Frontier Pop Issue 33: Video Game Emulation. - C. A. Passinault
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FRONTIER POP: Frontier Pop Issue 33 - Video Game Emulation - September 2011

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Video Game Emulation

Video Game Emulation: Current Issue, Issue 33, Volume 2, for September, 2011. New Issue published every month, and updated throughout the month. Next issue due online October 2011.

 Thoughts:

091511-2215 - Passinault: Off to a good start for the September 2011 issue of Frontier Pop, which is about video game emulation. Should finish the issue this weekend, as it will not be a large one.


INITIALIZING

ISSUE INTRODUCTION BY EDITOR AND PUBLISHER C. A. PASSINAULT

Hello everyone! With last month’s issue of Frontier Pop (August 2011: The Next Level) covering a lot of territory, and being HUGE, this month will be a lot smaller.
I have a lot going on this month with the first Tampa Shootouts modeling photography event, increasing business in photography bookings, and the construction and launch of several new web sites. I had some rather controversial topics picked out for this month and the following month, but those will be pushed back. I also have a indie film review special in the works, and that probably won’t go online until December; it will be a great Christmas indeed for some Tampa filmmakers!
Frontier Pop issue 33: Video Game EmulationComing up: The October 2011 issue of Frontier Pop, which will be online in two weeks (on time, for a change) will cover a controversial topic. It will be about slander being used as a form of discrimination. The November 2011 issue will, perhaps, be the most controversial thing that I ever write. It will be about gays.
So, with some rather heavy subjects coming up this fall, and all of the other things going on, I decided to curl up in front of the computer for one night (or two, in this case) and write about video game emulation, a subject that I’ve been wanting to write about in Frontier Pop since last year. Actually, I also ran into someone at a Walmart the other day, as I was in the electronics section pricing things and lamenting about how screwed up Nintendo’s pricing was (the 3DS is now $20.00 more than the DSi, and the 3DS is completely compatible with the DSi. Why anyone would buy a DSi now is beyond me, and Nintendo needs to drop the price of that console at least $40.00 for a $60.00 gap, or even more). I began discussing the different video game consoles and classic retro games, and how you could play the classics on any computer. That’s when I became inspired to write about emulators, as we were talking about them, and I promised that I would put all of the information on Frontier Pop (I also like how easy it is to remember the name of this web site. Who needs cards when you have a name this cool?!).
So, this will be a fun issue. Here we go!

Emulators: What is an emulator?
An emulator is a software program which effectively turns your computer into the console or arcade hardware that it is emulating. Old computers like the Apple II and even pre-windows DOS can be emulated on any Windows PC.
There are emulators for Apple computers, too, but I don’t know anything about them, as I do not have any Apple computers. Eventually, I will have both Windows PC’s and Apple computers, and I will then learn those emulators for the Apple, but for now, it’s all PC, baby! There are also emulators for tablet computers like the iPad, BUT I strongly recommend that you skip those because you’ll have to jailbreak the iPad, voiding your warrantee, AND touch controls are no substitute for a solid D-Pad and buttons.

About my computer
Computer specs when it came to emulators was an issue 10 years ago when computers were not that powerful, but not today. Not that I know anything about power, though, as much of my gear is old (I am NOT a PC gamer, don't play computer games, and therefore, don't need cutting-edge hardware, yet). My main computer is a laptop running Windows XP, Service Pack 3, with 500 Megs of RAM, an 80 Gig hard drive, and an Athlon processor clocking in at 700 MHZ. I know that those specs are pathetic these days, but remember that I bought my laptop brand new back in 2005. I take really good care of my gear, and my things tend to last (a reason that all of my video game consoles in my huge collection, including my Atari 7800, NES, Super NES, both Atari Jaguars, Jaguar CD, original GBA, 3DO, and everything else is in perfect condition. I spent 6 months in 1994 alone finding a NES in perfect condition. My Super NES, the first console that I actually bought, is still in brand new condition, and I bought that in 1992). I have a newer computer in the studio which is twice that spec, and an older computer in the studio with the same specs. Most emulators can run at full speed on a computer with as little as 128 Megs of RAM and a clock speed of 400 MHZ (I know, because I have years of experience running emulators on a variety of different machines. My friend Kristen's computer back in 1999 was a 400 MHZ Gateway tower, and it ran MAME great!), as they do not require the hardware power that a Windows PC game would.
WARNING!
I would go out and buy an old used computer for emulation (for between $40.00 to $90.00), and not bother with it on my new computers with important files on them. I would also not download any video game ROM that I did not own in my collection. There are technical and legal risks with emulation.
Emulation is not perfect, and it is not risk-free. You assume all risks and potential liability if you start messing around with emulators or download game ROMs that you do not have the right to download. Although 99% of the time everything is awesome, you have to tinker with some emulators and tweak them to get them to work right. Fortunately, this is not difficult.
I’ve been using emulators for over 13 years, ever since I bought my first PC, which ran Windows 98, had a 4 Gig hard drive, and 32 Megs of RAM. In all that time, I’ve had four or five big problems. By far, the worst was two years ago when I was playing E.T. for the Atari 2600 on my computer using an emulator called Stella (Yes, I was playing what is considered to be the worst video game ever made, although I disagree with the bad rap that the game has. I like it, and it is NOT a bad game; I’ve played games on the Playstation, the Jaguar, the 3DO, and the Super NES which were worse!). Somehow, the emulator crashed, and my computer froze, sticking on this one loud sound that I could not turn off. So, I did a hard reboot by turning the computer off. This corrupted my boot sector on my hard drive (how that happened, I have no idea), rendering my computer a paperweight; I had to redo the entire thing and lost a few files along the way. I was not a happy camper! Another time, and this had nothing to do with emulators, but with a commercial video game console, I plugged my new 1000 series Playstation Portable into one of my older computers. This corrupted my USB drivers, and I ended up having to redo the entire computer by reinstalling the O.S. and the drivers. I didn’t lose files that time, but it took a couple of days to backup files and to redo the computer. So, see, any time that you change something on your computer or install something, wether it is a mainstream product or not, you take a risk.

Legal issues of emulators
Emulators themselves are legal. The games themselves, as ROM files which the emulators run, are copyrighted by the game companies, however, and may not be legal.
I am not, in any way, suggesting that you download and play any ROMS.
The way that I see it, I am ok because I am a video game collector. The game makers, which own the legal rights to the games, also use emulation when they sell their classic games. This means that the games being run are ports of the originals, and not translations or remakes. This makes the games the same legal property, because it is the same exact code, or copyrighted work.
I buy, and have bought, a LOT of games; far more than most buy. I may have the largest private video game collection in Florida, and I'm pretty sure that I have that distinction in the Tampa Bay market. I have thousands upon thousands of video games, all legitimately bought at full price, as well as dozens of video game consoles. I play emulators for convenience, as I can bring along most of the games that I already own on a laptop and play them whenever I want to.
Do I really own most of the games that I play on emulator? Yes I do! Are they the actual games, and not translations or other versions? Yes, again! Take Castlevania for the NES. I own it as a cartridge for the NES, which I have, too. I own it on the Virtual Console on the Wii, which is emulated legally (and, I might add, ownership of that version is an issue if something happens to the Wii, which is a fact that I have issues with, and it’s an issue which I have with all downloadable games. If I have to get another Wii, it will be a pain in the butt to get the game downloaded to the new Wii without paying for it all over again. It's even worse that I bought over 50 games for the Virtual Console, about $400.00 worth, which are all on my Wii. It is a hassle being legit). I also own it on my NES/ Famicom emulator. All three play perfectly. Which ones do I play? Well, the emulator version is the one that I play the most, as it is on three of my computers, followed by the Wii version, which I like because the system keeps a record of when I play and how much I play, as well as allowing me to resume whenever I want to. I never play the cart version for the NES, and have not done so for years, as it is a pain to set up, and it is a part of my collection.
The Neo Geo games that I play are a trickier proposition, as I do not own a Neo Geo. Back when Neo Geo systems sold in stores, I could not afford paying $600.00 for one, and certainly could not afford to dish out $200.00 to $300.00 per game. I wanted one, though. So did a lot of other gamers. My friend Frank was luckier, as he worked for a video game store, Blockbuster Games at the Tampa Bay Center mall (which was the best mall in the Tampa Bay area back in the early 1990's, before it closed, was torn down, and the f-ing Tampa Bay Buccaneers built that stupid football temple there. I hate football and sports, but that's for another time. Anyway, TBC will always be my favorite mall, and I'd pay hundreds for just one more day there in the early 90's). When they got rid of their Neo Geo games, he was first in line, and walked away with a perfect collection for next to nothing; today, his Neo Geo collection is worth over $10,000.00, and he isn’t selling. One day, I'll have to try to buy it from him, and I would pay $10,000.00 for a perfect Neo Geo collection.
That’s not to say that I don’t own Neo Geo games, as whenever SNK Playmore releases a compilation game disc for modern consoles, which are the original game code emulated, I buy them. I have Neo Geo compilation games for the Playstation 2, the Xbox, and the Playstation Portable. If I had an Xbox 360, which I will eventually, I would also buy the Neo Geo games that I do not have, even though I have them on emulator already. You see, I pay my fair share- and I do not play emulators to avoid paying for games.
Then, of course, you have emulation for games that you have no other way of playing because the companies didn’t bother releasing them in the United States, or the games are so rare that they are too expensive. We have no choice if we want to play the games. Sweet Home for the Famicom, with an English patch, is one game that I would have never been able to play (or read, as it is a text-heavy game) if it were not for emulation. Sweet Home, which was the father of Resident Evil, but for the 8 Bit Famicom, is awesome, and I am happy to be able to play it (my friend Rob went crazy over it, too). Too, Neo Turf Masters and some of the Metal Slug games are too expensive for the Neo Geo (although I do have those on compilations). One game that I urgently want to get is Policenauts for the Sega Saturn. Yes, I do own two Sega Saturns, which are in mint condition, but Policenauts, which is a Japanese-only Hideo Kojima game and an unofficial sequel to Snatcher (for the Sega CD, which I have on an original CD now worth a lot of money, as well as an ISO ROM image for my Sega CD emulator), is in Japanese, and I can’t read it. So, once I obtain better computers, I am going to get a Sega Saturn emulator and get the English-patched ROM (which some fans translated because the game is so good that it was worth the fans slaving for months and working for free to translate it), online. I’m going to play that game, because if it is anything like Snatcher, it will be awesome! I’ve been wanting to play Policenauts since 1995, when I read (ironically, while sitting in the food court at Tampa Bay Center crunching down some Taco Bell tacos.... Mmmmmmm, that was a fun, and yummy, day!) that it was being released in the United States in an English version for the 3DO, the Sega Saturn, and the Playstation (I own all of those consoles). I’m still mad about them not releasing it, as I would have been the first to buy it.
There is also the argument, which I agree with because it makes sense, that emulation is needed to preserve the history of video games, especially with arcade games. So, that is pretty much it. I own most of the games already that I play on emulators, and play them on emulator because it is convenient. Other games I play because there is no other way to play them, although, it should be noted, that even though I have them on my emulators, I would buy them if their copyright owners would make them available for sale.
You also have to realize that the reason that video game publishers today have opened up their back catalogs and are selling compilations of classic video games is that the emulation scene showed them that there is a market for older games. Older, classic games, too, demonstrate what makes games great- game play. You do not need great graphics when you have great game play, and that is something that most modern video games need to learn. I like game play in my games, which probably is why I am not a fan of modern, cutting-edge games with 3D graphics.
So, yes, I play games on emulators, but I’d like to think that I am entitled to do so. I am not a pirate, and I do not steal games. I buy them, and have more games than just about anyone that I know, or know of. Even Frank, my friend with the perfect Neo Geo collection.

Video game controllers for emulators
Remember when I said that emulators require tweaking and tinkering, but that it is not difficult? Well, remember that video games, especially the classic games which are often played on emulators, are all game play. You are going to need a controller to play those games.
Most of the adjustments that are done to emulators are done in their settings menu. You’re going to spend some time configuring controllers.
At any rate, I’ve used everything from Gravis gamepads to joysticks to wired Xbox 360 controllers on my emulators, and everything in between. The Xbox 360 controller, after you have installed the Windows driver for it, is great for emulators, although the left analog stick is the primary control interface, and my NES emulator maps to it and cannot be remapped to the D-Pad on the controller (also, even if it could, the D-Pad on the XBox 360 controller SUCKS, as it is built on a "disc", and it is useless for fighting games. I love my fighting games, so there you go!). As a result, it is a poor choice for the NES, as analog sticks make D-Pad games play sloppy. Plus, the 360 controller is not cheap.
I recently discovered a $10.00 controller which is based on the original Playstation controller, the Steele Series 1GC controller. When a friend at a video game store recommended it, I took one look at it and thumbed my nose up at it. It was orange, with transparent plastic, and looked like a cheap, gimmicky, crappy typical third-party controller that I had learned to avoid in my console collecting days. The low price made me nervous, too. Still, that was all that they had, and I not only wanted multiple controllers for two player games, but I wanted to play games on my NES emulator on a proper D-Pad. So, I bought and tried one.
I was wrong about my initial impression, and was pleasantly surprised.
This controller is awesome, and it is perfect for emulators. Since you will want to play your friends, and it is cheap, you will want more than one, too.

My favorite video game emulators (and games)
Here are some of my favorite video game emulators and games. Over the years, these emulators have proven themselves reliable and safe, in my opinion.
I do not have these emulators available yet, at least entirely, for download here on Frontier Pop, as I am still working out technical issues, but you can get them at ClassicGaming.Com, as well as sites like MAME.Net. Future articles on consoles and console reviews will also reference these emulators, which is one thing that I wish that Retro Gamer magazine did when they did articles on classic consoles. It would have saved me a lot of time on trial and error!

Arcade
I use two versions of MAME, the Multi Arcade Machine Emulator, to play arcade games, as different versions read different games. To date, I have yet to see a single version of MAME read every arcade game ROM image. Emulators are not perfect, though, and this is not a perfect world.

MAME 32 0.90u1
This runs newer arcade games, including some Neo Geo games. It runs Elevator Action Returns, also, which is one of my favorite arcade games of all time!
Yes, I realize that there are newer versions of MAME, and I will check them out when I get the chance. These emulators are just the ones that I use on my computers.

My favorite arcade games on this emulator
Elevator Action Returns
Street Fighter Alpha 2
Cadillacs and Dinosaurs

MAME 32 0.34 Beta 3
This was my first emulator, which I obtained back in 1998. It’s great for old computers, too. MAME 32 0.34 runs a lot of older arcade games that my other version of MAME cannot read.

My favorite arcade games on this emulator
Jackal
Time Pilot
Time Pilot 84
Frogger
Yie Ar Kung Fu (Needs sound sample set for audio. Mine works fine)
Gyruss

NES (Nintendo Entertainment System/ Famicom)
Nester is the emulator that I use for NES/ Famicom games.

Super NES (Super Nintendo/ Super Nintendo Entertainment System/ Super Famicom)

Gameboy

Gameboy Advance (GBA / Atlantis)

Sega Genesis (Sega CD, Mega CD, Mega Drive)

Atari Lynx

Neo Geo (AES/ Advanced Entertainment System)

Emulator and game wish list


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