Developer mode on Xbox Series X and S allows you to install emulators such as RetroArch. Turn your Xbox Series X or S into a retro gaming powerhouse and emulate the PS2, GameCube, Dreamcast and more, all without affecting your ability to play retail games.
First activate developer mode
The first thing you need to do is activate developer mode on your Xbox. You need a paid Microsoft Partner developer account for this. This requires a one-time fee of $ 1
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With a valid developer account, you can download the Xbox Dev Mode app, activate your console in Partner Center, and then reboot in Developer mode. From there, it’s just a matter of configuring your network connection and then accessing the Xbox Developer Mode web interface through a browser.
For the purpose of this guide, we will assume that you have followed the entire installation procedure and that your console has already booted into developer mode.
Install the RetroArch Emulator
RetroArch is an emulator that works on almost any platform and has a UWP package made specifically for Xbox One (and the Series X and S, by extension). This multi-system emulator uses plug-ins or “cores” to extend support for many different systems. You can choose which cores to use and switch between them for best performance.
RetroArch makes it possible to play games from a wide variety of platforms right on your Xbox. This includes arcade machines, retro consoles (such as SNES and Genesis), modern handhelds (such as PSP), and early 3D home consoles (such as Sony PlayStation, Nintendo N64, and Sega Dreamcast).
To get started, you need to download and install RetroArch first. On a computer, go to the RetroArch Downloads page and get the Xbox One version and dependency file “Microsoft Visual C ++ 2015 UWP Runtime Package”.
Then open the Xbox Developer Mode web interface by going to the web address in the “Remote Access” section in Dev Home on your console.
Select “Add” on the home page to access the file upload interface, and drag the APPXBUNDLE file you downloaded into the box (or click “Choose file” and locate it). Select “Next” and find the dependency file you downloaded.
Click “Start”, wait for the process to complete, then select “Done” after everything has been transferred.
Now under Dev Home you should see RetroArch listed as “Not Running” in the available apps and games. Highlight it, press the Views button on your controller (the two squares) and select ‘View Details’. In this menu, change the drop-down menu from ‘App type’ to ‘Game’.
Exit that menu and press A to start RetroArch. When prompted to sign in, enter your Xbox Live account information if you haven’t already.
After RetroArch is installed and running on your console, you can finish setting up the emulator, add some ROMs and play some games. But before you jump in, there are a few things you’ll probably want to do.
RetroArch’s interface is modeled after Sony’s X media bar. This first appeared on the PS3 and later on the PS4. There is a horizontal and vertical menu, but you won’t see the icons representing the horizontal menu when you first launch the UWP version of RetroArch.
After the interface loads, hit left and right on the d-pad to see the other options.
You can fix this by installing missing items and changing the video driver. To do this, select “Main Menu” in the top left, scroll down to “Online Updater” and then select “Update Assets”. While there, you can also update core information files, controller profiles, databases, overlays, and anything else you need.
After this process is completed, a black screen will appear and the menu will reload.
Now you need to define a button combination that will access the in-game pause menu. To do that, simply return to the “Main Menu” and move horizontally to select “Settings” in the top left.
Scroll down to ‘Input’ and select ‘Shortcuts’. Define the “Menu Toggle Gamepad Combo” shortcut by pressing left and right on the d-pad until you find a shortcut that works for you (“Start + Select” or “R3 + L3” are both good options).
Finally, save your settings by returning to the “Main Menu” and selecting “Configuration File”. Click “Save Current Configuration”, then exit and reload RetroArch. You should then see a much cleaner interface with all the icons visible.
Add ROMs and BIOS files
ROMs should go into the “Downloads” folder on the local disk space accessible to RetroArch. To do this, open the Xbox Device Portal in a browser on your computer and click on “File Explorer”. Navigate to LocalAppData> RetroArch> LocalState> Downloads, then use the file picker at the bottom to add ROMs that you legally obtained.
Warning: Make sure to follow all relevant laws when purchasing ROMs and BIOS files. A law professor gave us a detailed analysis of the legalities surrounding retro video game emulation.
It should be possible to add ROMs to an external drive, but unfortunately, due to the temperamental nature of RetroArch in its UWP app form, we were unable to get this to work during testing.
You must place any BIOS files you want to use in the LocalAppData> RetroArch> LocalState> System folder.
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To play a game, select ‘Load Core’ from the ‘Main Menu’. Make sure to choose a core that matches the system type you are playing. You may need to do some research to find out which ones are best for the task.
Select a core and choose “Load Content” from the “Main Menu” to locate your ROM file. Keep pressing A until your ROM file is loaded. In the future you can find your core and ROM file in the “History” menu.
Use the hotkey you previously defined to pause a game, save a gameplay state, or return to the RetroArch main menu. From there you can also close RetroArch. To return to Retail mode, select “Leave Dev Mode” from the “Quick Actions” menu in Dev Home.
The best backwards compatibility ever
Not only do the Xbox Series X and S have the best backwards compatibility of this generation, but they are also incredibly powerful emulation machines. As this version of RetroArch has been in the spotlight, hopefully developers will pay a bit more attention to the UWP build in the future.
RetroArch is a great multi-system emulator no matter which system you run it on. If you’re interested, there is a lot more to learn that will help you get the most out of RetroArch.
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