Saturday, February 2, 2008

Console Emulation

A console emulator is a program that allows a computer or modern console (cross-console emulation) to emulate a video game console. Emulators are most often used to play older video games on personal computers and modern video game consoles, but they are also used to translate games into other languages, to modify (or hack) existing games, and in the development process of homebrewed demos and new games for older systems.

By the mid-1990s personal computers had progressed to the point where it was technically feasible to replicate the behavior of some of the earliest consoles entirely through software, and the first unauthorized, non-commercial console emulators began to appear. These early programs were often incomplete, only partially emulating a given system, and often riddled with computer bugs. Because few manufacturers had ever published technical specifications for their hardware, it was left to amateur programmers and developers to deduce the exact workings of a console through reverse engineering. Nintendo's consoles tended to be the most commonly studied, and the most advanced early emulators tended to reproduce the workings of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), and the Game Boy (GB). Programs like Marat Fayzullin's iNES (which emulated the NES) and VirtualGameBoy (GB), the Pasofami (NES) and Super Pasofami (SNES), and VSMC (SNES) were the most popular console emulators of this era. A curiosity was also Yuji Naka's unreleased NES emulator for the Mega Drive, probably the first software emulator running on a console.
n April 1997, Bloodlust Software released version 0.2 of NESticle. An unannounced and unexpected release, NESticle shocked the nascent console emulation community with its ease of use and unrivaled compatibility with NES ROM images. NESticle arguably[citation needed] provided the catalyst with which console emulation took off: More and more users started experimenting with console emulation, and a new generation of emulators appeared following NESticle's lead. Bloodlust Software soon returned with Genecyst (emulating the Sega Genesis), and others released emulators like Snes9x and ZSNES (SNES). The rise of the console emulation community also opened the door to foreign video games and exposed North American gamers to Nintendo's censorship policies. This rapid growth in the development of emulators in turn fed the growth of the ROM hacking and fan-translation community. The release of projects such as RPGe's English language translation of Final Fantasy V drew even more users into the emulation scene.

Legal issues
As computers and global computer networks continued to advance and emulator developers grew more skilled in their work, the length of time between the commercial release of a console and its successful emulation began to shrink. Many fifth generation consoles such as the Nintendo 64, the Sony PlayStation, and sixth generation handhelds, such as the Game Boy Advance, saw significant work done toward emulation while still very much in production. This has led to a more concerted effort by console manufacturers to crack down on unofficial emulation. Because the process of reverse engineering is protected in U.S. law, the brunt of this attack has been borne by websites that host ROMs and ISO images. Many such sites have been shut down under the threat of legal action. Alongside of the threat, link rot has occurred at several links without update to the webpages.

Another legal consideration is that many emulators of fifth generation and newer consoles require a dumped copy of the original machine's BIOS in order to function. As this software is a copyrighted work and typically not accessible without specialised hardware, obtaining them generally requires the user to obtain the file illegally.

On the other hand, commercial developers have once again begun to turn to emulation as a means to repackage and reissue their older games on new consoles. Notable examples of this behavior include Square Enix's re-release of several older Final Fantasy titles on the PlayStation, Gameboy Advance, and DS; Sega's collections of Sonic the Hedgehog games. The most recent, and probably the most notable example is Nintendo's Virtual Console, which comes packaged with their new seventh-generation system, the Wii and allows for emulation of NES, SNES, Nintendo 64, Sega Genesis, TurboGrafx-16, MSX and Neo Geo computer games.

Other uses
One advantage to ROM images is the potential for ROM hacking: amateur programmers and gaming enthusiasts have produced translations of foreign games, rewritten dialogue within a game, and applied fixes to bugs that were present in the original game. Software that emulates a console may be improved with additional capabilities that the original system did not have, such as anti-aliasing, audio interpolation, save states, online multiplayer options, or the incorporation of cheat cartridge functionality.

Sega Smash Pack 1 and 2 for PC used a Windows port of the emulator KGen.

The Xbox 360 is not natively backwards-compatible with original Xbox games (due to the differing system architectures) and so backwards-compatibility is achieved through an emulator designed by Microsoft. The PlayStation 3 (with exceptions) uses one emulator to run PlayStation games, as well.

The Game Boy Advance rereleases of all NES titles in the Classic NES Series line were emulated.

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