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How To Play Retro Games On Your Modern Mac With OpenEmu

The Legend of Zelda and Megaman 2 on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). F-Zero and Street Fighter II: Turbo on the Super NES. Altered Beast and Strider on the Sega Genesis. If you have a Mac and have fond memories of previous game consoles, read on.

As companies leave older consoles or new operating systems make programs and ROMs unplayable, it has become imperative not to store digital copies of games anywhere else. There are a number of ways to enjoy the old games of your childhood – including creating your own console – but the most accessible is the Emulator, a program that lets you play any game under any operating system.

Websites like the Internet Archive and GOG.com are doing an important job to make sure these titles do not disappear. The vintage emulator scene is also evolving: the Internet is littered with dozens of programs that promise different results, and not all ROMs are compatible with current operating systems. Worse yet, the focus seems to be on emulating games with your Windows PC, but what if you have a Mac?

Do not despair, because OpenEmu is the perfect solution for classic cars who just happen to prefer a MacOS environment.

OpenEmu to the rescue

OpenEmu was released in 201

3 and is actually not an emulator. Instead, it's a sturdy front end for other console emulators. In itself this is nothing new; Frontends have been around for a long time. OpenEmu is different in that it works like an optimized iTunes – if iTunes was fluid and fast, not sluggish, confusing and on the way out.

 OpenEmu 19659002] For example, OpenEmu shows you Box Art for each of your games and automatically sorts them by platform. It lets you create playlists of your favorite games across categories across platforms and universalize controller schemas for each emulated system, all with an easy-to-understand and attractive interface. OpenEmu does not work for computer platforms – you still need separate emulators, such as the Atari 800 or 1040ST. But for game consoles it is excellent. And this time it's an exclusive Mac.


Best of all, OpenEmu takes care of the core emulation engines behind every platform. When I think of a frontend, I usually think of a program that I need to install next to a base emulator. But OpenEmu does it all for you and comes with built-in cores for popular systems that you can download at the click of a mouse.

If you want to play with OpenEmu, you want the experimental version. This sounds dangerous, but in this case it only means that the platform compatibility has been greatly expanded. Go to OpenEmu.org and under the "Download" button, click "Experimental."

Download ROMs

OpenEmu can play games, but you will have to download them separately. Before we continue here, we must issue a standard disclaimer: It is generally illegal to own ROMs from any particular arcade machine, cassette, or CD-ROM unless you own that product. In reality, however, it is a gray area – especially for titles that are not available in any other way.


We can not create a direct link to ROM sites here, but they are pretty easy to find. OpenEmu supports games for various Atari consoles, Game Boy, NES, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 64, Sega Genesis, Sony PlayStation, Sony PSP, Super Nintendo and others. Once you've found your ROMs, go to the App Store and download The Unarchiver. This is a free program that will allow you to open your ROM packages.

You can add games to OpenEmu by dragging a ROM into the main interface window. OpenEmu searches the web for Box Art, but if it does not find one, use Google Image Search to find your own. Download it to your desktop and drag the graphic onto the multicolored image above the ROM. The new picture replaces it.

You do not want to mess around with ROMs? In fact, OpenEmu includes a decent number of custom games that are designed to look and feel like a classic console version. Open the program's main menu and select the Homebrew tab to see the list of available games. Classic Kong Complete, Pac-Man Collection, Super Bat Puncher and many others seem to belong to your old school collection.

Controller Setup

That's all well and good, but why play those great games with your Mac's keyboard, if you can get it right with the right controllers ? OpenEmu indicates that it is compatible with any HID compatible USB or Bluetooth game controller.

OpenEmu also automatically assigns controls for PlayStation Dualshock 3 and 4, Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, and many other legacy systems. Xbox One controllers are compatible through a downloadable driver.

 OpenEmu Controller

If you have a compatible controller, configure it by clicking OpenEmu> Settings> Controls . From there you will see a wooden wallpaper with a drop-down menu to select the systems. When you select a system, on the left side you will see the console controls with a matching controller image.

Then connect your USB controller or connect via Bluetooth and click the Input menu under the Gameplay Buttons menu to select the USB controller. Now click in each field and assign the action to the corresponding button on your controller. This will ensure that your controller is properly assigned to the controls of the game, regardless of which system the game is intended for.

Recommended Controllers

If you do not have a compatible controller -party controller, there are many third-party USB-compatible models that you can get online for a nominal price. We were able to test some and recommend the following controllers. In any case, these options worked the first time I tried my MacBook Pro without the need for additional drivers. All I had to do was set up each one in OpenEmu.

Classic NES USB controller: As the name implies, this model copies the standard NES controller from 1985. It looks and feels good – maybe lighter than the original, but otherwise identical and button feel in order. I played several rounds with Super Mario Bros., the original Castlevania, Excitebike, Mike Tyson's Punch-Out, Contra and Ice Climber. All of them were dead.

Buffalo Classic USB Gamepad: This controller looks just like the standard Super Nintendo controller from 1991, with the exception of two extra buttons called Turbo and Clear, which you will not find in most games need. I set up this game and had no problem playing F-Zero, Street Fighter II Turbo, Super Castlevania IV and Super R-Type. Conclusion: It's not quite as tight as a brand new Nintendo SNES controller, but it's way better than a worn and certainly better than the one with the broken L button in your closet.

 Game Controller

Logitech Gamepad F310: Similar to a PlayStation 2 or PlayStation 3, this model is also suitable for emulating the original PlayStation with the two analog sticks added. It's a bit easy, but accurate enough. You will not want anything else with this model. I used this joystick to play Soul Blade and Ridge Racer on the PS1.

X-Arcade Tankstick + Trackball: This huge, expensive, venerable controller works great with every MAME emulator, including the one that comes with the experimental version of OpenEmu. It has two joysticks – which you'll need for a proper Robotron: 2084, Space Dungeon and Smash TV – and a center-mounted trackball that's great for Centipede and Missile Command Trackball for those big players Machinery.


To play, first select a console on the left side of OpenEmu, and then double-click the box graphic of your game of choice. In the standard emulators of OpenEmu the replication accuracy is excellent.

 OpenEmu Settings

During my emulator adventure, I've hit a big hook: getting Sony original PlayStation games working. This required a special ROM download in my tests, but with some back and forth I found out. You need to download and drag several BIOS files, including scph5500.bin, scph5501.bin, and scph5502.bin, and the last one can be renamed scph5552.bin if you can not find it directly.

I Also, the files had to be dragged to ~ / Library / Application Support / OpenEmu / BIOS, not just relying on OpenEmu to find them themselves before PS1 games could be played on my test computer. OpenEmu understands that multiple consoles require additional files to let the program know what you need. Go to OpenEmu> Settings> System files to determine which cores require additional BIOS files. Follow the instructions in the OpenEmu BIOS Files User's Guide.

You can also add scanlines. You'll want some sort of screen emulation that makes the game look like it's being displayed on a reduced-resolution CRT. Otherwise, it's obviously screaming on a 1080p monitor how low the resolution of all these games was.


To enable this feature, go to OpenEmu> Preferences> Gameplay and under Filter, select Scanline. I like this, but there are many other submenu options that you may find more accurate or visually appealing.

In addition to running your games through OpenEmu, the program also offers some additional features. When you're done playing for the day, save your progress on the Save Status page. OpenEmu can even automatically save for you. If you want to take screenshots while playing, use Command-T to save the screen on the screenshots page of the program.

Jason Cohen has contributed to this story.

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