Emulating the Sega Dreamcast on the Mac

sega-dreamcast

From the great golden age of computing, sadly let down by faulty hardware, the Dreamcast is a forgotten early forerunner of the XBox. Without one, how can you play games meant for the Sega Dreamcast on your Mac?

In this article we discuss the different ways you can get started with retro gaming on this early little brother to the Xbox range of consoles.

The Mac is fairly poorly served with emulators for the Sega Dreamcast, which like the Xbox was designed by Microsoft, but why that might be is not very clear. It’s possibly because it was not a success as a console due to annoying technical problems. Despite that, it was well loved by its small band of devotees and had the benefit of some direct ports of arcade games which were both playable and technically impressive.

There are, however, a few ways into playable emulation of this console on the Mac if you really crave it;  some of them are obvious and some not so obvious. Let’s deal with the obvious first.

The native OS X contender is lxdream. While it is capable of running Dreamcast software, “running” is perhaps too strong of a word for it. Development ground to a halt in 2009, and the website hasn’t been updated since 2010. It’s not a good emulator.

So where does that leave you if you loved the Dreamcast and run a Mac? It’s no help or consolation either that there is a vibrant development community for the nullDC emulator on the Windows platform …

Or is it?

With a few small tweaks, you can actually get nullDC for Windows running on the Mac through Wineskin Winery. The first step is, of course, if you don’t have Wineskin, to download it here. Read the instructions, and don’t forget you may need to install X11 if you haven’t already.

Once installed and run, Wine presents you with a choice to “Download Packages Manually” or “Create New Blank Wrapper.” What this means is that Wine creates a new little Windows bubble in which programs meant for Windows can run on the Mac’s Intel processors.

First “Create a new blank wrapper.”

dreamcast-mac-create-wrapper

Name it “Dreamcast” and press OK and wait. This takes some time.

dreamcast-mac-name-wrapper

Unless you have lots of memory, it’s a good idea to leave it and not make the process compete for space.

Once it’s done (finally), it will ask you if you wish to see the new wrapper in Finder. Choose this option and run the new app.

dreamcast-mac-app-created

It will say the program can’t be run. Close that alert and run it again. This always happens.

Now you need to install the Winetricks plugin for DirectX specifically Direct3D. Click the Tools tab and push the Winetricks button.

dreamcast-mac-wineskin-tools

Open the “dll” folder. Look for a file called “d3dcompiler43,” install it by ticking the checkbox next to it on the left, and run it. This will take a while, but when it’s done go back to the Configuration tab. Don’t close the configuration window; you’ll need to come back to it.

dreamcast-mac-wineskin-winetricks

Now you need to download and install nullDC.

You need to find a copy of nullDC for Windows. Although it’s no longer being developed by the original team, it went open source in 2010 and lots of people have taken up the challenge of taking it further. If you can’t find it anywhere, you can download it here.

It’s a .zip file, so extract it to a convenient spot on your machine and look inside the directory. Delete the “nullDC.cfg” file.

Now you can go back to the Wine app window and install the folder into the Wine app. Click the Install software button, and then choose “Copy a folder inside.”

dreamcast-mac-wineskin-move-folder

Find the nullDC directory you extracted from the download – it will be installed into the Wine app. It will ask you to confirm the EXE you want to autorun when starting the Wine app. Click OK. You are mostly good to go.

As with all emulators, the problem of where to get the original “brain” of the console, the ROMs which make it work, is a tricky one. All we will say is that while you could search Google for “dc_boot.bin” and “dc_flash.bin” and download them, the only 100% legal way to obtain these ROMs is to extract them from your very own Dreamcast console, and even that is a task of dubious legality. Some of the installs of nullDC you find will actually contain the ROMs.

Of course, the Sega Dreamcast is a long dead system, and very few people care about it anymore. That being said, how you get the ROMs is up to you, but we’ve done what we’re supposed to do and advised you of the legal situation.

Once you’ve obtained the ROMs, they should be installed in the “data” directory of nullDC, unless your install came with them preinstalled.

The same goes for game disc images. You can obtain them online (Google is your friend), but legally all you can do is run the games directly from discs you own or rip them from the discs into images, which is outside the scope of this tutorial.

Now you can run the Dreamcast Wine app. Once it’s up and running and before you run anything, you need to set the display prefs. Go to “Options -> PowerVR -> ZBuffer Mode” and choose “D24S8+FPE” (slow, good  precision).

Once that’s done, you can run it.

Click on the File menu and choose “File -> Normal Boot,” and pick the file you want to run.

dreamcast-mac-nullDC-choose-game

Configuring joysticks is a whole other thing, and we recommend you get a second-hand Dreamcast joypad and attach that to your computer with a USB adapter.

The memory card LCD is emulated as a small window, and you can see any additional info there while playing.

dreamcast-mac-jetset-running

It’s weird and uncomfortable that you have to emulate a PC to play Dreamcast games, but it’s the only way to go for now. Yes, it’s a little unstable (On our machine it crashes when you set full screen, for example, but is in full screen when you restart.), and you’ll have to tweak the speed to make it play more fluidly, but seriously it’s amazing that it works at all, never mind works well.

If you enjoyed this tutorial or have any questions about Dreamcast on Mac, please let us know in the comments below.

Image credit: Sega Dreamcast No 6

16 comments

  1. Can you test for Demul emulator ? Its the latest version and the best emulator over nullDC. I would like to see if it is working with Wineskin for MAC Users, please ?

    • Hi azoreseuropa, yes it’s on my list of things to test, but I’m waiting for the right opportunity. Thanks for letting us know

      • Thank you very much. We can’t wait. By the way, we also try to use SSF with Wineskin and it didn’t work at all. Maybe we missed something. It will be great for us if you can try it and share with us if it works for you. SSF works fine for Windows 7, thought. Frustrate, indeed.

        • Wineskin is not a perfect soution, but it does the best with what it has. Tips for Wineskin are if a certain program doesn’t work then uninstall it and install again. Also try using older engines.

          As for SSF I hear from winehq.org that it works with version 0.10 of SSF with version 1.1.0 of Wine, but that was on Linux as far as I can figure out. Mac Wine may be lagging behind, I’m not sure. I will cover this in due course.

          Thanks for sharing :)

          • Thank you kindly. We will be waiting. If it doesn’t work then the option is Boot Camp or something.

  2. I followed all the steps, but get this error message,

    “the program null_dc_win32_release-notrace.exe has encountered a serious problem and needs to close.”

    This occurs even running no disc.

    What would be the fix for this?

    Thanks :D

    • it’s difficult to figure out the reasons for a failure with Wineskin as it’s not a legit and commercial bit of software merely a community maintained project. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t for reasons that are unclear. The process described in the article is how I got it working and those are the steps that worked for me, your mileage may vary as they say. I would try cleaning everything out and trying again. Sometimes it works after repeated tries.

  3. When it starts, it says it’s “unable to find bios in C:Program Files\nullDC_NAOMI_104_r136\data\” then has “Exiting…” and I press ok and that’s about it. -_- I downloaded the bios and put the bios into the data folder but it still came up. Idk what I’m doing wrong.

    • Hi, I had the same dialog box come up too, so I went into the program files where I put the bios and the folder was labeled “Data” instead of “data”, so I changed the capital “D” and that fixed that problem

  4. works great!! but slow as hell, any advice? i already moved around some option but still slow, i also made it work with a ps3 controller. thank you very much!

      • it’s not complicated, the ps3 controller is native to mac computers, just make sure the controller is connected with usb, not the bluetooth (it will go nuts with the bluetooth) , try it out with some other app, openemu or something, and once it’s working open up your dreamcast wineskin and configure it with the puru puru plugin! hopefully the nullDC version you’ve got has the plugin! Happy gaming!

Comments are closed.

Sponsored Stories