Last night I was back to messing about with RetroArch and already I am way happier with the results than I was underneath GameEx Evolution. I am certain that GameEx is a really cool option but it didn’t feel stable enough for me to really keep messing with. RetroArch on the other hand feels nice and solid for the most part, and offers a slew of really nice options that for me at least improve the experience. I have most of the emulators up and running… in spite of somehow screwing up Nintendo 64 last night… and still needing to sort out what is going on with MAME. I tend to think of MAME as its official release versions and Libretro Cores are not named in any semblance of version order but instead named after the years a specific version of MAME was released in? Ultimately I might just drop trying to use MAME entirely and start going down the Final Burn path given that I only really care about a very limited set of arcade ROMs and I think Final Burn likely supports all of them? What I spent most of the night doing was fiddling with shaders in order to attempt to improve the experience. The first target was Castlevania Aria of Sorrow… a game I am damned determined to actually beat given it plays almost exactly like probably my favorite game ever… Symphony of the Night.
This first image is an example of the output that I was getting the other night while using MGBA Libretro core without any special processing applied. It looks and feels like a blurry mess in part because the resolution of the Gameboy Advanced is relatively limited, and as such it is trying to do some pixel smoothing but just ends up degrading the image quality entirely. It was playable but not necessarily enjoyable to play.
After a good deal of fiddling I landed on using the gba-color.glslp preset that attempts to mimic what it would actually feel to play the game on Gameboy Advance hardware and the end result is perfect as far as I am concerned. It feels to me like playing the game in the manner that I would expect to be playing it. I noticed no real performance hit and spent a good chunk of the night playing my way through the game. The only problem with playing with a controller is that I am generally bad about taking screenshots while doing so… as a result you only have this one and the title sequence above before I go too engaged in the action to care about snapping a screenshot to use as an example.
For Castlevania Symphony of the Night I opted to go down the path of trying to mimic an SVGA display that I would have been using around the time the game released. After trying a handful I landed on using ntsc-320px-svideo-gauss-scanline.glslp which to me gives me the feel of playing on a 4:3 era television with composite cables.
Here is another example from the intro sequence to SOTN where Death decides to strip you of your powers before entering the castle. While it may not be exact it certainly feels like I remember playing this game felt. In truth this is likely the filter I am going to use on most of these titles, and then stick to the custom handheld specific filters for any games that originally appeared on handheld hardware. I am not necessarily going for the crispest picture… I am going for something that feels like the game felt back then. It might look like a total mess to you, but it feels like home to me.
I spent a good deal of time configuring RetroArch in general, turning off the PS3 era animated ribbon appearance and going for a nice static gradient instead. The only menu that is really as I want it to be is the Gameboy Advance one, in part because I have a very limited set of games configured. What I need to do now is spend some time sifting through the giant “romset” folders that I acquired and culling anything that I am not absolutely certain I want to play to cut down on the “spam”. Quite frankly nobody cares about playing 3 Ninjas Kick Back… but they probably do care about Super Metroid and would probably want it easy to get to without scrolling for 20 minutes. Once I have a paired down set of games I will likely spend the time downloading the artwork that goes with them like I have done with the Gameboy Advance menu. Thankfully the playlists themselves are just text files and if you want to wipe one out completely you can go into the \playlists directory and delete the specific one you are going to rescan.
In all I am super happy with how this is starting to turn out… enough so that I legitimately spent a lot of time playing Aria of Sorrow last night. I’m further in than I have gotten before, which isn’t exactly saying much but I did stumble across a really nice weapon… the Bastard Sword last night. I’ve taken down I think 3 bosses so far but still am looking for where I acquire double jump from. I am assuming it is going to be something I have to equip sorta like the winged knight “falling slowly” thing… but I am not entirely certain. The whole “monsters allow you to collect their abilities” mechanic is really cool and it ends up making me want to kill a specific mob over and over and over until it finally drops whatever ability it might give me. I am missing several like my beloved Axe Knight axes… and as a result right now I am using the skeletal arrows which are a bit fiddly but I like that you can rapid fire several at a time. That is useful given that if you know exactly how many arrows it will take to kill a target you can fire that many off in row… which I guess is important as the ability itself sorta freezes your character while you are using it.