PPSSPP, the PSP emulator has been around for a while, but I had more or less disregarded it as the first versions were so far away in terms of performance to be remotely interesting for us. Things have changed significantly in the past few versions, with performance now very close to what I would call “playable” in several games. So, how good is PPSSPP (version 0.9.1.30) at this point on Pandora ? Should you be paying more attention to it ?
Why would I want to emulate the Sony PSP anyway ? Yeah, sure, we already have excellent emulators for many other machines, including the Nintendo DS which was clearly the winner in the past generation of portable gaming. Well, there is actually something a little bit special about the PSP: it is NOT a dead console.
Not yet, at least. It’s still very much alive in Japan and whenever I go out I keep seeing new titles for it. Of course it is reaching the end of its life, with the PS Vita slowly (very slowly) taking off and the Nintendo 3DS taking over (the recent Monster Hunter on 3DS has certainly hurt the PSP user base), but there’s a lot of inertia there and many gamers are still very much happy with what they can get with the PSP hardware. After all, for many portable games, its capacities are quite sufficient and many games still look good.
So, this is the first emulator for an existing, alive and kicking system that we have. That’s interesting because I have just tried a couple of days ago the new game Shining Ark from SEGA, released in this year, and it was running almost fine on PPSSPP on Pandora. Sometimes a little slow, with stuttering sound here and there, but all in all working very much as expected. Impressive.
My first test when judging every new release of PPSSPP has been Lumines. Lumines is incidentally one of the first games I bought on PSP at the time (the other ones being Wipeout Pure and Mercury) and it was a very good game (and still is very fun to play). In the first few versions of PPSSPP Lumines was slow and the sound was stuttering as hell, giving me the signal “it’s not the time to look further yet”. As the versions came and passed, the performance improved. First the sound was getting better, then the animations a little faster. Until the present version where the game is really full speed: no more sound stuttering, no more obvious latency when playing. This meant I had to go and check other games.
While I won’t go in details on all the games I have tested so far, there are two observations to make. 2D games are obviously running better than 3D heavy games. That’s kind of expected, and it seems that the limitations are GPU bound if I trust PtitSeb on this. This may also mean we may have hit a wall in terms of performance, but who knows at this stage…
What I saw, however, is that there are differences between 3D games and engines used. For example, the Valkyria Chronicles games run almost perfectly (on a 1 Ghz, obviously). Of course they use frameskip, but the 3D is relatively smooth and since I played these games many hours on my original PSP I can tell you the result is very, very close to the original PSP experience. There’s some slow-down here and there, but overall it’s very faithful in terms of performance. And these games are huge by themselves, I think I have put easily 50 hours in each of them before completing them on their original medium. And yes, they are quite good, if you like this kind of 3D turn-strategy game.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have WipeOut Pure, which was a launch title for the PSP if I remember correctly, but which does not run well at all on the Pandora. It’s very much a slideshow and that has not changed much in the past few versions. That’s really a shame since it would be a great looking game to play on Pandora with the excellent nubs we have. The creators of WipeOut have always been known to push the hardware to the limits and that may be why the emulation is relatively slow.
One thing which remains a problem in the recent versions of PPSSPP is the video playback part. They used to run just fine before, but their support has kind of been broken in the last couple of versions. They stutter and slow down at some points for no clear reason. PtitSeb is not sure what is causing this and this is an important piece for many games (Valkyria Chronicles for example) so I hope a solution comes down the road…
So what to expect from there on ?
Well, the creators of PPSSPP mention there are still optimizations to make on the JIT compiler for ARM, which may be a good sign for the Pandora users. Texture decoding using NEON will be supported as well so this may provide some additional boost down the road as well. At this stage it’s still unsure what kind of level of performance we can expect from these changes, especially after version 0.9 which made a lot of games way more playable than before. If we can manage to get games 20 to 30% faster, many of them will become playable and very close to full speed (with frameskip), while the more demanding ones like WipeOut Pure will definitely stay out of reach.
We have seen great progress with DraStic and the work of Exophase to bring full speed support for most Nintendo DS games. As for the Sony PSP, it will likely be more difficult to reach the same kind of level of support. After all, the Pandora is not the target system since PPSSPP is made to be multiplatform. This being said, I think most Pandora users will consider themselves happy even if a third of PSP games run correctly on their system. That will still be a valuable addition to what the Pandora can do.
Before leaving, let me just say that you probably need the 1Ghz model to properly enjoy much of the world of PSP emulation. I don’t think the Rebirth or CC models are going to cut it past the most simple games. So, if you were waiting for a reason to invest into the 1Ghz model, there you have it (on top of better performance in DraStic and almost everything else…)
Let me finish by asking your help to establish a reliable database on what games works well or not on the Pandora with the recent Compatibility List for PPSSPP that I have opened on the wiki. This will be helpful for all of us.