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PCSX2 Tutorial

By Alejandro Rodriguez. Last revised December 8, 2020.

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About PCSX2

PCSX2 was the first PlayStation 2 emulator. Through persistent development, it has remained the best one around! Game compatibility is high. It conveniently comes equipped with its own plug-ins, which can be customized. PCSX2 requires a fast computer in order to run well. You might have trouble with it if you're using a budget laptop or a Windows tablet.

With other emulators you can get away with using your keyboard for gameplay. But with PCSX2 it's pretty difficult, given the PlayStation 2 controller's mini joysticks. I strongly recommend purchasing a gamepad for this emulator.

Where to download PCSX2

You can download PCSX2 from the official homepage. However, note that they have a reputation for not being diligent at keeping their download of PCSX2 up-to-date while PCSX2 itself was still being updated. They kept it outdated for years until mid-2020. If you want to be absolutely sure to download the latest version of PCSX2, you can grab it from their Github automated builds page.

Intro to plug-in system

PlayStation 2 emulation revolves around the plug-in system. The same system used by PlayStation 1 and N64 emulators. PlayStation emulators are merely the shell of the operation.

PCSX2 already comes equipped with plug-ins, so you don't have to worry about downloading them separately and configuring them. I still want to review the different types of plug-ins with you. It's good to be informed with how the emulator works. Here's the list of them:

  1. GS - the graphic plug-in. This controls the graphics and 3D rendering.
  2. PAD - the controller plug-in. This controls how you control your games; whether you use a keyboard or a gamepad.
  3. SPU2 - the sound plug-in. This controls the music and sound effects.
  4. CDVD - the CD/DVD plug-in. This controls the reading of your CDs/DVDs or images.
  5. USB - the USB plug-in. This controls USB emulation.
  6. FW - the firewire plug-in. This controls the firewire port of the PlayStation 2.
  7. DEV9 - the hard disk & Ethernet plug-in. This controls the HDD (hard disk drive) and Ethernet emulation.

Note that you don't have to stick with the plug-ins that come with PCSX2. You might find better ones out there if you Google around.

The BIOS

The PlayStation 2 BIOS is required in order to boot games. This is a separate download after you've downloaded PCSX2. Below you can download this BIOS.

  • PlayStation 2 BIOS (12.7 MB). Download by right-clicking the download link and go to Save Link As. When saving, rename the “_ip” file extension to “zip”. If you don't see the file extension, try showing them. I also made this GIF animation to show you how to change the file extension.

Continue reading below for what to do next after you download the BIOS.

Installation

Newer versions of PCSX2 are just standalone programs in a zip file. Older versions of PCSX2 install via a wizard. I'll explain both scenarios.

Installing the standalone program (newer versions)

Installation is simple: just extract PCSX2 from its zip file. Not sure how to extract zip files? Here's a video tutorial showing you how: how to unzip files on Windows.

IMPORTANT! PCSX2 must be placed in a common folder on your computer. I recommend Documents, Downloads, or create a folder on your desktop. If you place PCSX2 somewhere else on your main C drive, then you may be restricting it to read-only access. Doing so prevents PCSX2 from saving anything.

Using the install wizard (older versions)

  1. Double-click on the install EXE for PCSX2. It'll look something like PCSX2's install EXE
  2. The “Choose Components” box will be the first screen to pop up:
    Choose Components
    Leave everything checked and click Next.
  3. The installation will proceed. You'll be prompted with this box to Visual C++:
    Load your game
    Put a check that you read the terms and click Install.
  4. PCSX2 is installed! But we're not done yet. Read the next section about what to do when you open PCSX2 for the first time.

First Time Configuration + BIOS setup

  1. Open PCSX2 by double-clicking on PCSX2's EXE. If you installed PCSX2 with an install wizard, you'd open it by going to your Start menu (your programs list) and open up PCSX2 there .
  2. PCSX2 welcomes you with the First Time Configuration screen . Click Next.
  3. The next screen just reviews the plug-ins that come with PCSX2. You don't need to do anything here. Click Next.
  4. Next is the BIOS screen. Click Open in Explorer, as shown below: Select 'Open in Explorer'
  5. You'll be prompted with a “This path does not exist. Create it?” window. Click Create.
  6. Now minimize this “First Time Configuration” window. Note the path where the BIOS folder is located. Open up that folder. Download the BIOS if you haven't already, unzip it, and drag its contents to the BIOS folder. It should look something like below:
    The BIOS files in the BIOS folder
    It's very important that you match the above screenshot on your end. Don't place the BIOS files in a sub folder within the BIOS folder!
  7. Bring back the “First Time Configuration” window. Click the Refresh list button (circled below). You should now see the Europe, Japan, and USA BIOS files appear in the white box.
    Click 'Refresh list', then click on your preferred country
  8. Click on your desired country to select it. Then click Finish.
  9. That's it! PCSX2 is now fully installed and configured.

Setting up the keyboard or gamepad

Usually emulators have all the keyboard keys preconfigured, but PCSX2's keys are a clean slate the first time you open it! You have no choice but to configure them. Again, I urge you to purchase a gamepad since the PlayStation 2 controller has a lot of buttons. Using just the keyboard is a frustrating experience.

Here's how to configure the buttons for Player 1:

  1. Go to Config > Controllers (PAD) > Plugin Settings, as shown below:
    Accessing the Input configuration
  2. You'll see tabs for General, Pad 1, and Pad 2. Pad 1 is Player 1 and Pad 2 is player 2. Click on Pad 1 and you'll arrive here:
    The Input configuration
  3. Notice the heavily buttoned area within the red outline. These are all the buttons you need to configure. Click a button in this area, then press the keyboard key or gamepad button that you wish to configure it to. When successful, you should see the configured button appear in the “Device/PC Control/PS2 Control” panel.
  4. Click OK when you're finished configuring all the buttons.

Using a PS2, PS3, or Xbox controller

PCSX2 doesn't require any special directions for using a PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, or Xbox controller. However, the first time you plug one into your computer it needs to be properly setup or requires special instruction for connecting. There are lots of videos on YouTube showing you how to do this:

Loading a real PS2 game you own

Loading a real PlayStation 2 game that you own is incredibly easy. Just pop the game in to your DVD-ROM drive, wait a few moments, then in PCSX2 go to System > Boot CDVD (full).

However, I do not recommend playing your games via your DVD-ROM drive. PCSX2 is a rather demanding emulator on your CPU. Running the game from your DVD-ROM drive will slow it down and lower its performance. Rather, I recommend ripping your game to an ISO. I have directions for that towards the bottom of this guide.

Loading a PS2 ISO

  1. To begin with, you can place your PlayStation 2 ISOs wherever you want on your computer. PCSX2 doesn't care where. I recommend the PCSX2 folder in Documents.
  2. Go to CDVD > ISO Selector > Browse, as shown below:
    Selecting the ISO Selector
  3. Navigate your computer for your PlayStation 2 ISO. Click on it, then click Open.
    *Note: PCSX2 only supports ISO, BIN, IMG, MDF, NRG. And games must be extracted from their ZIP, RAR, or 7Z file. I talk more about this here.
  4. Go to System > Boot CDVD (full). Wait a few moments and your game will load. Enjoy!
  5. PCSX2 will keep every ISO you previously opened in the ISO Selector list. See:
    The game list in ISO Selector
    So then the next time you open PCSX2, you can just select the game you want to play from this list.

Q: Games get stuck at loading screen!

You may find that some games get stuck at the loading screen when you try to load them. There are several possible factors to this problem. Try running through this checklist:

  1. Download other games and try loading them. Rule out if this is a game-specific issue or a global issue with all your games. If it's a global issue, PCSX2 may not be setup correctly or PCSX2 may not be compatible with your computer.
  2. Make sure the file format of your game is supported by PCSX2 and extracted from its archive. I talk more about this below in “My PS2 game is not an ISO. Help!
  3. It's possible the problematic game is partially corrupt or a bad file. Try downloading it from other websites.
  4. You may be able to fix it by tweaking around settings. Try the recommendations in this video: 8 Ways To Fix The Black Screen Freeze PCSX2 Emulator.

Q: My PS2 game is not an ISO. Help!

PCSX2 only supports games (a.k.a. disc images) in ISO, BIN, IMG, MDF, and NRG. Or more specifically, the filename of your game needs to be “Shadow of Colossus.iso”, “Shadow of Colossus.bin”, etc. Keep reading if the PS2 game you downloaded is not in these formats.

Wait, I don't see file extensions

Windows hides file extensions by default. Here are directions on how to enable them.

If your game is in ZIP, RAR, 7Z

These formats are forms of compression, and your PS2 game is inside of it! You need to extract it. Windows can extract ZIP files by default: here are directions. To extract a RAR or 7Z file you can use 7-Zip (it's free).

If your game is in UIF, DAA, CDI, XBX, B51, BWI

These ISO formats are exclusive to specific burning software. Google around to find what program is associated with that format. Once found, install it and burn the game to a DVD. However if you want my opinion, I say just forget about it. You should try to download the game from somewhere else to get it in ISO or BIN format. Working with these proprietary ISO formats are too much trouble.

Fullscreen

Press Alt+Enter to enter fullscreen. Press Alt+Enter again to go back to window mode.

Improving speed

With today's computers you don't need to use PCSX2's speed hacks. The default settings are fine for most people. Maybe if you're on a Windows tablet or a budget laptop, you'd need to make use of the speed hacks if you find that games are running slow.

PCSX2 makes adjusting game performance very easy with a simple slider. First, access the video plug-in settings by going to Config > Video (GS) > Core GS Settings, as shown below:

Accessing the speed hacks

Look towards the bottom left for this slider shown below:

The Speed Hack Preset

The default setting is “2 - Safe (faster)”. Hovering over the slider pops up this information:

The Presets apply speed hacks, some recompiler options and some game fixes known to boost speed. Known important game fixes will be applied automatically.

Presets info:

1 - The most accurate emulation but also the slowest.

3 --> Tries to balance speed with compatibility.

4 - Some more aggressive hacks.

5 - Too many hacks which will probably slow down most games.

Try moving the slider to “3”, click OK, and see if your game is running better. If it's still slow, try “4”. If that doesn't help, then I hate to break it to you but your system is not fast enough to handle PCSX2.

Fixing graphic glitches in 2D games

Graphic glitches around bounding boxes of sprites

The default settings in PCSX2 cause 2D games to have weird graphic glitches around the bounding boxes of graphics and sprites. See above for an example. There's an easy fix for this.

  1. Go to Config > Video (GS) > Plugin Settings, as shown below:
    Accessing the video plug-in's settings
  2. Select the “Internal Resolution” drop-down selection, as shown below:
    Increasing the size of the internal resolution
    Choose 2x Native.
  3. Click OK and see if that fixes the graphical glitches. If it doesn't, go back and select 3x Native. Either of those options should fix it.
  4. Note: Increasing the internal resolution will most likely cause your 3D games to slow down. You would need to adjust the internal resolution every time you switch between playing your 2D and 3D games.

Save states

Save states is a feature that saves the exact spot you are in any game. You can use this feature manually by going into the File menu or by quick keyboard shortcuts.

Using the save state feature via the File menu
  • Capturing a state: To capture a save state go to File > Save state and choose any of the 10 slots. These slots are reserved to allow you to save up to 10 different save states. The keyboard shortcut for saving states is F1.
  • Loading a state: To load a state you previously saved, go to File > Load state. Then choose the slot where your save resides. The keyboard shortcut for loading saves is F3.

Fast forward

Fast forward is the feature that speeds up the game. To access it, press the Tab key. To end the fast forwarding, press the Tab key again.

Hiding the annoying console window

The console window

Unless you're an advanced user who cares about console logs, this thing is an eye sore. You can hide it by going to Misc > Show console.

Capturing screen shots

PCSX2 doesn't have the ability to capture screen shots. Rather, I have a cool solution for you. Download ShareX. It's free and supported by Google! Once installed, you can just press Ctrl+Prt Scr and hover over the game screen. ShareX will capture the game screen as if PCSX2 just took a screen shot. ShareX will dump the screen shot in Documents > ShareX > Screenshots.

Backing up your PS2 games to ISO

Perhaps you prefer using your own PlayStation 2 games instead of downloading them from the Internet? Or maybe you just want to keep backup copies of your PlayStation 2 games? Whatever the case, here's how you can dump your games:

  1. Download & install RetroArch for Windows. It's the #1 multi-system emulator. I have a tutorial for RetroArch for Windows as well.
    • Note: During RetroArch's installation, setting a custom destination for RetroArch matters. It'll be easier for you to find RetroArch if you select an easy-to-find folder such as Documents. Otherwise, RetroArch defaults to your AppData folder deep in your C drive, which can be a little annoying to locate.
  2. Put your game CD in your computer's DVD-ROM drive.
  3. Open RetroArch and select Dump Disc - as shown here
  4. On the next screen, select your DVD-ROM drive (the first option, most likely).
  5. You're going to see this progress bar appear on the lower-left of the screen:
    Progress bar for dumping an ISO
    Depending on the speed of your DVD-ROM drive, this will probably take 5-20 minutes to finish.
  6. When RetroArch finishes dumping your game CD, the progress bar will disappear. It doesn't prompt you with an alert sound or anything. If your DVD-ROM was humming during the dumping, you'll know RetroArch finished when your DVD-ROM's humming sound stops.
  7. RetroArch dumps the ISO of your game CD in its Downloads folder. So the next step is locating the Downloads folder. This is why in step #1 I noted to install RetroArch in an easy-to-find location. If you installed RetroArch in, say, your Documents folder, go to Documents > RetroArch > Downloads to find your game CD's ISO file. Otherwise, RetroArch is in the AppData folder. Here's how to find it:
    1. Open the Windows File Explorer. The easiest way to open it is to click the folder icon in your home row of apps. If a folder icon isn't present, you can also do this: in the “Type here to search” area type “file” and you'll see a File Explorer app appear at the top of the search results - as shown here .
    2. In the left panel, look for Local Disc (C:). Click on it, then in the main panel click Users - as shown here .
    3. Next, double-click on the folder for the user you are currently signed in as.
    4. In your 'user' folder, currently “AddData” is hidden. We need to make hidden folders visible. Click on View then Options - as shown here . Then click the View tab then click the radio bullet for Show hidden files, folders and drives . Click Apply then OK.
    5. The “AddData” folder should now be visible . Double-click on it. Then double-click on Roaming > RetroArch > Downloads.
  8. Now we're in the Downloads folder! You should see a BIN file and a CUE file with a weird filename like “cdrom-200000-1000000” - as shown here . Double-click on the CUE file and choose to open it in Notepad. You'll see the text that's shown in my picture.
  9. Next, rename the CUE file and BIN file to the name of your game. Open the CUE file in Notepad to rename the ISO as well. You can name these files to any name you want. The only requirement is that both files & the name in the CUE file must be the same exact name. Look here - these three instances need to be changed to the same name.
  10. That's it! You've successfully dumped your PlayStation 2 game. You can use it with any PlayStation 2 emulator or any multi-system emulator that supports PlayStation 2.

Q: The screen is obscured with a white bar!

White gradient on the screen

PCSX2 might cover the screen with a white bar or gradient. It might look something like the picture toward the right. This is a video related issue. It could be PCSX2's fault or the fault of your video card. Try the following.

Is this a video card issue or PCSX2 issue?

The first step is to figure out whose fault this is. If the visual obstruction is a white gradient, that's definitely a PCSX2 issue and you can skip this section to “Attempt #1” below. If your visual obstruction is a white bar, keep reading here.

The easiest way to figure out fault is to try other video game emulators. Or even try connecting a second monitor (if one is available). If the white bar is present elsewhere, then this is definitely a video card issue. Try what Microsoft recommends to fix this. Well, even if you don't see the white bar in other emulators, I'd try Microsoft's recommended troubleshooting anyway.

Attempt #1: Update PCSX2

Are you using an older version of PCSX2? Or did you download PCSX2 from its official homepage? (Note that the official homepage hasn't been updated in years.) The issue could be as simple as you just need to download the latest version. You can find it on this 'automated builds' page or my emulators page.

Does updating PCSX2 not fix the issue? Try the next troubleshooting measure.

Attempt #2: Is this game-specific?

Does this issue happen with just one game or all of your games? If it happens with just one game, maybe the ISO is partially corrupt. Try downloading the game from another website.

If this same issue happens with more than one game, try the next troubleshooting measure.

Attempt #3: Change the Renderer

Perhaps tweaking the video plugin's renderer will help.

  1. If you currently have a game open, close it.
  2. Enter the settings for the video plug-in. Go to Config > Video (GS) > Plugin Settings.
  3. Look at the “Renderer” drop-down. OpenGL (Hardware) is the default selection. Click on this field and select a different renderer from the list.
  4. Click on OK and open your game. If the white bars are still present, select a different renderer and try again.

If none of the above troubleshooting measures resolved your issue, I would conclude that PCSX2 is not fully compatible with your device.

Q: I get 'CDVD plugin failed to open' error

Sometimes when PCSX2 is force closed it gets screwed up and spits out this error every time you try to load a game:

CDVD plugin failed to open. Your computer may have insufficient resources, or incompatible hardware/drivers.

To fix this you need to force close PCSX2 (again) and select a different graphics plug-in. This video shows you how.

Finding ISOs

In my links page, I have some good links to sites where you can download ISOs. If you want to try to find more sites than what's in my collection of links, just Google around. For example, if you want to download Shadow of the Colossus just Google “download shadow of the colossus ps2”.

However, an even better use of Google is to search Reddit. People upload PlayStation 2 games to cloud platforms all the time. You'll only find these links to such valuable resources on Reddit. Try search phrases such as “reddit download playstation 2”.