GLSL shaders now preferred over Cg when possible
Update to latest RetroArch for compatibility with updated GLSL shaders
Cg shaders demoted, GLSL promoted to first-class
Portability and compatibility are major goals for RetroArch and libretro, so we invested heavily in Nvidia’s Cg shader language, which worked natively anywhere their Cg Toolkit framework was available (that is, Windows, Linux and Mac OS X), as well as on PS3 and Vita, and could be machine-compiled to messy-but-usable GLSL (lacking a few features, such as runtime parameters) for platforms that lacked the framework (primarily ARM / mobile platforms). Cg was also so close to Microsoft’s HLSL shader language that many Cg shaders will compile successfully with HLSL compilers, such as those available with Windows’ D3D driver and on Xbox 360.
This was great for us because we could write shaders once and have them work pretty much everywhere.
Sadly, Nvidia deprecated the Cg language in 2012, which left us in a bad spot. Since then, we’ve been limping along with the same strategy as before, but with the uneasy understanding that Nvidia could stop supplying their Cg Toolkit framework at any time. Rather than sit idly by, waiting for that other shoe to drop, we took it upon ourselves to hand-convert the vast majority of our Cg shaders to native GLSL with all of the bells and whistles. TroggleMonkey’s monstrous masterpiece, CRT-Royale, still has a couple of bugs but is mostly working, along with its popular BVM-styled variant from user Kurozumi. Additionally, before this conversion, many of our Cg shaders were flaky or completely unusable on libretro-gl cores, such as Beetle-PSX-HW’s OpenGL renderer, but these native GLSL conversions should work reliably and consistently with any core/context except for those that require Vulkan (namely, ParaLLEl-N64’s and Beetle-PSX-HW’s Vulkan renderers).
With the GLSL shaders brought up to speed, we can finally join Nvidia in deprecating Cg, though it will still remain as an option–that is, we’re not *removing* support for Cg shaders or contexts at this point–and we will continue to use it where there is no other choice; namely, Windows’ D3D driver and the Xbox 360, PS3 and Vita ports. Moving forward, our focus for shaders will be on native GLSL and our slang/Vulkan formats, though we will likely still port some to Cg from time to time.
RetroArch now correctly handles #version directives in GLSL shaders; GLSL shader repo updated to match
There have been a number of updates to the GLSL shader language/spec over its long life, and shader authors can use #version directives (that is, a line at the top of the shader that says #version 130 or whatever) to tell compilers which flavor/version of GLSL is required for that shader. However, RetroArch has long had a strange behavior whereby it injected a couple of lines at the beginning of all GLSL shader files at compile time, and this broke any shader that attempted to use a #version directive, since those directives must be on the first line of the shader. This meant that our shaders couldn’t use #version directives at all, and all of our shaders lacked #version directives until very recently for this reason. These #version-less GLSL shaders are still perfectly compliant GLSL because GLSL v1.10 didn’t support directives, either, but the necessity of leaving off the #version started to cause some problems as we whipped our GLSL shader library into shape.
On AMD and Nvidia GPUs, the compilers would just toss up a warning about the missing directive and still expose whatever GLSL features were available to the GPU, which worked out great. On Intel IGPs, however, the compiler tosses the error and then reverts to only exposing the features available in ancient GLSL v1.10 (released way back in 2004). As a stopgap, we gave many shaders fallback codepaths that would still work in these circumstances, but a number of other shaders were either impossible to make compatible or even the compatible result was imperfect. So, as of this commit (courtesy of aliaspider), RetroArch will no longer reject shaders with explicit #version directives, and we have added those directives to any shaders that require them at the lowest version that still compiles/functions properly. That is, if the shader doesn’t use any features that require greater than #version 110, they will still have no #version specified, and any shader that requires #version 120 but not #version 130 will not have its requirements increased to the higher version for no reason. This should keep our GLSL shaders as compatible as possible with older hardware, and including the #versions explicitly when needed will also make it easier for other programs/developers to utilize our shaders without any unnecessary guesswork due to behind-the-scenes magic.
This change does require a clean break, insofar as older versions of RetroArch will choke on the new #version directives (that is, they’ll fail to compile with the “#version must occur before any other program statement” error pictured above), so users with Nvidia or AMD GPUs must update their RetroArch installation if they want to use the updated shaders. Users with Intel IGPs will be no worse off if they don’t update, since those shaders were already broken for them, but they’ll probably *want* to update to gain access to the many fancy shaders that now work properly on their machines.
Mobile GPUs using GLES had many of the same issues that Intel IGPs had, with many shaders refusing to work without #version directives, but GLES compatibility added in a further complication: GLES requires its own separate #version directives, either #version 100 es or #version 300 es, which are different from and incompatible with desktop GL’s #versions. To get around this, we added a trick in RetroArch to change any #version of 120 or below to #version 100, which is roughly comparable in features to 120, and any #version 130 or above to #version 300 es whenever a GLES context is used. This should get everything working as effectively and consistently as possible on mobile GPUs, but if anything slipped through the cracks, be sure to file an issue report at the GLSL shader repo.
Half a year after RetroArch 1.3.6 was released, now comes the next big stable! Version 1.4.1 is by any yardstick a big massive advance on the previous version. There are about 5000 commits or more to sift through, so let’s focus on a few big main standout features that we want to emphasize for this release.
We are calling this release an ‘Open Beta’ because we want people to put the massively improved Netplay features through its paces! All of your feedback and issues will be taken onboard so that 1.5.0 (which we intend to ship somewhere beginning of March) will deliver on all the promises we have made for netplay.
Netplay has seen a big massive improvement since version 1.3.6.
To set up a netplay game, you have two options: Manual or automatic connection.
Naturally, the automatic way is easier:
To host, just load a core and launch some content as usual and, once the game is running, go back into the ‘quick menu’ (the default keyboard shortcut is F1) and scroll down to the ‘netplay’ submenu. From there, choose ‘Start netplay host’ and it will announce your game to the lobby server for other users to join. You can go ahead and start playing and new players can jump in at any time. That is, RetroArch no longer stalls out until clients join.
Joining an existing session is just as easy. From the main menu, navigate over to the netplay tab (the icon looks like a wifi symbol), scroll down to ‘Refresh Room List’ and hit the ‘accept’ key/button (the default keyboard shortcut is the ‘X’ key). RetroArch will fetch the current list of available hosts and display them right there in the netplay tab. From there, just pick the host you wish to join and RetroArch will cycle through your playlists searching for a content match. If it finds a match, you’ll jump right into the host’s game already in progress.
To use manual connection, the host does the exact same steps. The client must load the same core and game first, then choose the “connect to netplay host” option from the netplay menu. You will be prompted for the IP address of the host. Enter it to connect.
To keep your games private, the host may set a password, required to connect, in the network settings menu.
We want your feedback and input on netplay, and the aim is that we take your feedback into consideration for 1.5.0 (which we will launch early March) to put the final finishing touches on netplay in general. Things like chat, friend lists and so on will all need to be implemented still.
Multi-language support/Japanese language support
We have added UTF-8 support and we have added translations for several languages now. Of these, Japanese is probably second to English in terms of being the most complete translation.
In addition to this, the new onscreen keyboard also has multilingual support, and supports Japanese fully (Hiragana, Katakana).
Free homebrew Bomberman clone game – Mr.Boom
Mr.Boom is a Bomberman clone. It supports up to 8 players and features like pushing bombs, remote controls and kangaroo riding.
Right now, this core works for Mac/Windows/Linux/ We are still working on Android support!
Mr. Boom currently requires at least a minimum of 2 players. There is no singleplayer mode (yet). It can not yet be used with netplay but that is our ultimate aim! Free 8-player easy Bomberman-like gameplay for everybody! We will make an announcement later when netplay support is fully working for this core!
New menu graphical effects
In addition to the ribbon effects, we have added some new menu effects : Bokeh, and Snow.
Check the accompanying video to see them in action. You can access these menu effects by going to
Settings -> User Interface -> Menu and setting “Menu Shader Pipeline” to any effect of your choosing.
NOTE: These two new menu effects are not yet available for Vulkan and Cg. Ports would have to be made first of these menu effects, since they are completely shader-based.
Quality-of-Life improvements to the menu
We have taken all the criticisms of the menu UI to heart and we really pushed ourselves to make the menu much more pleasant to deal with.
We have gone to the painstaking effort of making sure that nearly every menu entry now has a small description below it.
Loading content has been massively streamlined. There is no longer a separate ‘Load Content’ and ‘Load Content (Detect Core)’ option. You simply select a starting point directory, you then select your game and you decide which core to use.
There is a new onscreen keyboard made for the menu which is compatible with touch and the mouse. It not only supports traditional western characters but thanks to improved multilingual support it will also support Japanese (Kanji, Hiragana, Katakana and Romaji).
In fullscreen mode, the mouse cursor inside the menu will only show for about 5 seconds. If there is no mouse activity it will disappear from the screen until you move the mouse again.
Improved error handling
Cores should now report an error message back to RetroArch in most instances where a ROM/content fails to load. We went over most cores and we are reasonably comfortable in that we took care of most of the trouble spots.
Vulkan N64 and PSX now works on Android!
To read more about these projects, read our past articles here –
ParaLLel (Nintendo 64 core with Vulkan renderer) and Mednafen PSX HW should now work on Android devices that support Vulkan!
Unfortunately, GPU is currently not the bottleneck here. In the case of both of these emulators, more work is required before they will start to run at fullspeed on Android devices. We need to get the LLVM dynarec working on ARM devices.
In the case of Mednafen PSX HW, the interpreter CPU core is the main bottleneck which prevents the emulator from reaching playable speeds right now. An experimental dynarec was written a year ago but it still needs a lot of work before it could be considered ‘usable’.
Lots of other miscellaneous stuff
(Linux) DRM/KMS context driver should be more compatible now
(Linux) The GLX context driver now uses GLX_OML_sync_control when available, leading to much improved swap control. Potential video tearing and frame time deviation will be way lower in general.
(Linux) Attaching a PS4 gamepad will allow you to use the audio headphone jack to route sound to your headphones if you use the ALSA audio driver. It will now query the available audio output sampling rates that an audio device supports, and if the recommended output sampling rate that we use in RetroArch doesn’t match, we will use a sampling rate that the audio device DOES support instead. The PS4 pad only works with 32Khz audio, hence why we need to switch to it on the fly in order to get sound working with it.
(Android) Should fix a longstanding touch input bug that might have prevented touch from working altogether on certain devices.
(Android) GLES3/3.1 support, the fancy ribbon effect and Snow/Bokeh should also be available on Android now.
(Linux/Wayland) Full input support, keyboard and mouse.
Too much stuff to mention
Also read our companion article for more information here –
Looking at CPU profiles, paraLLEl RDP could never really shine, as it was being held back by the CXD4 RSP interpreter, so groundbreaking speedups could not be achieved. With paraLLEl RDP, the RSP was consuming well over 50% CPU time. This was known from the beginning before RDP work even started. After the first RDP pre-alpha release, focus shifted to RSP performance, and that’s what I’ve spent most time on. None of my machines are super-clocked modern i7s, which have been required to run N64 LLE at good speed.
Micro-optimizing the interpreter is a waste of time, I needed a dynarec. However, I have never written a dynarec or JITer for that matter before, and I was not going to spend months (years?) learning how to JIT code well for ~4 architectures (x86, x64, ARMv7, ARMv8). Instead, using libclang/libllvm as my codegen proved to be an interesting hack that worked surprisingly well in practice for this project.
Linux: Since RetroArch is included now on most mainline Linux distributions’ package management repository systems, we expect their versions to be updated to 1.3.6 shortly.
I will release versions for MacOSX PowerPC (10.5 Leopard) and 32-bit Intel MacOS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) later on, maybe today or tomorrow.
Windows Drag and Drop support
Courtesy of mudlord, with the Windows version, you can now drag and drop a ROM (or any other content) onto RetroArch’s window, and it will attempt to load the correct core for it. If there is more than one core available for the type of content you dragged and dropped, it will present you with a slidedown list of cores to select from.
Vastly improved content downloading features
Starting with v1.3.6, RetroArch users can download compatible freeware content, such as the shareware release of Doom, right from the app. This video goes through the steps, which include fetching the core from the online updater, fetching the content from the repository and then launching the core and content we just downloaded.
Menu customization and aesthetics – XMB and MaterialUI
RetroArch v1.3.6 adds support for a number of themes in the default mobile menu, including both bright and dark themes.
There’s also the ability now to set a custom wallpaper in XMB and be able to colorize it with a color gradient. To do this, you go to Settings -> Menu, you set a wallpaper, and from there you have to set ‘Menu Shader Pipeline’ to OFF. You can then choose from one of the color palettes in ‘Color Theme’ in order to shade the background wallpaper, or just select ‘Plain’ in case you don’t want to colorize it.
Undo Load/Save State
Have you ever gotten through a tough part of a game and wanted to make a savestate only to hit the “load state” button instead and have to do it all over again? Or maybe you were practicing a particularly difficult maneuver–for a speedrun, perhaps–and accidentally saved a bad run over your practice point because you hit “save state” instead of “load state”? While savestates are considered one of the great advantages to emulating retro games, they can also lead to these frustrating situations where they wipe out progress instead of saving it, all because of one slip of the finger. RetroArch now has the ability to undo a save- or load-state action through some automatic state-shuffling that happens behind the scenes, so you never have to worry about these situations again.
Undo Load State – Before the ‘current’ state is altered by e.g. a ‘Load Savestate’ operation, ‘current’ is saved in memory and ‘Undo Load State’ restores it; you can also undo this option by using it again, which will make you flip-flop between 2 states.
Undo Save State – If there was a savestate file that was overwritten, this option restores it.
The main event of RetroArch 1.3.6 is obviously the fact that it makes it possible to run the N64 Vulkan core, paraLLEl. Previous versions of RetroArch will not be able to run this because of the new extensions to libretro Vulkan which we had to push to make this renderer possible.
Async compute core support – ready for ParaLLEl
It was already possible to run Vulkan-enabled libretro cores, but with this release, a few crucial features have been added. Support for queue transfers was added and a context negotiation interface was added.
With this we can now use multiple queues to overlap compute and shading in the frontend level, i.e. asynchronous compute. ParaLLEl would certainly not have been as fast or as effective were it not for this.
ParaLLEl now joins triple-A games like Rise of the Tomb Raider and Doom in heavily relying on Vulkan’s async compute capabilities for maximum efficiency. A test core was also written as a proof of concept for this interface.
If you want to read more about ParaLLEl, we have a compendium blog post for you to digest here.
Supports Windows, Linux, Android equally well now
The previous version already had Vulkan support to varying degrees, but now we feel we are finally at the point where Vulkan driver support in RetroArch is very much mature across most of the supported platforms.
Vulkan should work now on Android, on Windows, and on Linux, provided your GPU has a working Vulkan driver.
On Linux we now support even more video driver context features, such as VK_KHR_display support. This is a platform-agnostic KMS-like backend for Vulkan, which should allow you to run RetroArch with Vulkan without the need of an X11 or Wayland server running.
On Windows and Android, we include Vulkan support now. Vulkan has been tested on Android with NVIDIA Shield Tablet/Console, and both work. Be aware that there are some minuscule things which might not work correctly yet with Vulkan on Android. For instance, orientation changing still doesn’t work. This will be investigated.
Max swapchain images – driving latency even lower with Vulkan and friends
RetroArch already has built up quite a reputation for itself for being able to drive latency down to very low levels. But with new technologies, there is always room for improvement.
Max amount of swapchain images has now been implemented for both the DRM/KMS context driver for OpenGL (usable on Linux) and Vulkan now. What this entails, is that you can programmatically tell your video card to provide you with either triple buffering (3), double buffering (2) or single buffering (1). The previous default with DRM/KMS was 3 (triple buffering), so setting it to 2 could potentially shave off latency by at least 1 frame (as was verified by others). Setting to 1 won’t often get you single buffering with most monitors and drivers due to tearing and they will fall-back to (2) double buffering.
With Vulkan, RetroArch can programmatically infer to the video card what kind of buffering method it likes to be able to use, a vast improvement over the nonexistent options that existed before with OpenGL (from a platform-agnostic perspective).
What Vulkan brings to the table on Android
Vulkan has been tested to run on Android devices that support Vulkan, like Shield Tablet/Console. Latency has always been very bad on Android in the past. With Vulkan, frame times are significantly lower than with OpenGL, and we no longer have to leave Threaded Video enabled by default. Instead, we can turn off Threaded Video and letting RetroArch monitor the refresh rate dynamically, which is the more desirable solution since it allows for less jittery screen updates.
Audio latency can also be driven down significantly now with Vulkan. The current default is 128ms, with Vulkan we can drive it down to 64 or even 32ms.
Couple this with the aforementioned swapchain images support and there are multiple ways to drive latency down on Android now.
OpenGL music visualizer (for FFmpeg-enabled builds)
Versions of RetroArch like the Linux and Windows port happen to feature built-in integrated FFmpeg support, which allows you to watch movies and listen to music from within the confines of RetroArch.
We have added a music visualizer now. The scene is drawn as a cylindrical mesh with FFT (Fast Fourier Transform) heightmap lookups. Different colors are shaded using mid/side channels as well as left/right information for height.
Note that this requires at least GLES3 support (which is available as well through an extension which most GPUs should support by now).
Improvements to cores
User leileilol contributed a very cool feature to TyrQuake, Quake 64-style RGB colored lighting, except done in software.
To be able to use this feature, you need to create a subdir in your Quake data directory called ‘maps’, and you need to move ‘.lit’ files to this directory. These are the lighting map files that the Tyrquake core will use in order to determine how light should be positioned.
From there on out, you load up the Tyrquake core, you go to Quick Menu -> Options, you enable Colored Lighting. Restart the core and if your files are placed correctly, you should now see the difference.
Be aware that in order to do this, the game renderer shifts to 24bit color RGB rendering, and this in turn makes things significantly slower, although it should still be fairly playable even at higher resolutions.
To download this, go to ‘Add Content’ -> ‘Download Content’. Go to ‘Tyrquake’, and download ‘quake-colored-lighting-pack.zip’. This should extract this zip to your Downloads dir, and inside the Quake directory. From there, you can just load Quake and the colored lighting maps should be found providing the ‘Colored Lighting’ option has been enabled.
SNES9x emulator input lag reduction
A user on our forum, Brunnis, began some investigations into input latency and found that there were significant gains to be made in Super Nintendo emulators by rescheduling when input polling and video blitting are being performed. Based upon these findings and after some pull requests made to SNES9x, SNES9x Next, and FCEUmm, at least 1 to 2 frames of input lag should be shaved off now.
Do read this highly interesting forum thread that led to these improvements here.
News for iOS 10 beta users
There is now a separate version for iOS 10 users. Apple once again changed a lot of things which makes it even more difficult for us to distribute RetroArch the regular way.
Dynamic libraries cores cannot be opened from the Documents directory of the app anymore in iOS 10. They can be opened from the app bundle, as long as they are code-signed. This reverts back to the previous behavior of RetroArch, where the cores need to be in the modules directory of the app bundle.
2. Move the contents of this directory over to the ‘modules’ directory inside the RetroArch iOS 10 Xcode solution. It should presumably handle signing by itself.
Bugfixes/other miscellanous things
Stability/memory leak fixes – We subjected RetroArch to numerous Valgrind/Coverity/Xcode Memory leak checks in order to fix a plethora of memory leaks that had reared their ugly heads inbetween releases. We pretty much eliminated all of them. Not a sexy feature to brag about, but it involved lots of sweat, tears and effort, and the ramifications it has on the overall stability of the program is considerable.
There were some problems with Cg and GLSL shader selections which should now be taken care of.
ScummVM games can now be scanned in various ways (courtesy of RobLoach)
Downloading multiple updates at once could crash RetroArch – now fixed.
Several cores have gotten Retro Achievements support now. The official list of systems that support achievements now is: Mega Drive, Nintendo 64, Super Nintendo, Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, Game Boy Color, NES, PC Engine, Sega CD, Sega 32X, and Sega Master System.
You can now turn the supported extensions filter on or off from the file browser.
Effort to addressing user experience feedback
I think a couple of things should be addressed first and foremost. First, there is every intent to indeed make things like a WIMP (Windows Icons Mouse Pointers) interface around RetroArch. To this end, we are starting to make crossplatform UI widget toolkit code that will make it easy for us to target Qt/GTK/Win32 UI/Cocoa in one fell swoop.
We have also spent a lot of time plugging some of the rough edges around RetroArch and making the user interface more pleasurable to work with.
Youtube libretro channel
Hunterk/hizzlekizzle is going to be running the libretro Youtube channel from now on, and we’ll start putting up quick and direct Youtube videos there on how to be able to use RetroArch. It is our intent that this will do a couple of things:
1. Show people that RetroArch is easy to use and has numerous great features beneath the surface too.
2. It allows users to give constructive criticism and feedback on the UI operations they see and how they think they should be improved.
3. We hope to engage some seasoned C/C++ coders to help us get some of these UI elements done sooner rather than later. Most of RetroArch development mostly relies on a handful of guys – 5 at the most. It is a LOT of hard work for what amounts to a hobbyist project, and if we had a lot more developers seasoned in C/C++, stuff could be done quicker.
4. There is no intention at all to make RetroArch ‘obtuse’ for the sake of it, there is every intention to make it more accessible for people. Additional help would go a very long way towards that.
Regarding the current UIs and their direction, it is obviously meant to be a console-like UI experience. This might not be what desktop users are used to on their PCs but it is what we designed menu drivers like XMB to be. It is true that keyboard and mouse are mostly seen as afterthoughts in this UI but really, we wrote the UI with game consoles and something where a gamepad is the primary input device at all times, particularly since a keyboard to us is a poor way of playing these console-based games anyway.
Anyway, menu drivers like XMB and MaterialUI will never have any WIMP UI elements. HOWEVER, in upcoming versions, we will be able to flesh out the menubar and to allow for more basic WIMP UI elements.
RetroArch is meant to be a cutting-edge program that is ultra-powerful in terms of features. With that comes a bit of added complexity. However, we have every intent of making things easier, and with every release we put a lot of time and effort into improving things. But again, more developers would help out a substantial lot in speeding up certain parts that we are working on.
Our vision for the project involves an enormous workload and we’re considering differnt ways of generating additional support. If a Patreon might allow us to get more developers and get more stuff done faster, we might consider it. But we want such things to be carefully deliberated by both our internal development staff and the users at large. I hope you’ll be able to appreciate the relative rough edges around the program and appreciate the scope and the craft we have poured into the program. Please appreciate that we are pouring a lot of blood, sweat and tears into the program and that mostly we try to maintain an upper stiff chin when faced with all the criticism, but we do care and we do intend to do better. Volunteer coders are very welcome though, by people who have some time to spare and who want to make a difference. We ask for your understanding here, and we hope that by finally speaking out on this, users can gain a better understanding of our intent and be able to appreciate the program better in light of that.