Words On Wednesday

Emulation on the PlayStation Portable

I hope my Facebook friends will forgive me for one final (maybe) post about Earthbound.

The Tale of the Earthbound Emulation and the Missing Backup

I’ve had the itch to play Earthbound for several weeks now, and I finally succeeded in satisfying that urge.

For anyone not familiar with the name, Earthbound is a game on the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) that has a long standing reputation of one of the most unique games of all time. It’s weird, it’s fun, it’s poignant, it’s just unique. I first heard of it several years ago, some time between 2004 and 2006 roughly. I tried it out, and found it very fun. As I often do, I eventually stopped playing because I got distracted with something else.

Through the years, I’ve started the game again probably 3 or 4 times, but still never finished it. Every time I’ve played it has been in emulated form. The first time was on an original Xbox modified to play ROMs from a hard drive. The next time I started it was on the family desktop once I decided to tinker with emulation on my own. After that, I started over on my laptop during my second year of college. Most recently, I loaded a Super Nintendo emulator on my phone and began anew once again. Every time I played it, I would stop playing somewhere between Threed and Fourside. Each of these experiences was separated by enough time and technological advancement that I would misplace the ROM and saved game file each time, resulting in having to reprocure the ROM online and starting the game over.

Listening to the Earthbound soundtrack over the past week or so (yes, I listen to video game soundtracks. Don’t judge me), I was hit with the desire to play the game again. This time, I decided I would be smart and grab my save file from the last time I played in order to continue where I left off. With the last play attempt being on my Nexus 4, I was sure there would be a  backup of it somewhere. I may have broken the phone, but I remembered flashing stock on it sometime in December, at which point I would definitely have grabbed a full backup. If I remembered correctly, it would’ve been before then that I played Earthbound on the device.

Cue detective montage. I started searching for that last backup. I have a few backups on my Google Drive, but apparently none for my Android devices. The next logical place would be my external hard drive, which I keep in my messenger bag. I popped it into my computer and did searches for “Earthbound,” “Mother” (which is the original Japanese name for Earthbound), and “ROM.” No dice. Well, I actually did the maintenance from my wife’s computer, maybe I saved it there? I grabbed her laptop and did a C: drive search for the same keywords, plus “Nexus.” No luck on her computer either.

At this point, I began to sincerely doubt my mental integrity. I may not be the best about performing regular backups to my devices, but I ALWAYS do a backup before I make any major changes. Flashing AOSP to a phone may not wipe the storage, but it’s big enough that I would have made a backup. Why in the world could I not find it? Did I even make one?

Accepting that I may have simply never done the backup, I started investigating alternative ways of getting a backup with a broken digitizer. The touch screen is completely unresponsive below roughly the midpoint of the phone, and only accepts touch inputs sparingly in the top half. Luckily, I did have USB Debugging turned on when the phone was broken. Unluckily, it still had a pattern unlock enabled and I couldn’t touch anywhere on the pattern area of the screen.

Numerous sources online mentioned a variety of different tactics to get through a pattern lock with a broken digitizer. One of the most common methods mentioned was using a USB Mouse. Sounded like a great idea until I realized the Nexus 4 doesn’t support USB Mice. Another frequent suggestion for those with USB Debugging turned on was to use ADB commands to “bypass” the pattern lock. I use quotes because this simply makes the device accept ANY pattern input. The problem is that I can’t touch anywhere on the pattern. If I could even tap a single dot on the pattern area, I could get in. You better believe, I started mashing on every dot as hard as I could, hoping for some sort of success. Alas, it was not to be. As far as I could find, not a single method would let me get through my lock screen.

Accepting defeat, I decided I would download the ROM again and start over. I visited the website of my favorite ROM supplier, CoolROM. Oddly, I didn’t see links for the SNES section of ROM files. I searched for “Earthbound,” and clicked the link for it. Instead of finding a download for the file, I discovered a disclaimer indicating that Nintendo had requested the download be removed. My stomach dropped. CoolROM had been my main source of ROMs since… 2010? A good while, at least. Sure, I could probably find the ROM from other sites or maybe torrent it, but… CoolROM just seemed so more legitimate and official than anywhere else. I had no fear of malware when using CoolROM.

I was absolutely stunned. No more CoolROM. What was I to do? I had already searched for Earthbound on my external drive, but I plugged it back in and began manually sifting through all the files. It had to be somewhere. Maybe I named it something different. Eventually, when I had come up with nothing, I decided that the Earthbound ROM and my Nexus 4 backup in general were nowhere to be found on the external.

The next place that I would likely be able to find old files from my previous electronic devices would probably be my desktop back at my grandparents’ house. As far as I could remember, I had moved everything over to it from my old laptops and whatnot before I got the external. I connected via Chrome Remote Desktop and opened the C: drive, searching for “Earthbound” for what seemed like the 50th time. Realizing that searching on the C: drive of a computer that probably had hundreds of gigs of junk on it would take forever, I disconnected in order to conserve mobile data. This was Monday, immediately after I got off work.

A few minutes later, I connected again to see if there had been any hits on the search. The entire window was completely filled with files and folders containing the term “Earthbound.” Of course, several were related to the soundtrack, where I originally downloaded it and later grabbed an entire backup of my music library. But wait! Lo and behold, there sat a file within a folder named “Nexus 4 Backup 12-1-2014.” Why was there a… wait. When I flashed stock on my phone, I tried it at first on my desktop, then on my wife’s laptop because the drivers weren’t configured properly and I didn’t want to deal with them at the time. Apparently I had made the backup then, and didn’t bother making another backup on the laptop because I already had one on the desktop. I KNEW I wouldn’t have done that without making a backup.

Ecstatic from finding both a full Nexus 4 backup AND the Earthbound ROM and save file, I immediately started uploading the entire backup to my Google Drive. Transferring files via Remote Desktop is cumbersome and annoying, plus I’d rather have them available to multiple computers.

With my saved game being uploaded to the cloud, I pondered what platform I could play it on. My phone was an option, but I absolutely HATE playing games with touch screen controls. Perhaps I’m simply an old man, but I’d much rather have a physical controller with buttons I have to press down. I don’t know if Chrome OS has any emulators currently, but that’s not quite as portable as I’d like anyway. Having it on my 3DS would be perfect (honestly, I’d be willing to BUY it and start new if Nintendo put Earthbound officially on the 3DS), but I don’t know that I would be able to emulate on it.

Then, I recalled a coworker having several emulators on his PSP (PlayStation Portable). He had one of the 1000 models, which apparently had fewer limitations on installing emulators, but I could at least investigate what my 3000 model might be capable of. I came across a reddit thread about using the PSP 3000 for emulation, and user /u/Sexylisk gave step by step instructions on how to install a custom firmware with links to all the necessary downloads. Still uncertain, I started to reply to his comment with some questions when I noticed that the thread was a year old and thus archived.

http://www.reddit.com/r/emulation/comments/1hez96/is_a_psp_3000_worth_it_for_emulation/catomvk

I didn’t want to risk bricking or otherwise destroying my PSP. Though I haven’t played it much recently, I had quite a bit of saved data and numerous games on it. I decided to shoot a private message to Sexylisk just for kicks and giggles. In the message, I told him my current situation and asked if he (or maybe she?) had any recommendations or reservations about emulating on the PSP 3000. Within a few hours, I had a response strongly encouraging me to proceed with the simple steps and an offer for help if I got stuck along the way.

Just to be safe, I made a backup of all the data on my PSP (like I normally would), zipped up the folder, and uploaded it to Google Drive. I went through the steps, and sure enough, I had the PRO PSP custom firmware installed in no time. Using the USB connection, I threw the Earthbound ROM and save on the root of the PSP and tried to access it. Strangely, the PSP recognized it as corrupted data. I asked my coworker about it and he informed me that emulators weren’t baked into the custom firmware, they had to be installed separately.

With a quick Google search, I identified a popular PSP SNES emulator as SNES9X Euphoria. I grabbed the latest version of the beta from February 2011 and unzipped it to the Games folder of my PSP, putting the ROM and save files in their proper locations. I then tried again to load up the game. Sure enough, everything loaded smooth as silk. I was picking up right where I left off the last time I played on my phone. Awesome. You know, it’s the simple things in life. Playing an old Super Nintendo game on my PSP with PHYSICAL BUTTONS like it SHOULD BE PLAYED. Stuff like that just makes me all warm and fuzzy inside.

Some of you may be asking, “Why don’t you just get the original cartridge version of the game to play?” Couple of problems with that idea, killer. First, that requires having a Super Nintendo console. I haven’t seen one since… some time around 2000, maybe? A long time ago. That would require me purchasing one for a single game. Not only that, but my PSP is far more portable than a SNES and I already have it in my possession. Second, have you seen the price that Earthbound cartridges fetch? I’ve seen some as high as $800. Do you know what I can do with that much money? A lot. Much more than just getting a ROM for free and loading it onto a device I already own.

The true Nintendo fans out there might know that Earthbound is officially on the WiiU. Why don’t I just get it on there? Because I don’t own a WiiU, and I’m not getting one for a while. I eventually want to get one, sure. I’ll get the latest Mario Kart, Mario Party, Zelda when it comes out, all that good stuff. But I’m not getting one right now when I’m trying to finish all my PS3 and Wii games, just because I want to play Earthbound. As I said before, I would gladly purchase the game if they ported it to 3DS. Until then, I’ll stick with emulation.

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