Delta 1.3 Thoughts & Impressions

I’ve been on a bit of a journey with my game collection over the past year or so. Kickstarted by my Super NT, I’ve been chasing after preserving and digitizing my physical game collection. From the Game Boy to the Wii, I’ve found solutions for backing tons of my games up. A natural side effect of all this has been finding new ways to play my games.

Personally, I have been and am a proponent of real hardware, followed by hardware emulation, and then software emulation. Through all this archiving, my monkey brain has come around on emulation on the whole. With my save data and my digitized copy of a game, I am wholeheartedly accepting of emulation now.

So on Connected 357: I Need My Hands, Especially in the Summer when Federico Vitcci talked about his journey to play the Metroid games before Dread, he landed on using Delta on iOS.

Delta is a game emulator from Riley Testut for iOS that can be installed on iPhones through Riley’s alternative app store, aptly titled AltStore.

I had installed AltStore before. I used it to run Dolphin on my iPhone, thanks to Snazzy Labs. I never kept up with it. Now that my collection is backed up, I thought it’d be fun to see what Delta offered. I reinstalled AltStore and Delta this past week and have been delighted by Riley’s work.

The very first element I noticed was how Delta feels. This has a beautiful design that employs plenty of native iOS features. Riley has implemented Peek & Pop, haptic feedback for the on-screen buttons, shortcuts, and more. I’m not sure how much, if any, of the code is Swift or SwiftUI, but Delta has that native iOS feel that is polished, and what I would consider essential.

The set-up was simple, but did have some hiccups along the way. Delta created a folder in my iCloud drive. It actually created six; Delta, then Delta 2-6. The data lives in “Delta 3,” but I’m worried the app will be confused if I delete the other five folders and just drop the “3” from the folder name. I migrated all of my game ROMs into the folder and then began importing.

Delta automatically categorized the ROMs by platform. It even found art for some of the games. Most however, did not have any art. Thankfully, this is easily remedied with a Force Touch (or long press) on the game and selecting “Change Artwork.” I picked “Game Database” and picked the art I preferred. I do wish Delta was better at finding the art to begin with, but I am super happy I can use whatever art I’d like for the games.

Importing save data is just as easy with a Force Touch and selecting “Import Save Data, then you navigate to the data in Files and import. You can also sync your ROMs and save data. I hooked up Dropbox and Delta began syncing the data right away. This easily allows me to manage the save between Delta, my MiSTer, and the physical cartridge.

Actually playing the games is simple. Just tap and go. A beautiful controller skin pops up with the game above, when the iPhone is in a vertical orientation. Flipping the device sideways displays a transparent layout over the game. For touch-based controls, they work quite well. Riley has implemented wonderful haptic feedback to help simulate a real button press. The buttons are spaced well and I don’t find myself making many accidental presses. The down sides revealed themselves when I needed to press more than 3 or 4 buttons at once. Like in Metroid: Zero Mission, if I want to run to the right, aim up or down on the diagonal and shoot missiles, that is a 4 button combo and my two thumbs can’t pull it off. The loss of proper shoulder buttons, etc. is heavy.

Thankfully, bluetooth controllers can be synced up! This really helps with NES through GBA games. I was even able to connect a real N64 controller to my phone and play with it! I did have some issues getting some buttons to work. I am not sure if this is Delta, the iOS 15 beta, or the 8bitDo SN30 Pro itself. For example, the “Start” button would not work with “pause” or “start” , which is kind of the standard. This resulted in up on the D-Pad being “start” for Super Mario 64.

Now for the real reason to install Delta — to play games! From the NES up through the GBA, the games look and run nicely. I’m not sure at what scale they are running at; there are no settings to adjust output. But on an iPhone Xs Max in my hands, I’m not sure that matters. The OLED screen is brighter and clearer than any official GameBoy screen. Pixels are sharp and the emulation appears to run accurately, at least to my eye.

I am excited to compare it to the Analogue Pocket later this year, since they are both handheld devices, and the Pocket’s resolution is close to my iPhone Xs Max with a superior pixel density. I also wish there were some filters that we could use – gridlines, CRTs, etc.

The best system to emulate in Delta has to be the Nintendo DS. With touch being an integral part of the DS, the iPhone makes for a perfect emulation device. The DS screens are close and look wonderful on an iPhone with the gorgeous layout designed by Riley. Touch just makes sense.

Now, the DS was designed with a stylus in mind, not pudgy fingers, and that can be felt in Delta. Elite Beat Agents is tougher with my index finger tapping along instead of the tiny stylus every DS came with. This could be mitigated with a capacitive stylus – or even the Apple Pencil when iPad support comes to Delta someday.

The DS emulation also runs into similar “too many buttons and too few fingers” problems. This is more situational though. Metroid Prime Hunters? That seems to be quite playable since touch was essentially take up one hand at all times. Phantom Hourglass? Very doable. Even the slower-paced Pokémon games are easy to control. Super Mario 64 DS on the other hand, is a bit more finicky. I haven’t figured out how to “close” the DS, which is essential in some games, like Phantom Hourglass. I’d assume there is a way, I just haven’t found it yet (Update: Found it! Simply sleep & wake the phone itself, very slick).

This is, by far, the easiest way to play DS games today, outside of real hardware. Even using homebrew on the 3DS to keep my collection accessible digitally is a far more involved process. The same goes for playing my games on the Wii U, where you have to use a PC to package the game up in a special format. I can’t see myself wanting to pick up and play a DS game any other way.

Delta is a wonderful app. I have been completely won over and it has earned a spot right on my home screen. I can’t think of higher praise when it comes to an iOS app; I’m pretty picky.If you’d like your collection in your pocket, there’s no better app.

Naughty Dog’s Second Game in 4K

Ski Crazed, 1986 Apple II – 4K CRT Footage with MiSTER FPGA | Chasing the Stick by Me on YouTube

As I figure out writing Chasing the Stick as a real life book, I have begun slowly gathering my own footage and photos of the games in as high of a quality as I can. This is why I bought and built a MiSTer FPGA console!

So a couple weeks ago, I tested recording my CRT in 4K while playing the second game published by Jason Rubin and Andy Gavin – Ski Crazed for the Apple II. I don’t know quite what to do with the footage, so rather than sit on it, I decided to upload it to YouTube and learn from some mistakes I made.

One setting I need to lock down is the ISO. I had it set to automatic, which led to the blowouts between screen transitions. Also, the audio may not be synced up properly. That’s because I was capturing the audio digitally through the MiSTer’s HDMI port, but I was not capturing the analog sound. So there wasn’t a clean way to sync the two. My apologies.

I’m not confident in the framerate selection either. My Canon EOS 90D captures 4K30. The game runs at 60fps. So do I sacrifice the frames for resolution or give up the 4K dream in favor of a more accurate framerate? I am not sure yet; after uploading and thinking about it, I am sort of leaning toward the frame rate option. We shall see!

Death’s Door Thoughts and Impressions

Death’s Door – Xbox (also on PC)

Recommended to me by Logan Moore (and plenty of glowing tweets), I decided to snag this in-between playing games for Chapter Select Season 2. I am a couple bosses in and am quite enjoying it.

Death’s Door reminds me of both ustwo’s Monument Valley and Capy Games’ Below – which I reviewed at launch for DualShockers. It doesn’t have randomly generated levels, but has an atmospheric, isometric view with a charming, sword-slashing character.

Hunting bosses down for their souls, reminds me of, well lots of games, but Titan Souls specifically comes to mind. I dabbled on Vita back when it came out.

The music is light and airy with a twinge of wonder, like something you’d hear while a tale from long ago was being gently spoken before bedtime.

If any of that sounds like a good time to you, I’d recommend playing Death’s Door.

Episode 11: A 1,000 Labels Falling onto the Floor with Philip Summers

Philip Summers from Hand-Drawn Game Guides joins the show to talk about his first and wildly successful Kickstarter. From Ninja Gaiden to Metroid, we chat about his approach to writing a guide, as well as drawing them! We also celebrate the return of Metroid during the series’ 35th anniversary.

Hand-Drawn Game Guides Kickstarter

The Next Guide

Looking Back on Chapter Select Season 1

And that’s a wrap on Season 1 of Chapter Select!

It feels great to finish one season of this idea I’ve had for over three years. Playing the games and making the podcast has been my creative highlight of the year so far. I haven’t been this excited about podcasting before and I am really looking forward to the future of the show.

Here at the end of Season 1, I wanted to share my thoughts about how the season went, some behind-the-scenes, as well as some insight to the show’s future.

The format of the show was, I think, a great success. While I can’t speak to the audience’s reaction beyond sheer numbers, I can attest to how it influenced discussion. The best example I can point to is Episodes 4-6 (Color Splash, Super Paper Mario, and Sticker Star). Talk with any Paper Mario fan and it won’t take long to learn that Super is different/weird and that Sticker Star and Color Splash are a real similar pair of frowned upon games.

Playing Super after Color Splash gave me appreciation for the whacky Wii game I don’t think I would have gotten playing in release order. It felt truly refreshing after two classic games and two modern incarnations. Then whipping back around to play Sticker Star gave me the context for why Nintendo pivoted so hard into the no fluff narrative and sticker-based gameplay. It also made me appreciate what worked in Sticker Star and wonder how Color Splash took, what I consider, wrong turns in its design.

I was thinking about and engaging in these games in a way I never would have previously. And I think it was for the better of myself, the games, and the show over all.

Speaking of numbers, over the course of two months and some change, Chapter Select had over 393 unique downloads and stream when looking across Libsyn, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts. I am super happy with that! This was also before Episode 6: Paper Mario: Sticker Star was even published. That was all with promotion on our Twitter accounts and occasionally sharing in the Relay FM Discord channel.

The craziest (and most confounding number) was the downloads on the cross-promotional episode I put in the Chasing the Stick: The History of Naughty Dog podcast feed. As of this writing, that episode is over 20,000 downloads. I wish that translated to the Chapter Select feed! Logan and I have no idea why the downloads are so high.

Having guests join us for individual games rather than one guest for a whole season was a real treat as well. While Logan and myself could keep the through line theme and focus all season long, our guests enriched the individual discussions. They also helped keep me grounded to the individual game rather than trailing off. Everyone’s story and experience with Paper Mario was unique, adding that personal touch I was hoping for to the show. I cannot thank them enough for playing through these games with us (especially Tomas, who bought Color Splash digitally in the year 2021 at the full price of $59.99). I am excited to start booking guests for Season 2! If you are interested, send me a message on Twitter.

A big lesson we learned was the types of games we choose for each season. Our current goal is two seasons a year: That feels like like an achievable goal. Properly kicking it all off with a series of 20~ hour RPGs probably wasn’t the best idea. Our next season has been planned to focus on a shorter game series, in regards to play time. We realized that we ought to work on longer games and/or series throughout the year, banking episodes and keeping that season for the back half of the year. As for the front half of a year, that can be a season focusing on a shorter series, whether in game quantity or actual game length. You will definitely see that approach taken for seasons 3 and 4.

Speaking of which, we do have season 2 and 3 picked out already! I am quite eager to get to playing them. Especially Season 2 after 145+ hours with Paper Mario; the pivot in gameplay is gonna be great. We have a loose schedule in place for all of this. We will announce Season 2 when it is a bit closer, which should hopefully be in the coming months. We do plan on taking at least August and September off from releasing anything new.

As far as releasing the episodes in Season 1, I have to admit that I didn’t think we could keep the two week release schedule up for the whole season. When we started publishing Season 1 on June 2, 2021, we only had three episodes in the bag. We were in the middle of playing Color Splash! Logan definitely encouraged these last three games to stick to the calendar. The two weeks gave us enough cushion to finish out the season while the episodes were being released.

The wider window also gave me plenty of time to edit the show and really give it my best. I wanted to really leverage the audio podcast medium with a tight edit and rich audio. I put Easter Eggs in the episodes, whether it was clips or secret chapter art (if your podcast player supports it). Episodes 3 and 5 have my favorites.

The show was remarkably consistent as well. Over half the episodes sit right in between 70 and 80 minutes, giving listeners a consistent length that, I think, is quite listenable/achievable to finish. I am curious how that window of time will hold up in the coming seasons.

I throughly enjoyed making the art for each episode. I really pushed my design chops to try and capture the vibe of each game and the paper aesthetic. The toughest by far was Episode 5: Super Paper Mario. I wanted to play with perspective in the art, but just couldn’t find a way to make the logos legible and the art not look sloppy. For Episode 3: Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, I scanned the cover of my Japanese copy of the game for the art, which lends itself even more so the paper aesthetic, since the cover is cardboard. I love the little Shy Guy slurping the color out of the letter “P” in the art for Episode 4: Paper Mario: Color Splash. By far, the easiest to design was Episode 6: Paper Mario: Sticker Star.

I’ve said it before, but I truly have not had this much fun creating a podcast before. From playing the games to recording the show to writing show notes, I have had a blast. This project feels focused and sustainable. I am really trying to keep ambitions in check. Thankfully, Logan helps with that. I couldn’t (as always) ask for a better partner in all this. I cannot wait to announce and share Season 2. If you listened, I hope you enjoyed Season 1 – Paper Mario!