RetroArch is a front-end for emulation that lets you easily manage a collection of emulators – called ‘cores’ here – under a single interface. Standard RetroArch lets you download pretty much any major emulator from directly inside the application, but things will be different with the Steam release. Each emulator will be launched separately as free DLC through Steam, and only ten cores will be available at launch.
The devs have decided to launch with a limited number of cores to more easily handle bug fixes. “We could have launched with over 60 cores, sure,” the devs explain in a blog post, “but the ensuing fallout would have been a mess and it would have been near impossible to focus on bug reports and issues piling in.”
The folks behind RetroArch have already secured permission from a wide variety of emulator devs to distribute their cores on Steam, as noted alongside the original launch line-up detailed back in January. For now, the plan is to release further cores past the initial ten in a “drip-feed manner”, as explained in a follow-up on the Steam forums.
The ten launch cores include Mupen64 Plus Next, Kronos, PCSX ReARMed, Stella, SameBoy, mGBA, Mesen, Mesen S, Genesis Plus GX, and Final Burn Neo. They all now have DLC pages under RetroArch on Steam, and the store pages – understandably but humorously – all feature homebrew software.
If you’re wondering how RetroArch is getting away with a Steam release from a legal perspective, emulation itself is perfectly legal. You can use emulators to run homebrew games or, say, run an original PlayStation game directly from your PC’s disc drive without running afoul of any copyright laws. Ripping, distributing, and downloading ISO and ROM files are where the issues come in.
RetroArch is a terrific piece of software for keeping a host of emulators up-to-date and easily managing extra features like netplay for your old games, but at this point I’m not sure why you’d go with the Steam release over the standalone version.
There’s still no proper release date for the Steam version of RetroArch, which was initially scheduled to launch on July 30, 2019.