Your Ad Here

Mindjack Magazine main | the lounge | archive | about us | feedback

Emulation Revisited
by Donald Melanson

When I first wrote about emulation, early last year, the most advanced software was Callus, which emulated Capcom arcade games like Street Fighter 2. Well, a lot can happen in a year, it certainly has. In just the last few months we've seen the release of both Sony PlayStation and Nintendo 64 emulators, which made a lot of people, not to mention Sony and Nintendo, take notice of what is happening.

The New Face of Emulation

Right now there are three emulators generating a lot of interest, and controversy. Virtual Game Station a PlayStation emulator for the Macintosh by Connectix was first out of the gate, introduced in January, 1999. VGS is quite different than previous game console emulators in that it is a commercial product. Most prior to this were simply given away by the team or individual that created it. It's important to note that VGS was not the first PSX emulator, but it was the first that worked, really well, provided you have a G3.

Just weeks later, UltraHLE was released, an N64 emulator from two individuals, Epsilon and RealityMan. N64 emulation was previously thought to be years off but UltraHLE is able to effortlessly run games like Super Mario 64 on a Pentium II with a 3DFX card. It was quickly pulled back by Epsilon and RealtiyMan, who stated they didn't anticipate the effect it would had, but by that time it had spread all over the Net, along with the games.

Tekken 3, running under Bleem!Finally, just recently, the first public demo of Bleem! was released, another PSX emulator, this one for Windows. Like Virtual Game Station this will also be a commercial product (the demo has a number of features disabled, including sound and 3D acclerator support). Unlike VGS, however, Bleem! will supposedly run on much lower-end systems, with a Pentium 166 being the minimum requirement. The full version should be available by the time you read this.

As Connectix has proven with VGS, there is a definite market for emulators; it's been flying off the shelves. Since sending 600+MB games across the Internet is impractical (although it's no doubt being done), PlayStation emulators require you to have the actual game CD. Herein lies where PlayStation emulation could possibly distance itself from the underground scene. Game companies have little to lose since people would still be buying games, the only one opposed to it is, not surprisingly, Sony.

Nintendo 64 emulation, on the other hand, is inherently problematic (from a legal standpoint) since it requires the game to be copied from the cartridge. This opens up a Big Gray Area. The only solution would be to bundle a drive of some sort with the emulator that would allow computer users to use regular N64 cartridges. However, with the price of a real N64 being so low right now, it's unlikely it would be any more than a novelty, unless the price could be kept significantly less than the actual N64.

Retro Gaming

Still very popular, classic, or retro gaming as it's often called, refers to games and systems that are at least a couple of years old. Everything from Pong to the Neo Geo and Virtual Boy has been lumped into this category. We've arrived at the point where most of the older systems are emulated perfectly, even on low-end Pentium boxes. MAME is constantly growing, now supporting over 1100 classic arcade games, SNES and Genesis emulation are virtually perfect, even the recently released Gameboy Color is fully emulated. Another emulator worth mentioning is Retrocade, which has an innovative interface and impressively emulates many classic arcade games.

For the time being, however, most of this is in the same area as pirated MP3s, they're widely available, tons of people are using them and they're illegal. And, like anything on the Internet, there's no going back now.

What's Next?

It appears that emulators like Virtual Game Station and bleem! could very well bring video game emulation into the mainstream, joining the ranks of Connectix's popular Virtual PC for Macintosh. That does not mean, however, that the emulation scene as we've known it for the past few years will suddenly cease to exist. There will constantly be programmers releasing emulators for free, just to prove that it can be done. And likewise, there will always be eager gamers with bandwidth to spare, spreading practically every game in existence across the Internet.

b i o

Donald Melanson is the editor of Mindjack Magazine and is constantly learning on the job.

The writer of this article welcomes your comments: