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Console emulator

From Academic Kids

A console emulator is a program for a computer, or other computing device, that can emulate a video game console or handheld, so a computer can be used to play games that were created for that console or to develop games for that console. Such tools are often used to translate games into other languages, to modify (or hack) existing games, or to produce homebrewed demos. Console emulation can also be achieved between consoles (hence cross-console emulation), making a modern video game console emulate a less advanced one.

Contents

History

Emulation was occasionally employed by console manufacturers in the early 1980s to allow games from other (and sometimes competing) hardware to be run on the manufacturer's device. The Atari 2600 was by far the most frequent recipient of this behavior. Atari's platform was easily the most popular and widespread early game consoles, and many developers touted compatibility with the system's vast library of games as a marketing ploy to attract customers. Coleco's Colecovision and Atari's own Atari 5200 provided add-on peripherals that allowed 2600 cartridges to be played, and the Atari 7800 provided this functionality right out of the box. Generally, this emulation was accomplished through special hardware—unlike modern console emulation, which generally reproduces the functionality of a system entirely through software.

By the mid-1990s personal computers had progressed to the point where it was technically feasible to replicate the behavior of some of the earliest consoles entirely through software, and the first unauthorized, non-commercial console emulators began to appear. These early programs were often incomplete, only partially emulating a given system, and often riddled with computer bugs. Because few manufacturers had ever published technical specifications for their hardware, it was left to amateur programmers and developers to deduce the exact workings of a console through reverse engineering. Nintendo's consoles tended to be the most commonly studied, and the most advanced early emulators tended to reproduce the workings of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), and the Game Boy (GB). Programs like Marat Fayzullin's iNES (which emulated the NES) and VirtualGameBoy (GB), the Pasofami (NES) and Super Pasofami (SNES), and VSMC (SNES) were the most popular console emulators of this era.

Bloodlust Software's , version x.xx
Enlarge
Bloodlust Software's NESticle, version x.xx

In April 1997, Bloodlust Software released version 0.2 of NESticle. An unheralded and unexpected release, NESticle shocked the nascent console emulation community with its ease of use and unrivaled compatibility with NES ROM images. NESticle arguably provided the catalyst with which console emulation took off: More and more users started experimenting with console emulation, and a new generation of emulators appeared following NESticle's lead. Bloodlust Software soon returned with Genecyst (emulating the Sega Genesis), and others released emulators like Snes9x and ZSNES (SNES). This rapid growth in the development of emulators in turn fed the growth of the ROM hacking and fan-translation community. The release of projects such as RPGe's English language translation of Final Fantasy V drew even more users into the emulation scene.

As computers continued to advance and emulator developers grew more skilled in their work, the length of time between the commercial release of a console and its successful emulation began to shrink. Many recent consoles such as the Nintendo 64, the Sony PlayStation, and the Game Boy Advance saw significant work done toward emulation while still very much in production. This has led to a more concerted effort to crack down on unofficial emulation. Because the process of reverse engineering is protected in U.S. law, the brunt of this attack has been borne by websites who host ROMs and ISO images. Many such sites have been forced to shut down under threat of legal action.

On the other hand, commercial developers have once again begun to turn to emulation as a means to repackage and reissue their older games on new consoles. Notable examples of this behavior include Square Co., Ltd.'s rerelease of several older Final Fantasy titles on the PlayStation, Sega's collection of Sonic the Hedgehog games, and Capcom's collection of Mega Man games for the Nintendo GameCube, PlayStation 2 and Xbox.

Arguments for/against emulation

Console games for emulators are generally distributed as ROM images (or simply "ROMs") on the Internet. Without the permission of the copyright holder or the Entertainment Software Association, this practice is illegal—although few copyright holders appear to care about older games (see abandonware); many copyright holders are defunct; and a few copyright holders have even released their games and demos gratis or even as free software. This illegality is also controversial for long-time gamers and so called old-school gamers. One reason for the popularity of console emulation among fans is due to the belief that many older video games that are no longer on the market are more enjoyable than games currently on the market. Many such gamers argue that the graphical, memory, and hardware limitations of the 8-bit and 16-bit eras forced developers to spend more time on gameplay mechanics. Others have argued that modern 3D graphics have not yet fully matured and that the two-dimensional, sprite-based graphics of older systems remain more aesthetically pleasing.

Another common belief amongst console emulation enthusiasts is that companies can no longer derive income from older titles, thus excusing the distribution of ROM images. This is not always the case with published archived collections, ports of classic games to modern systems, and enhanced remakes provided by the original publisher or copyright holder. Many popular emulation websites have promulgated a myth that a user may keep a ROM image on his or her computer for a period of 24 hours. This idea stems from an obscure provision in copyright law intended to apply to libraries. Many ROM sites similarly claim that it is legal to download the ROMs for backup purposes if one owns a physical copy of the software. It appears that Title 17 USC Section 117 [1] (http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/117.html) permits making a backup copy within the United States, but this has never been tested in a court of law. In an editorial from RPGamer.com (http://www.rpgamer.com/), one writer argues that console developers (especially Nintendo and Sony) and game publishers may have brought console emulation onto themselves (http://www.rpgamer.com/editor/2003/q3/071403jf.html/) by implementing territorial lockouts or censorship of game content. The legal term for such behavior is copyright misuse.

For more recent systems (e.g., Nintendo's Game Boy Advance and N64, Sega's Dreamcast, and Sony's PlayStation), copyright holders have generally been more proactive about protecting their copyrights, and a number of websites offering ROMs and ISO images have been shut down under threat of legal action.

Other uses

One advantage to ROM images is the potential for ROM hacking: amateur programmers and gaming enthusiasts have produced translations of foreign games, rewritten dialogue within a game, and applied fixes to bugs that were present in the original game. Software that emulates a console may be improved with additional capabilities that the original system did not have, such as anti-aliasing, save states, online multiplayer options, or the incorporation of cheat cartridge functionality.

Some popular console emulators include gnuboy, VisualBoyAdvance, FCE Ultra, nester, Snes9x, ZSNES, Nessie (http://nessie.321.cn/), Power Player Super Joy 3 (http://www.superjoy3.com/), and TuxNES.

See also

External links

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