Just less than a week ago our favourite PSX emulator on Android, FPSE, met a new competitor, a competitor known very well to the PC market as the best Playstation emulator out there. Does ePSXe have what it takes to steal FPSE's crown as best Playstation emulator on Android?
I've tested (and sometimes stressed) both in an head-to-head comparative article. Who is the winner? Let's have a look and see who throws the best punches in this head to head battle of heavyweights.
Round 1: First Contact - DRAW
When you run both Emus for the first time, ePSXe helloes you with a nice cyan background with its logo in the middle and four main buttons: Run Game, Run Bios, Preferences and Exit. It's a very clear interface if you ask me, way better than FPSE's one. But there's already the first problem. How can I run the BIOS if I haven't set it already? In fact, just FPSE the first time you'll run it starts a mini-wizard asking you where the BIOS is. This file is, if not mandatory, at least recommendable for the two applications to have, because without it you can't use some functions, savestates included. Another thing that has annoyed me a bit of ePSXe is that HW buttons have to be set manually for the 1st time, 'cause they're not already configured, even though every experienced programmer knows already Xplay HW keys' codes. At least, the new emulator saves configuration changes automatically when you go back to the homescreen, a good idea indeed never used on FPSE despite tons of menus full of options to change.
Running the same bios file on both the applications (You can't run it on FPSE unless you press Volume Up while loading an ISO image, explained by Shtruck in person here, wasn't a menu option more clear?), you can note that ePSXe is a bit faster to load it, thanks maybe to a better emulation of the original hardware. From a menu here you can manage (fake) Memory Cards' saves or play an audio CD (If you have it ripped on the SDcard of course, but I think mp3s are way more handy). I usually prefer to use Memory cards in place of savestates, because saved games use less space (128Ks for an entire 15 block Memory card against 1.5 megs for a single savestate) and because they were planned from the original hardware, so they're less prone to errors. Trust me, savestates are unreliable. I've thrown away around 100 Days on Gran Turismo thanks to them.
Talking about saves, I give a point to ePSXe for the nice folder configuration it creates when it's installed. If you browse the SDcard, you'll find a new folder, "ePSXe", with Bios, Sstates, Memcards & ISOs subfolders. I think that it's a great idea to save game datas on SD and it's great to have a clear layout like this one. FPSE made a similar action only recently (before that every save was seen as part of the app, so it was deleted with the app when it was uninstalled), moving every saving data folder into the SD. Unluckily you can't access this folder from your smartphone because it's dotted (the folder's name is .fpse) and Android hides these folders to the user as a standard behaviour. At least there's a data backup feature on the application that helps you to not lose your progresses, and you can change the save directory where you want to on the SD. Which is something that you can't do on ePSXe.
Round 2: Ease of Use and Games Compatibility: - DRAW
I'll repeat it again. ePSXe has a better and easier user interface thanks to a nice homescreen and near-zero options to work with. But, just like Prince used to say, "All that glitters ain't gold". If you don't have options to change, you'll have a unique configuration for every game, and every 32-bit console emulator user knows that every game needs a different configuration to do its best. Even ePSXe on PC has many plugins and options and when you play with them you could reach a better result than with default configuration. FPSE follows this road including many settings and the support for plugins, but pays that with more complications. Let's be completely sincere: the default configuration is more than enough for 90% of the cases for both these applications. But it's better to reach the top if you have the tools to make it, isn't it? Let's talk about games now, the real topic of this article. HOW these games run on these emus?
If we're talking about standard games (No Audio Tracks, No Special Controllers), no one beats ePSXe. Even though its compatibility is slightly lower than its big brother on PCs, for standard games and formats this app is the best that you can find outside an official program (PS Pocket anyone?) on Android. For example, "G-Police 2: Weapons Of Justice" doesn't work on FPSE (Extremely slow loads and hangs on start screen), instead it works without problems on ePSXe. The same is for "Bugs Bunny - Lost In Time" that has serious audio problems on Shtruck's work. When we step outside the "standard games" definition though, there are too many exceptions.
Exception #1: Analog Only Games (Ape Escape above all). ePSXe doesn't support Analog Controllers, so this game hangs on the "Please insert an Analog Controller" screen. No problems with FPSE. Hope that they'll fix it soon.
Exception #2: Guncon Games (Point Blank). Same problem just explained up here, ePSXe doesn't support the GunCon, so you can play these games just using the standard controller. Have you ever tried it? I strongly suggest you to avoid the idea at all. FPSE instead uses the touchscreen to simulate the aim of the gun, so there are no problems here too.
Exception #3: Games with multiple tracks (Data + Wave Audio: GTA, Time Crisis, Machine Hunter...almost every pre-1998 PSX game). These CDs are the worst to copy and burn, I hate them since 1997, when I tried to rip for the first time my original copy of "Overboard!". They don't follow any standard, and when ripped in bin+cue files they are often split by rip programs in a single .cue file but several .bin files that indicate the number of tracks that the original copy had (1st .bin has Data and the others have Audio). These images work flawlessly on ePSXe PC version, using the .cue file to load the image. If I try to do the same thing on Android, the same emulator hangs on a black screen. No signs of life, no help pop-ups, nothing. At least if I try to do the same thing on FPSE it tells me that to run this image I have to convert it with PocketISO using the first .bin file. After that I'll obtain a working image without music (Using only the first .bin file, you'll lose other .bin data, i.e. the in game music) that works on FPSE only, but who cares that when you reach to run your favourite game. If I have to be honest, there is a workaround for this problem: you just have to re-rip your original PSX CD in an .iso format. But no one likes .iso files and the problem still exists for bin+cue files, so forget what I wrote up here.
Round 3: Compatibility with PC Emulators - ePSXe
Every gamer has dreamed at least once in his life to begin to play at home with a PC and then to continue the same game from an handheld console when they head out (or at the toilet, but you know better than me that laptops were invented just for that). So it's necessary to know which PSX emulator for Android can make our dreams come true. For obvious reasons, you can easily imagine that ePSXe wins this round. It uses the same memory card and savestate files of the PC version, so reading PC progresses from your Xplay seems to be easy. It's not that easy instead to save handheld progresses to PC exported Memory Cards. I've experienced some hangs and problems while doing this, and I really don't know why. FPSE instead uses different savestates and Bleem! memory cards that are compatible with ePSXe only after being converted with a specific program.
Extra Round: Will the future shine for us? - DRAW
If you need some certainties for the future, I can tell you that the teams behind these great applications seem to update their creatures often enough (Even though ePSXe is still young to be sure about that). Furthermore, both the DEVs wrote that they'll take a look, amongst other things, at the HW touch analogs support for the Xperia Play on Gingerbread, here and here. Let's hope this will happen in a near future, known that Mupen64 AE has this feature already and its code is open source, so there isn't any problem to look at what Paul wrote to solve the issue.
Let me end this article with a simple sentence: no one is perfect, even if you aren't a person but an emulator. Both these programs have their pros and cons, and both try to satisfy a similar but in some aspects different audience. ePSXe is more user friendly, but lacks some options and features for demanding users that are present in its opponent. On the other way, FPSE has some important tweaks on the Android side and some others on the emulation side but it has a way too complex interface and list of options for the casual gamer (It quite reaches MAME levels in a fictional chart) and its compatibility is not as good as the one guaranteed from the newcomer. Let me remind you that the ePSXe project exists since 2000, so this problem is in some way justifiable. I'm anyway full of hope for these projects and I think that you should try both these applications before deciding which is the best for you, perhaps the below summary will help you decide which ones for you.
+ This app can be installed on the SD card and everyone knows how this is important for Xperia Play users.
+ Supports Force Feedback, Touch screen LightGun and Dual Shock pads.
- Complicated and unfreindly user interface
What I say - just continue through your path, because you have all the right support to reach great results.
+ Easy to use interface, perfect for first time emulator users
+ PC Compatible save files for taking your desktop game with you
- Basic keymapping pre-programmed for Xperia PLAY or USB game pads
What I Say - Don't rest on the laurels of a great game compatibility and a pluridecennial story full of successes, because there's still a lot of work to do on this platform.