to things such as replicating the N64's numerous blending/combine modes, emulating frame buffer access and replicating how polygons are rasterized to the screen (due to how the RDP renders primatives on a low level).
It should also be noted that even though most games "work" through the HLE method, it is not an accurate representation of what the N64 hardware's video output actually looked like, but rather a rough approximation by PC graphics hardware. Your mileage may vary on whether this is a good thing or not, given the N64's often blurry, low-res output.
The N64 was the first console to feature texture filtering of any kind. However, unlike PC graphics hardware and every console after the N64, its implementation of bilinear texture filtering was unique in that in order to reduce strain on the system, it only used three samples as opposed to four, resulting in slightly jagged textures. Instead of faithfully applying this "imperfect" version of bilinear, HLE plugins instead apply conventional bilinear filtering, interpolating straight from the source texture up to the output resolution, much like on PC games. While technically this method of bilinear filtering is superior to the N64's, it can also result in textures that look even blurrier than on real hardware.
Another issue lies with the appliance of texture filtering per quad on static images, text, and sprites. Because each quad is filtered separately, this can cause some visual inconsistencies. Text and UI elements often look as though their edges cut off abruptly, and static images such as pre-rendered backgrounds or menu screens may look as though they are separated into squares. Some plugins allow the user to turn off texture filtering to remedy this, but unfortunately this also applies to textures in the game world, exposing their oftentimes-low resolutions.
RetroArch's Mupen64Plus core has taken some steps which help remedy these problems. It is the only emulator that implements N64-style three-point texture filtering, which results in a more faithful look. It is also capable of rendering at 320x240, which sidesteps the issues with filtered text, UI elements, and menu screens, while still retaining texture filtering. Pixel-accurate plugins do not have these problems at all.
Voice Recognition Unit emulation
The Voice Recognition Unit (VRU) is an accessory used primarily by Hey You, Pikachu. No emulator or input plugin supports this, although there is an on-going effort to get it working.
Transfer Pak emulation
A few games use the Transfer Pak, such as Mario Golf, Mario Tennis, Mario Artist: Paint Studio, and the Pokémon Stadium games. Mostly this can be done with N-Gage's input plugin, but a couple of things aren't emulated:
- The Game Boy Tower mode of the Pokémon Stadium games don't work and makes the emulator crash or hang.
- Taking pictures with the Japanese Game Boy Camera (called Pocket Camera) while in Transfer Pak mode playing Mario Artist: Paint Studio displays static.
The 64DD (an abbreviation for "64 Disk Drive") was a peripheral which allowed a proprietary disk format to be used with the N64. These disks had more space at a cheaper manufacturing cost. The peripheral was a commercial failure and was never released outside of Japan. Internal evidence suggests that much like the GBA e-Reader, it wasn't even intended for a European release.
Expansion disks are region-coded to either Japan or US (obviously unused), and won't work with N64 games from the wrong region. Only F-Zero X has full support for this feature, but dummied-out expansion data in Ocarina of Time and Mario Party 2 (JP/PAL) exist as well.
The special AV-In cartridge (NUS-028) that Mario Artist: Talent Studio can use doesn't work because it requires an RCA cable signal.
Recently there has been effort to emulate the 64DD, and now Project64 and MAME can run several commercial 64DD games as part of its N64 emulator. This is being ported to CEN64 with the help of LuigiBlood.
|Name||Operating System(s)||Latest Version||Active||64DD Emulation||N64 Mouse||Recommended|
- Project64's latest versions emulate the N64 mouse and can load Zoinkity's hacked 64DD cartridge conversions at playable speeds. You'll need to set every game to have 8MB of Memory by default manually. Games do not save, some need "32-bit engine" to be unchecked (like Talent Studio), and some (like Polygon Studio to fix models, and Paint Studio to fix stamps) need the Angrylion GFX plugin rather than GlideN64 which does the job for the rest.
- The 64DD hardware started to be emulated around 2.3's release, with the help of LuigiBlood. Saving works, but in the form of NDR files. NDR files are copied versions of NDD images with save data included, as to not write to the clean unaltered images. In order to play 64DD games in their original forms, still need 8MB of memory because the real hardware needed the Expansion Pak upgrade. Also need the IPL.
- MAME includes early basic 64DD emulation as well but is much slower. Disk images need to be in head/track format. See here for more information. It does not currently support disk swapping or saving disk to files. Writes only update the copy in memory, and once the MAME process ends the changes are lost. Current usage:
mame n64dd -quickload disk -cart cart -nodrc(both disk and cart are optional)
- CEN64, like Project64, had 64DD emulation ported to it from MAME. However it focuses on accuracy and plays much slower than other emulators, aside for the 64DD emulation itself being imperfect.
Before the GBA, DS and 3DS, Nintendo released a modified version of their Nintendo 64 system for the Chinese market called the iQue. Fourteen games localized to Chinese, including Sin and Punishment, a unique revision of Ocarina of Time (the Majora's Mask port was cancelled), Mario 64 and others.
Unlike the Chinese releases of their more recent systems and their games, no dumps in the same format as regular N64 releases exist yet for the N64 iQue releases. Therefore, no emulation support exists for them at all. The Chinese ROM-hacking scene is very active though and have translated the Japanese regular N64 releases for many of these to their language already, which explain some of the Chinese ROMs floating for those.
Aleck 64 arcade emulation
Nintendo collaborated with SETA to release an arcade system based on their Nintendo 64 system (kind of like their Playchoice-10 for the NES, Super System arcade hardware for SNES, and later Triforce for GC and later Wii U). The Nintendo 64-variant with more RAM, the Aleck 64, failed to catch on and bombed. It was never released outside Japan, even though one N64 port made it.
The Aleck 64 ROMs were dumped, and Zoinkity is working on converting them to regular N64 ROMs (with controls remapped to N64 controller buttons). They generally require an 8MB Expansion Pak to run at all and 4K EEPROM to save settings and scores. The ones covered by these patches are:
- Donchan Puzzle Hanabi de Doon!
- Eleven Beat: World Tournament
- Kuru Kuru Fever
- Star Soldier: Vanishing Earth (also ported to N64)
- Tower & Shaft
- Vivid Dolls (official eroge game on a Nintendo console)
The remaining ones from the system's library not yet covered are:
- Hi Pai Paradise
- Magical Tetris Challenge
- Mayjinsen 3 / Meijin-Sen
- Rev Limit
- Super Real Mahjong VS
- Variant Schwanzer
Virtual Console games in Dolphin
Some N64 games are emulated well on a Virtual Console game through Dolphin. The system requirements are much higher, but it's doable for many games. The following games are on the N64 Virtual Console for Wii: