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Digital Foundry: Hands-on with PS4's PlayStation 2 emulation

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  • Digital Foundry: Hands-on with PS4's PlayStation 2 emulation

    By Richard Leadbetter Published 20/11/2015


    UPDATE 20/11/15 8:41am: Overnight, Sony has confirmed PlayStation 2 emulation for PS4, but is remaining tight-lipped on its plans for the project. "We are working on utilising PS2 emulation technology to bring PS2 games forward to the current generation,"
    Sony told Wired. "We have nothing further to comment at this point in time."

    Original story: It's been a long time since we first reported that classic
    PS1 and PS2 titles were heading to PlayStation 4, running under emulation. It's been so long in fact, that we began to wonder whether Sony had shelved the project. The company originally informed developers of the existence of the emulator at the same time it briefed them on the planned rollout for the PlayStation Now cloud service, way back in January 2014. Since then, the only hints at its existence came in the form of some telling PEGI game ratings, along with somesightings of PS2 classics appearing in shared media lists during the PS4 firmware 3.0 beta phase.

    As it happens, the PlayStation 4's PS2 emulator is now available, released with no fanfare whatsoever. A new PS4 Star Wars bundle has been released, including a package of four 'classic' franchise titles: Super Star Wars, Star Wars: Jedi Starfighter, Star Wars: Racer Revenge and Star Wars: Bounty Hunter. All four titles are supplied via a single PSN code, as opposed to a physical disc included with the hardware. You'll note that three of those titles hail from the PlayStation 2 era, and after we downloaded them, it became clear that all of them are running under emulation.

    How can we tell? First of all, a system prompt appears telling you that select and start buttons are mapped to the left and right sides of the Dual Shock 4's trackpad. Third party game developers cannot access the system OS in this manner. Secondly, just like the PS2 emulator on PlayStation 3, there's an emulation system in place for handling PS2 memory cards. Thirdly, the classic PlayStation 2 logo appears in all of its poorly upscaled glory when you boot each title. And finally, all in-game button prompts relate to the PS2's controller - nothing has been changed at all, effectively ruling out a remaster.

    Upscaling? Probably not what you wanted to hear bearing in mind that older titles haven't aged well visually, and a disappointing result bearing in mind that our initial information said that Sony would be emulating these titles in high definition. Well, there's both good and bad news here. All 2D artwork in every title gets the upscaling treatment - there's nothing that can be done about that, and it can look pretty ropey. However, the 3D elements are substantially improved and do get a resolution increase.

    Original PlayStation 2 titles ran at a range of pixel counts, but 512x448 and 640x448 were commonplace (God of War 2 even let you choose between the two). It's still earlydays in our analysis, but first impressions suggest that the emulator resolves a native resolution of 1292x896. Two black lines are added top and bottom to the image, before receiving a final upscale up to full 1080p. In effect, we're looking at around 4x the pixel count - possibly higher, depending on the title. Texture filtering also looks improved, but on close inspection we think that the increased quality is probably down to the extra resolution alone.

    Overall impressions are positive - there's little that can be done to improve the quality of 2D assets, but the improvements to the 3D side of things are welcome. It looks like some kind of post-process effect is in place mimicking anti-aliasing - edges are surprisingly smooth, and there's little in the way of shimmer. Oh, and there's one more addition worthy of note: trophy support is added to the emulator - something we can confirm having unlocked one while playing Racer Revenge. On the face of it, this may seem to rule out emulation (trophies were never in the original games) - but
    this patent explains how it is done. Essentially, it seems the emulator tracks certain 'trigger' conditions required for specific trophies to activate - we expect that it is tracking the game state as you play.

    Moving on, the outstanding question is one of performance. We've got some substantial improvements to image quality, but do the games run as they should - or dare we hope, better? It's early days right now. In truth it's been a while since we analysed PS2 titles, and getting a clean 480p feed isn't easy - even with backward compatible PS3s in the house. However, it's certainly looking promising. The emulator is clearly running these games more smoothly, with Jedi Starfighter hitting 60fps while the game running on PS2 hardware has nothing like that level of output.
    We've not run the numbers yet, but just looking at Racer Revenge side-by-side sees another substantial increase to game fluidity. Obviously, these aren't the most testing of games and other titles may perform entirely differently - but imagine Metal Gear Solid 3 with higher frame-rates, the God of War titles running at a locked frame-rate, or Gran Turismo 4 operating without any tearing. We're really looking forward to seeing what this emulator is capable of.

    Can a 300 PC match PlayStation 4 performance?Digital Foundry builds and tests its own budget build.The arrival of PS2 emulation on the PlayStation 4 is a big deal - we reached out to Sony and await comment, but it is a little odd that a lovely piece of technology that's bound to excite a lot of interest has slipped out without any kind of fanfare. The PlayStation 2 is one of theclassic pieces of console hardware, and the ability to access that back catalogue with enhanced visuals is a tantalising proposition. And with that in mind, it's actually a bit of a shame that the emulator has launched with a trio of mediocre titles, as opposed to a sparkling line-up of the console's greatest hits.
    On top of that, we can't help but wonder whether the launch of Microsoft's Xbox One backward compatibility has had any kind of bearing on Sony's internal strategy. The Redmond giant is allowing gamers to use their existing discs to play Xbox 360 games on its latest console (albeit as a 'key' that prompts a full download). Meanwhile, the evidence to date - not least the ESRB ratings for PS2 classics - perhaps suggests that Sony's plans for the PS2 emulator involve selling these titles digitally, just as it did last-gen. With the PS2 emulation now in the hands of consumers, hopefully Sony's plans for the technology will be revealed shortly.

  • #2
    i think this is on one hand great, but, on the other, not great.

    it will be used in sonys 'playstation now' subscription service i bet and gamers with have to pay for it, i can't see them doing it like microsoft have, as it would be a waste of all the online streaming infrastructure they have brought over the last 12 months
    “The thinker knows...”

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    • #3
      well hopefully Microsoft's addition of BC games will prove a big hit.. If they for example announce that sales went up <X>% when it was turned on (Because im sure their goal is to get people who still have 360 and not taken the step to XB1 to do so) maybe sony will consider doing something simialr.
      Although PS2 games VS PS3 games is another thing of course. I cant think of any PS2 games off the top of my head that I badly want to play again, There might be some but I couldnt say what they are.

      Id love for old XB to get on there - but I dont expect that will happen, end in any case they turned off live support for these games.... which is a shame... cos Crash N Burn is what I really wanna play again

      Although... now I think about it... maybe that was actually one PS2 as well.... though the Ps2 only was.... well lets not speak of it

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      • #4
        Was gonna put up a thread about this, Thanks Pedro for the great topic.
        Thing I can understand is the lack of fanfare, that, OK, it's an emulator, 'yay', but an emulator isn't much use without the software/ROM's/dvd's to use it with. Really, it should have PS1 ability built in, sure it had PS1 compatibility from the start, would this not be built into the emulation software?
        The idea of it being part of the PSNow thing annoys me too, they should give the emu for free, and then charge for the ROMs on PSStore, and download em.
        As far as playing PS2 games, yea, there's a few I'd love to play again, WipEout fusion, Tekken 4/5/Tag, Soul Calibur 2, GT3, possibly GTA:Vice city, Burnout series..
        Interesting to see how Sony implement this

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        • #5
          Get a ps2 lol.


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          • #6
            Originally posted by MVG zapiy View Post
            Get a ps2 lol.


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            I've thought of that ye know.. but to be fair, it would be like PS1 nostalgia. Put it on, and think, 'oh, this is shit' and then switch off!
            If I saw one in a charity shop for about a tenner, I probably would tho!

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Dj_Ade_76 View Post
              Was gonna put up a thread about this, Thanks Pedro for the great topic.
              Thing I can understand is the lack of fanfare, that, OK, it's an emulator, 'yay', but an emulator isn't much use without the software/ROM's/dvd's to use it with. Really, it should have PS1 ability built in, sure it had PS1 compatibility from the start, would this not be built into the emulation software?
              The idea of it being part of the PSNow thing annoys me too, they should give the emu for free, and then charge for the ROMs on PSStore, and download em.
              As far as playing PS2 games, yea, there's a few I'd love to play again, WipEout fusion, Tekken 4/5/Tag, Soul Calibur 2, GT3, possibly GTA:Vice city, Burnout series..
              Interesting to see how Sony implement this

              Sent from my SM-G900F using Tapatalk
              totally agree, sony would make so much money doing it this way. rather than forcing 'playstation now' on us for the pleasure
              “The thinker knows...”

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              • #8
                360 compatibility on the XB1 is just an emulator - so thats fine with me.

                What isn't fine is having to buy the games over. If I have to do that then I might as well have a PS2 - at least then I will get any games I still might have free. No way im going to pay to play a PS2 game I already own. (But maybe thats just me - I also wont buy games digitally unless they are cheaper than the disc based counterpart.Whilst I get the convenience of not having to get up and get the disc, I also get that its way cheaper for them and they shouldnt be greedy tightwads )

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                • #9
                  Funny this is announced after x1 bc and b4 the holiday period

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                  • #10
                    Well they haven't actually said anything useful though. All they have really done is confirmed that a PS2 game thats now available uses an emulator.
                    Thats pretty much it. Cant see it generating much sales wise. (And its of course missing out the platform people were asking for IE PS3)

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                    • #11
                      There's about 5 games I'd like to play again from PS2, think I'm kidding myself tho, I bought wipeout from PS1 for PS3, after having bought Wipeout HD/Fury.. and what a shock I got...

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Dj_Ade_76 View Post
                        There's about 5 games I'd like to play again from PS2, think I'm kidding myself tho, I bought wipeout from PS1 for PS3, after having bought Wipeout HD/Fury.. and what a shock I got...

                        Sent from my SM-G900F using Tapatalk
                        Wipeout HD Fury is still a amazing game running at a great 1080p60

                        i would love Wipeout Fusion and, 'Black' it was mentioned in passing on the playstation blog so i hope it might turn up, it was the first game i ever completely 100%. oh and Street Fighter Alpha 3, which i regard as one of the best fighting games ever made
                        “The thinker knows...”

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