While we all know that original hardware is best (and dedicated hardware that pays homage to the conventions of original hardware is almost as good), it remains desirable for many retro gaming enthusiasts to have at least one “retro box” within easy reach.
Up until now, my main living room PC has fulfilled this role very well, thanks to a hodgepodge collection of emulators I’ve acquired over the years, plus the excellent Launchbox to keep things organised. This has worked absolutely fine for me for a while now, allowing me to dip into a vast library of digitally preserved games across a variety of platforms whenever I feel like it — and, rather helpfully for what I do here, easily capture video and take screenshots. But then I got a PlayStation Classic for Christmas.
I’m not one of those people who gets a new mini console and immediately wants to hack it to pieces in order to completely destroy its individuality and uniqueness — my PC Engine Mini is staying pristine, for example. But in the case of the PlayStation Classic, I’d seen numerous people online saying that it made a particularly good multi-purpose “retro box”. So I decided to investigate.
From what I could make out, there were several possible ways to add new stuff to the PlayStation Classic’s built-in lineup of 20 games, each with their own benefits. But most people seemed to think that an option known as “BleemSync” (presumably named after the legendary commercial PlayStation emulator from the late ’90s) was the most reliable — and, crucially, non-destructive — approach to making your PlayStation Classic do things beyond what it was capable of out of the box.
BleemSync, for one reason or another, was discontinued, and subsequently begat “Project Eris”, which has expanded BleemSync’s original functionality quite considerably. It’s also not quite as non-destructive as it used to be, as it now requires the installation of a small “payload” into the PlayStation Classic’s internal storage in order to function — but without triggering Project Eris, said payload is invisible, and the PlayStation Classic will operate just as if it were a stock machine. The initial install process also takes a backup of the base kernel, so you can undo the whole process if you ever need to.
Installing Project Eris proved to be pretty straightforward, and the ModMyClassic website behind the system helpfully provides comprehensive instructions for how to get it up and running. Pleasingly, these instructions are written by a human being rather than a computer programmer, and make absolutely no assumptions about you knowing how to parse a Git page or faff around with command line tools.
The one important consideration when applying the initial Project Eris patch is the fact that the PlayStation Classic’s USB ports are notoriously low power, and as such certain USB drives won’t work properly. (A Sandisk Cruzer Blade or Fit is a reliable choice if you’re in the market for a new one.) Thankfully, the ones I had lying around my house were more than up to the task, and things went without a hitch.
Once everything is up and running, booting the PlayStation Classic with the Project Eris USB drive inserted will boot to the main Project Eris menu; booting it without will simply boot to the stock PlayStation Classic interface. Simple, but one snag: having the USB stick in the second controller port prevents you from playing any two-player games.
There are two ways around this: firstly, making use of a USB hub — in which case you’ll want to use one with external power, as the aforementioned low power of the PlayStation Classic’s ports won’t be self-sufficient enough to drive a hub — or alternatively, you can take the recommended choice of using an “On-The-Go” or “OTG” cable.
I’d not heard of these prior to going through this process, and they’re peculiar little things. Essentially they’re a little splitter plug with several branches: one plugs into the back of the PlayStation Classic (or whatever other device you’re using it with) where you’d normally plug in the micro-USB end of the power cable; one has a micro-USB socket where you plug in the USB power adapter; and one has a full-size USB port. By making use of one of these, you’re essentially adding a third, fully powered USB port to the system. Perfect for, say, running a USB drive. And the advantage of using one of these is that you’re not limited to just the low-powered devices you need to use during installation — that means, in theory, you could even plug in a full-on USB hard drive or SSD rather than a USB stick if you really wanted to.
There’s another important consideration here that doesn’t get talked about much. The PlayStation Classic doesn’t actually come with a USB plug, just the micro-USB cable — the assumption, as with most other mini consoles, being that you already have a mountain of unused USB adapters from all your mobile phones from over the years. Most 5-volt USB adapters will boot the PlayStation Classic just fine, but adding an OTG adapter into the mix demands a little more electrical current than normal. If your USB adapter doesn’t quite provide enough current, you run the risk of the PlayStation Classic shutting down in the middle of gameplay, usually after around 45 minutes to an hour or so.
This can be avoided by making use of a USB adapter that specifically provides more than 2 amps of current, but still runs at 5 volts. This 2.4 amp Anker charger is recommended by many users, for example (and indeed I use this, with no issues to date) — though if you do use this one, make sure you don’t plug anything into the other USB port on it, as that will pinch half the current for itself!
You’ll want to specifically avoid things like OnePlus’ “Dash” chargers, which offer variable amperage up to a potential maximum well above what the PlayStation Classic needs, but which cannot be controlled effectively by the PlayStation Classic power circuits. And definitely steer well clear of Samsung’s fast chargers, which can vary their voltage; while in theory they contain tech to prevent the wrong voltage being supplied to a device, it’s best not to take the risk.
Once you’ve got all this sorted — and while it can be a bit of a faff to get all the bits required, it’s worth doing — then you can set about the important task of filling your new retro box with goodies. Now, we all know the usual disclaimers about ROMs and disc images and whatnot so I’m not going to repeat all that here; I’m also not going to provide links to any, but if this is the sort of project you’re interested in, you probably already know where to find them. So we’re all good.
Anyway. There are two main ways of getting stuff onto a new Project Eris-equipped machine, and it depends on if they’re PlayStation games, or if they’re ROMs for other platforms. PlayStation games simply need copying from your computer into the “transfer” folder Project Eris creates in the root of the USB drive. Once they’re in there, the next time you start up the PlayStation Classic with the Project Eris drive inserted, the games in the Transfer folder will be parsed and moved into the appropriate locations. Project Eris comes with artwork and metadata for pretty much every PlayStation game that ever exists, so you’ll find things like the box art, title, date and other information automatically populated without you having to do anything — it simply recognises which game is which from the signature of the disc images. Clever!
Project Eris can accept most ways you’ll find PlayStation games ripped or distributed these days, but the .bin/.cue combination seems to be the most reliable. There are comprehensive instructions on ModMyClassic’s website about how to handle games with multiple discs, or those which use Redbook CD audio; the latter in particular has a strict filename convention, so this is definitely worth paying attention to.
One issue I found with the transfer process is that it would consistently fail every time if the USB drive I was using was formatted in NTFS format, which Project Eris claims to support. Reformatting the drive to exFAT format and trying again worked perfectly, so I strongly recommend using an exFAT format drive from the beginning.
ROMs for other systems are straightforward, too. In this instance, all you need to do is look in the “roms” folder on the root of the USB drive, find the appropriate folder for the relevant system and drop the ROMs in there. You can then open up either RetroArch or its friendlier front-end Emulation Station from the Project Eris boot menu, and access all the games you’ve installed from there. You may find in the case of a couple of systems that you need to make a tweak or two to Emulation Station’s configuration files to point at the appropriate RetroArch emulation core — most notably, the default Emulation Station installation included with Project Eris has the wrong emulator configured for Neo Geo games by default — but for the most part everything “just works”, which is always nice.
Emulation Station’s default theme is ugly as sin, so it’s worth downloading some additional themes; these are a pain in the arse to get hold of, though, since they’re mostly distributed through Github. I’ll provide you with a link to this Reddit thread that provides a selection of various themes; explaining how to use Git is a bit beyond what I’m doing here, though, and I’m not convinced I really understand it myself, either. I somehow got a nice “Pixel” theme on mine, though.
The final thing you might want to do is make use of a “Scraper” to automatically populate the images and metadata for the games you load into Emulation Station. This can be done in one of two ways: firstly, by plugging in a USB network adapter to the PlayStation Classic via some means, you can get Emulation Station to do all the hard work for you, though this is probably the slowest way of doing it. Alternatively, you can do it on your computer using a piece of software such as Skraper. Run Skraper, point it at your “roms” folder on the USB drive and leave it to it — though note the Screen Scraper database Skraper pulls from only allows 20,000 requests per day, so if you have a lot of ROMs you may not be able to do them all in one go. Again, this takes quite some time, so leave it running overnight.
Once you’re all done, you have a fully functional (and easily portable) “retro box” you can play pretty much anything up to the PlayStation on. Some people claim to have got Dreamcast emulation working effectively on the PlayStation Classic, but I would take this with a pinch of salt. Likewise, notoriously difficult to emulate systems such as the Sega Saturn and Atari Jaguar are best avoided — as are home computers or consoles with keypads such as the Intellivision, Colecovision and Atari 5200, unless you plan on plugging in a USB keyboard as well. But all the “big names” in consoles and handhelds work just fine, whether it’s Atari 2600 or Neo Geo. (Though in the latter case, note that Neo Geo ROMs are notoriously temperamental, so don’t be surprised if a significant number of games simply refuse to work at all.)
It was a bit of initial effort to get Project Eris up and running and populate it with games, but that effort was very much worth it. The fact I now have a box full of great games that can easily be moved from room to room as required (or even taken to a friend’s house — that is if we’re ever allowed to go outside ever again) is a wonderful thing. And while the PlayStation Classic’s emulation performance will never be up to that of a dedicated FPGA solution such as a MiSTer, it definitely does a perfectly acceptable job for the vast majority of things you’d care to throw at it.
While, as previously noted, modding a system like this is not something I’d normally encourage, the PlayStation Classic is an ideal candidate given its comparatively weak lineup of included games, and its potential to do so much more than what it offers straight out of the box. If you’ve been considering doing something like putting together a RetroPie setup for your retro gaming, a Project Eris-equipped PlayStation Classic does the job just as well, and may even work out a bit cheaper, depending on if you can still find any of those super-cheap units that were out there a while back.
Me? I’m just happy I get to play Final Fantasy V in bed — as well as a convenient means of reliving a bunch of very fond teenage memories from a variety of console platforms!
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