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Ace Combat Emulation.


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#1
Broth3r

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Figured I should make this thread after my "how come we don't have this yet?" moment.

 

As of now, all PS1, PS2 and PSP Ace Combat games can be emulated on PC in near perfect quality. The PS1 trio has been running perfectly for almost a decade now - ePSXe is a very well matured emulator.

 

PSP games have also been capable of perfect emulation for a few years now. The PPSSPP emulator is not that old, but it's very well built, with the particularity of demanding very little of the computer - even old machines should be able to emulate ACX and JA at full speed. PPSSPP is a high-level emulator: it means it makes no attempt to reproduce the PSP's system verbatim (and does not require a BIOS), but rather goes for a practical approach, attempting (and succeeding) to run games and apps as best in its environment - which has allowed it to be developed for all sorts of mobile devices as well. Further, unlike the PS1 emulator, it allows for multiple graphical improvements - most importantly, higher rendering resolution. In other words, it's possible to emulate the games as if they were running at 1080p native, dramatically improving graphical detail. Of course, their age and limitations is still evident, but it is outstanding how a decade old PSP game can look thanks to it. Here's an example:

 

 

But of course, the PS2 games are the dream. Now, not only are they more demanding, the PS2 itself is a very difficult system to emulate. Unlike today's consoles, which are basically PCs in a different shell, the PS2 uses a unique system architecture unlike anything a PC may use. PCSX2, the main emulator, has been in development for 14 years and there's still plenty of work ahead to perfect it. And Ace Combat games, as some of the most demanding games on the console, required that effort. The PS2 trio has been playable for some years now, after collision issues that caused missiles to fly through enemies were fixed, but they were still far from perfect, suffering from a number of graphical glitches: most notably, black lines streaking vertically across the screen, and glitched ground textures.

 

There was one solution for this: running the game in Software Mode. Simply put, Software Mode emulated the PS2 as if it was a single program, running entirely off the CPU, where Hardware Mode attempts to run it as any other PC game, placing the graphical load on the GPU. Software Mode permitted flawless gameplay, but without any graphical enhancements (the games' age really shows in native resolution), but more importantly, running the entire thing off the CPU causes an unacceptable load on it - only the best i7 CPUs were capable of running the games at full speed. Even with the graphical glitches, Hardware Mode was the best option.

 

But it is my pleasure to announce that as of last month, the latest PCSX2 beta build (obtainable here) all the major issues with Ace Combat 5 and Zero (they're the same engine-wise) in Hardware Mode have been solved, and the game runs simply marvellously. It's GPU demanding, requiring a mid-tier GPU to run at 4x native resolution (slightly more than 1080p), but most will be able to play at lower resolutions. If you can bump it up, though, it is absolutely gorgeous.

 

 

Here are my settings:
For normal missions - http://i.imgur.com/n61krkn.png
For foggy missions where ghosting is present (Juggernaut, The Inferno, etc) - http://i.imgur.com/7P2Zq1O.png
 
 
This means that of right now, of the major releases, only Ace Combat 6, 3D and Infinity cannot be properly played on PC. The latter is probably impossible in any case due to the PSN account lock and lack of offline gameplay, but the other two are coming along. Xenia, the 360 emulator, is still in extremely early stages, but people are already experimenting with AC6; 3D is a bit more along the way, running on Citra, but it's quite slow for the time being.
 
Whatever the case, the machine you want for replaying the greats of old is no longer a PS2. It's the one right in front of you.

Edited by Broth3r, 12 December 2016 - 12:17 AM.

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#2
PositronCannon

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am i doin it rite

 

 

(I didn't think my 6 year old laptop was up to the task, but I was curious).


Edited by PositronCannon, 12 December 2016 - 11:28 AM.

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#3
Kaiten Sushi-kun

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Doesn't work for me. Used the latest build and set the settings to the linked images.

 

Can someone else using Nvidia GPUs try and see if it works.

 

edit: nvm it's working now. If the normal mission settings that Broth3r provided doesn't work. Try the fog missions one, and then tick FXAA under shader config (optional, but some AA is better than none). It would look better with MSAA, but MSAA consumes a lot of resources (and lags your game) so unless you have something like a GTX980 or better it's not recommended.

 

edit2: AC5 is working for the most part. The font gets distorted for the FMVs and the sonic boom isn't properly rendered. Chances are the Hrimfaxi/Scinfaxi SLBMs will be even weirder. Time for more tweaking.


Edited by Kaiten Sushi-kun, 16 December 2016 - 03:09 AM.

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#4
Broth3r

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edit: nvm it's working now. If the normal mission settings that Broth3r provided doesn't work. Try the fog missions one, and then tick FXAA under shader config (optional, but some AA is better than none). It would look better with MSAA, but MSAA consumes a lot of resources (and lags your game) so unless you have something like a GTX980 or better it's not recommended.

 

edit2: AC5 is working for the most part. The font gets distorted for the FMVs and the sonic boom isn't properly rendered. Chances are the Hrimfaxi/Scinfaxi SLBMs will be even weirder. Time for more tweaking.

 

Call me a heathen, but I prefer no AA to FXAA. Good thing I don't mind jaggies much - the only game I can remember desperately wanting them was ACI.


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#5
Broth3r

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More goods courtesy of emulation - the PPSSPP emulator in this case.

 

It is now possible to replace textures in ACX and JA - and as it turns out, it's actually quite easy. This opens the door to custom textures and whatever our more graphically talented folk can come up with, but there's a more immediate possibility: the textures in the aircraft records page are twice the resolution of those used in the hangar and ingame, and it's a simple matter of importing them. Porting from JA to ACX is also possible.

 

For now, I'll indulge in flying Belkan ace aircraft in ACX.

 


Edited by Broth3r, 16 January 2017 - 02:07 PM.

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#6
Hue

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More goods courtesy of emulation - the PPSSPP emulator in this case.

 

It is now possible to replace textures in ACX and JA - and as it turns out, it's actually quite easy. This opens the door to custom textures and whatever our more graphically talented folk can come up with, but there's a more immediate possibility: the textures in the aircraft records page are twice the resolution of those used in the hangar and ingame, and it's a simple matter of importing them. Porting from JA to ACX is also possible.

 

For now, I'll indulge in flying Belkan ace aircraft in ACX.

 

Just great, now you'll have a bunch of weebs pasting their waifus on their planes.


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#7
VitalEvergreen1

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am i doin it rite

 

(I didn't think my 6 year old laptop was up to the task, but I was curious).

I literally had to stop watching because it hurts so much.


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#8
Scherzo

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am i doin it rite



(I didn't think my 6 year old laptop was up to the task, but I was curious).


Go home PC you're drunk.
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#9
Angelfire

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am i doin it rite

 

 

(I didn't think my 6 year old laptop was up to the task, but I was curious).

That's about what happens when I try and emulate the PS2 Ace Combats on my laptop, regardless of settings.


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#10
Broth3r

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My friends, I need your help.

 

 

ACX is locked at 30 FPS by a simple frame limiter, as is the case with many other PSP games. Unlocking it is "simply" a matter of finding the RAM address of the limiter and changing its value. I was unable to do this, but thankfully, someone was: Solitarius, at the PPSSPP official forums.
 
As you can see from my test, however, there are some issues. While some games can be unlocked with no consequences, others have their gameplay elements tied to the frame rate that need manual correction. Such is the case with ACX. Merely removing the limiter would simple double the game's speed, rendering it unplayable. Therefore, it's necessary to find the RAM addresses controlling those gameplay elements, and halve their value. This is why Solitarius' code is far longer than any other game in that page - he has already done so for multiple elements, and as you can see, player movement, missiles, voice, music, mission timers and menus all function correctly thanks to his additional work.
 
Correcting the remaining issues is, sadly, beyond my technical capability and time availability. Therefore, if possible, I would like to make this a community effort. If you're skilled in code searching or assembly, or know someone who is, I'd like to ask your help.
 
I have identified these issues so far:
 
Max priority:
  • Enemy aircraft movement - this alone would make the game fully playable.
Medium priority:
  • Missile range (and TLS time) before fading - e.g. LASMs can't hit at maximum range
  • Missile reload speed
  • Camera speed
  • Briefing intervals
  • Mission end interval
  • Friendly aircraft movement
  • Ship movement
  • Ground unit movement
  • FMV Flickering
Low priority:
  • Radar blinking
  • Target box blinking
Irrelevant:
  • Debriefing timer
  • Gun rate of fire (even then it's pretty bad)
 
This requires pinpointing which addresses are tied to each element, and then individually testing them. There are two tutorials available, covering different methods (assembly and cheat engine), more aimed towards disabling the limiter itself but whose principles work similarly for testing other variables. It's a lengthy and not particularly accessible effort, but one that I hope we might, bit by bit, bring to fruition.
 
Thank you.

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