Cores progress report – Catering to high-end desktops – Dolphin libretro core and others now supports resolutions of 8K and up!

Soul Calibur 2 running on the Dolphin core. Internal resolution is 12K, which gets downsampled to a 4K desktop resolution through Nvidia DSR.
Soul Calibur 2 running on the Dolphin core. Internal resolution is 12K, which gets downsampled to a 4K desktop resolution through Nvidia DSR.
Here at RetroArch/libretro, we have always insisted on catering to both the low-end as well as the high end. To further this purpose, we always make design considerations from this perspective, that whatever we do shouldn’t be at the cost of worse performance on lower specced hardware that we still support.

Newer generation emulators are increasingly catering to the high end and almost demand it by virtue of them being based on much more recent videogame systems. While testing RetroArch and various libretro cores on our new high-end Windows desktop PC, we noticed that we could really take things up a few notches to see what we could get out of the hardware.

Dolphin

While working on the Dolphin libretro core some more, we stumbled upon the issue that internal resolution increases were still not working properly. So while fixing that in the latest core, we felt that the default scaled resolution choices that Dolphin provides (up to 8x native resolution) weren’t really putting any stress on our Windows development box (a Core i7 7700K equipped with a Titan XP).

So, in the process we added some additional resolution options so you can get up to 12K. The highest possible resolution right now is 19x (12160×10032).

As for performance results, even at the highest 19x resolution, the average framerate was still around 81fps, although there were some frame drops here and there and I found it to be generally more safe to dial the internal resolution down to a more conservative 12x or 15x instead). 12x resolution would be 8680×6336, which is still well over 8K resolution.

Note that the screenshots here are compressed and they are downscaled to 4K resolution, which is my desktop resolution. This desktop resolution in turn is an Nvidia DSR custom resolution, so it effectively is a 4K resolution downsampled to my 1080p monitor. From that, I am running RetroArch with the Dolphin core. With RetroArch, downscaling is pretty much implicit and works on the fly, so through setting the internal resolution of the EFB framebuffer, I can go beyond 4K (unlike most games which just query the available desktop resolutions).





We ran some performance tests on Soul Calibur 2 with an uncapped framerate. Test box is a Core i7 7700k with 16GB of DDR4 3000MHz RAM, and an Nvidia Titan XP video card. We start out with the base 8x (slightly above 4K Ultra HD) resolution which is the highest integer scaled resolution that Dolphin usually supports. If you want to go beyond that on regular Dolphin, you have to input a custom resolution. Instead, we made the native resolution scales go all the way up to 19x.

On the Nvidia Control panel, nearly everything is maxed out – 8x anti-aliasing, MFAA, 16x Anisotropic filtering, FXAA, etc.

Resolution Performance (with OpenGL) Performance (with Vulkan)
8x (5120×4224) [for 5K] 166fps 192fps
9x (5760×4752) 165fps 192fps
10x (6400×5280) 164fps 196fps
11x (7040×5808) 163fps 197fps
12x (7680×6336) [for 8K] 161fps 193fps
13x (8320×6864) 155fps 193fps
14x (8960×7392) 152fps 193fps
15x (9600×7920) [for 9K] 139fps 193fps
16x (10240×8448) [for 10K] 126fps 172fps
17x (10880×8976) 115fps 152fps
18x (11520×9504) [for 12K] 102fps 137fps
19x (12160×10032) 93.4fps 123fps

OpenLara

OpenLara running at over 16K
OpenLara running at over 16K

The OpenLara core was previously capped at 1440p (2560×1440). We have added available resolutions now of up to 16K.

Resolution Performance
2560×1440 [for 1440p/2K] 642fps
3840×2160 [for 4K] 551fps
7680×4320 [for 8K] 407fps
15360×8640 [for 16K] 191fps
16000×9000 176fps

Craft

Craft core running at over 16K
Craft core running at over 16K

Previously, the Craft core supported only up to 1440p. Now it supports up to 16K and slightly higher.

For the Craft core, we are setting the ‘draw distance’ to 32, which is the highest available draw distance available to this core. With the draw distance set this far back, you can even see some pop-in right now (terrain that is not yet rendered and will only be rendered/shown when the viewer is closer in proximity to it).

Resolution Performance
2560×1600 [for 1440p/2K] 720fps
3840×2160 [for 4K] 646fps
7680×4320 [for 8K] 441fps
15360×8640 [for 16K] 190fps
16000×9000 168fps

Parallel N64 – Angrylion software renderer

This scene serves as our benchmark test for both the software Angrylion renderer as well as the Vulkan-based Parallel renderer.
This scene serves as our benchmark test for both the software Angrylion renderer as well as the Vulkan-based Parallel renderer.

So accurate software-based emulation of the N64 has remained an elusive pipe dream for decades. However, it seems things are finally changing now on high-end hardware.

This test was conducted on an Intel i7 7700K running at Boost Mode (4.80GHz). We are using both the OpenGL video driver and the Vulkan video driver for this test, and we are running the game Super Mario 64. The exact spot we are testing at it is at the Princess Peach castle courtyard.

Super Mario 64

Description Performance (with OpenGL) Performance (with Vulkan)
Angrylion [no VI filter] 73fps 75fps
Angrylion [with VI filter] 61fps 63fps

Quake 64

Description Performance (with OpenGL) Performance (with Vulkan)
Angrylion [no VI filter] 81fps 82.5fps
Angrylion [with VI filter] 68fps 72fps

Killer Instinct Gold

Description Performance (with OpenGL) Performance (with Vulkan)
Angrylion [no VI filter] 57.9fps 58.7fps
Angrylion [with VI filter] 54.6fps 55fps

GoldenEye 007

Tested at the Dam level – beginning

Description Performance (with OpenGL) Performance (with Vulkan)
Angrylion [no VI filter] 54.9fps 43.8fps
Angrylion [with VI filter] 45.6fps 40.9fps

Note that we are using the cxd4 RSP interpreter which, despite the SSE optimizations, would still be pretty slow compared to any RSP dynarec, so these results are impressive to say the least. There are games which dip more than this – for instance, Killer Instinct Gold can run at 48fps on the logo title screen, but on average, if you turn off VI filtering, most games should run at fullspeed with this configuration.

In case you didn’t notice already, Vulkan doesn’t really benefit us much when we do plain software rendering. We are talking maybe a conservative 3fps increase with VI filtering, and about 2fps or maybe even a bit less with VI turned off. Not much to brag about but it could help in case you barely get 60fps and you need a 2+ fps dip to avoid v-sync stutters.

Oddly enough, the sole exception to this is GoldenEye 007, where the tables are actually turned, and OpenGL actually leaps ahead of Vulkan quite significantly, conservatively by about 5fps with VI filter applied, and even higher with no VI filter. I tested this many times over to see if there was maybe a slight discrepancy going on, but I got the exact same results each and every time.

Parallel N64 – Parallel Vulkan renderer

Quake 64 on Parallel N64 - tested with both Angrylion and Parallel
Quake 64 on Parallel N64 – tested with both Angrylion and Parallel

So we have seen how software-based LLE RDP rendering runs. This puts all the workload on the CPU. So what if we reverse the situation and put it all on the GPU instead? That is essentially the promise of the Parallel Vulkan renderer. So let’s run the same tests on it.

This test was conducted on an Intel i7 7700K running at Boost Mode (4.80GHz). We are using the Vulkan video driver for this test, and we are running the game Super Mario 64. The exact spot we are testing at it is at the Princess Peach castle courtyard.

Super Mario 64

Description Performance
With synchronous RDP 192fps
Without synchronous RDP 222fps

Quake 64

Description Performance
With synchronous RDP 180fps
Without synchronous RDP 220fps

Killer Instinct Gold

Description Performance
With synchronous RDP 174fps
Without synchronous RDP 214fps

GoldenEye 007

Tested at the Dam level – beginning

Description Performance
With synchronous RDP 88fps
Without synchronous RDP 118fps

As you can see, performance nearly doubles when going from Angrylion to Parallel renderer with synchronous RDP enabled, and beyond with it disabled. Do note that asynchronous RDP is regarded as a hack and it can result in many framebuffer oriented glitches among other things, so it’s best to run with synchronous RDP for best results.

We are certain that by using the LLVM RSP dynarec, the performance difference between Angrylion and Parallel would widen even further. Even though there are still a few glitches and omissions in the Parallel renderer compared to Angrylion, it’s clear that there is a lot of promise to this approach of putting the RDP on the GPU.

Conclusion: It’s quite clear that even on a quad-core 4.8GHz i7 CPU, the CPU ‘nearly’ manages to run most games with Angrylion [software] at fullspeed but it doesn’t leave you with a lot of headroom really. Moving it to the GPU [through Parallel RDP] results in a doubling of performance with the conservative synchronous option enabled and even more if you decide to go with asynchronous mode (buggier but faster).

Beetle PSX

Previously, Beetle PSX would only provide internal resolution increases up to 8 times the original resolution. We have now extended this to 32 x for software and Vulkan, and 16x for OpenGL.

The results are surprising – while the Vulkan renderer is far more mature than the OpenGL renderer and implements the mask bit unlike the GL renderer (along with some other missing bits in the current GL renderer), the GL renderer leaps ahead in terms of performance at nearly every resolution.

Crash Bandicoot

Crash Bandicoot running at over 10K. Note this is being downsampled to 4K.
Crash Bandicoot running at over 10K. Note this is being downsampled to 4K.

Crash Bandicoot is a game that ran at a resolution of 512×240.

Resolution Performance (with OpenGL) [with PGXP] Performance (with OpenGL) [w/o PGXP] Performance (with Vulkan) [with PGXP] Performance (with Vulkan) [w/o PGXP] Performance (software OpenGL) Performance (software Vulkan)
8192×3840 [16x] [for 5K] 188.8fps 266fps 217fps 239fps 4.4fps 5.3fps
4096×1920 [8x] [for 2K] 216fps 296fps 218fps 240fps 16fps 17.5fps
2048×960 [4x] 215fps 296fps 216fps 239fps 52fps 57.9fps
1024×480 [2x] 216fps 296fps 216fps 239fps 138fps 145fps

Tekken 3

Tekken 3 running at over 10K, being downsampled to 4K.
Tekken 3 running at over 10K, being downsampled to 4K.

Tekken 3 is a game that ran at a resolution of 368×480.

Resolution Performance (with OpenGL) [with PGXP] Performance (with OpenGL) [w/o PGXP] Performance (with Vulkan) [with PGXP] Performance (with Vulkan) [w/o PGXP] Performance (software OpenGL) Performance (software Vulkan)
11776×15360 [32x] [for 12K] N/A N/A 127fps 127.4fps N/A N/A
5888×7680 [16x] [for 4K] 188.5fps 266fps 184.4fps 211fps 4.4fps 6.6fps
2944×3840 [8x] [for 2K] 186.5fps 208fps 183.5fps 269fps 22fps 25.2fps
1472×1920 [4x] 184.5fps 270fps 230.5fps 210fps 52fps 59.4fps
1024×480 [2x] 232fps 271fps 185.5fps 210fps 129fps 137fps

Reicast

Dead or Alive 2 running at over 12K resolution on Reicast
Dead or Alive 2 running at over 12K resolution on Reicast

Daytona USA 2001 running at over 12K resolution on Reicast
Daytona USA 2001 running at over 12K resolution on Reicast

Sonic Adventure running at over 12K resolution on Reicast
Sonic Adventure running at over 12K resolution on Reicast

Dead or Alive 2

Description Performance
4480×3360 206fps
5120×3840 206fps
5760×4320 206fps
6400×4800 204fps
7040×5280 206fps
7680×5760 206fps
8320×6240 204fps
8960×6720 204fps
9600×7200 207fps
10240×7680 206fps
10880×8160 207fps
11520×8640 207fps
12160×9120 194fps
12800×9600 193fps

As you can see, it isn’t until we reach 12160×9120 that Reicast’s performance finally lets up from an almost consistent 206/207fps to a somewhat lower value. Do note that this was testing the same environment. When alpha effects and RTT (Render to Texture) effects are being applied onscreen, there may well be dips on the higher than 8K resolutions whereas 8K and below would be able to handle it with relative ease.

Mupen64plus – GlideN64 OpenGL renderer

Super Mario 64 running at 8K resolution with Gliden64.
Super Mario 64 running at 8K resolution with Gliden64.

This core uses Mupen64plus as the core emulator plus the GlideN64 OpenGL renderer.

Super Mario 64

Description Performance
3840×2880 – no MSAA 617fps
3840×2880 – 2x/4x MSAA 181fps
4160×3120 – no MSAA 568fps
4160×3120 – 2x/4x MSAA 112fps
4480×3360 – no MSAA 538fps
4480×3360 – 2x/4x MSAA 103fps
4800×3600 – no MSAA 524fps
4800×3600 – 2x/4x MSAA 94fps
5120×3840 – no MSAA 486fps
5120×3840 – 2x/4x MSAA 82fps
5440×4080 – no MSAA 199fps
5440×4080 – 2x/4x MSAA 80fps
5760×4320 – no MSAA 194fs
5760×4320 – 2x/4x MSAA 74fps
6080×4560 – no MSAA 190fps
6080×4560 – 2x/4x MSAA 68fps
6400×4800 – no MSAA 186fps
6400×4800 – 2x/4x MSAA 61.3fps
7680×4320 – no MSAA 183fps
7680×4320 – 2x/4x MSAA 39.4fps

GoldenEye 007

Tested at the Dam level – beginning

Description Performance
3840×2880 – no MSAA 406fps
3840×2880 – 2x/4x MSAA 100fps
4160×3120 – no MSAA 397fps
4160×3120 – 2x/4x MSAA 65fps
4480×3360 – no MSAA 375fps
4480×3360 – 2x/4x MSAA 60fps
4800×3600 – no MSAA 342fps
4800×3600 – 2x/4x MSAA 54fps
5120×3840 – no MSAA 310fps
5120×3840 – 2x/4x MSAA 51fps
5440×4080 – no MSAA 70fps
5440×4080 – 2x/4x MSAA 46fps
5760×4320 – no MSAA 78.9fs
5760×4320 – 2x/4x MSAA 42fps
6080×4560 – no MSAA 86fps
6080×4560 – 2x/4x MSAA 37fps
6400×4800 – no MSAA 79fps
6400×4800 – 2x/4x MSAA 27fps
7680×4320 – no MSAA 79fps
7680×4320 – 2x/4x MSAA 33.2fps

Preface: Immediately after going beyond 3840×2880 (the slightly-higher than 4K resolution), we notice that turning on MSAA results in several black solid colored strips being rendered where there should be textures and geometry. Again, we notice that enabling MSAA takes a huge performance hit. It doesn’t matter either if you apply 2 or 4 samples, it is uniformly slow. We also notice several rendering bottlenecks in throughput – as soon as we move from 5120×3840 to 5440×4080 (a relatively minor bump), we go from 310fps to suddenly 70fps – a huge dropoff point. Suffice to say, while you can play with Reicast (Dreamcast emulator) and Dolphin (Gamecube/Wii) at 8K without effort and even have enough headroom to go all the way to 12K, don’t try this anytime soon with Gliden64.

We suspect there are several huge bottlenecks in this renderer that prevent it from reaching higher performance, especially since people on 1060s have also complained about less than stellar performance. That being said, there are certain advantages to Gliden64 vs. Glide64, it emulates certain FBO effects which GLide64 doesn’t. It also is less accurate than Glide64 in other areas, so you have to pick your poison on a per-game basis.

We still believe that the future of N64 emulation relies more on accurate renderers like Parallel RDP which are not riddled with per-game hacks vs. the traditional HLE RDP approach as seen in Gliden64 and Glide64. Nevertheless, people love their internal resolution upscaling, so there will always exist a builtin audience for these renderers, and it’s always nice to be able to have choices.

New core: OpenLara (Windows/Linux)

OpenLara is now available as a libretro core! This is a new work-in-progress Tomb Raider game engine by developer XProger and is already progressing rapidly.

If you’d like to know more about the project, please visit its site here. There’s even a cool web demo you can check out here.

Available for

The OpenLara core is currently available for:

  • Windows (32bit/64bit)
  • Linux (32bit/64bit)

Further requirements: This core requires┬áthat you turn on ‘Enable Shared Hardware Context’, otherwise you will only see a single texture being displayed onscreen instead of the game screen.

Note for macOS users: There is currently no ‘working’ macOS version available because of the aforementioned reason. Please be patient and keep the faith, we have not forgotten about macOS users and we have not relegated them to second-class citizen either. Just going to take a little bit of time before we sort this out.

How to get it

  1. Start RetroArch.
  2. Go to Online Updater -> Update Cores.
  3. Download ‘Tomb Raider (OpenLara)’ from the list.

Important!

  • This core requires that you use OpenGL as the video driver. Go to Settings -> Driver. If ‘video driver’ is set to ‘vulkan’, switch it back to ‘gl’, and then restart.

How to turn on shared hardware context (required)

This core also requires that you turn on ‘Enable Shared Hardware Context’. If you don’t do this, you will only see a single texture on the screen, like this –

If you see this, then 'Enable Shared Hardware Context' should be turned on!
If you see this, then ‘Enable Shared Hardware Context’ should be turned on! Read below on how to do that!

First, you need to ensure that ‘Show Advanced Settings’ is turned on. Go to Settings -> User Interface and turn ‘Show Advanced Settings’ on.

Now, go back, and go to Settings -> Core.

Once inside the ‘Core’ settings, set ‘Enable Shared Hardware Context’ to ON.

The upcoming version of RetroArch (version 1.6.1) might make it unnecessary to toggle this, saving you the hassle of having to do this.

How to use it

Convincing self-shadowing effects which the original games didn't have.
Convincing self-shadowing effects which the original games didn’t have.

Right now, OpenLara is more of a tech demo. You have to load separate levels into the program in order to play them. You cannot currently play Tomb Raider from beginning to end using this core. We hope that it will book major progress so that one day we can replay the old Tomb Raider games entirely with these enhanced graphics and enhanced framerates. To this end, we intend to support the project.

For demonstration purposes, we provide you with the Tomb Raider 1 demo levels so that you can test it out. It is also possible to use levels from the PC/PSX version and load this into the game engine core, so try that out at your own discretion.

How to use the demo

We assume you have already followed the steps in ‘How to get it’, and that the core is already installed.

  • Go to Online Updater -> Content Downloader.

  • Go to ‘Tomb Raider’, and select the file ‘tombraider1-demo.zip’.

  • Go back to the main menu, and now select ‘Load Content’. Select ‘Downloads’. Go to the folder ‘Tomb Raider’, and select LEVEL2.PSX. If all went well, OpenLara should now start at Level 2 of Tomb Raider 1.

 

Be aware┬áthat certain gameplay elements are simply not implemented as of yet, such as health bars, taking damage, etc. You can ‘complete’ the stage technically but you also cannot die or continue to the next level.

Controls

The controls on the RetroPad are set up to mirror those of the PSX Tomb Raider games.

L2 – Sidestep left

R2 – Sidestep right

R1 – Hold to walk

Y button – Jump

B button – Action button. Can be used to flick switches/toggles, etc, or to grab a ledge.

X button – Draw weapon. Press B button to shoot, and press X again to withdraw.

A button – Do a roll. This works a bit different from regular Tomb Raider mechanics in that it will perform a back dash if you press the A button without moving.

Start button – This will toggle a fullscreen mode that is very much like what Mirror’s Edge would have looked like with a PS1-era game engine. ┬áNote that toggling this right now is very finicky, and will be improved in the future.

There is currently no way to toggle the inventory or to select weapons on the RetroPad other than the default guns. The reason for there being no inventory is because OpenLara itself doesn’t have that yet.

Enhancements

The MIrror's Edge-style first person mode along with Lara's shadow projected onto the wall
The MIrror’s Edge-style first person mode along with Lara’s shadow projected onto the wall

The nice thing about OpenLara is that, while staying true to the original look and feel of the original, it also adds some graphical enhancements to it that manages to make the boxy old-school Tomb Raider games look a bit less archaic. Some examples include :

  • Self-shadowing on Lara, enemies, etc.
  • New water effects which replaces the simple vertex manipulation of the water surface on the PSX. The Saturn version actually was the only version that tried to do something a bit more sophisticated with the water. If you dislike these very nice graphical enhancements, I inserted a core option so you can turn these off (‘Enable water effects’ in Quick Menu -> options).
  • Shading effects – after Lara gets out of the water, her skin has a slightly wet shading effect.
  • A first-person mode that is more convincing and fun than what you’d expect. It behaves a bit like Mirror’s Edge in that the camera bobs up and down, and you can see Lara’s hands move in front of you. If you try to do a somersault – the camera will rotate along with it as well. What makes the firstperson mode a bit more convincing is the new self-shadowing effects that have been added.

Extra features

To access these settings, while the game is running, go to the RetroArch menu, and select 'Quick Menu -> Options'.
To access these settings, while the game is running, go to the RetroArch menu, and select ‘Quick Menu -> Options’.
  • You can increase the resolution all the way up to 2560×1440. Higher resolution modes might become available as time goes on.
  • The OpenLara core is framerate-independent. Go┬áto Quick Menu -> Options, change ‘Framerate’ to the value you desire, and then restart the core. You can run OpenLara at 30fps / 60fps / 90fps / 120fps / 144fps. The default framerate is 60fps.
  • You can turn the advanced water effects off if you so desire. Go to Quick Menu -> Options,┬áchange ‘Water effects’ to ON/OFF, and then restart the core. You can also turn on/off bilinear filtering similarly.

Unimplemented

There are still some things which are not fully implemented in this version.  Some examples include:

  • Save states are not implemented. And savestates don’t seem to be implemented in upstream either, so not much that can be done about it at this stage.
  • As mentioned before, this is still more of a tech demo project. You cannot complete any Tomb Raider game right now from beginning to end; you can only play individual levels.
  • The analog sticks are currently unbound. It might be a good idea to bind camera manipulation to the second analog stick.
  • There are no mouse controls. The standalone version does have this. We will try to hook this up as well later.

Still coming up!

Still yet to be released shortly (in the next few days) is:

  • Dolphin (Gamecube/Wii emulator, with Gamecube-only controls at first)

This will probably coincide with a new version of RetroArch, version 1.6.1. Stay tuned!