Sega Saturn emulators

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Sega Saturn
Sega-Saturn-Console-Set-Mk2.png
Developer Sega
Type Home video game console
Generation Fifth generation
Release date 1994
Discontinued 2000
Predecessor Mega Drive / Genesis / Neptune
Successor Dreamcast
Emulated
For other emulators that run on the Sega Saturn hardware, see Emulators on Saturn.

The Sega Saturn is a 32-bit, fifth-generation console released by Sega in Japan on November 22, 1994 and in the US on May 11, 1995. It was retailed for $399.99. It had 2 Hitachi SH-2 CPUs at 28.6 MHz and it had the VDP1 GPU & VDP2 GPU. The arcade board, ST-V (Sega Titan Video), uses the same hardware except for sound, VRAM, and game storage (where it is stored on ROM cartridges instead of CD-ROM discs).

The Sega Saturn has historically been one of the harder consoles to emulate due to its infamously difficult architecture consisting of 8 processors overall and use of quadrilaterals rather than triangles as polygons, resulting in a lack of good options. However, things are looking up for open-source emulators like Mednafen, and to a lesser extent, Yabause.

Emulators[edit]

x86[edit]

Name Platform(s) Latest Version Arcade
variations
Enhancements Hardware features
and accessories
Compatibility FLOSS Active Recommended
Mednafen
mednafen_saturn_libretro
Windows Linux macOS FreeBSD 1.32.0-UNSTABLE
libretro core
~ ~ ?
JAP
PAL
USA
Kronos Windows Linux libretro core
2.6.1
~ ~ ? 92%
1977 out of 2146 reported titles
~
BizHawk Windows Linux Dev Builds
2.9.1
~ ~ ? ~
Yaba Sanshiro 2 (Yaba三四郎2)
yabasanshiro_libretro
Windows Linux 1.9.3
libretro core[N 1]
~ ~ ? ~
SSF Windows PreviewVer R29 ~ ? ? USA
JAP
PAL
~[N 2]
Yabause
yabause_libretro
Windows Linux macOS FreeBSD Web libretro core
0.9.15
~ ? ? ~[N 3]
MAME Windows Linux macOS FreeBSD 0.262 ~ ~ ? USA
JAP
ares Windows Linux macOS git Artifacts
v136
~ ? N/A (WIP)
Saturnin Windows git
0.40
WIP ? ? ✗ (WIP)
Nova Windows 0.6 ~ ? (WIP)
Satourne Windows 2.0 beta 3 ~
GiriGiri Windows 0.6a

ARM[edit]

Name Platform(s) Latest Version Arcade
variations
Enhancements Hardware features
and accessories
Compatibility FLOSS Active Recommended
Yabause
yabause_libretro
Android iOS libretro core
0.9.15
~ ? ? ~[N 3]
Yaba Sanshiro 2 (Yaba三四郎2)
yabasanshiro_libretro
Android iOS 1.14.1 (Android)
2.1.2.0 (iOS)
git
libretro core[N 1]
~ ~ ?
mednafen_saturn_libretro Android iOS libretro core ~ ~ ?
JAP
PAL
USA
~
Saturn.emu Android 1.5.77
git
TBD
SSF Android git ~ ? ? USA
JAP
PAL
~[N 2]

Console[edit]

Name Platform(s) Latest Version Arcade
variations
Enhancements Hardware features
and accessories
Compatibility FLOSS Active Recommended
mednafen_saturn_libretro Xbox One Xbox Series X/S libretro core ~ ~ ?
JAP
PAL
USA
Yaba Sanshiro (Yaba三四郎) Switch 2.2.0
git
~ ~ ?
Yabause PlayStation 3
Dreamcast
PSP
libretro core
0.1 (PS3)
0.9.14 (DC)
0.9.10 (PSP)
~ ? ? ~[N 3]
Yabause Wii Wii Unofficial r2926 beta 26 ? ? ~
Yabause Community Edition Xbox 0.1 Alpha ? ? ~
  1. 1.0 1.1 Yaba Sanshiro libretro core (yabasanshiro_libretro) is outdated, known for having many issues, and unmaintained. Use standalone version OR "yabause_libretro" or "mednafen_saturn_libretro" cores for RetroArch Saturn emulation.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Due to recent virus detections in the latest versions, it is risky for some computers to use. This emulator remains somewhat recommended especially for older hardware, though it may be avoided for these reasons.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Libretro core is still active.

Comparisons[edit]

Mednafen
An open-source, multi-system emulator with an original Saturn core. It's currently the most accurate but runs from the command-line (obviously it'll have video output though) unless using an external frontend like Mednaffe or a libretro frontend like RetroArch. Its goal for accuracy means it only supports the BIOS of one console revision per region, and is also more demanding than any other Saturn emulator (other than MAME)[1]. By default, only x86-64 builds have Saturn support, but unofficial x86-32 builds and libretro frontends like RetroArch can surpass this limitation.
SSF
Used to be the emulator of choice for compatible Saturn emulation. However, it is closed-source and only for Windows and Android. Pretty good performance with low-end computers.
  • City Connection uses SSF as part of Zebra Engine, the engine behind their Saturn Tribute releases, currently for Switch, PS4, Xbox One and PC. Some games are altered with English translations (Assault Suit Leynos 2) or with censorship from CERO (Idol Janshi Suchie-Pai series).
Yabause
Used to be the first and only option for multi-platform Saturn emulation. It's far less developed than SSF and Mednafen and still has many compatibility issues. Development seems to have stopped, active forks are Libretro core, Kronos and Yaba Sanshiro 2.
Yaba Sanshiro 2 (formerly uoYabause)
A Multi-platform fork by DevMiyax using OpenGL ES 3.X (Android), and Open GL 3.X (Windows). Unlike other forks, it uses the GPU to emulate the VDP1, VDP2, and has a modified SH2 Dynamic Recompiler.
Kronos
A fork of UoYabause 0.5.2 created by François (French dev. AKA 'FCare'.). Has his own written SH2 Interpreter, and now supports the ST-V arcade in version 1.30, and Higher (All ST-V games are launchable on Linux; most games are still problematic on Windows).
MAME
Has a saturn driver with compatibility on par with Yabause. The driver is marked overall as not working but graphics and sound are OK. It has good compatibility with at least around 50 of the ~70 ST-V arcade games, though performance quality may vary[2]. But versions 0.158[3]. (Jan 2015) to much later have made good advances in performance. Early known work on ST-V hardware emulation was done in various builds of 0.125, 0.133, 0.138, 0.142 & 0.143 (See prior builds) between 2008-2011. Even bug fixes and more graphical improvements were included in the years 2017-2018 (i.e. 0.191, 0.197 & 0.198).
Nova
An up-and-coming emulator focused on being fast, compatible, and user-friendly. Like SSF, it is closed-source and Windows only. From v0.2.1 onwards, it can now emulate the Sega Titan Video (ST-V) arcade hardware (eg. Guardian Force on ST-V in v0.2.2.).
BizHawk
An open-source, multi-system emulator designed for tool-assisted speedruns. Its Saturn core is based on Mednafen.
Comparisons of several Saturn emulators

Enhancements[edit]

Name Mednafen Kronos Yaba Sanshiro 2 Saturnin BizHawk Yabause ares MAME
Graphics Resizable Internal Resolution ?
Texture Replacement ? ? ? ? ?
Widescreen hack ? ? ? ? ? ?
Pre-rendering AA
(MSAA, SSAA)
? ? ? ? ? ?
Performance Internal Framerate Hack ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
Overclock ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
Frame generation technologies
(LSFG, DLSS-G, ExtraSS and AFMF)
Implementing frame generation technology in an emulator is unfortunately quite challenging and unlikely to be feasible in the near future, however post-processing techniques such as motion interpolation is quite possible. Input latency will be a crucial factor, but its impact likely varies depending on the specific technique employed, it's recommended to use after applying the "Internal Framerate Hack".
While AFMF or LSFG could be used with Mednafen?, please be aware that some visual glitches and artifacts may occur at this time.
Preload optical disc image to RAM
For users with sluggish multi-platter HDDs or plagued by horrible seek times, this enhancement might offer smoother experience, potentially reduced power consumption; it also shines when disc images reside on a network drive.
Although keep in mind that preloading image would take some time, and it will require additional amount of RAM capacity.
* ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
Post-Processing Post-rendering AA
(FXAA, TXAA and MLAA/SMAA)
? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
Post-rendering scaling
(Sharp bilinear, Lanczos and FSR 1)
? ? ? ? ? ?
Filters
NTSC filters, HDR tonemapping etc.
~[N2 1] ? ? ? ~[N2 1]
Shader Chain ~[N2 1] ? ? ? ? ~[N2 1]
TAS features Macros/Scripts/Lua ? ? ? ? ?
Rewind ? ? ? *
Fast-Forward/Turbo Speed ? ? ? ? ?
Savestates * ? ? ? *
Movie recording/playback ? ? ? ? ?
Controls Input lag-mitigating technique ? ? ? ? ? ?
Mouse Injector Compatible
Quality of life Built-in Graphics mod editor/manager
Built-in Cheat Manager ~[N2 1] ~[N2 1] ? ? ? ~[N2 1]
Built-in Custom resolution/CRTSwitchRes
For using this on Windows OS you need CRT Emudriver.
Another option is using EDID editor tool such as "Custom Resolution Utility".
Exclusive to libretro cores and GroovyMAME at the moment.
Also there is a project for achieving software emulators like libretro cores and GroovyMAME send the raw RGB data over a network to a core running on MiSTer, it basically turns the MiSTer into a GPU for the emulator allowing for easy setup and use with CRT TVs/Arcade monitors.
Streamable compression format ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
Per-Game Profiles ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
Command Line Options ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
Big Picture Mode ~[N2 1] ~[N2 1] ~[N2 1] ? ? ~[N2 1] ?
Misc Netplay *
Free Look
Free Look is a enhancement feature that allows manipulation of the in-game camera.
While freecam would be technically possible, it will require per-game patches.
Said patches would require a significant amount of time to reverse the game's engine, which means that only someone talented with enough dedication to a single game could do it.
RetroAchievements ~[N2 1] ~[N2 1] ~[N2 1]
Debug Features ? ? ? ? ? ?
  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 Exclusive to libretro core.

Hardware features and accessories[edit]

Name Mednafen Kronos Yaba Sanshiro 2 Saturnin BizHawk Yabause ares MAME
Sega Net Link and XBⱯND [N3 1] *
Movie Card *
3D Control Pad * TBD TBD *
Shuttle Mouse * TBD TBD *
Saturn Keyboard * TBD TBD *
Arcade Racer * TBD TBD *
Mission Stick * TBD TBD *
Dual Mission Stick * TBD TBD *
Twin Stick TBD* TBD TBD *
Virtua Gun * TBD TBD *
Real Arcade Light Gun TBD* TBD TBD *
6Player & SBom Multitap * TBD TBD *

Video CD Card[edit]

Also called the Movie Card in Japan - allows Saturn to play Photo CDs, Video CDs (VCDs) and hardware playback of MPEG-1 (version 1) video in certain games, leading to higher quality FMV for use in cutscenes (and occasionally, gameplay) (similar to the Philips CD-i's Digital Video Cartridge). Later revisions of the Video CD Card negate the need for Photo CD Operator software by giving the Saturn native Photo CD support.

See this dedicated page for more information about home media playback support for emulation softwares.

Arcade variations[edit]

Sega Titan Video/ST-V[edit]

Mednafen version 1.31.0 added experimental support for ST-V games that don't require decryption chips or special hardware. Refer to the ST-V section of the official documentation for more details and a list of explicitly supported games.

Emulator development[edit]

This section was copied from Wikipedia in 2014. For an up-to-date explanation, see Sega Saturn § Technical specifications

The complexity of the system has made the creation of a proper emulator for it rather difficult.

One very fast central processor would be preferable. I don't think all programmers have the ability to program two CPUs — most can only get about one-and-a-half times the speed you can get from one SH-2. I think that only 1 in 100 programmers are good enough to get this kind of speed [nearly double] out of the Saturn. "Yu Suzuki reflecting upon Saturn's Virtua Fighter development[4].

The Saturn had technically impressive hardware at the time of its release, but its complex design, with two CPUs and six other processors, made harnessing this power difficult for developers accustomed to conventional programming. The biggest disadvantage was that both CPUs shared the same bus and were unable to access system memory at the same time. Making full use of the 4 kB of cache memory in each CPU was critical to maintaining performance. One example of how the Saturn was utilized was with Virtua Fighter's use of one CPU for each character[4]. Many of the Saturn's developers, such as Lobotomy Software programmer Ezra Dreisbach, found it difficult to develop for compared to the PlayStation because of its more complex graphics hardware[5]. In order to port Duke Nukem 3D and PowerSlave to the Saturn, Lobotomy Software had to almost entirely rewrite the Build engine to take advantage of the Saturn's unconventional hardware[5]. Third-party development was initially hindered by the lack of useful software libraries and development tools, requiring developers to write in assembly language to achieve good performance. During early Saturn development, programming in assembly could offer a two to fivefold speed increase over C language[4]. Sega responded to these criticisms by writing new graphics libraries which were claimed to help make development easier[6]. These libraries were presented as a new operating system by Sega of Japan[6].

Unlike the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 which used triangles as their basic geometric primitive, the Saturn rendered quadrilaterals with forward texture mapping. This proved to be a hindrance because most of the industry's standard design tools were based on triangles, with independent texture UV coordinates specified per vertex. One of the challenges brought forth by quadrilateral-based rendering was problems with textured surfaces containing triangles. To make a triangular-shaped object, rendering had a fourth side with a length of zero. This technique proved problematic as it caused texture distortion and required careful reworking to achieve the desired appearance—Sega provided tools for remapping textures from UV space into rectangular tiles. These complications can be seen in the Saturn version of Tomb Raider[5].

For more information about Sega Saturn hardware and reverse engineering;

Resources[edit]

  • More leaked, official documentation (Only that this time there are some that include for Sega Genesis, its CD add-on, and documentation on how the Sega Saturn CD Communication Interface works, and how its Boot ROM works Source)

References[edit]

  1. https://mednafen.github.io/documentation/ss.html
  2. Sega ST-V Arcade Games A to Z - M.A.M.E.. Youtube (2017-02-10)
  3. Touryuu Densetsu Elan Doree - New Improvements on ST-V Hardware - MAME 0.158. Youtube (2015-02-03)
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Next Generation (magazine) issue 2, 1995
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Interview: Ezra Dreisbach. Curmudgeon Gamer (July 9, 2002)
  6. 6.0 6.1 So many 32-Bit Systems To Choose From Next Generation (magazine) issue 12, 1995
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Consoles: SG-1000Master SystemGenesis / Mega DriveCD32XPicoSaturnDreamcast
Handhelds: Game GearVMU / VMS
Arcade: System seriesModel 1Model 2Model 3NAOMI