The best way to play PS1 games on Windows with Duckstation

The best way to play PS1 games on Windows with Duckstation

Older PlayStation emulators, such as PCSX and ePSXe, can provide easy access to the popular console’s vast library of titles. Nevertheless, Duckstation demonstrates that they could be better.

Let’s see how this relatively new emulator can play almost any game from your Playstation library, with the added bonus of higher resolutions and improved graphics.

How to download and install Duckstation

Duckstation’s installation varies depending on the platform:

  • On Windows, it is delivered as a compressed archive.
  • Linux users can use the official AppImage versions or build it from source.
  • Duckstation for Android is available as a prepackaged APK file from the Google Play Store.
  • The Mac version is the latest and is officially designated as “experimental” for now.

We will use the “primary” variant, the Windows version, for this article. Everything we will see, apart from the installation method, should (more or less) apply to the other versions.

  1. Go to Duckstation’s official Github page and download the app. Duckstation doesn’t include an installer, so just extract the archive to a folder of your choice.
  2. Find Duckstation’s executable in that folder. It should look like duckstation-qt-x64-ReleaseLTCG.exe.
  3. Right-click the file and, while holding down the right mouse button, drag and drop it to the desktop to create a shortcut. This eliminates the need to search for the executable file when you want to play your favorite game on PlayStation.
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How to import your games to Duckstation

When you run the Duckstation executable, you will see a simple and uninteresting window. And yet this simple window will soon become your portal to your entire Playstation library.

Duckstation main window before configuration

Duckstation, like many other PlayStation emulators, requires the console’s original BIOS for full compatibility with the titles. We won’t go over how to get it in this guide, but the official and legal way is to “dump” your own PlayStation console’s BIOS.

But if you’ve previously used PlayStation emulators like PCSX or ePSXe (which we saw in our article on how to play PlayStation (PS1) games on your PC), you already have that file. In our case, we imported the same BIOS files we used with ePSXe into Duckstation.

  1. Select BIOS from Duckstation Settings Menu.
    Duckstation Menu BIOS Entry
  2. Navigate to BIOS directory and choose Scroll through. Point Duckstation to the folder containing your BIOS files.
    Duckstation Settings BIOS Directory

After that you are all set and ready to start playing. Still, it also means you have some games.

You can load PS1 games individually, but Duckstation is much easier to use if you batch import everything in your collection. To achieve this:

  1. Go to Settings menu and select Playlist.
    Duckstation Menu Playlist entry
  2. At the top right, click the “plus” button. Select the folder containing your Playstation games. Click on at the bottom right of the window Scan for new games. If you keep your games in folders within folders, answer yes when asked if you want to scan the selected folder recursively.
    Duckstation recursively scans for games

Setting up Duckstation for PS1 games

Let’s go through the most important options in Duckstation’s Settings Menu.

1. General

Most users should be fine with the default settings on the General page. You may also be interested in the following:

Duckstation Settings General

  • Pause at start: will have games started in “pause” mode until you resume them manually.
  • Start full screen: Make your games start in full screen mode, similar to most “normal” Windows games, instead of as a floating window.
  • Pause when focus is lost: will automatically pause a game when Duckstation’s window “loses focus”. This way, enemies won’t keep shooting at you while you’re checking an incoming email.

2. Console

It’s best to leave these settings “global” and only change them per game. They can improve some games while breaking others. Fortunately, Duckstation allows you to save different game configurations.

Duckstation Settings console

  • Region: For games that support multiple regions, NTSC usually has a higher frame rate, while PAL has a slightly higher vertical resolution. Leave the setting on automatic recognition to make Duckstation choose the best option for each game.
  • Execution mode: Recompiler (fastest) is the fastest option, as the name suggests. However, if a game crashes or the emulator crashes while trying to run it, try one of the other values ​​listed here.
  • Enable clock speed control (overclocking/underclocking): If a demanding game runs painfully slow, you can “overclock” the emulated Playstation to improve performance.
  • Asynchronous Readahead, Read Speedupand Search Speedup: speed up the emulated Playstation CD drive to make your games load faster.

3. Emulation

To become a master of time, go to Emulation page, where you can, among other things, control the emulator’s actual “flow of time” in both directions.

Duckstation Settings Emulation

  1. Emulation speed: Select “normal” NTSC/PAL setting with 100% speed, or another percentage to slow down or speed up the Duckstation. Leave it at 100% for maximum compatibility.
  2. Fast forward speed and Turbo speed: Using these features may cause some games to run too fast for you. That’s why you can control from here how fast the alternate speed modes go.
  3. Enable rewind: Borrowing the core mechanic of the Prince of Persia games, “time rewind”, Duckstation can help you “undo” missteps in hard-to-beat games. This is achieved by continuously saving the emulator’s state as you play, every X frame and for Y frames – the values ​​you can adjust for that option. It’s up to you to decide how Rewind works by striking a balance between granularity and RAM requirements.

4. Screen

On the Display page you will find the options that define how Duckstation will “display a game’s graphics on the screen”.

Duckstation Settings screen

  1. Renders: For most games and modern GPUs, leave it Hardware (Volcano). If a game crashes or you have an older GPU, try Hardware (OpenGL) or Hardware (D3D12). Try it Hardware (D3D11) option for even older GPUs. If you still have problems with them, fall back to the most compatible but slowest option, Software.
  2. The size ratio: For purists, Auto (game based) is the best option because it does not introduce distortion. Other options allow you to let a game’s graphics “cover” the entire screen, but this usually results in a “stretched” and more pixelated or blurry image.
  3. On-Screen Display: When debugging a game or optimizing settings, enable the options here to see how the emulator performs in real time while running a title.

5. Improvements

This is the first set of options to improve the appearance of games.

Duckstation Settings Improvements

  1. Scale for internal resolution: The 1x value will render a game at the native resolution. Select 5x for HD screens, 6x for 1440p displays, and 9x for true 4K displays.
  2. Texture filtering: Improve the appearance of “surfaces” in 3D games.
  3. If you activate Widescreen hack option for 3D games where it does not introduce errors, you may also want to enable Force 4:3 for 24-bit screens (disable widescreen for FMVs).
  4. PGXP: All PGXP related options can significantly improve the game’s visual effects by removing the “wobbly geometry” effect common in all Playstation titles. They are worth trying, but they can and will break some games. And that’s why you should configure them for each game separately.

6. Finishing

The other place where you can improve the visuals of your games, Post-Processing, allows you to use “shaders” to give Duckstation’s visual output a more authentic, “retro” look.

Duckstation settings Finishing

We’re skipping this part because it’s a matter of personal preference. Feel free to experiment with all available shaders by clicking the plus button and trying them out one by one. Or you can skip them altogether.

7. Controller setup

Investigate Control menu in Settings to ensure that the joypad is detected. Your controller should be visible on the right side of Global settings page.

Visit one of the two Control ports below to configure the button assignments. Select your joypad and if the emulator “doesn’t respond” to any button presses, “map” the buttons to the virtual Playstation joypad.

If you don’t have a joypad, don’t worry: we’ve already covered how you can use your Android phone as a gamepad to play PC games. Everything you want to read there should also work in this case, since the emulator itself is a “PC gaming” equivalent.

Get retro in the modern age with Duckstation for Windows

Duckstation follows the new emulator paradigm: when configured correctly, it acts more like a front end for your games rather than a tool you have to constantly tweak to make things work.

After this initial setup, you will be able to see all the games in your Playstation library in Duckstation’s main list and launch them with a double click.

After investing some time in setting it up, Duckstation can act as a Steam launcher equivalent for all your Playstation games. Playing the original Resident Evil or Final Fantasy VII with it will be as simple as double-clicking them and grabbing the joypad.

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