Video game emulation primer.

Posted: June 4, 2014 by ryanlecocq in Features, Off-topic, Technology



If you are intrigued by the idea of playing your old console favorites on your computer, but haven’t really looked into it before, you’ve come to the right place.  I’m going to spare you my normal long-windedness and just briefly detail what you should expect when emulating each popular system and list a few games that run well.


Classics (NES, Genesis, SNES etc.)

Almost any common (or even many obscure) video game systems older than 10 years have near 100% accurate emulation by now.  The community has had so much time to develop the emulators and the current computers are so much more powerful that full performance can easily be achieved by any fairly recent computer.  In fact, not only will your computer be able to emulate these games, you will be able to run them on your phone, tablet or any number of other devices.  Once you get to newer old systems, like the N64 and Playstation, your phone may start to struggle a bit.  You should be able to find emulators for most systems by simply typing the system name followed by emulation in any search engine.  The legality boils down to if you have the game in your garage, you can emulate it.  I’m pretty sure you don’t have to actually find a way to upload your own cartridges to your computer, so you’re fine downloading ancient games as long as you own the original.



PSX emulators are pretty much awesome these days.  Almost any computer can play most games without glitches or slowdown.  On any even fairly modern computer you can increase the resolution and apply many visual improvements and still get perfect performance.  Most phones and tablets can handle PSX now, but some models may experience slowdown.



Same as above.  The 64 is pretty well emulated on most devices.  Many roms support widescreen hacks and high resolution texture packs, making the N64 one of the most pleasant systems to relive visually.  Zelda OOT even has user created content and quests that can be added to your rom for new things to do and see.  You can even get rumble pack support from a modern controller.


Sega Saturn

For many years, the Saturn was impossible to emulate.  Then SSF was created and suddenly you could play almost every Saturn game at almost perfect accuracy.  SSF doesn’t have much in the way of enhancements over the original, but it is way easier than tracking down a Sega Saturn.  Modern controllers are supported and even the 4mb ram cart is emulated for games that require it.  I highly recommend doing so just to play Panzer Dragoon Saga.  It’s one of the very best games that most people have never played and I feel that if you are an RPG fan, it’s a requirement in your lifetime.



Although there are two fairly excellent DC emulators; NullDC and Chankast, neither has perfect emulation on every game.  Some of my favorites like Skies of Arcadia, Grandia II and Phantasy Star Online have annoying glitches that have never been solved completely and slightly detract from the nostalgia.  Considering you can get a DC on eBay for about $30 and it will run everything (including backups and homebrew games) effortlessly, I think that’s the better choice.  Beyond that, you can actually emulate a lot of other systems on the Dreamcast.  NES, SNES and Genesis emulators all work perfectly and even many PSX games can be emulated with bleem.  The Dreamcast can even run unofficial ports of many old PC games like Quake and Another World.


Playstation 2

PCSX2 has pretty solid emulation of many games.  Some games even run well on a decent PC when increased to 1080p resolution and touched up with visual post-processing.  Unfortunately many games can take some serious tweaking before they run anywhere near perfect and some classics can’t be emulated at all.  Like PSX games, you can put your original disc in your computer and run from that, avoiding any copyright worries as well as the cost of buying a ps2 on eBay.  If you have a PS3 however, I would check the PSN store before spending hours trying to get a game to work on PCSX2.  I had this experience with Katamari Damacy and then found it was only $10 on the PSN and solved my problem with a few clicks.  The games on the PSN run perfectly and are upscaled to your TVs resolution, so it’s really the best solution if you have the option.



This is one exception where I would say emulation surpasses the real thing in some areas.  The Gamecube and much more so the Wii has many games that are held back only by the resolution their system is capable of.  Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword and Xenoblade Chronicles have truly not been experienced until you’ve played them in HD.  The only way to do this is on the popular Dolphin emulator, named for the development name of the Gamecube.  Much like the PS2, the Gamecube and Wii are new enough that emulation is still far from perfect and requires both a decent system and some tweaking to get running perfectly.  As someone who has played Xenoblade and The Last Story at 1080p, let me tell you it is worth the effort.  The Wii games at least are on DVDs, so you can play from the original copy, making the process of emulation much more legal.  If for whatever reason though you must break some laws to play Xenoblade Chronicles, by all means do so.  Break them all if it allows you to play this amazing game in HD.


Everything else

Microsoft’s systems haven’t really been emulated as almost all of the games are already available on PC.  It should be noted that the original Xbox is an excellent emulation platform in itself, if you like the idea of emulating games with other game systems.  Many, many other systems have emulators, but if the system is less popular they often fall into obscurity before ever being finished.  There exist emulators for systems like the Atari Jaguar and the 3DO, but nobody cares enough to host files of any of the games.  There are very few games I would suggest playing on those anyway, so if any of the above systems are new to you, I would start there.


There is a lot more to learn if you want everything to be perfect.  You can download different video and sound plugins to make some games or features work properly.  There are original style USB controllers to mimic the feel of your old system.  Emulation has been around for decades, so pretty much everything you want to do has been done somewhere at some time.  It may take you a while to build your rom collection and design your ultimate emulation station, housed in an arcade cabinet or tucked under your TV, but know that the possibility exists.


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