Monday, January 2, 2017

The macOS experiment (Part 1)

Lately, I haven't been doing much emulation wise.  Well, to be frank, I haven't done any serious emulation work in a long time (and just incase you're reading this JayFox, I'm not talking about xqemu, nor have I ~ever~ said I was doing any real work on it aside from a few work arounds here and there; hell I've even stated that I'm not an xqemu dev multiple times, so pleeeeeeeeeease spare me of your usual "3 lines of code" lecture because I'm really not in the mood, thanks and no disrespect), but since I'm in between jobs/paid projects yet again, I decided to pick up one of the previous experiments I started before out of curiosity.

What is this experiment?  Well, the goal of this little coding experiment was to claim the typical base address of 0x10000 that every .xbe uses.  For those who don't quite see what I'm getting at, let's take a look at how both Cxbx and Xeon, the first two Xbox emulators, worked from an internal perspective.  They both use HLE, yeah that's right sherlock, in order to run code natively on the host CPU, they both use a .exe to reserve the memory range beginning at 0x10000 and at least 64mb beyond that.  For Cxbx, the generated .exe from the .xbe has the base address set when the header is written.  For Xeon, the main .exe simply reserves that memory address range by forcing it to load at 0x10000 w/ a big global static array and it's overwritten with the .xbe contents.  The actual emulator code is run from a .dll that's loaded into memory well out of that range.  That's the only way they knew how to do it at the time (for windows at least).  Naturally, I started to wonder how would one do that on a Mac?

Since similar experiments for this have already been done on Linux, so I figured Mac could do it also with similar methods.  So I started a thread on ngemu a long while back, and asked for suggestions, hints and ideas.  At the time, I was quite new to Mac development, but at the time of writing this, I have grown to be quite experienced with it (although still not quite as knowledgeable of the lower level and kernel level aspects).  Instinctively, my first try was to use mmap() directly, or vm_allocate().  That didn't work.

Among one of the respondents to my thread back then was Ben Vanik, the author of Xenia.  He was running linux, and recommended this code:


namespace {
    void * const MEMORY_ADDRESS = reinterpret_cast(0x10000);
    size_t const MEMORY_SIZE = 1 << 20;

int main() {
    if (p != reinterpret_cast(-1)) {
        std::cout << "Memory allocated" << std::endl;
        munmap(p, MEMORY_SIZE);
    } else {
        std::cout << "Memory could not be allocated" << std::endl;

It worked for him, but still didn't work for me on macOS (OSX), so I was still back where I started.  Keep in mind that all these flags were necessary.  I needed to be able to read, write and execute from this memory range.  It also needed to be at that exact address (hence the MAP_FIXED flag), and so forth.  Many were against that last bit, which I'll explain in a moment.

After that, I eventually forgot about it and moved on to other projects.  Mostly working on this indie game that I started less than 2 months of starting that thread.  I eventually did get it working, and the reason it wasn't working was actually quite a testament to my ignorance and stupidity... I forgot to switch the compiler setting from x86_64 to i386!  Duh, no wonder it wasn't working.  I wanted to slap myself afterwards.  IIRC, there's a flag called MAP_32BIT which allows 64-bit programs to access the 32-bit memory address space, but it appears to only be available in Linux, not macOS.  Oh well, no big loss for now.

Now, what I mean by "work" is that mmap() stop failing.  I would finally get that base address, but it would simply crash on a call to std::cout.  Even commenting this out, unmapping the pointer and letting it return from main also resulted in a crash.  I'm sure you could theorize why, but finding a solution was what I was interested in.

Since there weren't many Mac devs on your every day emulation/gaming forum (most of them are extremely anti-Mac; many for ignorant and uninformed reasons, and few for legitimate and well thought out reasons) so I ended up going to a forum that was dedicated to Mac related programming topics;  While most of them did give me some sound advice, they didn't quite understand why I needed this exact functionality.  Many would suggest removing MAP_FIXED but that would give me a memory address out of the range I'm looking for and would essentially defeat the purpose.  I had to start two threads altogether, and only one person actually understood what I was trying to do, as he was also in the need to write a basic VM while lacking the proper resources to do it.  He tried this code in XCode, and it worked for him, but only after adding the following compiler flag in the "other linker flags" section:

-pagezero_size 0x10000000 -segprot __PAGEZERO rwx rwx

Frankly, I do not fully understand what this did, even though it generally looks pretty obvious.  A google search didn't yield much results either, but it worked.

Now, I understand that what I'm doing is considered "unsafe" and risky.  Even on Linux, it is considered the same to do so.  It's all part of some experiment I put a bit of free time into.  Was there any particular goal to it?  Well, for starters, I wanted to see at one point whether it were at all feasible or possible to bring Cxbx to Mac since using WINE wasn't enough to do it due to the memory map requirements (my assumption; it always crashed for me).  Another idea was to provide proof of concept that HLE and direct code execution was indeed possible on an Intel Mac without the need for a VM library or driver.  There's a VM framework for macOS now, but it requires a 2010 Mac with 10.10+ installed.  Since neither of my comps meet the former requirement, that wasn't an option for me.  Third, I've had the itch to implement just enough APIs in an attempt to run Azurik: Rize of Perathia on my Mac.  I am greatly intrigued by the possibility of playing this game in some hacked form of 1080p or 4k using certain Apple exclusive OpenGL extensions, but hesitant to re-live the pain of trying to get this game working on Cxbx.

So far, it appears to work without issues, but I'm sure there could be some hidden caveats somewhere.  What I'd like to do later on is experiment with a simple .xbe that simply creates a D3D device, and clears the screen and HLE that as proof of concept.  I don't really plan on going too much farther than that, but I am curious to find out if there's anything else that can evolve out of this, even if it doesn't mean emulating Xbox.  Who knows?  Maybe an HLE emulator of something else?  Like one of Sega's recent arcade hardware machines like Europa?  Hey, I just like to learn, and emulating Xbox even on an HLE level has helped me tremendously personally and in my professional career (which is part of the reason I have this job interview coming up; I'll blog about what I mean about this statement later).

I know it's late but happy new year, and happy coding.  It's late so I'm off to bed.



  1. Sounds like an interesting project, good luck! If you discover anything that could help Cxbx-Reloaded, please let me know.

    I would love to play with Virtualization.framework but sadly I don't have access to a Mac at all. I experiment with this in a Hackintosh environment once, but it was too unstable, oh well.

  2. Absolutely. I was also hoping that this could be helpful to you also. Some code I listed could help bring Cxbx-Reloaded to Mac if you wanted it to be ported over. It's also nice knowing that I don't need to have the code inside of a .dylib and IMO that should make things much easier to debug as Cxbx was originally much harder to debug IMO with the generated .exe files and the CxbxKrnl and what not.

    What I need to do is dig up IDA pro again and start seeing what I can hook. I'll keep the blog updated if anything else comes of it.


  3. Nice one mate!
    I've been checking this blog for ages now in the hopes of emulating PD Orta.
    I'm so hyped that this is still moving forward!

  4. That stupid and secret documentacional of xbox must appear some day.