The PlayStation 2 is the best-selling video game console in history, but being an optical media-based machine, it often suffered physical faults rendering the drive inoperable and the machine useless. Fortunately, though, the PS2 has one of the strongest home-brew communities around, and some clever code monkeys figured out a way to play PS2 backup games without the need for an optical drive using OPL: Open PS2 Loader. Unfortunately, there isn’t much documentation on how to get this plan up and running. Hopefully, I can rectify this.
The easiest way to get this system up and running is “soft modding” your PlayStation. This is a software modification that runs an alternative OS version stored on a memory card. Without said memory card in place, the PlayStation boots as it normally would, preserving the integrity of the hardware and firmware. There are a myriad of ways to install the alternative OS (called Free McBoot) that are detailed elsewhere on the Interwebs, and even some volunteers who will install it for free on a memory card you provide; but I will be purchasing a memory card with FMcB installed. I do this for several reasons:
- It’s faster than waiting to mail a memory card to someone, wait for them to install the exploit, then mail it back.
- Not that I don’t trust people, but I only have one memory card right now, so I can’t part with that for an indeterminate timeframe.
- An official Sony memory card costs between US$5-9 on Ebay, and I can buy one with the system installed for $10.
- All of the DIY methods for installing FMcB require PS2 software that is even more expensive (Codebreakers, et al.) than purchasing the exploited memory card.
Now, once receiving the memory card, I can pop it into slot 1 on the PS2 and toggle the power button. You may have to jigger the reset button a few times before Free McBoot loads. This is because the purchased memory card has the “multi-version” installation and takes longer to load. Don’t worry, it’ll load. Just keep resetting until you see this screen:
Fantastic, Free McBoot is running on your PlayStation! Now, from the FMcB menu, we have several applications to choose from:
- uLaunchELF launches applications from memory card, hard drive, or USB.
- ESR launches backup physical (burned) copies of games.
- Simple Media System plays MP3 and video files.
- Open PS2 Loader launches games and apps from a unified menu system. This is the application we will be using to set up our system.
Before we go any further, I have to make a serious note:
These instructions are intended to allow fans of the PlayStation 2 and its software to continue to enjoy playing past the possible point of physical failure of the PlayStation 2. Backup copies are exactly that: backups of software already purchased. Games can be legally purchased from a variety of outlets; do not pirate games.
For reliability, you may want to install a fresh copy of Free McBoot on a blank memory card. Download the latest version from psx-scene.com to a USB thumb drive and launch the installer using uLaunchELF. Choose the normal install option and make sure you swap memory cards before formatting if you don’t want to lose your multi-installer version (if you want to install to other systems as well or keep a backup!)
Open PS2 Loader is a great, customisable application that allows disc image files to be loaded directly from either an attached hard drive or network-attached storage. This tutorial assumes you have either a slim PS2 or network adapter on a fat PS2. Download the latest “full” (VMC+GSM+PS2RD) version from the link above and unzip it to a dedicated USB thumb drive that you will keep in the PS2. Place the thumb drive into one of the USB slots on the PS2 and boot into Free McBoot. Use uLaunchELF to run OPL from the USB drive (DO NOT use the version listed in the Free McBoot menu!). Once in OPL, you can easily configure your settings following the onscreen prompts. If you have your games on a USB or internal hard drive, there should be no more configuration necessary. If you are using an NAS, you can copy the addresses of your router, NAS, and PS2 into their respective places.
OPL requires a specific folder structure on its disk (or share) in order to work. You will need the following folders (case-sensitive):
- ART, for artwork file storage
- CD, to store CD-based games (blue discs)
- CFG, for configuration files
- CHT, for cheat files
- DVD, to store DVD-based games
- THM, for themes
- VMC, to store “virtual memory cards”
Once your folders are set up and the disc images are properly filed, OPL should automagically find the games, list them by file name, and have them available to play!