Shots of various consoles playing various older or emulated games, sliding into view with different cuts and fade animations
Media preservation is a huge topic in todays world with movies, music, books and games. Physical media can only last so long and with music and movies being as portable and easy to access as they are on any device, it would make sense that games are the same. Unfortunately since games are a lot more complex and made up of tonnes of parts this isn’t possible or at least easy.
This is where emulation comes in. Emulation acts as a layer between the game and your own computer, phone, or even modern game console. It’s a programme which job is to convince the game it’s the original console as well as being able to understand and reproduce the games graphics and mechanics similar or exactly the same as the original.
Emulation has gone through various legal issues since it’s inception, being targeted by companies like Nintendo, Sony, Atari and more, until Bleem. Bleem was a company who managed to reverse engineer the PlayStation while it was still popular and create an emulator for the Apple Mac, not only allowing the games to be played on that hardware, but surpass the Original, offering higher resolutions. This was only allowed if the user owned a CD ROM of the game but Sony didn’t take kindly to this, filing a lawsuit against Bleem. Surprisingly, well they won, with the court deeming the emulation legal. While they were sadly left bankrupt. Since this clean (No knowledge of source code) reverse engineering has left emulation legal with emulators being freely distributed online.
But What about the games? Sadly the only stance on games is that uploading the ROMs online is illegal and Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, Square-Enix and other companies will take action and pull them down. While some say extracting the games from your own disk is okay or even downloading copies for games you already own physically (Due to the awkward nature of ripping Game Cartridges or CDs.
So why Emulate and not just play the original console? Well for some consoles this just isn’t possible anymore, due to failing hardware and for others it’s just difficult or the experience is poor, such as plugging your old console into a modern TV requires mass amounts of work such as adapters and even then, the image may look poor. While others online have taken to modding their consoles and adding HDMI solutions, this is costly and complicated for anyone just wanting to play some Super Mario Bros.
Emulation introduces the ease of just downloading or ripping the game and playing it on your PC, phone or even console itself. Many companies such as Capcom, Konami, Nintendo & even Sony, have released their games through compilations or through their Online Stores for purchase, all using emulation due to the free emulators online, providing very little work.
One other huge benefit of emulation is the ability to make the games look and even play better than the original version on its hardware. Emulators are able to play and run games at their Original Resolution, or even higher such as 4k, leading to a much better presentation. This is most helpful for blocky 3d games from the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation up to the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii, sometimes transforming the game so much it still looks modern due to it’s art style. They allow new technologies such as Direct X or Vulkan to render the games, letting them run more efficient than before as well as some games being able to take advantage of the higher power offered by PCs, allowing them to run at higher framerates through modifications. So much can be done to make these older games playable and offer even better experiences than the original.
One of the Biggest things emulation has brought to the table has been new developers. Whether that’s people coming in and changing some things about the original game, fixing issues, adding new characters, levels or straight up making new content entirely for it, it’s given us more content as well as game designers in the industry, with fresh new ideas. Take Christian Whitehead for example, a previous Sonic ROM hacker. He went from creating impressive Sonic Tech Demos to working for Sega as head on their hit new game in 2017, Sonic Mania with it receiving the highest reviews a sonic game has in years. With other developers going on and creating games like Freedom Planet, CSGO and more.
So you’re probably thinking with everything it can do, its probably extremely difficult to set up. Well not really, with all it requiring being a $35 computer and micro SD card and some time. Here I’ll show you the process of setting this computer up and hooking it up to a screen to show how easy it is.
In the end, I’m able to play everything from the NES to the PlayStation this easy, and with a decent Phone or PC you could even do the PlayStation 2, GameCube and higher, with Nintendo Switch emulators already being available. With companies adopting this technology, I believe even when we eventually reach a generation without physical media, emulation will be the best way to play and revisit all these classic games or games we’re even playing right now.