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.
Living the Dream
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?
Wine Makes It Better
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.”
Name it “Dreamcast” and press OK and wait. This takes some time.
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.
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.
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.
Now you need to download and install nullDC.
nullDC Makes It Work
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.”
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.
A word about ROMs
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.
Running the Dream
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.
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.
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