I am not a huge fan of emulation. It isn’t because of the legal ambiguity surrounding the practice. For the record, owning a legitimate copy of the game does not make having a ROM of the game legal; the instructions for almost every instruction manual (especially Nintendo since I remember reading a lot of those) states that you are not allowed to create a backup of the game in its warnings.
That being said, ROM dumps are an important part of video game culture. It helps preserve older games in a way that will make them accessible long after the last Super Mario Bros. cartridge turns to dust. I prefer to get my games through legit means such as Nintendo’s Virtual Console or Sony’s PlayStation Network, but not every game is available through that service. For example, almost every platform has a way to procure Mega Man, but none of them offer Little Samson. This is a shame since second-hand sellers will charge an arm and a leg so you can get a physical copy of the game.
I would much rather pay Nintendo the ten bucks for Earthbound than some schmuck on eBay over a hundred fifty; however, Nintendo took too long. Plus side is I got the box and manual, complete with scratch-and-sniff cards! Neato!
Personally, I prefer having the cartridges and discs. The physical copies look cool in a collection, you can play it on a dedicated console that should always work (have you ever tried playing Super Mario RPG: The Legend of the Seven Stars on an emulator? LOADS of slowdown…), and sometimes, like in Demon Sword, it’s necessary to have the manual for the controls.
I remember this was a way that I got to play quite a few NES games when I was in high school. There were few second-hand video game stores in the area, and eBay was still young (and I had no money), so there was little availability to games that were not bought during the system’s lifespan. For the longest time, I thought Mega Man 5 was only available on Game Boy (I only had that Mega Man on Game Boy, as well as 4 and 6 on NES) until I played it on an emulator.
You have to be careful while browsing online for ROMs. Quite a few sites that I got a ROM from had malware that my scans said were malicious. Even though that rhymes with delicious, I wouldn’t recommend using those ROMs. No danger of that when you buy a physical copy!
Another big problem I had was the controller. It was a keyboard. I was a kid that was used to controllers where my left thumb controlled direction and right thumb dictated jumping and other actions. Using a keyboard meant using the arrow keys with my right fingers and action with my left. That’s anarchy! We did own a blue USB controller shaped like a PS2 controller, but that failed to capture the nostalgia and feel of playing it on its original console.
That, and most emulators did not support or recognize the controller…
And I had to play them on the computer, which had to be forfeited if someone had to do homework.
One birthday, my little brother gave me a gift: a Raspberry Pi. A Raspberry Pi is a little computer that is a little bigger than a credit card and can pretty much do anything with a little programming know-how. I have seen someone recreate BMO from Adventure Time using a Raspberry Pi!
My little brother did not get me a BMO. If he made one, he probably would have kept it for himself. Instead, he looked into the RetroPie Project. This allowed the Raspberry Pi to be converted into an emulation device that can have ROMs from various consoles uploaded and played on a television, either through a composite cable or HDMI. It also has two USB ports for two player games!
I have to travel occasionally for my job, which means spending a week in a hotel with not much to do. I could bring a handheld device, but that also requires bringing games and a charger. Instead, I like to make good use of the HD television in the room and play some classics! Not only that, but I could have some of my coworkers over to play games with me, making it a party!! Quite a few games that will get their own articles in the future have been played through the Raspberry Pi while on the road.
This brings up some of the other tools for use through an emulator. Most emulators have a savestate function, and the Raspberry Pi is no different. It took me a while to figure out how to perform the action, but looking at the coding helped (did I mention you can customize it through some Python coding?). Would have been helpful while I was playing Battletoads… Honestly, I hate using savestates. I feel it is a type of cheating, and I do not consider a game conquered if I had to use savestates. I will use them if a game is long and does not have a save feature, but if I get a Game Over, I replay it from the beginning!
If a game is commercially available, I prefer playing it as intended. That is not an option that is available for every ROM, which is why I love my Raspberry Pi!
For some Japanese games that are text heavy, translators online have created patches to convert the in-game text to English. This allowed me to play the original Fire Emblem game for the Famicom, where all of its menus are in hiragana, and Rockboard, a Rockman-styled board game. A lot of the patches are available at ROMhacking.net.
Sometimes I like a little more challenge or a new experience on a classic. Hackers have modified games, occasionally with awesome results! Let’s be honest with ourselves: some of them, like Super Mario Frustration, are purely sadistic. Others, like Mario Adventures and Rockman 4: Minus Infinity, are masterpieces and makes me wish they were actual games on the NES!
This is my personal favorite reason for the Raspberry Pi. There were some truly awesome games that never saw a commercial release, but the prototype for the game was almost complete if not completed. Prime examples on the NES include Mr. Gimmick, Hit the Ice, and Mother’s English counterpart, EarthBound. Each of these games are fantastic and worth a play!
Every now and then, I just want to play Pac-Man. I’ve talked mostly about NES emulation, but the RetroPie Project is capable of emulating Atari 2600, Master System, Genesis, SNES, PS1, and plenty of others (I think it stops shy of the 64-bit era). A great reason to hook up a Raspberry Pi is so you can spend only $30 to get the pizzeria experience (well, $42.99 since you have to get the Pi and the pie) instead of quadruple digits to get a bulky albeit awesome piece of machinery which doesn’t fit in my place and only plays one game. Unless you go NeoGeo. Which I’m not.
The system itself is affordable, easy to use, and transportable. It does require some programming knowledge, but there are plenty of guides available online to help you out. If they are available through a service like Virtual Console, support it by buying through them first. If they don’t realize how completely awesome games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project are, buy yourself a Raspberry Pi and game on! The only ones who suffer are the sellers on eBay trying to sell a “rare” Super Mario Bros., literally the most distributed game of all for over twenty years…