Getting Started with Dreamcast development
This article is actively being worked on
Work in progress - items to be added and/or edited: Setting up debug link, building and burning a CD-R, setting up a first project, setting up an IDE, etc.
This article will cover the entire beginning process: starting from zero to having a working dev environment with debug link (serial or IP) and self-booting CD-R. This guide will cover the process for the following platforms:
- Microsoft Windows 10 via Windows Subsystem for Linux
- Users desiring a native Windows approach, see DreamSDK instead
- macOS on Intel or Apple Silicon systems with the Homebrew package manager installed
- Linux-based systems
- Debian- and Ubuntu-based distributions using the default apt package manger
- Fedora-based distributions using the default dnf package manager
- Arch-based distributions using the default pacman package manager
- Alpine-based distributions using the default apk package manager
Important note: This guide aims to remain up to date and work on all of the above platforms, but keeping instructions for such a variety of platforms up-to-date can be difficult. If you run into any errors or other challenges while following this tutorial, or simply need clarification on any of the steps, feel free to ask for assistance on the message board and we would be happy to aid you and update the guide for the benefit of future readers and others in the community.
Before we get started, let's define several terms:
The toolchain is a set of programs which turns your code into an executable file for your Dreamcast console. The toolchain includes:
- GCC, a compiler which supports C, C++, Objective-C, and Objective-C++ on Dreamcast (with D and Rust support coming soon)
- binutils, an assembler and linker
- newlib, a C library
- gdb, a debugger
The toolchain includes a compiler for the Dreamcast's main SH4 CPU, and optionally a compiler for the ARM-based AICA sound processor. Your operating system may already have versions of these programs installed to compile code for your computer, but we will need to build a "cross-compiler" for compiling specifically for the Dreamcast.
KallistiOS or KOS is an open source development library and pseudo-operating system for the Dreamcast console. It is the best documented and most widely used development kit in the homebrew community. KallistiOS's very flexible license allows both homebrew and commercial use with no restrictions other than a requirement to include credit for its use in your project, and indeed almost all commercially sold indie Dreamcast titles use it. There are others in existence, like libronin and libdream, as well as the older development kits Katana and Windows CE created by Sega and Microsoft for use in retail games, but this guide will only cover the setup and use of KallistiOS.
kos-ports is a repository including various libraries which integrate with KallistiOS. We will download and compile these libraries as well.
The debug link is a generic term referring to a hardware accessory to facilitate quickly running and debugging your programs. IP-based links include the Dreamcast's Broadband adapter and LAN adapter accessories, and serial-based links include the Coder's cable, which is a cable that can connect the Dreamcast's serial port to your computer via USB or serial. This guide includes instructions for setting up and using the the Broadband adapter and a USB-based coder's cable.
dc-tool and dcload are a pair of programs to facilitate using a debug link. dc-tool runs on your computer and links to a Dreamcast running dcload-ip or dcload-serial. With this setup, you can quickly load programs, read console feedback, load assets, transfer data, redirect I/O, handle exceptions, debug problems, and so forth.
If you are building the toolchain for the purpose of building existing programs from source with little to no modifications, then a debug link setup might not be necessary for you. You may simply build programs to burn directly to CD-R. However, if you are planning to actively develop for the Dreamcast, then a debug link is a critical component. While Dreamcast emulators are mature and accurate enough to play the vast majority of the system's games library without issue, many critical bugs may show up on a real Dreamcast system, but not on a Dreamcast emulator. Therefore, it is highly recommended to test on a real system as much as possible. It's also possible to load software off of a Serial SD card adapter, but without an active link to a computer, debugging and stepping through programs as they execute is significantly more challenging.
Presented below is a table comparing the different options available for a debug link. Due to the cost, potential buyers may want to factor in the ability to play multiplayer games with their purchase. Thus, for comparison, we have included information about the Modem with DreamPi as well, but understand that the Modem with DreamPi cannot be used as a debug link.
|Comparison of various Dreamcast connectivity options|
|Device:||Broadband adapter (HIT-400 or HIT-401)
Realtek RTL8139C chipset
|LAN adapter (HIT-300)
Fujitsu MB86967 chipset
|Modem with DreamPi||USB Coder's cable||Serial Coder's cable|
|Useful for dev?||Yes, supports dcload-ip||Yes, supports dcload-ip,
but BBA is superior and cheaper
|No, only useful for online multiplayer gaming||Yes, supports dcload-serial||Yes, supports dcload-serial|
|Cost||$100 - $200 and up on used markets||$200 and up on used markets,
due to extreme rarity
|Kit prices vary, around $100||See Coder's cable for vendors
darc sells for $45, RetroOnyx sells for $85
|Varies on used markets, uncommonly sold|
|Can make DIY?||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Performance||Up to 100 megabits/s||Up to 10 megabits/s||Up to 56 kilobits/s||Up to 1500 kilobits/s||Up to 120 kilobits/s|
|Games support||Some games: Phantasy Star Online, Quake III Arena, Toy Racer, POD SpeedZone, Propellor Arena, Unreal Tournament
Some browsers: Broadband Passport, PlanetWeb 3.0
One browser: Dream Passport for LAN
|All multiplayer games with network support
All web browsers
|NO multiplayer games support||NO multiplayer games support|
|Homebrew support||Homebrew utilities like dcload-ip||Homebrew utilities like dcload-ip||Homebrew utilities don't support, only multiplayer games||Homebrew utilities like dcload-serial||Homebrew utilities like dcload-serial|
Setting up and compiling the toolchain with the dc-chain script
First, we'll need to install dependencies before building the toolchain. Below we have provided commands to install these dependencies on various systems. Many of the packages will likely already be installed on your system, but we have provided an exhaustive list for good measure.
macOS 13 Ventura on an Intel or Apple Silicon processor
First, make sure you install Apple Xcode, including the Command Line tools. You will also need to install several other packages for which we'll include instructions assuming you have installed the Homebrew package manager on your system.
brew install wget gettext texinfo gmp mpfr libmpc libelf jpeg-turbo libpng meson libisofs
Important Note for Apple Silicon users: On Apple Silicon, Homebrew installs libraries to a path not included by default by the compiler. If you haven't added these to your ~/.zprofile, then add the following lines now and reload your session (or run them in your Terminal session whenever you compile KOS):
export CPATH=/opt/homebrew/include export LIBRARY_PATH=/opt/homebrew/lib
sudo apt-get update sudo apt install gawk patch bzip2 tar make libgmp-dev libmpfr-dev libmpc-dev gettext wget libelf-dev texinfo bison flex sed git build-essential diffutils curl libjpeg-dev libpng-dev python3 pkg-config libisofs-dev meson ninja-build
sudo dnf install gawk patch bzip2 tar make gmp-devel mpfr-devel libmpc-devel gettext wget elfutils-libelf-devel texinfo bison flex sed git diffutils curl libjpeg-turbo-devel libpng-devel gcc-c++ python3 meson ninja-build
sudo pacman -S --needed gawk patch bzip2 tar make gmp mpfr libmpc gettext wget libelf texinfo bison flex sed git diffutils curl libjpeg-turbo libpng python3 meson
sudo apk --update add build-base patch bash texinfo gmp-dev libjpeg-turbo-dev libpng-dev elfutils-dev curl wget python3 git
Other Linux distributions
If you're using a different Linux- or Unix-based system besides the one above, you may need to reference your distribution's package database and package manager documentation for the equivalent package names and commands necessary for your system.
Creating a space for your toolchain installation
Create the path where we'll install the toolchain and KOS, and grant it the proper permissions:
sudo mkdir -p /opt/toolchains/dc sudo chmod -R 755 /opt/toolchains/dc sudo chown -R $(id -u):$(id -g) /opt/toolchains/dc
Cloning the KOS git repository
Clone the KOS git repository to your system:
git clone https://github.com/KallistiOS/KallistiOS.git /opt/toolchains/dc/kos
Configuring the dc-chain script
Enter the dc-chain directory:
We will choose the default stable configuration for the toolchain, which currently uses GCC 13.2. For advanced users, other configurations are available to you; read the
README.md file in the dc-chain directory for more information if you are interested.
cp config/config.mk.stable.sample config.mk
Now, you may configure config.mk options to your liking by using a text editor. You may alter the
makejobs parameter to the number of threads available on your CPU to speed up the compilation, if desired. However, if you run into errors during compilation, you may want to set
makejobs=-j1, as on some operating systems the toolchain may fail to build with a higher setting.
Downloading and compiling the toolchain
Now we will run a script to download files and compile the toolchain. At this point, we have the option of building both the main CPU SH4 compiler and the AICA sound processor ARM compiler, or we can skip the ARM compiler and just build the SH4 compiler. Thankfully, KallistiOS includes a prebuilt sound driver, so the ARM compiler is only necessary if you're wanting to make changes to the sound driver or write custom code to run on the sound processor. To build only the SH4 compiler:
To build both the SH4 and the ARM compilers:
This will download and unpack the relevant necessary files and then begin the compilation process. The compilation can take anywhere from minutes to a few hours depending on your CPU and number of threads available. When successfully finished, the toolchains will be ready.
Afterwards, if desired, you may also compile the GNU Debugger (gdb) as well:
The GNU Debugger is now installed along with your toolchains.
Cleaning up temporary files
After building everything, you can clean up the extraneous files in your dc-chain directory by entering:
Configuring and compiling KOS and kos-ports
Setting up the environment settings
Enter the KOS directory:
Copy the pre-made environment script into place:
cp doc/environ.sh.sample environ.sh
For most users, the default settings will suffice. However, advanced users may edit the environ.sh to your liking if you'd like to change compile flags or alter paths. If you'd like to have multiple KOS versions installed or multiple toolchain versions installed, you can set up different environ.sh files corresponding to these different configurations by altering the paths. Run the source command on the desired environ.sh file to select that configuration prior to compiling your project.
You will need to run the source command to apply the KOS environment settings to your currently running shell. Run the following now, and whenever you open a new shell to work on Dreamcast projects:
KOS is now built.
Clone the kos-ports repository to your system:
git clone --recursive https://github.com/KallistiOS/kos-ports /opt/toolchains/dc/kos-ports
Run the script to build all of the included ports:
kos-ports is now built.
Building the KOS examples
Enter the KOS examples directory:
Build the examples:
All of the example programs provided with KallistiOS are now built.
TODO: Give a tutorial on compiling dcload/dc-tool, setting up a serial, USB, or IP debug link, and running 2ndmix demo on real hardware.
Download and burn the latest versions of dcload-ip or dcload-serial -- the IP version includes improved DHCP support, so there is no longer a need to configure things beforehand.
Run one of the examples from the
kos/examples/dreamcast directory with one of the following commands:
dc-tool-ip -t <dreamcast IP address> -x example.elf
dc-tool-ser -t <serial device path> -x example.elf
dc-tool-ser without any parameters to get additional options.
Burning an example program to CD-R
TODO: Explain how to build mkdcdisc and write 2ndmix demo to CD-R and run on a Dreamcast console
mkdcdisc can be used to easily generate a burnable self-boot CDI image.
git clone https://gitlab.com/simulant/mkdcdisc.git cd mkdcdisc meson setup builddir meson compile -C builddir ./builddir/mkdcdisc -h
and create a CDI image from your compiled ELF like so:
mkdcdisc -e MyProgram.elf -o MyProgram.cdi
Then you can burn the CDI file using DiscJuggler (Windows-only, but also works through WINE), ImgBurn with the CDI plugin, or the cdiburn *nix script floating around out there. (document this better)
Creating your first project
TODO: Explain how to create a new DC project folder with Makefile, adding an external library, create a basic program, and compile it
TODO: Links to articles for using gdb, integrating the dev setup with an IDE, etc.