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.

WWDC 2021 Predictions

Nothing like a last minute prediction post. With the initial keynote kicking off in just three hours, I wanted to get five predictions out in the open before Tim Cook walks on stage/outside/etc. to either crush my dreams or send them soaring.

  1. Apple’s Home Strategy is clarified. homeOS announced.
  2. iOS and iPadOS gain clearer, more accessible user customization (a la the great widget boom of 2020).
  3. New Apple Hardware and Silicon are not announced.
  4. iPadOS lacks redesigned external display support.
  5. iMessage gets wild.

Some slight elaboration and thoughts on my predictions.

Apple’s home strategy is scrambled. The HomePod is dead; long live the HomePod Mini. The new Apple TV 4k and HomePod Mini have thread radios, which seem to be the future of home device connectivity. The Home app is messy, if not convoluted. Apple’s home plans need to be refocused and executed and I think that can start with software, before announcing any new or substantial hardware.

The widget customization boom last year took everyone by surprise, I think. I have non-tech friends that have stellarly designed Home Screens. I think Apple ought to and will lean into giving developers and customers better, clearer tools for leveraging that customization.

The M1 is truly exciting. Whatever is next, that can drum up its own fervor at a different event. If Apple announces new hardware, specifically a new chip, that will be the dominate topic coming out of WWDC, not the software. This is a developer’s conference. I say Apple lets the software shine and let the hardware talk later.

I simply think new and proper external display support will be a mid-iPadOS 15 upgrade, like cursor support was for iPadOS 14.

By wild I just mean better features and more customization. iMessage (in)famously helps lock people into the platform. Give people more incentive to keep their conversations there instead of WhatsApp, GroupMe, Facebook Messenger, etc. Tout security and privacy alongside colorful backgrounds, better group messaging, and personality.

No matter what happens in a few hours, WWDC is always a great kickoff to summer. With E3 next week, it is definitely the most wonderful time of the year.

Dolphin Emulator Ported Natively to Apple’s M1 Processor

Dolphin Emulator – Temptation of the Apple: Dolphin on macOS M1: by JMC47 and Maylmilae for the Dolphin Blog via John Gruber at Daring Fireball

The blog post is technical, but there is a short section with two charts that is insanely clear cut: Apple’s M1 processor is wicked fast, powerful, and efficient.

How does the M1 hardware perform when put up against some of the beasts of the GameCube and Wii library? We also included data from two computers featured in Progress Reports previously for comparison.

There’s no denying it; macOS M1 hardware kicks some serious ass. It absolutely obliterates a two and a half year old Intel MacBook Pro that was over three times its price all while keeping within ARM’s reach of a powerful desktop computer. We were so impressed, we decided to make a second graph to express it.

The efficiency is almost literally off the chart. Compared to an absolute monstrosity of a Desktop PC, it uses less than 1/10th of the energy while providing ~65% of the performance. And the poor Intel MacBook Pro just can’t compare.

Gruber quoted that final line as well. 

To put this is in perspective (and to wrap my head around it), the M1 they are testing is the M1 MacBook Air with the 7-core GPU. The lowest end of the M1 line, costing $999. And the M1 is the consumer-level processor as Apple makes this transition from Intel/x86 to Apple Silicon/ARM. This is only the beginning of macOS with the power of ARM.

The PC the MacBook Air was tested against had an Intel Core i9 9900K processor with the brand new, top of the line Bitcoin mining (and gaming) GPU from Nvidia, the RTX 3090. Those two alone cost $1875~. You’d still require a motherboard, power supply, case, RAM, cooling, monitor, and a hard drive. Casually clicking around PC Part Picker, trying to match certain specs where I could (to help the PC out!), the equivalent build would cost nearly $3000!

Again, the Dolphin team was able to get the performance above on a 13’’ laptop with no fan and 7-integrated GPU cores.

Holy smokes! I cannot wait to get my own Apple Silicon-based Mac and see Apple’s professionally aimed chipset in the coming year. Wow.

Kara Swisher Interviews Apple CEO Cook for Sway – MacStories

Kara Swisher Interviews Apple CEO Cook for Sway by Kara Swisher for The New York Times’ Sway via John Voorhees at MacStories

I always look forward to interviews with top Apple brass. It is rare to get one-on-one time with them to ask questions and learn more about them, their role within the company, and how decisions are made at Apple. Kara Swisher asks about privacy, the new App Tracking Transparency, Epic’s lawsuit against Apple, and so on. Tim leans into an emphasis on curation in the App Store, which is hard to imagine with the scale of apps available and are likely submitted daily. Swisher does a great job and I’m glad I found this interview. 

Tweetbot 6 Arrives for iOS

Tweetbot for iOS

Tweetbot 6 is here. There is no other app or subsequent company that I give my money to instantly. Tapbots makes my favorite Twitter client, which I’ve been using since I signed up for Twitter in 2012. I’ve bought/upgraded to every version since Tweetbot 2 (4 turned into 5 for free).

For Tweetbot 6, Tapbots has switched to a subscription model, with pricing at $0.99 a month or $5.99 a year. Easiest $6 I have ever spent.

MacStories details the latest features in their write up.

Aside from the new pricing model, Tweetbot 6 has only implemented a handful of new features, including a few changes to the timeline view and some design changes. In the main timeline, you’ll notice more image thumbnails than before. Polls and cards are also visible thanks to the implementation of Twitter’s latest third-party APIs, and there are new dedicated ‘@’ and ‘#’ buttons in the app’s tweet composition sheet.

While light on newer features, Tapbots is calling this release “early access.” Users may scroll their timeline for free, but not tweet themselves without subscribing.

This early access version for iOS uses the new Twitter API. We are calling it early access because there are many new features on our roadmap to be built as well as new API’s to adopt as Twitter makes them available.

This seems promising if Twitter’s new third-party API can continue to return to a more open set of tools. I would love for the return of a stats page like there was in Tweetbot 4. Right off the bat, I can immediately tell the app is snappier. There has clearly been a huge focus on speed on the backend. Finally being able to see polls in Tweetbot is extremely welcome. Subscribing allows me to regularly support some of my favorite app develops for my most used app. I am happy to do it and am looking forward to the future of Tweetbot.