Xbox emulators

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Xbox
Xbox-and-Controller-S.png
Developer Microsoft
Type Home video game console
Generation Sixth generation
Release date 2001
Discontinued 2009
Successor Xbox 360
Emulated ~

The Xbox is a sixth-generation console released by Microsoft in 2001. Known as the DirectXbox during development, it is notable for the specs having similarities to a PC, namely as a result of using familiar components around the x86 architecture. It was often said to be the most powerful console from the sixth generation, and Sega later designed the Chihiro arcade system with the same components.

The Xbox was a modest seller, and helped create a brand for Microsoft that would give its successor a stronger market share in the west; despite Microsoft's best efforts the original Xbox and succeeding consoles from the company have never gained a foothold in Japan for various reasons.[1] It had a number of advantages over other sixth-gen consoles at the time; it was the only console to include a hard disk,[N 1] meaning it was the first to be able to rip CDs, and it was the first and only console of the lineup to include a unified online service called Xbox Live,[N 2] prompting Sony to create the PlayStation Network the next generation.

Early in its lifespan, the Xbox had an unusually active modding scene compared to the other consoles (often vindicated by the incredibly short warranty). Upon the first jailbreak by Andrew Huang, the scene ultimately delivered no comprehensive emulation until the mid-2010s,[N 3] where developers have continued to have issues owing to the fact that, alongside the poorly documented hardware, many of the Xbox's games either came from Windows or were then released for Windows afterward (though it does retain a few exclusives). However, the Xbox emulation scene has been resurging with two emulators at the forefront since mid-2017. Its developers continue to say there's no competition between them, as they're both open-source and have different goals and methods.[2][3]

Emulators[edit]

Note: xboxdevwiki's own list of emulators contain over 20 different emulator projects, most of which were abandoned not long after they started. Only about 2 or 4 emulators have been making progress.
Name Operating System(s) Latest Version Chihiro Active Recommended
PC
Cxbx-Reloaded Windows 0.1
XQEMU Windows, macOS, Linux Git
OpenXBOX Windows, Linux Git
Cxbx Windows Git
Dxbx Windows 0.5
Xenoborg Windows r19
Xeon Windows 1.0
MAME Windows, macOS, Linux 0.203
Consoles
Fusion Xbox 360 1.7
Fission Xbox One ?

Comparisons[edit]

Since May 2017, serious strides have been happening in the Xbox emulation scene with Cxbx-Reloaded and XQEMU making major progress. Cxbx-Reloaded went in-game for Jet Set Radio Future with a somewhat decent framerate.[4] Many more original Xbox games have been able to get in-game and, in some cases, at decent speeds on XQEMU.[5][6]

PC[edit]

Cxbx-Reloaded
A fork of Cxbx that's been having a good development momentum since mid-2016. It's built for x86_64 machines and includes a ton of improvements to its HLE kernel, some from code originating in Dxbx and other related forks. While it has HLE support for the GPU and other parts (eg. audio) to make many games run fast, XQEMU's LLE implementation was introduced in April 2018 and is expected to help even further. See this compatibility list.
XQEMU
An LLE-focused emulator based on QEMU. It can emulate the BIOS and many games at very slow speeds but is sometimes faster than Cxbx with acceptable graphics. Audio has not been tested but has been assumed to be emulated, just not forwarded to the audio hardware for some reason. See this compatibility list that was taken from John GodGames' 2015 list, and this Google spreadsheet.
OpenXBOX
Beginning LLE emulator that just initializes an x86 system and runs whatever is in the ROM. Not much works for this currently. It was uploaded to GitHub on Dec 5, 2017 by mborgerson, a well-known XQEMU contributor who in early 2018 is still focused on streamlining XQEMU's QEMU codebase. So expect more progress from XQEMU than OpenXBOX in the meantime.
Cxbx
One of the first Xbox emulators, started as an ahead-of-time compiler for Xbox executables. Can boot around 56 games, with around a dozen in an already playable state. See this compatibility list.
Dxbx
A port of Cxbx to Delphi, expanded with a redesigned symbol detection engine, and many rendering improvements, a new pixel shader converter, etc.
Xeon
Can emulate Halo CE to the point where the first stage is semi-playable. The walls and ground are pitch black, and the game crashes after you complete the first stage or right after you select the difficulty on modern versions of Windows.
MAME
Existing x86 emulation in MAME has given way to an xbox driver... that they've marked overall as not working and sound as unimplemented (graphics are OK though).

Consoles[edit]

Fusion
The internal name for backwards compatibility on the Xbox 360. It supports a specific list of games that, while some work right off the bat, may need additional patches to play properly. It also requires your console to have system storage. Some games still have issues with graphical glitches and slowdowns to errors that can make standard gameplay basically impossible. There is more information and references/video(s) about this BC support here.
Fission
The internal name for backward compatibility on the Xbox One. With a smaller amount of supported games, likely due to issues surrounding licensing,[N 4] it allows the ones that do work to run at four times the original resolution on both Xbox One and Xbox One S consoles (up to 960p), and sixteen times on Xbox One X (up to 1920p).

Emulation issues[edit]

The pratfalls of Xbox emulation

The Xbox is infamous in the emulation scene for being the worst case of false advertising. For the projects currently available and active there's a high barrier to entry for the effort involved, and it's the same reason why consoles using off-the-shelf hardware (or reused hardware) are easier to emulate. To users, being "basically a PC" and "x86-based" is a selling point despite that not being the case as the Xbox has a number of proprietary elements that are nothing like standard PC hardware (like the eighth-gen "x86-based" consoles). Many aspects of the Xbox's architecture aren't openly documented, making it a major pain to have to figure it all out.[7][8][9][10][11] For example the APU, one of two sound processors on the MCPX southbridge chip of the Xbox chipset, is incredibly powerful and uses complex processing steps that are difficult to figure out using clean-room reverse engineering.

The good news is the efforts currently underway are starting to see real effects. While it's true that Cxbx-Reloaded will have the upper hand with a primarily HLE-based approach on Windows, XQEMU will have the advantage of going by the book. XQEMU also has the potential to tap into hardware acceleration that Cxbx-Reloaded would have to write a kernel mode driver for, and SoullessSentinel wrote "I don't think our users would like the idea of disabling security features such as driver signature enforcement and installing an untrusted kernel driver just for an emulator."[12]

Chihiro[edit]

The Chihiro arcade system was produced by Sega in 2003. It consists of an Xbox motherboard (with double the RAM as with devkits) with additional boards for handling arcade I/O (Sega JVS standard). As the inner workings of the Xbox are better understood, Chihiro emulation support and accuracy will improve.

Resources[edit]

  • XboxDevWiki, for Xbox hardware documentation
  • Xbox Emulation Discord server (For general and development discussions on OG Xbox emulation, especially for Cxbx-Reloaded, but also XQEMU, OpenXBOX, and any legacy emulators.)

Notes[edit]

  1. The PlayStation 2 also had a hard disk accessory, but the Xbox had it built-in on all models. Consoles in the seventh generation onwards began to include internal storage in varying forms.
  2. The Dreamcast had Sega Net in North America and Dreamarena in Europe, but Xbox Live was the same for all regions.
  3. The Xbox would have been too difficult to emulate at the time anyway as its specs often rivaled that of consumer PCs, and it was alleged that many developers received legal threats from Microsoft to dissuade them from trying.
  4. Which can be a number of reasons, including but not limited to developers and publishers going defunct, movie and toy tie-in licenses for branded content expiring, and music royalties.

References[edit]