While many companies discourage making "backups" or "archival" copies, if you want to legally play your games on an emulator you're going to need to dump them yourself. This guide covers the basics and more well-known methods, so there may be other methods not mentioned here.
- 1 Cartridge-based (Up to 4th Gen)
- 2 Nintendo Game Boy Advance
- 3 Nintendo DS / 3DS
- 4 Sony PlayStation 1/2
- 5 Sony PlayStation 3
- 6 Sega CD / Saturn / Dreamcast
- 7 GameCube/Wii
- 8 Wii U
- 9 Sony PlayStation Portable
- 10 Sony PlayStation Vita
- 11 Nintendo Switch
- 12 Arcade hardware
- 13 See also
Cartridge-based (Up to 4th Gen)
Games on Nintendo's NES, SNES, GB and N64, Sega's Master System and Mega Drive (aka Genesis), NEC's PC-Engine (aka TG-16), and other systems from the same era were stored on special cartridges to be read with a very particular pin layout only found on their intended hardware.
With special hardware
Special hardware dumping the cartridge contents to a more digital-friendly binary form has been made for older consoles. However, these pieces of hardware have been going out of print recently.
- Kazzo: for the NES.
- INLRetro: From the same person as Kazzo, but able to dump NES, SNES, N64, Sega Genesis, Famicom, GB, and GBA.
- Retrode: for the SNES and Sega Mega Drive. Third-party physical plug-ins add more systems, including the GB, GBA, N64, VB; Sega's Master System, Pico; NEC's PC-Engine; Atari 2600 and more. An NES add-on was said to be under development.
Bear in mind that when trying to dump cartridge games, there's a significant risk of having corrupt sectors in the resulting dump. If you're using your DIY adapters but don't know what you are doing, there's a risk of damaging the original cartridge due to out-of-spec voltages.
Newer systems using game cards such as the DS and 3DS have other solutions relying either on recent dedicated hardware, or homebrew under a compromised system.
Ripping from emulated releases
Sometimes the companies re-release the games digitally, as a wrapper containing an emulator and the ROM. Depending on the company, the ROM may or may not be directly playable in regular emulators. You can extract those ROMs and play them without having to go to shady sites nor tracking expensive cartridges and potentially breaking them in the ripping process. And you get to support the company who made the stuff you love, instead of resellers hoarding second-hand game copies or random, less-reputable ROM sites other than those trusted by the community. That being said, emulated re-releases may contain changes due to licensing or censorship issues amongst other things.
Virtual Console (Wii, Wii U, 3DS)
The Wii VC releases are most of the time ready to work in emulators. In fact, Nintendo was so kind they even included the iNES headers in NES ROMs (16 bytes at the beginning of the ROM that are not part of the original cart data yet the emulator needs them to know which mapper it is and run the game at all). You can even replace the ROM with one from the same system from your choice, and get it to run if Nintendo's emulators are compatible. The discovery of iNES headers in VC releases led to a rumour wherein Nintendo, or at least those whom Nintendo subcontracted for the re-releases, merely downloaded their own games off a ROM site, though while both the VC release of Super Mario Bros. and pirated copies of it do share the same checksum (and are thus identical), it might be just a coincidence, and knowing Nintendo they will certainly deny any such accusations of pirating their own games.
Some Virtual Console versions have been enhanced or modified compared to the original release.
While some just modify the ROM directly (like Monster World IV's English translation), other modifications rely on real-time patching by patch files included with the ROM (like Romancing SaGa 2's extra dungeons). The anti-seizure effects and texture enhancements are most of the time tied to the VC emulator.
Also, Super Nintendo ROMs have their SPC sound data blanked in the ROM and stored in a separate file, meaning the ROM dump is incomplete for these. And you might need a byte swapper tool for N64 games.
For Wii VC:
- Get ShowMiiWads.exe and select "I accept and take the risk of WAD editing features". Go to Tools/Create Common-Key and type in the text it asks you for.
- You need a wad file of the VC app.
- If you don't have a wad file yet, you can get it from a NAND dump extracted off your Wii with dedicated homebrew apps (changing it and reinserting it in the Wii could be dangerous if you don't know what are you doing, that was what the disclaimer was for, it's not relevant here though). In ShowMiiWads, click Options/Change NAND Backup Path, then click View/ShowMiiNand, and then on the file with the name of the game right-click and click Pack Wad. Then click View/ShowMiiNand again.
- Now that you have the wad file, go to File/Open Folder and where the wad file is.
- Right-click, Extract/To Folder.
- You go to the newly created folder, and you'll find lots of files. Chances are the biggest "app" file has the emulator and ROM data. It's usually "00000005.app" for MSX/GEN/N64 roms. In the utility, load it and click Tools/Unpack U8 Archive.
Congrats! You should have the ROM somewhere in there. Check the file sizes and name for hints and find out which one it is, it's part of the fun.
However! Some post-2010 ROMs give inside another compressed "romc" file. That's the ROM, but compressed. You'll need the romc command-line decompression tool, following the commands:
romc d C:/romfolder/romc C:/extractionfolder/customromname.extension
Here is how to dump GBA images off Wii U's VC and unscramble the resulting ROM images to something playable on emulators.
- Sega Ages - MD
- Sega Mega Collection (multiple systems) - MD
- Sega I Love Mickey Mouse (Saturn) - MD - ROM divided
- Animal Crossing GC - NES/SNES
- Zelda Collector Disk GC - NES/N64 (includes 60Hz PAL OoT/MQ/MM versions)
- Konami Twinbee Collection - SNES - ROM divided
- Rare Replay
Nintendo Game Boy Advance
With a Flashcart (On DS)
GBA Link Cable (GCN and Wii)
- GBA Link Cable Dumper - Slow transfer speeds, can dump BIOS also. Cannot be used to dump GB(C) sadly.
Nintendo DS / 3DS
With Custom Firmware (On DSi)
- GodMode9i - Only works if run off of SD card, not on flashcart.
With Custom Firmware (On 3DS)
To hack your 3DS, refer to 3ds.hacks.guide.
DS and 3DS cartridges can be dumped using GodMode9. This works for both the old and new models, as well as variations like the 2DS.
Sony PlayStation 1/2
With a PC's optical drive
Note: Using ImgBurn is not a very reliable ripping method, however it may be "good enough" if you just want to play the game. For preservation purposes, you should follow the Redump guide, or if you really can't follow this guide then you should at least use IsoBuster (recommended by Redump if you can't follow the guide).
Windows: Use ImgBurn
It will ask you to install toolbars and other junk, choose custom installation and deselect them. It does not install them if you say no like other programs.
- Put your PS1 or PS2 disc into your computer.
- Open ImgBurn
- Click Mode>Read
- Choose the destination of the file, by clicking the little folder+magnifying glass button.
- Click the CD button at the bottom.
- Wait for it to finish ripping.
- Play ISO in whatever emulator you use
For PS1/PS2 blue disc games, make sure you rip the disc as a BIN+CUE rather than a single ISO file.
While you can play PS1/PS2 discs directly from your PC's optical drive in some emulators (ePSXe and older mednafen releases for PS1, PCSX2 for PS2) it wears the disc and the optical drive the longer you use it, hence why it's not recommended.
Once you have ripped the game, you should check the hashes against the Redump database to make sure the rip is good.
With a PlayStation 3 with CFW and title manager
Dumping PS1/2 titles with a title manager like Multiman is quite easy on PS3 with CFW.
- Put the PS1/PS2 disc into the disc drive.
- Open the title manager e.g. Multiman/Irisman and move the cursor to the game you just inserted.
- Open the menu and select "create ISO" or similar option.
- Choose where to store the ISO file. It's recommended to insert a USB drive and save it there so it could be easily moved away from the PS3.
- Then you'll get the ISO dump at the specified location.
Ripping from emulated releases
Sony made the hard part of game ripping already for you, so why not go for those instead to dump your game images from?
PS Classics (PS1C PSP, PS1C PS3, PS2C PS3)
Sony also has a digital distribution service for their old PS1 and PS2 games. The selection is limited considering Sony prohibits any kind of modification to the ISO data compared
For PS1 Classics on PSP: Rip the EBOOT.PBP file. It can be directly opened in some emulators like PCSX-R. Its ISO can also be extracted with other tools.
Sony PlayStation 3
PlayStation 3 titles on blu-ray discs could be dumped with either a PS3 with CFW or a computer with a compatible Blu-ray drive, while titles downloaded from PS Store has to be dumped from a PS3 with CFW or HEN.
RPCS3 Wiki has a detailed article for dumping PS3 titles.
Sega CD / Saturn / Dreamcast
For the Sega Saturn, see Playstation 1.
Sega Dreamcast game ripping can be done from a Dreamcast using the Dreamshell SD card reader or using a BroadBand adapter. (to be added)
With a PC's optical drive
Only some out-of-print models of DVD drives may read GC and Wii discs, mainly from LG (compatibility list here). Even then, Windows won't recognize the disc as valid. You'll need a tool like Rawdump or Friidump to dump it. Make sure you convert the dump to ISO format.
For the GC and Wii, use CleanRip.
You'll need a Wii with homebrew channel installed, so if you don't have homebrew already, go here check which homebrew installation method works for what System Version you have ETC. Now that you have Homebrew Channel and CleanRip installed here are instructions.
- Make sure a GameCube controller is plugged into your Wii.
- Insert your Wii or GameCube disc and your SD card or USB stick into the Wii.
- Choose what device you're using, USB or SD using the GameCube buttons
- Choose which file format your SD or USB stick is. (Must be FAT32 or NTFS, if not you'll need to format it, read down below for instructions)
- If it asks you download Redump.org bat files. Press no.
- Press A on your GameCube controller and it will start the ripping process, wait for it to finish and when its done the ISO file will be on your SD card or USB stick.
Instructions for formatting SD card/USB stick: If your SD card or USB stick is not FAT32 or NTFS here's how to format on a Windows computer.
- Plug your SD card or USB stick into your computer.
- Click on Start Menu, click on computer.
- Right click on your SD card Or USB card.
- Press Format, and choose FAT32 or NTFS (Make sure you backup files if there's any on there, as the formatting process will delete everything)
Wii U discs have rounded edges making it impossible to read on Blu-Ray drives for PC the same way, though early dumping groups made a non-public physical modification to the Wii U to dump the data directly from its optical drive. If your console can run homebrew, however, you can dump your Wii U discs with Dumpiine, Wudump or disc2app. Only Wudump produces a lossless dump, the others extract the bare code and data for the game in either RPX/RPL (Dumpiine) or WUPInstaller (disc2app) format.
Sony PlayStation Portable
Using PSP with homebrew
To extract the ISO game image from a physical PSP UMD disc, you simply need a 6.60 CFW PSP, its USB connection cable, and a PC.
On the main menu, press the Select button to bring the PRO VSH menu with the neat overclocking options. You'll need to change UMD ISO MODE from "Memory Stick" to "UMD Disk" (don't forget to revert this after you're done).
Now, if you "Initialize USB Connection" with your computer, what will appear under the freshly mounted drive in Windows isn't your memory stick, but a drive with a neat ISO file ripe for copying to your computer, which you can emulate or load in a CFW enabled PSP.
Sony PlayStation Vita
With a PS Vita with HEN and NoNpDrm plugin
Notice: dumping titles via Vitamin/MaidumpTools has been considered outdated methods as they are slow and always generate problematic or even upright broken dumps.
Use NoNpDrm plugin and VitaShell to dump titles and DLCs. Notice that the data dumped in this way are still packed in PFS encryption. If you need to modify game content, then you need to decrypt the title by FAGDec presented in PSVita-RE-tools.
With a Nintendo Switch console with CFW
Both cartridge and digital games, and related DLCs and updates could be easily dumped with nxdumptool.
Notice that you are very likely to be using emuNand in order to prevent from damaging the system software stored in the actual built-in storage and/or getting banned from eShop and other online services by Nintendo. If that is the case, you will have to create a new emuNand as the image of the built-in storage in order to dump game titles installed from eShop in actual built-in storage.
Despite the very kernel of them being just PCs, customized hardware and software copy protection made dumping arcade titles a very complex procedure that's not one-for-all.
Generally speaking, after disabling protocol level security (ATA password, etc.), the hard drive that contains the operating system and game data could be plugged into a computer running Linux and a raw dump could be generated by dd command, which would serve the purpose as the backup for a specific cab: a specific board + hard disk + security measure (dongles, etc.) combination.
However, if the purpose of dumping is running the game in other hard disks/boards/cabs, or on regular PCs via compatibility layers e.g. TeknoParrot then a series of complex operations including decrypting data, fetching license from security measures, unpacking executive files, etc. would be involved which is way beyond the scope of this article or even the entire wiki.
Here is an example of what it takes to dump and optionally change the games running in SEGA Ring series PC-based arcade hardware.
Converting PS1 ISOs to PSP Eboots
Convert your own PS1 ISOs into Eboots using PSX2PSP.
If you are having some trouble with converted Eboots, be sure to download Popsloader v4i. Most of the games will work without it nowadays, but for those that don't, you'll need this. See popsloader compatibility list.