Dolphin Gamecube/Wii emulator hits Android, runs like crap on current hardware

There’s good news and bad news for folks that’ve been waiting to play Nintendo Gamecube or Wii games on a smartphone. The good news is that the first emulator is now available for Android. The bad news is that it’s incredibly buggy, and your phone, tablet, or Android game console probably isn’t powerful enough to play any games anyway.

Dolphin emulator developer Ryan Houdek has released an early, buggy build of a Gamecube and Wii emulator, but says the first device expected to run any games at a reasonable speed is the soon-to-be-released Samsung Galaxy S IV.

Dolphin emulator

That’s because the Galaxy S IV will be one of the first mobile devices to feature support for OpenGL ES 3.0 graphics. Most ARM-based chips released so far don’t support it, and they’re not fast enough to handle the emulator through CPU power alone.

In fact, you pretty much need a laptop or desktop PC with an Intel Core i5 or faster processor to emulate a GameCube or Wii. ARM-based chips don’t even come close.

So while the Samsung Galaxy S IV might be fast enough to handle a couple of games, it might be a few years before there’s hardware on the market that can really take advantage of the Dolphin emulator to let you play the Gamecube or Wii versions of your favorite Super Mario, Legend of Zelda, or Super Smash Bros titles.

That said, the developer is taking donations to help pay for a Galaxy S IV for testing purposes. You can find out how to contribute, or how to download a barely working pre-release version of the emulator to try yourself at the Dolphin forums.

  • http://twitter.com/frauhottelmann frauhottelmann

    Exynos 5 Dual in the Nexus 10 has a Mali-T604 which also supports OpenGL ES 3.0 ;)

    • CyberGusa

      Problem is this isn’t running natively, it’s a emulator and they always have a good deal of over head on the required performance.

      There’s also the question of enabling proper hardware acceleration with hardware virtualization support, without which then most of the emulation load goes to the processors… So a good GPU wouldn’t be enough…

  • Juanjo

    I loved it : “runs like crap on current hardware” XD

  • me

    How do controls work for the Wii?

    • Robert Bray

      Wii uses bluetooth.

      • CyberGusa

        More complicated… the controller links to the console over bluetooth but for motion tracking it uses an optical sensor, via infrared, and is what the motion bar is for and you need to be within 5 meters…

        So the emulator will likely be limited to more traditional game controller functionality… Since there’s not way to connect or emulate the optical motion sensor.

      • Robert Bray

        Limited to anything that doesn’t rely on the wii mote being used as any form of pointing device.

        The IR bar is there as a point of reference for when you’re pointing at the TV. Nothing else.

      • CyberGusa

        Using as a pointing device is pretty much the main point of a Wii remote… Since the main point of using a Wii remote instead of a more traditional game remote is the motion control!

        And the question was for how the controls work for the Wii…

      • Robert Bray

        There’s a difference between the motion sensing aspect of the WiiMote and the pointing aspect. You don’t need the IR bar for the motion sensing. Just for knowing where it’s pointed.

        Given the size of a mobile screen, you’re probably not going to use games that require that anyway. If you’re plugging it into a TV, then you can get a battery powered IR bar quite easily.

      • CyberGusa

        Motion control requires accuracy, which isn’t quite possible with just the gyroscope by itself… So no, it’s definitely part of the controls and how it works!

        While the lack of it only means the mobile device would be more likely to have less accurate and probably more sluggish controls.

      • Robert Bray

        It is, but not on the original wiimote. For extra sensitivity you need the motion plus.

        With something like a fencing game, for example, the IR bar is irrelevant. It’s only relevant for games where you’re actually using it as some form of pointer.

        For anything outside of this, it doesn’t help calibrate the motion sensor in any way. The IR bar is completely irrelevant to how accurate it is or how responsive the controls are.

      • CyberGusa

        No, gyroscopes can only determine motion but not direction… The motion plus just makes the sensing of motion more accurate but the IR bar is still needed for more than just pointing but rather setting the orientation and direction of the controller.

        Otherwise, every time you turn it on it would have a new starting position… just like lifting a mouse off the table and putting it back down in a different position.

        So it all works together! The PixArt optical sensor do more than just let it be used as a pointer and is what’s allowing it to determine where the Wii Remote is pointing to then let the accelerometers and gyroscopes more correctly determine orientation and direction and not just determine motion.

        Besides, the question was how it works… bluetooth is just how it connects to the console. Just like a PS3 remote, etc. but that isn’t what makes the Wii emotes unique!

  • me

    I just wish gaming companies would take smartphone gaming more seriously. The ones available mostly aren’t my kind of games.

    Anyone know of good games with a good story, character development and dialogue? Along the lines of Metal Gear Solid and some Japanese RPGs. Thanks.

    • CyberGusa

      It’s hard to take Smart Phone gaming more seriously when they’re not really good for gaming. Limited mainly to capacitive touch screens, which lacks accuracy and range of controls (as well as tending to block part of the screen with your hands in order to use), and still low performance hardware that even at its top end is only catching up to gaming consoles that are themselves over 5-7 years old.

      It’s really only very recently that they’ve started getting good enough to take more seriously, but it still needs more development before they can really consider it for more than light casual gaming.

      We basically need mobile devices that can function like mobile mini-PC’s, with the peripherals and ecosystem required to properly support the option to use it as a serious gaming platform… but the technology and ecosystem isn’t quite there yet… So we just have to wait but another two years should do it… as then most of the remaining barriers should finally be overcome…

      For now, tablets are the better bet for gaming… especially with the greater chances to support peripherals, which comes in handy for things like game controllers, etc… along with a larger screen and usually better spec hardware.

      • Joe

        Those Japanese RPGs and any game that focuses on story, character development and interaction like he asked don’t necessarily need complex controls. Pretty much point and click or tap. Personally, I get keyboard phones. They help with games. Many people use USB or Bluetooth gamepads with their phones too.

        In terms of graphics, smartphones have gone pretty far. Comparable to dedicated handhelds. Besides, great games don’t necessarily need the best graphics. Especially if your requirement is a great storyline.

      • CyberGusa

        True enough but the problem is not the game but the emulator… it needs to emulate the hardware of the original device!

        Basically, the whole process can take a huge chunk of resources before even running the game… Especially, if there is no hardware accelerated virtualization as then a pretty large chunk of the load gets dumped on the processors.

        Mind, anything running natively and without any emulation would of course run a lot better…

      • Joe

        The original questioner was talking about good native games even though the article was about emulators.

      • CyberGusa

        Maybe, but until gaming gets serious for mobile devices then most games would be for other devices like game consoles and thus require a emulator.

        Really, how long did it take for Max Payne to get ported to Android? A game originally released in 2001!!!

        While another problem for mobile devices is games are usually made to the lowest common denominator, which means not the most powerful device and that also holds back what’s possible on mobile devices and limits interest by developers.

      • me

        Which goes back to what I was talking about. We need more serious games. There are some but not many good games that are not just ports.

        I don’t buy the differing capabilities of phones as a reason. Just look at PC gaming. Lots of variation there.

        I think the precedent set by $1.99 apps and subpar games are driving gaming companies away. I’d definitely pay the same price as PC and console games if they’re as good in terms of complex stories and character development.

      • CyberGusa

        PC gaming has no real limitations, the hardware is far more powerful and everything is customizable.

        While mobile devies are extremely limited in comparison…

        You are right that pricing is a factor as well but it’s also because of the other limitations mentioned. So a lot needs to change before that’ll change…

      • Joe

        Tell that to those people wanting to play current or even somewhat new PC games on older PCs or on crappy integrated graphics. These games are definitely not made for the lowest common denominator. I don’t see why can’t mobile games target minimum requirements like PC games do. Targeting only the low end will definitely yield $1.99 priced games that aren’t worth selling for major companies.

        As said before the graphics capabilities already exist. At least on the flagship type phones. They rival mobile handheld consoles. PC hardware is also far more powerful than handheld consoles…

        I agree that gaming companies need to change their minds but I don’t agree that hardware performance is the reason why they’re staying away from mobile platforms beyond dedicated handhelds.

      • CyberGusa

        Even the older games are more playable on older PC’s than mobile devices…

        Really, the latest and greatest ARM device is still over 8 years behind modern PC gaming!

        At best they’re just only now catching up to game consoles but that has to be pointed out that those game consoles are themselves over 5-7 years old and were not equal to the top of the PC gaming systems even when they were new!

        So no, the graphics quality of mobile devices is only about what you can get with low end PC system with embedded graphics instead of discrete… This is one of the reasons why it took so long to port a game like Max Payne because the level of graphics for mobile devices is that far behind what PC’s offer…

        Really, you could get a AMD Fusion based netbook or low end laptop and still have more gaming power than even the most powerful ARM device available now!

        So even old PC systems that are 5 or so years behind can still do more than the latest mobile device.

        Never mind the limitations of mobile OS like Android, etc. A desktop OS allows far more flexibility and PC hardware does as well!

        So sorry but there are multiple reasons why mobile devices aren’t yet seriously considered for gaming… this is just the reality of the situation to date.

        In less than 2 more years ARM will go full 64bit and remove many of the present restrictions but till then options are limited for mobile devices.

        Though the selection should improve a bit over time… just nothing major until things approve all around for mobile devices.

      • tim k.

        Explain how handheld consoles with the same our less graphical power can have good games while phones don’t. It’s not about power…

      • http://www.liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

        Those games were designed specifically for the hardware they run on. If you want to run the same exact game on an Android device using an emulator, not only does your phone or tablet have to emulate the software… it has to run software that pretends it’s different hardware. And that takes a lot of processing power.

      • tim k.

        This particular discussion isn’t really talking about emulators. It’s about native games. The hardware in handheld consoles have about the same power or even less than phones. Graphicaly, native games targetting Android specifically (which is what this thread is about) should look as well as handheld targetted games. Just look at some of the games out there like Gameloft ones. Although, other than graphics, Gameloft games are severely lacking in other areas.

        Besides, graphics don’t make a good game. At least for me, it’s not the main reason why I would like a particular game.

      • http://www.liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

        Ahh, sorry, I get notifications about these discussions via email and jumped into the middle here. :)

        I think there are some mobile games for Android that look as good as, say, a Nintendo DS or PSP game. They’re just few and far between — and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that every time Square Enix (or anybody else) prices an Android game at $15.99 people complain that it’s way too expensive for an Android game.

        Folks have gotten used to paying premium prices for console titles, but don’t seem to want to spend more than $4.99 on a mobile game… and even that seems high for many.

        Top-selling apps can sometimes move enough products to help justify the time and effort in developing top-quality games. But there’s nothing even approaching a guarantee you’ll *have* a top selling app that makes enough money to justify the investment.

        But that’s just one theory. Ask me again tomorrow and I’ll probably have another. :)

      • CyberGusa

        There’s a list, first dedicated consoles have proper gaming controllers.

        Until pretty recently, no such options existed for mobile devices and even now they’re not all easy to add on.

        Mind that capacitive touch screens are not optimal for traditional gaming! It’s very inaccurate, you have to sacrifice part of the screen for controls, and far less responsive than dedicated buttons and joysticks.

        Second, it’s only recently that mobile devices are starting to get game console range graphics capabilities. For years they offered much less, which is why games like Max Payne took so long to port because no mobile device could even run it until pretty recently.

        Really, just going from the Tegra 2 to the Tegra 4 is a 10x increase in capability and anything further back of course has a larger difference in performance.

        Third, mobile graphics weren’t designed to run much to begin with for many years because there was no need to. So all the graphic standards that were supported were very basic and some standards that existed on PC’s outright didn’t exist on mobile hardware.

        It’s hard to port anything if what the game is designed to use isn’t supported on the devices you want to port to!

        Fourth, even porting desktop Linux distros proved difficult because of how fragmented the hardware is and how many devices use closed drivers. Even for models that provided linux support didn’t always allow things like hardware acceleration and thus the already limited graphics would just be more limited.

        While this is also a factor for even Android as not all devices are properly optimized…

        Fifth, the hardware fragmentation of ARM devices means that, while Android and most apps will run on most devices, games often won’t always run correctly and usually not at peak performance.

        Combined with how limited game controller options has been up till now for mobile devices meant game developers had to cater to the lowest common denominator as nothing really but casual games could be ensured to work on all devices and cater to the largest audience of users…

        Even on Apple’s iPad platform it has taken years to garner game developers interest beyond the casual… examples like Rage being the product of all that investment.

        However, the inability to actually be comfortable and do any serious gaming for any significant length of time is still the biggest blockage against garnering the gaming industry interest in taking the mobile platform more seriously at this time.

      • iPC

        Neither consoles nor smartphones can even come close to the might of a PC !

      • Luis

        On the downside. It seems there are a good amount of games focusing on great graphics but almost all of them have very basic, bad or non-existent storylines.

      • http://www.Bungle.net/ Stoshy

        It runs fine for me on my Kindle Fire HD. I just stream games from my desktop. Ha.
        That is how you get around hardware limitations. The touch screen works fine for most games. If need be, I can plug in a controller to play with. With another app, I can stream to most HDTVs. The best part, with a 3G or WI-FI connection, I can play on the go! Tablets and phones are highly underrated when it comes to gaming. These will certainly replace consoles in the coming years. Instead of Xbox LIVE or PS+, you’ll be paying to access a network that will stream high end games to your phones, tablets, and low end computers. Let the servers do all the work.

      • CyberGusa

        Are you playing catch up? This article is over a year old now!

        Anyway, sorry but services like Onlive didn’t pan out so well… While console sales for the next gen XBox One and PS4 are still going strong…

        Besides, streaming technology still has a long way to go… both the data flow has to be better compressed and the networks have to be able to handle more bandwidth before it truly becomes practical to make that the new norm…

        Having ISPs, carriers, etc putting up data caps, tiered data plans, etc. definitely don’t make it option for everyone either…

        While there are plenty of games where even the smallest lag is undesireable…

        So, feel free to have fun but don’t confuse what you’re doing with where the market will be going anytime soon!

      • http://www.Bungle.net/ Stoshy

        Wrong. The market is going in that direction. Cloud computing is the future.

        With increasing reliance on the Internet and such steep prices for hardware, it is an attractive alternative to use streaming capabilities. The UN declared Internet access as a basic human right. WiMax is on its way in. It is only a matter of time before we see free city wide coverage of wireless access to Internet. It may not be the best, but the best is not necessarily required. Applications like Kainy and LogMeIn Pro have already proven that nothing more than a 3G connection, which is slightly above Dial Up for goodness sake, is all that is required to seamlessly play games or access applications without hassle on the go. NVIDIA Shield will be taking up the mantle for gaming. Google is already introducing their new Chromebooks which rely on Internet access and services such as Dropbox.

        OnLive was ahead of its time and both Sony and Microsoft are looking into the streaming service. In fact, Microsoft is bolstering their Xbox One by having games rely on dedicated servers to complete more complex tasks in order to introduce new features for its games. Using the more powerful, well maintained hardware of servers and mainframes, hardware costs can be cut for both manufacturers and consumers.

        Cloud computing is the future.

        I am not talking out of my ass here.:

        http://www.theverge.com/2013/11/5/5070520/los-angeles-planning-to-bring-free-fiber-based-internet-to-its-residents
        http://recode.net/2014/03/31/toshibas-13-inch-chromebook-is-a-low-cost-but-lackluster-option/
        http://www.wired.com/2011/06/internet-a-human-right/
        http://compnetworking.about.com/od/wirelessinternet/g/bldef_wimax.htm
        http://www.engadget.com/2012/03/16/kainy-remote-gaming-app/
        http://kotaku.com/xbox-ones-free-dedicated-servers-should-improve-multip-1446495827
        http://www.engadget.com/2012/07/02/sony-buys-gaikai/
        http://www.popsci.com/gadgets/article/2013-09/final-upgrade?dom=PSC&loc=recent&lnk=1&con=how-software-will-make-computer-shopping-obsolete

      • CyberGusa

        Sorry, but not wrong! The market isn’t going in that direction any time soon… Simple reality is the technology and infrastructure to support it isn’t ready yet… So don’t confuse hype with where the market is really going right now!

        Companies like OnLive were one of the first to try to push it and they failed miserably… albeit, after the company nearly died they’re trying it again but with nowhere near the types of promises they tried to make before…

        Even developments like Steam for Linux, trying to stream a game as simple as Meat Boy is not ideal even with a very good network…

        Sure, you can try streaming in-house… the latency from your desktop to the tablet may be minimum with a near direct connection but there is still a bit of lag and there are plenty of games where even a tiny bit of lag can ruin the game play experience.

        Besides, what Sony and Microsoft are mainly doing is not really pure streaming where just any device can play the game online but requires a system that can handle the decoding in close to real time… Which means you still need a minimum amount of performance on the system you are actually playing the game on!

        While others, like Nvidia Shield’s streaming is proprietary and requires Nvidia graphic cards in the host PC’s to work… limiting choices and options for end users…

        Even dedicated servers only have a finite amount of performance to share among all the users and the counter to cloud computing is that it needs to serve the masses and there is presently too many for everyone to be served well!

        So don’t confuse enthusiasm and some minor progress with a real trend… there’s plenty they need to overcome first…

        Really, we’ll have tablets with Ultrabook level performance long before the Cloud is ready to truly take over!

      • http://www.Bungle.net/ Stoshy

        Being CCNP certified and working in the industry for quite some time now, I think I have enough understanding of where things are headed.

        You confuse me. Is it coming or not? Make up your mind! It is coming. I cannot predict how long it will take, but I do know that it is coming… quickly.

        Microsoft is already adding dedicated server support for the next Halo game. Much of the computational processes are done on the dedicated servers and streamed to the Xbox One. This allows for increased performance and additional features. In fact, Microsoft increased the amount of servers. They, themselves, have been boasting about such planned implementations. Obviously, it requires an always online connection. So it does have its negative aspects.

        I’ve worked for various businesses that have their employees work on terminals over a WAN. Their computers are hooked up to one or more servers that displays a separate running instance of Windows for each employee. This allows for cost effective resources. Not having to upgrade multiple computers and one singular setup may be for cost effect for many businesses.

        Software developers are jumping on the train. LogMeIn Pro and Kainy, naming two, are offering their own network services to consumers. These applications allow people to access their home computers on the go and even partake in media. Nothing more than a 3G connection is needed to stream information seamlessly. If phones can run Netflix, they can run cloud services. Anyone can turn their cheap laptop into a powerful desktop computer, or phone into a powerful computer. Not everyone uses their data when there are data limits, as you said. However, many people visit businesses that offer WIFI. From there, they are able to have the best possible experience for a relatively free cost.

        One of the arguments for city-wide coverage of Internet is the cost of cabling. Fiber-Optic cables would be immensely expensive to wire in all homes. However, a single WIMAX tower can share information up to 6 miles. By installing these towers on already existing cell towers, costs can be reduced. This reduce of cost includes installation and maintenance. Many cable companies already offer wireless hotspots for their customers, so this is nothing new. The suggested source of income would be advertisements. Advertisements are used to fund popular video hosting sites, “free” converged network services, and even public radio/television, so it seems reasonable that eventually something will be worked out. With Internet placing high competition on other forms of media, it certainly is a hot market to get into. Especially with Google using its Google Fiber product to motivate competing ISPs to upgrade the US’s network infrastructure and lower prices for networks (that when compared to other nations) is completely rudimentary and slow yet priced so high.

        Of course myself and many others are rooting for this. It means a better connected America.

        It means more work for us!
        .

      • CyberGusa

        If you work in the industry then you should know better and don’t pretend I haven’t been clear!

        You’re trying to make claims that the industry won’t be able to fulfill for at least another decade!

        Quickly is relative, if you think the next decade is quickly then sure, otherwise you’re just fooling yourself… All of this will take time and money, and don’t confuse minor progress towards the final goal to be signs that it’s right around the corner when it’s clearly not!

        Infrastructures take time to change and update, even with all the money in the world helping to fuel it you can’t change simple physics and make it happen any faster!

        Really, when something like Chromebooks can be finally considered more than just a browser OS then we might be at the point you’re thinking of but we’re not there yet and won’t be for many more years!

        Btw, things like Terminals over a WAN have been widely available since the 90′s! They’re not signs of anything going to change anytime soon!

        So let’s be clear, sure, we’re closer to Cloud computing being practical than we were a decade ago but a lot more still has to happen before it’s really going to make anyone serious question the need for having the performance in the actual computers we use for work and play!

        Right now, we’re at the point that we can see the potential and make some practical usages for Cloud but not enough to replace having good performance in the devices themselves… In fact many cloud computing still relies on the performance of the devices we use…

        Even Chromebooks still use native client support to provide performance because most of the time the cloud can’t be relied upon enough yet and running things natively is still the best for most applications… Until that changes then Cloud computing will only be enough to assist and compliment but not fully replace traditional systems!

      • blaman

        How the heck do you do yout do that? Please tell me

      • http://www.Bungle.net/ Stoshy

        Look up this application called Kainy.
        http://www.kainy.com/

        It is a fantastic application that I have used to stream games from my PC, to my Mac when I am on business trips. I’ve used it to play Halo: Combat Evolved when out on the town with friends on my smartphone. I often make jokes about how my tablet can run Crysis on max settings.

        It certainly does open new doors. They have a demo version available free for you to try.
        The purchased app is well worth it. It will save you money, too. Instead of having to buy a new, expensive laptop, you can invest in a cheaper gaming desktop or workbench that you keep at home.

        You can save that aging laptop and run the latest applications blazing fast like a pro.

        Also, I should add that it allows you to plug in your game controllers so that you may use them. Say you have a PS3 controller with its USB cable and your phone has an HDMI port to plug into a TV. Take that sucker to your living room, connect the controller to the phone’s USB slot, plug that phone into your large screen TV, and BAM! You have a portable next-gen console slash gaming computer.

        If you do not have a controller, you can use the touch pad surface. It allows you to customize buttons to meet your needs. Place a touch screen DPAD here, or analog stick there. Put some buttons over here and shrink them so they fit. Set the proper symbol. You’re ready to play.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004047436033 James Wames

      Yeah, I love MGS and JRPGs. My favorites.

  • ppsspp

    Unlike PPSSPP (a PSP emu which has common core authors with dolphin and targeted multiple architecture targets from day 0), dolphin wasn’t designed with such a strong focus on portability, which means there’s gonna be rough edges for a while.

    It does however already work and the authors know what they’re doing, so I’m pretty sure with some time it’ll get there.

  • http://twitter.com/GrahamCox_3 Graham Cox

    I own a note 2 and PS1 and PSP games run as smooth as a babies bottom. Which apparently is smooth (seriously expect me to know what a babies arse feels like?), What I don’t understand is why DS emulator is still slowish when running Pokemon :/. I have a GB, GBA, DS, PS1, PSP emulator and a very smooth ported GTA Vice City from Rockstar.

    With a gamepad (can’t wait for Samsungs gamepad to come out! ones already on the market aren’t amazing yet).Then yes gaming on smartphones already has and will continue to have huge potential. Heck id get rid of my 3DS right now if it wasn’t for pokemon X and Y ;).

    This blog has left me feeling sad. I was googling gamecube emulators in the hopes I could play Pokemon Colloseum on my phone (I never had a gamecube but had my GBA wishing I had a gamecube haha). Alas, just a dream… maybe in 2 years time when my contract runs out there will be a phone that can fulfil my dreams! But by then I’ll be yearning for a 360 emulator :/. Fuck sake.

  • David

    I tried playing The legend of zelda wind waker on all variations of settings on my galaxy S4 and it never even made it to the title scene. I notice that they have a dual core option… well I would suggest if they want to go that route for the S4 they need to have it see two cores as only 1 that way it see’s all four as two. And the whole OpenGL ES 3.0 graphics being supported is a joke? apply that setting and see what happens to the program.