higan is a multi-system emulator that began development as “bsnes” on October 14th, 2004. The purpose of higan is to serve as hardware documentation in source code form: it is meant to be as accurate and complete as possible, with code that is easy to read and understand.
It was originally developed by byuu, but in March 2020 it was handed over to the community. higan-the-project encompasses the forks and variants released as byuu and ares. It is available under the GNU GPL version 3 or later.
As of the final release, higan supported these systems:
Famicom emulation in higan is very mature, including full support for the MMC5, Sunsoft-5B (and its YM2149), VRC6 (and its custom sound chip), VRC7 (and its YM2413), and many more. Even the recent VRC5 is supported.
The key weakness in the Famicom core is currently the reliance upon iNES mappers, which lack all of the necessary information to determine how to emulate certain games. A database will be needed to fully support all games, which at this time I have not yet created.
Further, higan does not have support for unofficial mappers, which limits its use with many Chinese software titles.
The Famicom Disk System is also supported, including its custom FM synthesis sound channel. Images in higan use the raw digital format of these disks, which include padding and checksum information. Using icarus, FDS images stored with this information trimmed off can be imported, and the missing data regenerated.
The Super Famicom is the most well-emulated system in higan, on account of the entire project being an evolution upon what was originally bsnes, to which more emulators were added at later dates.
Every single component is emulated at the raw clock level, every coprocessor is implemented using LLE (low-level emulation) techniques, and this core has received extensive testing over the past 15+ years by thousands of players.
Currently, there are zero known bugs in higan’s SNES emulation, and I work tirelessly to ensure that continues to remain the case as often as possible.
I know of no SNES emulation more complete than this.
As a fun bit of history, I once led a project in 2011 to decap every SNES coprocessor to extract and emulate its firmware, rather than continue relying on the pre-existing HLE (high-level emulation) that was used in previous SNES emulators.
higan and bsnes are the only two true Super Game Boy emulators that fully emulate the SNES side of the system, which is required for 100% of the available functionality to operate correcttly.
higan’s Super Game Boy emulation is powered through its own Game Boy emulation core.
higan’s Game Boy emulation is only roughly middle-of-the-road. The Game Boy is deceptively one of the hardest systems to emulate accurately, considering the myriad of subtle hardware revisions all with their own bizarre quirks and edge cases.
That said, it’s enough to run once-difficult games such as Pinball Fantasies, and recent work has improved the emulation by a good margin, so it’s not a bad choice by any means.
The Game Boy Color is also supported, along with a relatively decent simulation of the unusual color profile of the system.
Like with the Game Boy core, more work is needed to really refine the accuracy of this system as well.
higan is roughly tied for the most accurate timing emulation for the Game Boy Advance, with extensive effort placed into ROM prefetch emulation, and the only pixel-based renderer in a GBA core.
But as a result, it’s also one of the more demanding cores, and it’s still not perfect.
A major factor that holds back higan’s GBA emulation is the lack of a games database for the various save types used by games. The built-in heuristics fail on games that intentionally try to fool emulation attempts. Overriding the heuristics manually is possible through custom manifest files, but that is far from user-friendly or intuitive.
higan doesn’t actually emulate a full-on GameCube this time around (yet?), but it does emulate the serial communication protocol to provide working rumble controller emulation for games that support it, which is really the only useful thing the Game Boy Player does. It’s sadly not nearly as cool as the Super Game Boy was in terms of adding new functionality to games.
The SG-1000 is emulated relatively well, and is very simple hardware. There’s a few edge cases that don’t work yet, but nearly all games should run very well.
The SC-3000 is not as well supported, as the computer-specific portions are not really emulated. I haven’t decided how far I want to go in emulating this system, but the basics are in place at least.
The Master System is very well emulated, including full support for the YM2413 FM synthesis audio expansion used by game titles such as Phantasy Star.
The Game Gear is also fully supported and highly compatible.
Mega Drive emulation is in its relatively early stages.
It has extremely cycle accurate 68K and Z80 emulation, as well as very high-quality PSG and YM2612 emulation, but the lack of VDP FIFO timing emulation holds it back a bit from the more demanding demoscene software out there.
The audio is a particular point of pride in any case, modeling very closely to real hardware using Artemio’s MDFourier analysis software.
higan also emulated the Game Genie and Sonic & Knuckles lock-on cart. And unique to higan, you can continually stack these cartridges as many times as you like, forming the infamous “tower of power” – there’s even an easter egg that emulates the effects you would see if you stacked too many cartridges together on a real system. Try it to find out what it is!
If Mega Drive is in its early stages, Mega CD emulation is in its alpha stages.
Still, it’s far enough along to play my favorite two video games of all time: Lunar: The Silver Star and Lunar 2: Eternal Blue.
I ended up going down quite a rabbit hole when it comes to emulating the CD drive for this system, aiming to support the native lead-in TOC from CDs that is missing from formats like BIN/CUE, I provide real emulation of the Reed-Solomon Product Codes that exist within data track sectors, and I even emulate the CD audio pre-emphasis flag.
However, arguably the third best game on the system, Popful Mail, currently does not boot, so there is still work to be done on this core for sure.
Fun history fact: the first time I considered getting involved in the emulation scene was 1998, where it was my dream to be able to emulate the Mega CD, which at the time was but a pipe dream to everyone.
It may have taken me 20 years to get there, but I did ultimately manage to (mostly) get there!
More than with any other core, I could desperately use help in improving higan’s Mega CD emulation. Weighing in at a staggering three CPUs, two video chipsets, and four audio chipsets, debugging issues in Mega CD emulation is a true challenge, made worse by there being zero mature emulator debuggers for this system with which to compare my emulation against to look for potential problems.
If you can help, please get in touch with me via the social media contact buttons above, thanks!
PC Engine support is rather robust, with nearly all games being fully playable. There are certainly edge cases that could use work here, but for general gameplay things work quite well.
The way I emulate the video is rather complex: the PC Engine actually has the equivalent of video monitor modelines, which let you position and stretch the screen in various different ways. The low-level emulation of these tends to be rather demanding, and it also results in the overscan areas being visible, which is why in the screenshots for this system the video is not centered.
For PC Engine games, I simulate the PC Engine CD peripheral being attached, to give each game 2KB of BRAM (backup RAM) for game saves. Each game gets its own unique copy of BRAM, so you can save your progress in games like Neutopia and Neutopia II without the need for passwords or save states.
The SuperGrafx is also well supported with full compatibility for the entire library of … five software titles. Seriously.
It is however likely the most demanding core in higan on account of it taking the already complex PC Engine graphics chip, adding a second one, and then adding a complicated third chip to merge the two graphics chip outputs into one onscreen result. So much engineering effort for so few games.
PC Engine CD emulation is planned for a future release, but is currently not supported, sorry.
MSX emulation is far from state-of-the-art, and only cartridge-based games that do not use mappers are currently supported.
Even with just this, it’s enough to run a surprisingly large amount of software.
The MSX2 and its much more advanced graphics chipset is also supported.
The MSX2+ is not supported, and there are currently no plans to support it.
The MSX turbo-R is not supported, and the odds of it ever being supported are extremely slim, sorry.
The ColecoVision is emulated well enough. I really only added this core because the processers used are identical to the Master System and MSX. Because hey, why not?
I don’t have any plans to support the Coleco Adam at this time, but maybe one day if I have absolutely nothing else to work on.
Neo Geo Pocket emulation has never really advanced in the entire emulation scene much beyond the absolute basics, but I’ve still done my best to advance the state of the art here, and while my compatibility may not be as high yet, I do believe I have the most accurate emulation of the original hardware.
I spent months painstakingly going through the TMP95C061F datasheet and emulating every last feature that was even remotely feasible (which means there are still features that aren’t … I could write a book at how over-engineered the SoC that powers the Neo Geo Pocket is.)
As a sign of its timing accuracy, higan is currently the only Neo Geo Pocket emulator to play mic’s YM chiptune emulator homebrew correctly.
higan supports full emulation of the system BIOS, rather than relying on HLE (high-level emulation) techniques.
The Neo Geo Pocket Color is of course supported as well.
The WonderSwan is another oft-neglected system in the emulation world, but I do feel that higan’s emulation of this system is very complete. I even optionally display the system status icons that are found on the real WonderSwan hardware.
Screen rotation plays heavily into the WonderSwan library, and higan offers both automatic and manual screen rotation with automatic transposing of inputs, so that you don’t have to map inputs in both portrait and landscape orientations.
Recently, I paid out a $1,000 bounty to furrtek to extract the boot ROMs from this system so that we could emulate the startup splash screen and system settings menu for more faithful emulation. higan is currently the only emulator to support these boot ROMs.
The WonderSwan Color is also fully supported.
The SwanCrystal is mostly just the WonderSwan Color with a better LCD panel (though still no backlight, sadly.) However, there are a few small changes that higan also emulates, including a slightly different boot ROM.
This was an educational system released by Benesse, but since it uses the same underlying hardware as the WonderSwan, I went ahead and supported it for completeness.
It bypasses the boot ROM, removes the system status icons, and changes all of the input buttons to new meanings. The cartridge slot is also modified slightly.