Game emulation is a controversial topic. Ask a group of gamers and you’ll get a wide variety of opinions. Some will say it’s a great way to play older games. Others think it’s just another form of pirating games.
One thing is for certain, however: emulation is important and necessary.
Last week, Steam announced that Dolphin Emulator, used to emulate Gamecube and Nintendo Wii games, will be officially available on their website later this year. A well-known company encouraging to use of emulators is big news.
The gaming industry is starting to, well, age. Hence, not everyone has access to the original hardware to play their beloved games. When all else fails, game emulation is the best alternative.
Let’s take a look at some of the benefits and issues of game emulation.
What is Game Emulation?
Game emulation involves using software to simulate the hardware of another system. Actually, this software is what many game developers use when creating their games for PC or consoles. It helps them fix bugs and figure out how they run best before shipping games out to consumers.
Game emulators normally run on a PC, but these days they can also run on smartphones. Then, load the ROM or game file into the emulator. The file runs like it was meant to on their system. Once it’s given the all-clear, the file is loaded into a cartridge or disc and can be shipped to stores.
These days, people use emulators to run older games from outdated consoles like the Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Genesis. Plus, game emulators offer fans ways to bind controls, save certain states in the game, and even ways to optimize games to run better. If you’ve got the patience, you could learn how to modify your favorite games!
Anyone Can Use Game Emulators
How is it possible that important software like game emulators are even available to the public? Well, when the internet took off, it was easy for people to get access to just about anything. People started uploading these game emulators and ROMS all over the internet.
This gave people the option to run these in order to play games they couldn’t otherwise access, and to play off of systems that weren’t available in their country. For example, if you never got a chance to play Dr. Slump on the PlayStation, well, all you need to do is download the program and ROM.
Of course, this is how game piracy really started to set sail. If people could just emulate any game they want and any ROM was available, there’s little reason to actually buy a game or console. Thanks to this, certain companies like Nintendo started to crack down on game emulators. They even shut down sites known for having a library of ROMs to download.
Mod To Your Heart’s Content
One of the biggest perks of emulation? Finding ROM hacks of retro games. People spent months, even years, making a different versions of their favorite games. Some are pretty good, actually. Of course, some feel like a fever dream.
Games like Sonic 1 Megamix and The Legend of Zelda: Parallel Worlds have garnered huge popularity. Emulators modified old Pokémon games from Gameboy with new characters, storylines, and challenges. If you can name a game, chances are there is at least one mod for it.
This is every gamer’s dream to be able to have an infinite number of their favorite game. If you really have the patience though (and don’t want to use emulators), you can actually find ways to load them in a cartridge or disc to play on the original hardware.
Lost In Translation
Another perk of game emulation? Players can enjoy region-locked games. Many games released in only Europe, or only Japan. They never saw a North American release. Get a console from those regions is expensive, and not always realistic. Game emulation opens doors.
In fact, emulation also breaks down the language barrier. There are lots of modding communities that translate the games for English users. It also works the other way, for non-English speakers who want to play games in their native language.
The fact that people would use emulation to rewrite the entire game script for another language is pretty incredible.
Game Emulation: Because Nothing Lasts Forever
There are many gamers who spend their time collecting video games and consoles. Some are really lucky to find the game they want or have been holding onto their favorite games since childhood. Sadly, not everyone is able to afford the rarest of games, especially when they’re no longer in production.
Even if you could get a hold of some of the rarest games out there, they won’t always be guaranteed to work. Cartridges can get damaged by dust and erosion. CD-ROMs can get scratched and easily break. Even consoles are not safe; they will eventually break down.
PC games are not safe from this either. Certain games only run on the native hardware. Anything newer makes the game unplayable at worst or difficult to run without major tinkering at best. It’s a sad reality that most gamers overlook.
Game emulation is the only way to really preserve those games.
Games Saved Thanks to Emulation
Many games have actually gained popularity thanks to game emulation. Arcade cabinet games in particular have been saved all because there is now a way to experience these games without having to track them down in an actual arcade. Plus, you don’t need a tower of quarters to play them.
The Simpsons Arcade and Aliens vs Predator got another chance thanks to game emulation. With it, fans would not have been able to see what they were all about. Even X-Men Arcade and Star Wars Trilogy Arcade have gotten much more attention thanks to game emulation, with fans begging for a remake. (While the controls need to be messed with to be optimized in game emulation versions, it’s still better than waiting in long lines.)
There are console first-person shooters, like Goldeneye 007 and Perfect Dark, that are playable with a keyboard and mouse thanks to game emulation. The clunkiness of certain FPSs and strategy games feel smoother in control, actually, when compared to original versions. Hence, there are benefits of emulating these games on a computer!
Game Emulation Is Not Perfect
As great as game emulation is, it’s not a magic solution. Certain emulators require a lot of tinkering to get games to run. Some games will start up with no problems. Others look like something of a nightmare. Thus, people who run game emulators have to do some experimenting with graphics, frame rates, and audio to ensure their games run properly.
Plus, the controls will need to be adjusted. Without a compatible USB controller, you’ll be stuck playing with a keyboard and mouse. However, i’s not that hard to rebind keys and make the controls as smooth as you want them. Of course, that doesn’t mean much if the game can’t run right.
Sadly, there are a number of times when an emulated game can actually end up running horribly. Graphics won’t load properly and the game run either too fast or too slow. This mostly happens with games with 3D graphics, which require a powerful unit to run.
Ninten-Don’t Like Game Emulation
Not everyone likes the idea of using game emulators. Some actually view it as a form of piracy, especially when players download the ROMs from illegal sites. One of the most vocal of this opposing side has to be Nintendo. Very recently, Microsoft banned emulation on their consoles. Many gamers believe that Nintendo might be the one scaring them into doing so, despite Microsoft denying the claims.
Before this, they had threatened many sites to a point where some have even had to wipe out their own ROMs library. The reasoning for this could be due to the licensing that Nintendo still has for their older games. Alas, doing this led to many being unable to play said games the only way they could.
Game emulation and its connection to piracy is one of those topics that can get a little messy. Game emulation isn’t technically illegal. However, the games are still the company’s property. Hence it falls into a legal gray area wherein it’s hard to say who’s in the right in this case.
That said, if you’re not doing anything to preserve a game people love, why bother making a fuss if fans find their own way to do so?