On ROMS and Emulators

Let’s talk about ROMs and Emulators. This is one of those “I stole it because HBO doesn’t have it on iTunes” topics people don’t like to have on the record.

Let’s talk about why these emulators exist. For some, it’s simply to play games without paying for them. But for most people, it’s probably about retro gaming that content owners haven’t made possible (or easy) in modern times. Sonic Adventure 1 and Banjo Kazooie are two games available for purchase on Xbox live arcade. Sonic 1, 2, and CD are available on iOS. Ocarina of Time is available on Nintendo VirtualConsole. But what about the tons of games who’s studios may not even exist anymore? What about games that were Japan-only?

Unfortunately, the correct answer here is the same as HBO not putting episodes of Game of Thrones online until the season ends. If the studio doesn’t offer what you want, you’re not entitled to anything else.

For due diligence, here’s Nintendo’s official stance.

This is why we need new laws that demand software/content/data licensing to users rather than hardware.

The most unfortunate part for the gamer is that today’s emulators can be better than the official blessed ports to modern consoles. Banjo Kazooie on Xbox is an actual port, and runs at the Xbox’s native resolution with text and dialog updated to say L instead of Z and everything else that’s appropriate. Sonic Adventure by contrast is stuck in a 4:3 box and has all the awkward slow loading menus as the original complete with pictures of dreamcast controllers. When you rebuy a game like Sonic Adventure for Xbox it’s not hard to be at least a little disappointed.

Nintendo claims that ROMS of games you physically own are not covered by the backup media clause but as far as I know this has only been declared by courts and DMCA Million dollar lawsuits against 14 year olds have not happend, so, I decided to try out SNES9X and SixtyForce anyway.

Before anyone accuses keyboard gaming of being impossible for games that need a stick – you’re right. It’s very frustrating, so I used my Xbox 360 USB controller, and the emulator almost immediately starts pulling ahead of official ports on real consoles.

For one, the Xbox 360 controller is completely configurable by you, the user, and you can have as many presets as you want. I’m tempted to see how far I can take that to create Halo style dual stick controls for Goldeneye or at least Turok (a game that had a primitive precursor to dual sticks). One of the reasons I had so much trouble with Aliens vs Predator for Xbox was that its controls weren’t as good as Halo’s for things like weapon swapping.

In terms of graphics, emulators have the disadvantage of only having the original assets to work with, but the advantage of having a full powered computer to work with. The Super 2XSAI 2D interpolator basically makes vectors out of identically colored pixels in sprites and looks amazing in most situations. You can also enable the 3D graphics to run at arbitrarily large sizes (without changing the viewport shape) with 4X antialiasing, producing less jaggies than the true Xbox 360 ports of these games. And, unlike Nintendo virtual console, force feedback (the rumble feature) actually works.

With HDMI ports, AirPlay, and the relative ease at which one can get their Mac on their TV today, it’s unfortunate that the blessed methods are inferior to the questionably legal ones. IP owners like Nintendo are like record companies pre-iTunes store. Pretending the problem is just a bunch of scumbag pirates when it’s actually your most diehard fans is the wrong way to go about it. If I could pay $4.99 or even $9.99 per ROM to use as I saw fit I’d happily spend several hundred dollars right now, not just and games I know and love, but games I never even tried. Instead, apparently, I’m supposed to cobble together a working Nintendo 64 (which nets Nintendo $0), buy a used copy of a game (which nets Nintendo $0), and pray my current TV still has a composite cable input on it.