After a new console is released, it usually takes hackers months or years to find a hole in the console's security that lets them install homebrew software like emulators. So it may come as a surprise that you can already load RetroArch—and its vast array of emulation cores for dozens of classic systems—on the newly released Xbox Series X/S consoles.The installation vector here comes not through an unforeseen security hole, but through Microsoft's policy of allowing any retail Xbox One console to become a full-fledged dev kit. After promising that functionality in 2013, there were signs that Microsoft was thinking of abandoning those plans in 2014. By 2016, though, Microsoft officially opened up the Xbox One, allowing registered Universal Windows Platform (UWP) developers to load and test content directly onto a stock retail console.
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But this new effort, led by a third-party app developer going by the handle tunip3, exploits an apparent hole in the Xbox app distribution system to let users download a 'retail' version of RetroArch directly to the console's main interface, without using Developer Mode. XBOX ONE How to Install Retroarch Using Dev ModeLinks updated 1/28/2020 if link out of date [email protected] in order to get retroarch retail you. RetroArch is a frontend for emulators, game engines and media players. It enables you to run classic games on a wide range of computers and consoles through its slick graphical interface. Settings are also unified so configuration is done once and for all. In addition to this, you are able to run original game discs (CDs) from RetroArch.

Enter Libretro, which decided in late 2018 that it would commit to creating an Xbox One-compatible UWP build of its popular emulator package. That version launched in Alpha in 2019 and has been updated sporadically since. Ars has confirmed that a new build works on the Xbox Series X as well, allowing your new console to pretend to be anything from an Atari 2600 to a Wii, with a whole lot of consoles in between.

Copy the entire folder ('RetroArch-XBox1') to your harddrive. ROMs go into the 'roms' directory, or some subdirectory in the 'RetroArch-XB1' directory. HOW TO USE THIS On first startup, RetroArch will select one of the dozen or so emulator/game cores. The name of the core currently loaded will be shown at the top side of the screen. Libretro is the API that RetroArch uses. It makes it easy to port games and emulators to a single core backend, such as RetroArch. For the user, this means - more ports to play with, more crossplatform portability, less worrying about developers having to reinvent the wheel writing boilerplate UI/port code - so that they can get busy with writing the emulator/porting the emulator/game.

Jumping through hoops

Getting RetroArch on your brand-new Xbox isn't as simple as just inserting a USB drive and puttering away. First, you have to sign up for a Microsoft Developer Account through the Windows Dev Center portal. There's a one-time $19 fee associated with registering an individual account, so you'll have to decide early what the possibility of running emulators on the Xbox is worth to you.

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Once you're registered, go to your console and search for the 'Dev Mode Activation' app in the Store. The system will guide you through a few steps to link the console to your new Developer account, and you may have to download some updates before restarting in Developer Mode (if the update doesn't take for some reason, this trick may work to force the system into Developer Mode).

Be aware that an Xbox console in Development Mode won't be able to play any retail Xbox games, either on disc or download. It's relatively simple to switch back and forth to/from retail mode using the on-screen menu, though, as long as you're willing to wait for the system to reboot.

With your console in Developer Mode (and connected to the Internet), the screen should display an IP address for local network access to the system. Type that address in a Web browser on your computer to open up the Xbox Device Portal. From there, simply download the Xbox One RetroArch files and dependencies (labeled as 'UWP runtime package') from the RetroArch website, then upload them to your console using the green 'Add' button on the Device Portal page.

When you go back to your console, RetroArch should appear as a launchable project whenever you're in Developer Mode. From inside RetroArch, you should be able to use the on-screen menus to directly download updates to the front-end interface and backend cores directly on the system itself.

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Note that some of the emulation cores included in the RetroArch package require a BIOS file pulled from actual hardware to work; you'll have to source and upload those yourself (from your own legitimate hardware, of course). And while RetroArch has a number of homebrew, shareware, and open source ROMs available for download directly through its system menus, you'll have to find and upload any additional ROMs (such as backups ripped from your own game collection) on your own.

An emulation powerhouse

RetroArch can already run on everything from the original GameCube to the Switch to a cheap Raspberry Pi, so another console full of emulators might not seem that exciting. But the folks at Modern Vintage Gamer put the $299 Xbox Series S through its emulation paces, and they found 'some of the very best emulation that I've seen on a console.'

This is especially true when it comes to recreating relatively recent and/or difficult-to-emulate 3D hardware like the Gamecube/Wii, Saturn, or PSP. For these consoles, the extra hardware power on the new Xbox consoles helps emulation run more smoothly than you might expect from cheaper devices. As long as you don't expect completely perfect authenticity or compatibility, it seems that Xbox Series X/S hardware can stand in pretty well for older systems.

The developers at Libretro will continue to update RetroArch and its underlying emulation cores as time goes on, too, so new advancements in emulation technology should make their way to the Xbox UWP build in due time. Right now, the team seems close to getting PlayStation 2 emulation core PCSX2 into workable shape in RetroArch, which would be a bit ironic considering that PS2 games are not natively compatible with the PlayStation 5.

Thanks to Developer Mode on the Xbox Series X and S, you can install emulators like RetroArch. Turn your Xbox Series X or S into a retro gaming powerhouse and emulate the PS2, GameCube, Dreamcast, and more, all without impacting your ability to play retail games.

First, Activate Developer Mode

The first thing you have to do is activate Developer Mode on your Xbox. To do so, you’ll need a paid Microsoft Partner developer account. This requires a one-time fee of $19 (pricing is different in other regions). Once you’ve activated your account, you can add your Xbox as a developer console.

RELATED:How to Put Your Xbox Series X or S into Developer Mode

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 via a browser.

For this guide, we’ll assume you’ve followed the full setup procedure and your console is already booted in Developer Mode.

Installing the RetroArch Emulator

RetroArch is an emulator that works on virtually every platform and has a UWP package made just for Xbox One (and the Series X and S, by extension). This multisystem emulator uses plugins or “cores” to expand support for lots of different systems. You can choose which cores you want to use and switch between them for the best performance.

RetroArch makes it possible to play games from a huge variety of platforms right on your Xbox. This includes arcade machines, retro consoles (like SNES and Genesis), modern handhelds (like PSP), and early 3D home consoles (like Sony PlayStation, Nintendo N64, and Sega Dreamcast).

To get going, you first have to download and install RetroArch. On a computer, just head to the RetroArch Downloads page and grab the Xbox One version and the “Microsoft Visual C++ 2015 UWP Runtime Package” dependency file.

Then, access the Xbox Developer Mode web interface by visiting 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 then drag and drop the APPXBUNDLE file you downloaded into the box (or click “Choose File” and locate it). Select “Next,” and then locate the dependency file you downloaded.

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Click “Start,” wait for the process to complete, and then select “Done” after everything is transferred.

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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 then select “View Details.” On this menu, change the “App type” drop-down to “Game.”

Back out of that menu, and then press A to launch RetroArch. When you’re asked to sign in, type your Xbox Live account details if you haven’t yet done so.

Setting Up RetroArch

After RetroArch is installed and running on your console, you can finish setting up the emulator, add some ROMs, and get to playing some games. Before you jump in, though, there are a few things you’ll probably want to do.

RetroArch’s interface is modeled on Sony’s X-media bar. This first appeared on the PS3 and, later, the PS4. There’s 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, press left and right on the d-pad to see the other options.

You can fix this by installing missing assets and switching the video driver. To do so, select “Main Menu” at the top left, scroll down to “Online Updater,” and then select “Update Assets.” While there, you can also update core info files, controller profiles, databases, overlays, and anything else you need to.

After this process is complete, a black screen will appear and the menu will reload.

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Now, you’ll have to define a button combination that will allow you to access the in-game Pause menu. To do that, just return to the “Main Menu” and move horizontally to select “Settings” at the top left.

Scroll down to “Input” and select “Hotkeys.” 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,” and then quit and reload RetroArch. You should then see a much cleaner interface with all the icons visible.

Adding ROMs and BIOS Files

ROMs should go in the “Downloads” folder on the local disk space accessible by RetroArch. To do this, open the Xbox Device Portal in a browser on your computer, and click “File Explorer.” Navigate to LocalAppData > RetroArch > LocalState > Downloads, and then use the file picker at the bottom to add any ROMs you’ve legally acquired.

Warning: Be sure to follow all relevant laws when acquiring ROMs and BIOS files. A law professor provided us with a detailed analysis of the legalities surrounding emulating retro video games.

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 couldn’t get this to work during testing.

You’ll have to put any BIOS files you want to use in the LocalAppData > RetroArch > LocalState > System folder.

RELATED:Is Downloading Retro Video Game ROMs Ever Legal?

Playing Games

To play a game, select “Load Core” in the “Main Menu.” Be sure to choose a core that matches the system type you’re playing. You might have to do some research to find out which are best for the job.

With a core selected, choose “Load Content” in “Main Menu” to locate your ROM file. Keep pressing A until your ROM file loads. In the future, you’ll be able to find your core and ROM file in the “History” menu.

To pause a game, save a gameplay state, or return to the main RetroArch menu, use the hotkey shortcut you defined earlier. From there, you can also quit RetroArch. To return to Retail mode, just select “Leave Dev Mode” from the “Quick Actions” menu in Dev Home.

The Best Backward Compatibility Yet

The Xbox Series X and S not only have the best backward compatibility of this generation, but they’re also incredibly powerful emulation machines. Since this version of RetroArch has been thrust into the spotlight, developers will hopefully pay a bit more attention to the UWP build in the future.

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RetroArch is a fantastic multisystem emulator, regardless of which system you run it on. If you’re interested, there’s much more to learn that will help you get the most out of RetroArch.

RELATED:How to Set Up RetroArch, The Ultimate All-In-One Retro Games Emulator

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