SSF: A Nearly-Perfect Sega Saturn Emulator


It’s no secret that many developer interviews in the mid-90’s cited the Sega Saturn as a very complex and challenging machine to work with. In fact, it’s one of the key factors which led to machine’s downfall in the face of the Sony Playstation. Developers struggled to produce the experiences they envisioned within the time-frame allotted. If such a console were so hard for experienced, professional programmers to work with, the notion of emulating the machine must strike fear and doubt into the hearts of all who dream it.

So how did just one person accomplish that which all others could never quite reach, including Sega itself? I wish I had that answer for you, but I’ve yet to find any kind of interview with this mysterious Japanese programmer, who goes by the alias, Shima. There’s bound to be some knowledge to be had in his forum, but we’ll need someone to translate.

What I can tell you, and this is pretty much inarguable, is that SSF is by far the best means of playing a Saturn without actually owning one. Game consoles don’t last forever, and without projects like this, entire libraries of software could essentially lose it’s function someday. This is why the importance of emulation should never be underestimated. If this backlog is authentic, Shima has been dedicated to the project for over 9 years now. Very impressive.

Yes, I know there are other attempts such as Giri Giri and Satourne, and I know they deserve respect too. However, this is more of a practical introduction to Saturn emulation, and as such, I feel that SSF is the most reliable and easy to setup, and produces the most authentic experience. I would provide technical guides and such, but fortunately, others have already done this for me.

The Basics of SSF

  • To start with, SSF’s Wiki page provides a quick breakdown of what it is and what it does.
  • The official SSF page can always be found here, or try this link for a Google Translation. You can also obtain the newest builds, although not always on the same release day, at Zophar’s Domain or the like.
  • SSF Tribute’s FAQ is an absolutely essential read.

Requirements to Run SSF

  • SSF does not require a BIOS file to run, however it will raise the compatibility rate of the app, so I suggest you find one. I dare not link to one, but if you’re reading this and clicking things I share, you’ve already got a tab open to a site that offers it.
  • Check out the required hardware specs.
  • It really just comes down to a powerful CPU. A video card merely needs Direct-X 9 functionality, and I’m not even completely sure that’s true.
  • Regardless, updating your Direct-X couldn’t hurt.

Configuring SSF

  • A very detailed guide to all of SSF’s configuration options can be found here.
  • Although, in most cases, you only need to go to Option > EZ Setting > Set Highest Compatibility achieve the best results.
  • If you have a decent dual-core CPU, this will not have any real performance impact.

What Games Work on SSF?

  • Software compatibility lists can be found here, here, and here.
  • Check out an absolutely gigantic selection of screenshots taken with SSF.
  • For good measure, here’s a video I recorded of Panzer Dragoon Zwei running on SSF. It demonstrates how extremely close to perfect the emulation can be.
  • Some games like Virtua Fighter 2 require the deinterlacing checked or they look pretty tore up.  I assume it’s because the game runs in 480i, whereas most games are half that, and can’t display any interlacing to begin with.
  • Deinterlacing can slowdown the gameplay if your CPU isn’t up to snuff.

Getting Support for SSF

Is SSF for you?

If you once owned a Saturn and have occasionally felt nostalgic about the titles you’ve let go, stop reading this and acquire SSF immediately. It should find a permanent home on your hard drive. For those who’ve never had a Saturn, I highly suggest you acquire some of Racket’s listed gems, by any means neccessary. You’re bound to find something fun in there. Although, perhaps you’re the historical type, and want to see which games defined the Saturn. Or maybe you’re strapped for time, and require the ones that still matter today. No wait, I’ve got it. You’re a penny pincher!

Ironically, the only people it might not be for are those who still have fully working Saturns, like myself. You see, SSF has yet to implement any real advantages over a Saturn, unless you just hate dealing with discs (you can rip your game discs to ISOs and play them mounted to virtual drives), or you hate replacing the internal CMOS save battery each year. It also offers no visual enhancements, besides de-interlacing and a full screen bilinear filter (not to be confused with texture filtering). Beggars can’t be choosers however, and I certainly agree that emulation accuracy needs to be nearly flawless before visual enhancements come to play.

While by no means recent news, I hope this overview gives you guys something new to mess around with for a while.

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RyaNtheSlayA says:

Ive acheived running this with a DX level 7 hardware + DX 8 software. Just a bit of info you may like to know. However, it does run very slow, and I would seriously recommend that DX9 compatable card.

Mozgus says:

One would assume that if the software required a DX9 capable card, it would simply not run at all. I think you debunked the claim for us though, I had a feeling it wasn’t needed. I really found it odd that people were saying SSF required DX9, as if it were using one of the exclusive features DX9 introduced. Can’t imagine what it could have been.

Jayson says:

Awesome article and a very thorough write up, Thank you.

I had been under the impression that the emulation just wasn’t quite there yet. I look forward to trying this out next weekend, there were so many games I missed out on.

enderfall says:

Very interesting. Racketboy, what do you think this will do to the market for SS games? Will they still hold their value, or will the games start dropping in price due to the “easier” emulation capabilities?

racketboy says:

I wouldn’t worry too much about values anytime real soon. Even Radiant Silvergun seems to defy logic when it comes to values despite the ease of modding and such.

SaurianOverlord says:

Furthermore (concerning value), since Saturn modchips are fairly cheap (albeit a little harder to come by these days) and games easily copied, I think the value of game discs has been affected as much as it ever will be. It seems to me that the value of Saturn games is driven primarily by collectors. I don’t think that people who really just want to play Panzer Dragoon Saga or Radiant Silvergun are often willing to pay the prices they go for.

Just a thought, though. I could be wrong.

enderfall says:

Thanks for the comments. I don’t have a good computer (fastest is a P4 running maybe 1.8GHZ?) so emulation isn’t for me and I have no desire to mod my consoles. Thus I’ve bought Dragon Force and PDS, among a few others at market prices recently to both play and collect. Glad to hear that they may hold up value as it may be a while before I get to play them all the way through…

The Apprentice says:

Tried this on a 2.4 Ghz Celeron. It could play 2D games near 100% speed, but 3D games were unplayable. Pretty cool little program.

Miked says:

Saturns just seem to be magnetically attracted to me or something, as I have had 3 in the past 2 years or so and have sold all of them. I really want to love it, but its just not my kinda system. This will help out when I have the that craving for PDS and Astal though. Thanks!

jjj says:

Good article.

I discovered SSF a year ago and was shocked by how mature the emulation was. I’m imagine its even better now. Most games play perfectly.

All I’d really wish for is a way to directly load ISOs (or maybe it has that now?). As it is, you need to load ISOs in Daemon Tools and then the game plays off the virtual CD.

I think SSF looks quite a bit better than my Saturn when played on a HDTV. Part of it is the bilinear filtering and scaling, the other part is that I’m able to connect over ultra-clean HDMI vs. S-Video with a regular Saturn.

Still, you don’t usually play Saturn games for graphics…

Hatta says:

Nearly perfect, except for being a closed, Windows only binary. I’ll never understand why people will invest so much time and effort actually emulating a system, and then not bother to make it available to the widest audience possible. All they need to do is open the source and someone will port it to OpenGL.

Ed says:

Does anyone know if any other emulators are able to play panzer dragoon zwei and radiant silvergun, but at higher resolution? I would love to see panzer dragoon bumped up, I bet it would be even more beautiful

Mozgus says:

Hatta, Windows represents 90-95% of the audience. You’ve got some real balls telling this guy to work even harder to gain that extra tiny audience (who aren’t interested in games anyway, otherwise they would have Windows). He and other emu authors do this for free. Take your crying elsewhere.

racketboy says:

Moz, I think he was referring more to being open-source

Mozgus says:

Yes, I know. He said he wants it to be open source, so it could be ported to the minor platforms. My argument still stands. There is no reason for it to be open source. That just immensely complicates things. There would be dozens of builds floating around, and maintaining compatibility would become impossible. Hatta might as well be wishing quick death for the whole project.

racketboy says:

Well, that probably has a lot to do with how its managed.
But with your arguement, it still makes sense to open-source an emulator once its solid and mature.
We wouldn’t have a lot of the best emulators ON consoles/handhelds if it wasn’t for open source

Mozgus says:

Open Source should only happen when the author has quit. Any earlier than that, and the emulator never reaches its potential. I’ve watched this happen way too many times. No one ever adds anything good to an open source project, at least regarding emulators. They just add pointless video filters and other unnecessary stuff, while breaking functionality left and right and killing off the fanbase.

racketboy says:

Point taken. Like I said, when its mature and solid.

Amon says:

No mention of Yabause? It is catching up to SSF faster than any of the other Saturn Emulators. I find Yabause easier to use than SSF for programming (nice debugger, can boot games from binary/iso) It does lack the compatibility of SSF and the emulation is not perfect. The Dev team is constantly working on fixing and it is open source.

Amon says:

I forgot to mention my thoughs on SSF. SSF is a great Saturn emulator. Up until Yabause 0.7, I was using it to test my Saturn apps before burning to a cd for testing on a real Saturn. Currently it is the best.

Hatta says:

Failed emulation projects are everywhere, closed or open source. I think the success of projects like MAME, mednafen, dosbox, ZSNES, qemu, Raine, prove that open source is not a death knell for an emulator. But I don’t mean to jack the thread.

Leon says:

This emulator looks better on my TV than a real Saturn through a Video Card S-video to TV connection. Even the resolution fits on my TV better.

okonomiyaki says:

What’s the best method to convert my Saturn CDs to ISO?

Will Nero work fine or do I need to do something special?

racketboy says:

Saturn CDs are pretty straight-forward.
Here’s what I used to do:

But I think just about any good burning program should be able to rip an ISO file

The Hon. Reverend Fred Gherkin says:

You forgot to mention the SSE2 CPU requirement. Only CPUs that support the SSE2 instruction set can execute the emulator. That leaves processors as recent as the AMD Athlon XP/MP out in the cold.

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