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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Emulation helps bring classic games to players

Since 1985, with the introduction of Super Mario Bros., Nintendo and its Nintendo Entertainment System were the leaders of the video-game pack. More recently, its Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Nintendo 64 systems have advanced the technology and creativity behind the games and the systems on which they are played. 




Although rival video-game maker Sega has always had loyal fans of its video-game systems and games, its recent release of the modestly successful Dreamcast system was unable to re-establish its role as a dominant figure in the market. 




Today, for around $200 to $300, anyone can buy a Sega Dreamcast, Sony Playstation 2, Microsoft X-Box or Nintendo Gamecube. One might ask, \Why would anyone be willing to pay that much money for a video-game system?"" Surely these days of slumping economy and rising tuition fees have shown us (especially college students) that students have to be frugal in everything they do to ensure that they don't end up living on ramen noodles and saltines every week before they get their paychecks in the mail. 




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What can students do about it? Spurred by the rising cost of video-game systems and video games (around $50 to $100), many computer programmers have resorted to crafting video-game systems for their computers. This is a completely separate entity from existing PC or Apple computer games, which users first buy at a software store. No, these programmers have taken a step back in time. 




Emulators are software versions of the video-game systems that many students grew up with. They are used to run video game programs stored in ROM files'downloadable copies of the software stored in video-game cartridges. 




Fei Xiao is a junior majoring in international business at UW-Madison, and a student manager at the Division of Information Technology. He has owned every game system since the Atari 2600 except the newer ones like the X-Box and PS2. He's been playing games on emulators since he was in seventh grade and admires emulation's ease of use.  




""What I like most about the emulators is that they're very convenient. The ROMs can fit on a single floppy disk, about 1 MB, and emulators are even smaller,"" he said 




Xiao has been following the ongoing legal issues that are inherent to playing video games that were not purchased from a retailer. He said that a company called Connectix, which wrote an emulator for Sony's Playstation system, won a lawsuit Sony brought against it shortly before Connectix closed its doors. 




A user can download a ROM freely, but can only use it legally under certain very strict conditions. 




""You can play the ROMs for 24 hours completely legally, but you have to delete them within 24 hours unless you own the original game. This is the same copyright issue that is being debated with regard to burning CDs and downloading music,"" Xiao said. 




Introduced to emulators last year, Andy Gould, a UW-Madison junior in the applied math, engineering and physics program, also enjoys the convenience of emulation. 




""I like that I can play my games on the computer,"" he said. ""It helps when you want to watch TV, and all your games are right there. ... Having access to a copy of my games [as] ROMs is really convenient, I don't have to buy hardware to 'rip' them onto my computer, I can just download them ... although they are not all the same quality as on the original console. Most have exactly the same game-play as the originals."" 




A fixture of Madison's gaming community, Lance Turner is the owner and operator of the three Video Game X-Change stores here and started up the business 11 years ago. He said that the availability of emulators hasn't affected sales much, and that he has not had the best of luck with them. 




""[Emulated games] are hard to find. Sometimes you have to download the sound files separately. You have to spend all your time on Napster. ... I noticed they don't always work correctly,"" he said. 




In addition, Xiao said these programs require a high-end computer and a high degree of proficiency with the technology.  




Users wanting to learn more about emulation should look at their favorite search engine or file sharing service. Emulators available include those for the NES (Nester), SNES (JNES), N64 (Project64), Sega (Gens), PlayStation (ePSXe) and Atari 2600 (Z26). Emulators other than those named might also be available, as new ones appear often. 




Emulated games sometimes skirt questionable legal territory and aren't a substitute for the original console titles, but they can make it much easier to play video games you have at home and share some of that old magic with new friends.

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