Why PlayStation 2 Emulator PCSX2 Has Dropped 32-Bit Support And Added DirectX 12

hero okami ps2 pcsx2
The PlayStation 2 stands as one of the most successful game platforms of all time. In fact, it is actually the best-selling game console of all time, moving over 155 million units in total. It has a massive library of more than 3800 games, and many of the biggest franchises of today made their debut on the PS2.

With that in mind, if you're not into retro gaming, or simply not into old console game system emulators, it may surprise you to hear that the status of emulation for the PlayStation 2 is actually behind that of newer systems, like the Wii U, the PlayStation 3, and even the current-generation Nintendo Switch.

There are a lot of reasons for this, related to both the extremely esoteric PlayStation 2 hardware as well as improved (or improved availability of) documentation for newer systems. It's also partially because progress on the most promising PlayStation 2 emulator, PCSX2, stagnated for some years.

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Don't get us wrong: PCSX2 is an amazing piece of software that plays the overwhelming majority of the PlayStation 2's library. Still, compared to other popular emulators for big game systems, it does feel a little lacking. That's changing recently, though; PCSX2 has started to shed some of its decades-old cruft and is moving into the modern era.

Most recently, the PCSX2 team has announced that the emulator will be fully embracing a 64-bit codebase while dropping support for 32-bit systems, and that it will also be adding a Direct3D 12 renderer. The former is unilaterally good news; almost nobody's been buying 32-bit PCs for quite some time now, yet if you wanted a 64-bit build of PCSX2 before this year, you had to either build it yourself, or find buggy nightly releases.

phantasy star universe pcsx2 emulator

The reasoning behind the addition of DX12 support is more interesting. PCSX2 has had OpenGL and Direct3D 11 graphics backends for a very long time. For most cases the OpenGL renderer was considered the superior option for NVIDIA users, but AMD's poor OpenGL performance left Radeon faithful disappointed, and while the Direct3D 11 backend runs better there, it isn't quite as compatible as the OpenGL backend.

So, early this year, PCSX2 added a Vulkan backend that, in theory, should be the best option on all platforms. Unfortunately, Intel's Vulkan driver is kind of crappy and broken. Developers from other emulator software, including Yuzu Emulator, have also voiced their frustrations with Intel's Vulkan driver.

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Final Fantasy 7: Dirge of Cerberus was never released anywhere but PS2.

We might not think of Intel Graphics as being used for gaming, but the reality is that Intel ships a ton of GPUs, and they're plenty fast to run PlayStation 2 games. As a way to work around the Vulkan issues on Intel GPUs, PCSX2 has gone and implemented a full Direct3D 12 backend, as well.

Ironically, there are apparently still some issues on Intel GPUs even in Direct3D 12, but PCSX2 developer stenzek seems to think that these issues are actually due to bugs in the emulator. The Direct3D 12 backend also apparently gives better performance on AMD hardware "in some games," although this is largely an academic concern for any remotely-modern discrete Radeon card.

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Even the latest beta builds don't include the Direct3D 12 renderer yet.

If you're keen to try out PCSX2 for yourself, keep in mind that you'll need your own copy of the PlayStation 2 BIOS ROM, dumped from your own console. Also, be aware that these features are still bleeding-edge and will not be in the latest stable release, or even recent nightly builds. You'll probably want to build the project yourself—or just hold off a bit, as it seems like there's more fixes in the pipeline.