In the previous updates I touched on how having proper emulation of the classics has made a lot of the old ports redundant for all but the sake of curiosity. Today I’m going to look at another device which for all intents and purposes is now completely redundant, but is also a sign of what people had to accept back in 1998 when it was released.
I’m talking about the Datel Game Booster for the original Sony Playstation. One of a number of unlicensed addons that were produced for the system.
The Datel Gamebooster was a device that plugged into the Playstation and allowed you to play Game Boy titles on your TV by plugging the cartridges into the adapter, similar to how you could get a Super Gameboy for your SNES. I’ve added support for this Datel Game Booster in MAME.
Great, fantastic, you can play Game Boy games on a Playstation, that’s pretty cool, right?
Well, there’s a catch. Let’s start with compatibility. It’s bad. Most games won’t work, those that appear to often end up crashing, even Tetris seems to crash after a while. I’ve done research on forums, and these aren’t bugs in the emulation of the device, these are bugs in the device.
Let’s take a step to the side here and talk about what the device actually is. You might think it would have some of the Game Boy hardware inside it, or at least a knock-off of the Game Boy hardware. After all, the official Super Game Boy for the SNES had a CPU inside it and everything. You’d be wrong. What we have here is a pure software emulator running from the ROM inside the device. On startup the device reads the cartridge you have plugged in and dumps the content to GameBoy cartridge ROM, using the standard Gameboy mapper addresses for banking, to the Playstation’s RAM. This isn’t much different to how you’d dump the cart with a cart copier, except instead of saving the file it just copies the data into RAM for temporary use. The emulator, which as mentioned, is contained in the ROM inside Datel’s device is then executed using the copy of the game ROM that was just read out.
This instantly limits you to only games using the standard banking scheme, with a maximum of 64 banks of 8192 bytes.
Of course, the emulator is based on 1998 emulation technology too, and in 1998 emulators weren’t exceptionally good, especially not if you were having to code them for a machine with a 34Mhz processor.
That brings us to our other issue. This is slow, VERY slow. By default it has a frameskip of 2, which alone is enough to ruin the gaming experience in many cases, but even with that many frames being skipped the titles run at around half speed, if that.
So you can play only a small part of your library, with bugs, at about half the speed of a real Game Boy. Sold yet?
It has no sound either. Sound isn’t emulated, the device makes no attempt whatsoever to emulate the Game Boy sound chips, so you’re playing the games in silence. It has a CD Player option that allows you to put a CD in the Playstation’s drive and use that, but it’s hardly a substitute for the real sounds. Then again, sound emulation would have made it even slower, and sound at less than 100% speed is a lot more noticeable than video.
Now the fact that there are homebrew NES emulators for the original Playstation (they’re not great, but they’re better than this) might suggest it possible that Datel could have optimized this further, but in reality trying to emulate anything on a 34Mhz processor isn’t a great idea, you have to cut a lot of corners somewhere.
But yes, even back in the day this thing wasn’t a great product. It was a novelty, some people no doubt found it rather geeky and cool, possibly even rebellious to be running Game Boy games on their original Playstation, but it was hardly practical.
There are a few interesting things about it. First of all it comes with a built in game, Rebound Mission, and I don’t know about you, but to me a Rebound Mission sounds like something you might decide to go on for a night out after being dumped.
It’s a simple game, the main problem is it’s as slow as everything else, because it’s apparently a Game Boy game Datel wrote, and are running under their emulator. I haven’t tried extracting the ROM to see if it really is yet, but I’ll probably give it a try, it might actually be enjoyable at full speed, but at the speed it runs it’s just tedious and lacks any challenge.
So is there anything else interesting about it? Well it attempts to use the Super Game Boy borders if they’re present, which is kinda neat and unexpected, as you can see here on the Centipede / Millipede pack.
However compatibility comes back to bite us again here, as while Centipede can be played, Millipede only hangs on the title screen you see and goes no further. Again there are posts saying this happens on the hardware, so this isn’t a MAME emulation bug, it’s a bug in Datel’s emulator.
I’ve also seen some other SGB games where trying to access the Datel built in menu causes them to crash, presumably a memory issue or something.
So yes, there’s a built in menu. What does it look like?
Game, Cheat, Trainer, Palette, Options..
Palette is interesting, but ultimately a bit pointless. Let’s have a look at it being used with Tetris 2
So yes, you can swap any of the 4 basic colours for another one of your choosing..
Cheat is a set of built in cheats that you can enable for various Game Boy games (which at least gives you some indication of what is expected to run) Trainer appears to be a cheat finder type thing, and Options, is just a set of options, where you can turn the CD player on, change the frameskip level, tell it to pixel double the image, or select from 3 built in borders for the regular games.
Why emulate such a pointless device? Because we can, and because it documents a little piece of history, back in the day some people no doubt used this because it’s all they had. It shows how far we’ve come. Here are some videos.
My only closing thought on this is that it would have actually been interesting if somebody had done their own homebrew emulator that could use the cartslot, or if Datel had allowed it to load a different emulator from CD (although in both those cases you would have to use some of the Playstation’s RAM to load the emulator)
Emulating pointless things in MAME is a lot of fun.
It was also released for the N64, but with a short annoying music loop as the N64 didn’t even have a CD drive to give you that option. I haven’t looked at the N64 version (yet)