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Posted on Jan 14th 2011 at 12:05:14 AM by (ZeroAX)
Posted under emulation, collecting

I was playing Strider on my Mega Drive today (my SNES still hasn't arrived) and it made me think how much emulation has contributed to expanding the Retro Gaming market and its community. I wouldn't have bought Strider if I didn't have the chance to try it out on an emulator first, you see. So I decided to share my thoughts on emulation and its ethical dilemmas (the legal dilemmas are up to the judges to decide).

First a quick history lesson. Console emulation on PC was first achieved in the 90s. During the decade's final years (96-99) there were emulators released for the NES, SNES and Mega Drive. Even more shockingly 1999 saw the release of Bleem and UltraHLE, emulators for the Playstion and N64 respectivly. Now one can't argue with the fact that emulators for systems still in production would have been used mostly for piracy, so of course legal battles followed.

Meanwhile, a vast number of emulation and rom sharing sites were appearing all over the place and the old machines, that had been decommissioned by their manufacturers were seeing renewed interest, and a huge influx of new fans.

Everyone still had slow PSTN internet connections at the time (for those too young to remember this, I envy you. The jjjzzzjjzzzzzzjjj of connecting to the internet is a sound I will never miss, although it still makes me smile/laugh when I hear it in parodies) so downloading something as big as a PSone game was a pain, so at the time emulation sites mainly focused on cartridge consoles, specially the NES, SNES and Mega Drive (some sites were afraid to carry N64 roms due to possible legal action from Nintendo).

It was a prosperous time for emulation forums and the emulation scene in general. People who had downloaded an emulator to play those popular games from their childhoods, were trying new stuff. Games that most people hadn't heard of before, were the hot topic. Chrono Trigger finally got the giant fanbase it deserves and people finally got to try out obscure Japanese shooters they hadn't heard of before. The discussions about these games went on and on for many forum pages, and every month it seemed there would be a "new" game everyone was trying and loving.

This led to the creation of the rom hacking community. From level hacks for Super Mario World, to the fan translations of FF5 and 6 (even though it had been officially released in the West, fans wrote a more accurate translation of the game's script) we retro gamers ow a lot to these people for taking the time to give us new experiences for the old games we love, or in the case of translation patches, giving us the option of playing games we would not be able to otherwise.

But the effect the emulation scene that I want to talk about, is the creation of the Retro Community. Simply put the Retro Gaming Community wouldn't have had so many members if it wasn't for emulation. Even though the most popular games keep getting ported to newer systems, there are tons of games either stuck in licensing limbo, or even worse with very little fan following to be worth porting to new consoles. What breathes life to these game's fanbase and the retro gaming community in general, is that every gamer that comes across their first emulator, has his/her interest piqued by the more common gems and after they are done with them, they want to see more of what these old consoles have to offer. Then they come across the more obscure gems, and after playing them they start to warm up to the idea of owning one of these old consoles and try playing these games like they were meant to.

The past 5 years, Retro Gaming associated sites and shops have bloomed. Part of it is because of the expansion of the internet into almost every household, but I believe emulators played a big part in it as well. 2005 saw the release of the first issue of an actual printed magazine dedicated to Retro Gaming ( Technically this would have been possible in the 90s as well, since by 95 there were 20 years of mainstream retro gaming to cover. But the Retro Community wasn't big enough. What has created a viable market for such a magazine to exist, is in my opinion the vast expansion of the community in the past decade, thanks to emulators.

Even Nintendo should be thankful to the emulation scene. Simply put, no one would have cared that Sin and Punishment was being released on the Wii's virtual console, if it hadn't made a name for itself in the emulation scene. While they might have lost a couple of sales to people who just pirate old classics, there are a bunch of gamers who buy these rare gems on VC, because they first tried them out on an emulator.

So even though using emulators for machines/games you don't own is a form of piracy, I believe that in general, they have done more good than harm to the industry. I also want to add that it's thanks to emulation that I was exposed to the SNES's magnificent hidden library, which made me buy one.

So what is your favorite system/game you found out about thanks to emulation? Mine is the Megaman X series (somehow I ended up not owning a console with Megaman games on it until I got the GBA in 2002) and Robotrek.

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I've never really played emulators (aside from MAME), but you make a good point about how emulators introduce people to the classics.  I personally don't use emulators because I love physical copies of stuff, but it definitely is a great way to test out a game before you spend the time and money tracking it down.

Nice post!
Well I was talking a lot by personal experience. I would never have played excellent video games like Harvest Moon, Robotrek, Illusion of Gaia, if it wasn't for emulation. I'd probably still be playing Super Mario World, Yoshi's Island and the Donkey Kong Country games.
Emulators and ROMs have definitely caused me to buy more games than they've prevented me from buying.
@Rajaat the Warbringer: Exactly. After playing the original Harvest Moon on ZSNES, I've bought 5 games in the series. That's 250 Marvelous wouldn't have made if it wasn't for emulation. I also bought FF6 when it was released on GBA, just because I wanted to own a copy of one of my favorite games of all time. And now that I finally got an SNES I'm getting physical copies of the cartridges as well.

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As a kid I always wanted a Super Nintendo, but because it was too expensive at the time in Europe, I ended up with a Sega Mega Drive (which is awesome as well). So when I got into retro gaming I always had my eye on buying an SNES. And finally I took the plunge and ordered one.

Super Nintendo Land is a blog about my collecting and gameplay experience with the SNES.
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