Sega VMU emulators
|Type||Handheld game console|
The Sega VMU, short for Visual Memory Unit, is a Dreamcast accessory that is stowed inside the gamepad, serving the purposes of second screen during gameplay, storage device and, when unplugged, pocket calendar and handheld game console. Its two first functions are implemented in many, if not most, Dreamcast emulators, but its qualities as a rudimentary handheld are left fully for standalone VMU emulators, which this article is about. It is also known as VMS (Visual Memory System) in Japan and in PAL regions. It competed with the Sony PocketStation, a PlayStation accessory launched one year later. Its 48×32 screen makes it one of the most low-res game consoles of all time, together with the GameKing (also 48×32) and also its competitor (32×32) and the Pokémon mini (96×64). Its games were distributed as bonus features of Dreamcast games: they must be downloaded to the VMU when stowed in a controller.
It runs on a Sanyo LC8670 8-bit CPU and is equipped with 128 kB of flash memory, of which 28 kB are reserved for the system. The remaining 100 kB are divided into 200 blocks of 512 B. The VMU is also equipped with two 6V batteries, used not only to power the system — giving it a few hours of autonomy —, but also to maintain its real-time clock. It has the ability of coupling itself to another VMU for multiplayer features and transfer of save data.
|Name||Platform(s)||Latest Version||Libretro Core||FLOSS||Active||Recommended|
|PC / x86|
|SoftVMS||1.10 (source only)||✗||?||✗||~|
|Mobile / ARM|
|Visual Memory Emulator||1.00||✗||?||✗||✓|
It should be of note that, differently from the norm, most VMU emulators map the A and B buttons to the A and B keys.
- The first VMU emulator, originally named simply Visual Memory System. Supports a fuckton of systems, but after version 1.7, the only port distributed with compiled binaries is Dreamcast. Extant documentation is close to zero. The most up-to-date compiled binary one can find online seems to be the MS-DOS port of version 1.8, wrongly archived in Emu-France under Windows. Sound emulation does not seem to work.
- The module is listed as preliminary and sound isn’t emulated. There are better options around.
- An extremely ambitious project from the developers of Elysian Shadows, a crowdfunded game that was supposed to be launched for all then-modern systems plus the Dreamcast. The closed-source ElysianVMU was supposed to be the ultimate VMU emulator ever, with an external Jet Set Radio graffiti editor, serial (VMU-to-VMU) communication support via TCP, and perhaps most importantly, an SDK to allow it to communicate with PC games that wished to use a VMU as an accessory. Ports for iOS and Android were announced, together with plans to make the emulator on a smartphone communicate with a game being played on the PC. It generated a lot of hype in the community until development laid dormant in 2018, not too long before the game that birthed it also seemed to fizzle out — the devteam last tweeted in early 2019 and the “upcoming” game is still being listed as coming soon to Ouya. The emulator itself? It’s barely usable; no sound emulation seems to be implemented and compatibility is worse than old versions of SoftVMS.
- A fork of SoftVMS with DirectX. Struggles with timing issues and doesn’t emulate the four LCD indicators.
- Made as a one-off quick and dirty learning project, this emulator is undoubtly the prettiest of them all. It is also the least compatible of them all.
- Visual Memory Emulator
- The only emulator that seems to have fully working sound. Doesn’t see updates since 2011.
- Quite decent freemium emulator. The sound is slightly buggy, but it works most of the time. Paid version got rid of ads and enabled savestates. Sadly, at some point after 2018, it was pulled from the Play Store and had its GitHub repo deleted. It survives in its libretro fork and in its original form in APKPure’s archives. To select a BIOS, place it on
/sdcard/VeMULATORand name it
- VMU Emulator
- A 2005 port of SoftVMS for the Sony PSP. Works fine enough.
The VMU can be coupled to another unit to transfer files and for multiplayer action. The only emulator that has ever taken a shot at supporting it is ElysianVMU.
Some VMU emulators require BIOS files to work. You can find them here.