Should Emulators Be Endorsed?

Graham Host
Games PlayStation
Games PlayStation Xbox Nintendo

We live in an age of endless wonder. Mankind is slowly slipping the surly bonds of our world while robots rove the red planet in search of alien life. People on the far sides of the planet can talk to each other with barely any delay between the words being said and being heard. Most importantly, anyone with a decent internet connection can download a plethora of games and stampede around the Kingdom of Hyrule or roam Peaches castle in search of the captive princess.

Usually, playing games of a bygone era involves a dicey little piece of software known as an emulator. Emulators exist in a legal grey area. Although it is remarkably easy to find an emulator online, downloading emulated games is technically piracy and not legally condoned. More often than not, emulators include additional features that the original console was not capable of, such as controller support, upgraded frame rates and resolutions, cheats and unlocking game features early. They’re also frequently capable of running homebrew games and testing the progress and stability of various hacked games.

Depending on the original data medium, the game is provided in either a ROM file (if the game was on a cartridge like the Gameboy or Nintendo 64) or ISO image file (for systems that used optical media, such as the PSP or Gamecube). Some older games are re-released, packaged with an emulator built in to support being played on newer systems. The Elder Scrolls: Arena and Daggerfall are run off of DOSBox and can be downloaded for free from the official Elder Scrolls website. Just check here and here.

The question remains, should Nintendo, PlayStation and the various other companies endorse the practice of emulation for the wave of gamers eager to relive classic legends from the golden days? Sega has just released an online emulator for their Sega Genesis, and you can read about some games you can look forward to playing right here.

The Zelda games are one of the most downloaded series across several emulation sites I visited, so it would make sense for Nintendo to just endorse one of the umpteen various emulators that the community has put together and start a fresh page on their store with the titles listed for a few dollars.

For Sony, the PlayStation 2  recently met its ultimate end with the final servers shutting down (R.I.P.). But I found myself craving Dirge of Cerberus and picked up a copy for a pittance in a charity shop. Suppose that the disc gets stepped on or scratched — I’m out of the game and with slim pickings left on the internet, maybe permanently. Xbox has also announced the end of the 360 era. Currently, all the games I buy for both consoles are pre-owned and the developers behind them see none of the money.

PCSX2 is an emulator designed to run PS2 games on a PC. Although it requires a BIOS to run, instructions are readily available on the internet describing how to get a copy for your own console. It also supports physical discs in the computer in addition to ISOs, which players can copy from their own discs.

HD remakes are the all the rage these days, but I decided against acquiring the remake of Shadow of the Colossus after reading the reviews. Apparently the HD resolution is marginally misaligned with the objects which result in a lot of unnecessary deaths. It would be a piece of cake to simply rip a copy off the internet, but I prefer not to risk the prison time.

Sony is currently re-releasing PS2 games on PS4. As much as I love the idea, their list is currently just 20 items long. Why not simply rough up a price list in the range of $10-$20 to buy the game on your PSN account and let gamers get an emulator until they’re released on PS4? Maybe Sony can throw a couple of bucks to emulator creators for each game sold and everybody ends up happy. Gamers can game, coders can code, emulators can emulate and Sony can rest on its laurels with a fresh stream of cash coming in from old video games.

It’s not exactly news that backwards compatibility doesn’t always work well. Old Xbox games for the original console were sadly not always well supported on the 360. The problems continued to the next Microsoft console, with some users reporting an inability to purchase games on their Xbox One. The PS3 bragged full backwards compatibility but ended up only supporting it on the initial models, and the PS4’s backwards compatibility is a poor work in progress.

Whilst emulators have yet to perfectly recreate the experience of playing the current and last generation of consoles, practically everything else is supported and working. In a perfect world, for a few bucks, customers could play a variety of classic retro content without fear of being prosecuted. The result? Enjoyment all around.

Graham Host is a member of the Fan Contributor program. In his spare time, he enjoys the works of Terry Pratchett, DC Comics and a wide assortment of video games. Under no circumstances should he be fed after midnight.
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