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Imitating Wii games on Android TV is now possible with Dolphin

Imitating Wii games on Android TV is now possible with Dolphin

In the years since its inception, Dolphin on Android has had something of a checkered past. Users were excited about the prospect of being able to carry their favorite GameCube and Wii games with them wherever they went, but expectations and reality have never quite matched up. When Dolphin was first released to the Google Play Store, the developers went to great lengths to make it apparent that games would not be playable, even going so far as to label the app “Dolphin Emulator Alpha.” Although many people were warned, many individuals got their hopes up the instant they spotted Dolphin on the app store and were ready to play their favorite games even if their device wasn’t compatible. While not everyone had unrealistic expectations about what should be achievable, a large number of users condemned Dolphin for being poorly optimized rather than realizing that it wasn’t even intended to run at full speed at the time of the incident.

The never-ending stream of negative ratings and angry comments eventually reached a breaking point, and Dolphin was removed from the Google Play store in the middle of 2016. However, this did not imply that development on Dolphin for Android had come to an end. Instead, builds were made available on our download page, where they could be discreetly hidden from the bulk of users who might not be familiar with the current status of the app.

As of earlier this month, the Official Dolphin Android app was once again available for download from the Google Play Store*, complete with all the most recent and greatest enhancements detailed in the Progress Reports!

Due to the fact that Dolphin does not support 32-bit devices, and the review process is incapable of comprehending the fact that Dolphin does not seek to target 32-bit devices, Dolphin has been removed from the Android T.V. Store. In the meantime, if you’re using an Android T.V. device that does support Dolphin, you won’t be able to find it in the store until these absurd requirements are lifted. In a world where 32-bit devices are slowly being phased out in favor of 64-bit devices, is it really that strange that a performance-hungry application only targets 64-bit devices? Adding insult to injury, when our 64-bit app was attempted to be run on a 32-bit device, the reviewer appeared to be entirely uninformed of what the error message indicated. How can you expect a user to figure out what an error message means if a reviewer is unable to determine what it means?

A Quick Rundown Through the History of Dolphin on Android

When Dolphin was first released on the Google Play Store in 2013, the expectations for the app were quite low. All that was required of a user was an ARMv7 processor, and they were good to go! That meant that, back in 2013, practically every Android device could at the very least run Dolphin to a limited extent. As Sonicadvance1 argued at the time, just because something could be run did not imply that it provided the experience everyone desired.

Even on a powerful gadget, frame rates were measured in seconds per frame rather than milliseconds.

While the original release of Dolphin on Android worked on a wide range of devices, substantial updates to the app significantly reduced the number of devices that were compatible. Of them, the most important was the requirement for OpenGL ES 3.0 in order to use the new OpenGL backend. GLES3 enabled lightweight games to run at a scorching 5 – 10% faster speed on the few devices that did support it.

Throughout time, the Dolphin for Android JIT and GLES3 backends have been streamlined and refined. The year 2014 marked the release of our first ever full speed title! However, it was only Wario Ware, Inc., one of the least taxing commercial games available for Dolphin at the time. Unfortunately, the then-current core of Dolphin on Android had been stretched to its limits, and the pace of improvement had slowed to a crawl by this point. In the case of ARMv7, which is a 32-bit architecture, it was simply too limiting for Dolphin to ever achieve full speed in 99 percent of the Dolphin library. Just like we had to eliminate our 32-bit x86 JIT because of its 32-bit nature, ARMv7’s 32-bit nature necessitated a slew of insane workarounds and prohibited a slew of optimizations. It really couldn’t be made any better at this point. ARMv7 was a dead end that would be phased out in the near future.

Dolphin for Android would only truly shine with the advent of the 64-bit AArch64 architecture and Dolphin’s AArch64 JIT, both of which were introduced in 2012. The NVIDIA Shield is the gadget that is now at the forefront of development.

When the NVIDIA Shield (formerly known as the NVIDIA Shield Android TV) was released, it was the first Android device capable of running Dolphin to a reasonable degree. Several games, including The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Super Smash Bros. Melee, and Animal Crossing, were capable of running at, or near to, full speed for the vast bulk of their gameplay. Dolphin for Android ultimately achieved the promise that Sonicadvance1 had envisioned when he originally began working on the port back in 2010, however user feedback revealed that Dolphin on Android was widely disliked. The ratings plummeted, and it appeared as though nearly no one was having a good time at all.

This occurred for a variety of reasons, including changes in user thinking, altering ideals in newer technology, and the increased requirements of Dolphin. ARM devices’ single core IPC (Instructions Per Clock) increased dramatically in the first half of 2014, but then suddenly plateaued in the second half of 2014. After this, people who upgraded to a new phone within the next year or two became irritated because only modest performance increases were noticed on their shiny new phone or tablet. However, gaming on Android was beginning to evolve into titles that were on par with or better than the quality of GameCube/Wii games. There were also porting efforts for same-generation titles like as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which contributed to the idea that GameCube games should be playable by the average user without issue. On top of that, the vast majority of users were restricted to 32-bit devices and userspaces, and were dissatisfied with the fact that they were unable to run Dolphin at all. The Dolphin app was pulled from the app store in order to stop the bleeding, and there are no plans for it to be re-released. So, what has changed, and how has it changed?

Running Dolphin on Android in 2018

When we fast forward to August 2018, we see that the Android environment has completely transformed! AArch64 is now standard, GLES3 drivers are available on most high-end phones, and the NVIDIA Shield is the best-selling Android television device on the market! Not everything, however, has changed. Overall, though, the current condition of Android and ARM devices is significantly more conducive to Dolphin than it was at the time the program was withdrawn from the Google Play store. The conditions that were once considered completely absurd in 2016 are now considered only slightly absurd.

It is no longer necessary to search for a phone that is capable of running Dolphin, as was the case in 2016. If you purchase a high-end, modern Android phone, the chances are good that it will support Dolphin on Android to some extent. The vast majority of modern Mali and Adreno chipsets at the very least attempt to support GLES3, and some even manage to support Vulkan to a sufficient degree to allow Dolphin to function properly. Problem is that their drivers are extremely inconsistent, with regressions and fixes varying from one version of the software to the next.

When it comes to performance, as of the publication of this article, the Adreno devices are significantly faster and now even include functional Buffer Storage. The road to this point has been long, but we’re relieved that it is now operational once more. The Vulkan API is supported by some Adreno drivers, thanks to stenzek’s patch to work past their problematic Depth32 clears. The version of the Vulkan driver that is installed on your device has a significant impact on whether or not Vulkan will work.

If the drivers are installed correctly and the games are successfully booted, you will be presented with the complete Dolphin bundle. The fundamental emulation experience is quite similar to what you’d get from Dolphin’s PC version in terms of features and functionality. When you boot Dolphin on Android, one of the first things you’ll notice is that it has an entirely different interface than the desktop version. Furthermore, there are two distinct Android graphical user interfaces – one for T.V. devices and another for touch devices.

They may lack some of the refinement and options found in the desktop GUI, but they are much easier to use and can even be navigated with controllers, unlike the desktop GUI. Dolphin for Android, on the other hand, enables completely adjustable touchscreen controls for individuals who want to play casual games on the move without having to tote around a controller around with them. Most regular controllers can also be customised for individuals who are unable to bear the thought of attempting to play a game on a touchscreen device. Dolphin on Android also supports Native GameCube controllers with the use of Nintendo’s GC Wii U adapters, as well as Real Wii Remotes through the use of the Mayflash DolphinBar, for a more authentic gaming experience.

Because games that are demanding on the PC version are likewise demanding on the Android version, this presents a significant challenge. In contrast to the PC version, where you can attack the challenge with an outrageously powerful machine, such option does not yet exist for Android. Another thing to keep in mind is that AArch64 devices rely on Dolphin’s AArch64 JIT to function properly and efficiently. Despite the fact that it has received a great deal of attention, this JIT nevertheless has fewer instructions implemented than JIT64. This is particularly obvious in games that demand complete MMU emulation.

Imitating Wii games on Android TV is now possible with Dolphin

Since Dolphin’s release, Android graphics drivers have seen significant improvements, as seen by the fact that it displays almost entirely correctly in most situations. Unfortunately, they are still far from ideal and have a long way to go until everything is completely flawless. It is possible that several features such as Ubershaders, EFB access from the CPU, Store EFB Copies to RAM, Bounding Box, as well as many upgrades and other features, will not work at all. However, in the case of EFB Access From CPU and the most recent Adreno drivers, the feature is only compatible with Vulkan, not OpenGL. A lot of the games that rely on these capabilities are likely to be broken or run incredibly slowly, so don’t expect Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door to be available on your phone anytime soon. Once again, the drivers that are available for your device will have a significant impact on your outcomes. Hopefully, all of this information will become obsolete as soon as the remaining issues in driver software are addressed by the makers.

Performance and Testing

We can really see where the bottlenecks are on various devices as a result of the results presented in the preceding section. Users who had been using their phones to play The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and other Store EFB Copies to RAM titles were a touch disappointed when Dolphin’s INI mechanism made its way over to Android devices. The SD835 appears to be unable of handling the functionality in any capacity without causing the performance to plummet to unacceptably low levels. The performance of EFB access from the CPU alone is marginally better, with the framerate only degrading when the effect is visible on the screen.

It doesn’t even blink at the thought of these features, which include full NVIDIA drivers and a Tegra X1 graphics chip, because it is already slowed down by other limitations on its ageing hardware. It is high-polygon scenes that are responsible for the Shield troubles, but the SD835’s performance decreased a tiny bit less when viewing the entirety of Outset Island.

Not that the Shield isn’t outstanding for a device that is a couple of years old. Despite the fact that it has a57 cores that are several years old, it is able to keep up with devices that are several years newer because to the NVIDIA graphics drivers and a higher power budget. If you want to emulate Wind Waker with all of the bells and whistles, it can outperform just about any other gadget on the market. When you disable features such as Store EFB Copies to RAM and EFB Access from CPU, on the other hand, the differences between drivers become less visible, and the more powerful devices of today can pull ahead of their predecessors.

In the current development releases, you can personalize your experience for each individual game by long-pressing the game’s title in the game list. This provides you the ability to customize your own settings for each and every game. It is not necessary to disable Store EFB Copies to RAM on a device such as the NVIDIA Shield, but it can be extremely advantageous to your framerate on a phone. Store EFB Copies to RAM can be disabled without causing any issues. Please ensure that you are using the most recent version available in the Play Store, or build 5.0-8540 or newer, before continuing.

Multi Game Performance Test

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is a single-player adventure game developed by Nintendo. It is expected that various titles would provide varied obstacles for Dolphin, with some being more demanding than others. Using the One Plus 5 (SD835), here are some performance results when playing a GameCube, Wii, or Wii Ware title on the One Plus 5 (SD835).

NOTES: The maximum framerate was strongly influenced by the player’s location in the town and the direction in which they were looking. During the night, the photographer photographed from across the river, looking across the entire town with the streetlamps illuminated.

NOTES: This was played with two foxes, both of whom were artificial intelligence, in a two-minute combat, with the average framerate being recorded. It was more difficult to complete some levels of the background animation than others.

NOTES: After dealing with a slew of 3D games, it may sound absurd to want to play Mega Man 9 on a smartphone, but after dealing with a slew of 3D games, it is actually a welcome diversion. The game has a few hiccups when the screen becomes overcrowded, but it is still more than playable. In order to maintain a good framerate, it was necessary to compel the phone to run at its maximum processing clock.

Performance Pitfalls and Other Issues

Several GameCube/Wii games may be played at full speed on the Android hardware that is currently available, as seen in the examples above. The difficulty is that the combination of Android with mobile devices isn’t exactly the most optimal environment in which to strive to achieve maximum performance for any task. The governors on some phones are very aggressive, and they are unable to adjust to Dolphin’s workload and cannot be bypassed without having root access to the device. In light of the risks associated with unlocking and rooting a device, we do not recommend that you root your devices in order to increase Dolphin’s overall performance. Because the SD835 is included in both the Pixel 2 XL and the One Plus 5, results will vary depending on which device is used. Throttling issues were not evident on a stock Pixel 2 XL. Look at the One Plus 5’s performance governor, on the other hand, and you’ll see a significant variation in performance.

This may lead you to believe that the Pixel 2 XL is the clearly superior device as a result of the performance governor, but it isn’t quite that straightforward! The Pixel 1, Pixel 2, and Pixel 2 XL are equipped with a more recent generation of Adreno drivers. This has been caused by the fact that they have reportedly introduced capabilities such as Dual Source Blending for Vulkan to let Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, Resident Evil 4, and other games render correctly, but they have also managed to cause this.

Hopefully, a new driver revision will be released to address these concerns. For the time being, please use extreme caution if you are considering Dolphin when purchasing an Android smartphone.

Dolphin on Android Moving Forward

However, while there was a lot of excitement surrounding Dolphin’s return to the Play Store, it also revealed numerous flaws in the software. Despite the fact that the emulation side of things had much improved, a slew of small flaws made it difficult for average users to get the most out of Dolphin. Over the past three weeks, a slew of bugs have been fixed and improvements have been made to Dolphin on Android in order to improve the overall experience.

With the release of 5.0-8569, the controls will no longer be crammed into a tight space. Beginning with the next release, a default touch layout will be accessible by default.
It was previously announced that the Android interface for modifying game-specific options had been addressed in version 5.0-8540.
In version 5.0-8542, a new exit emulation option was added to the dropdown menu for users who use gaming mode to deactivate capacitive buttons on their computers.
Wii Remotes that crashed or were not adjustable were among the issues addressed with the updates 5.0-8529, 5.0-8512, and 5.0-8500, which were all released on the same day.
In 5.0-8559, make it necessary to touch the back button twice in order to terminate emulation. To help prevent users from mistakenly ending their game with an errant touchscreen push, especially while the onscreen navigation bar is active, the following feature has been implemented:
As previously mentioned in the article, functionality for automatically retrieving game covers for the Android GUI from GameTDB.com was enabled in version 5.0-8571 of the Android operating system. In 5.0-8578, a secondary remedy for the way they were shown was incorporated.

We believe that these modifications, as well as numerous others, are significant enough that consumers should be able to access them immediately. By the time this article is published, a fresh beta build of the game will be available in the Play Store early, with all of the features listed above already included. Overall, once you get into games, Dolphin for Android provides the complete Dolphin gaming experience. While there are undoubtedly some missing optimizations here and there inside the AArch64 JIT along with some limits in GLES 3, compatibility should be essentially the same outside of driver concerns. The primary distinction is that Dolphin is being attempted to operate on a low-power device rather than on a machine that is typically built for gaming. Dolphin on Android has been able to witness this revolution because to the recent work of mahdihijazi, zackhow, JosJuice, and Ebola16 throughout the course of the summer. Special appreciation must be extended to these individuals. In addition, it should be noted that delroth integrated the auto-updating Play Store version into our auto-update system, which was previously unconnected. Enjoy!

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