Final Burn Alpha is an open source emulator for arcade games. It's official webpage is located at http://fba.emuunlim.net. Versions for Win32 are the only ones currently available (because parts of the code rely on DirectX). However, the program is being rewritten to use Simple DirectMedia Layer, so that it can be compiled on Linux and other operating systems. Since there is a large amount of x86 Assembly in the source, there is very little possibility of versions for non x86 machines such as Macs being made available. Final Burn Alpha is a spin off project from Final Burn, which is also an open source emulator. Final Burn emulated a slightly wider variety of games than FBA, such as some Sega titles like Rail Chase.

What is emulated

FBA was primarily a CPS / CPS2 emulator, and as the top of the webpage proclaims "Final Burn Alpha is an emulator for MC68000 / Z80 based arcade games". Over time, however, support for a wider selection of games has been added. Games using Toaplan systems such as the excellent Battle Garegga are supported. Other arcade games made by companies such as Cave have also been supported. The policy for adding games in the team seems to be "if we can support it without too much extra trouble, and we like it, it goes in". This has led to games such as Operation Wolf, and, uh, Oh My God! being in the ROM load list, alongside pretty much the entire Capcom catalogue (well, most of it.. CPS3, which features Street Fighter 3, has yet to be emulated as it is behind some reasonably heavy encryption).

The most recent addition to the emulator was made only a few months ago as of this noding; full support for the NeoGeo was added. This meant the entire back catalogue of classics available for this platform (over 100 titles) was playable almost instantly in the emulator. The first notice that was announced on the website was to say that there were 2 remaining bugs in the code, which only applied to specific games. Apart from that, it was finished... although FBA followed the lead from MAME in only supporting games with copyright dates of more than 3 years ago, out of respect to SNK/Playmore because if all the latests games were emulated immediately after release (and NeoGeo games, despite their price, are dumped and released usually within days of their release) then the company wouldn't last very long. This means that for those who want Metal Slug 4 or King of Fighters 2001, you are out of luck unless you can compile your own build supporting these games.

Why this one?

Admittently, there are a huge amount of NeoGeo / CPSx emulators out there. I'm sure there are more that I haven't heard of, but common ones are MAME, Nebula, WinKawaks, and NeoRAGEx. Why should you choose to use FBA over these?

Well, firstly, many of the previously mentioned emulators do not support as many games as FBA. I believe only MAME supports everything FBA has and more. However, a much better reason is that FBA is simply the fastest emulator I have ever seen. While I can get Battle Garegga and Street Fighter Alpha 3 loaded and running on MAME, playing them on my ancient machine is somewhat akin to a slideshow, and the chance to effortlessly dodge bullets or pull off a perfectly timed 12-hit combo is pretty much lost. NeoRAGEx and WinKawaks have the same problem, to a slightly lesser extent. With FBA, however, I can comfortably play almost everything I want to at an excellent speed, with plenty running in the background. All that remains off limits are the games which do not fit into my RAM, such as Metal Slug 3. Frame rate on Battle Garegga is perfect. This is mainly due to the reliance on some excellent Assembly code for the CPU cores.

FBA also includes many of the enhancements provided by other emulators; filters such as Super 2xSAI and the HQ series, developed by MaxSt. I believe that FBA has more graphical enhancement filters than any other emulator I've used.. anyway, it definitely has enough to be going on with, so that you can if you wish play games at 4 times their original resolution, with a beautiful HQ4x filter. Better pack a nice CPU.

Compiling your own

I have to say, this is far from easy. Although the actual binary that the FBA team release is quite small, and the source archive is also only about a megabyte, compiling this is anything but simple. I had to grab myself:

.. And even after all that, I couldn't get it to compile. And it takes half an hour each time, only to finish by providing me with a host of MAKE errors. I think I got it to only one error... but it still doesn't provide me with a working executable. Or, in fact, any executable at all. I'm a programming beginner, but I couldn't see anything I'd obviously done wrong (I haven't made any modifications to the source except to change the makefile to make a build optimised for my PC, and to use a different NASM flag, which I was told to do by Nach, someone who knows what he's talking about). However, someone more knowledgeable than me will doubtless be able to do it, and if you can do that then you can add new NeoGeo games to the driver (once you find the right file, and you see how all the other NeoGeo roms are organised, it's very simple to work out how to add your own). Naturally you'll have made these dumps from cartridges you legally own yourself.

Overall

This is an excellent, fast, highly compatible emulator. When Linux versions are available after the rewrite to SDL is complete, it will be even better. Apart from slightly dodgy control configuration (couldn't get my N64 joypad working with it) and the aforementioned compilation trouble, this is, I would say, the best NeoGeo / CPS emulator. If you, like me, are partial to burst of Metal Slug or Street Fighter Alpha 2 then I'd definitely investigate this. One final point - don't use your MAME neogeo.zip BIOS archive, because FBA requires a bunch more BIOS files than MAME does. A short session on Google for "Final Burn Alpha BIOS" should bring up the goods.


Sources:

http://fba.emuunlim.net
Spending too much time playing on it.

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