Roms and Emulation – Part 1

Roms and Emulation

Okay, let’s get this out of the way straight off the bat: Downloading any software that you haven’t paid for through the proper channels, unless said software has been made freely available by the copyright holder, is piracy. It’s not a “grey area”, it’s not okay if you delete it after 24 hours, it is illegal. If you want to take that risk then neither myself, the company, nor anybody involved with Orange Bison will be held liable.

One day, long ago, young me was looking for some new games to play. Having been brought up with a PC, I knew of the existence of the Share/Freeware scene, and stumbled across the website for a little indie developer called Bloodlust Software. Best known at the time for their Nogginknockers series (essentially a hyper-violent pong variant), Bloodlust’s games lived up to the company name, with blood and guts often taking precedent over good game design. However, what really caught my eye on this occasion was a little download near the bottom of the page…

Roms and Emulation 2

NESticle (hurr hurr…) was a little program which, once downloaded, allowed the user to play Nintendo Entertainment System games on their PC. All you had to do was find the files elsewhere on what (at the time) we were still calling the World Wide Web, load them up in this “Emulator” thingy, and you could play any NES game you wanted! Neat huh? And according to all the websites where these “ROMs” could be downloaded, it was all perfectly legal so long as you either owned the original game or deleted the file within 24 hours of downloading. This, of course, turned out to be a load of bunkum, but we didn’t know that at the time – and let’s face it; most of us didn’t care.

Immediately I realised that I now had the chance to open up my scope of experience to a whole heap of games that, until this point, I’d never imagined in my wildest dreams I would get a chance to play! From the relatively common – such as Super Mario Bros. 3 and Donkey Kong – to the relatively obscure – Street Fighter 2010 and King Kong 2: Ikari no Megaton Punch – I devoured game after game, but I was still hungry for more!

My next port of call was another emulator by Bloodlust. GeneCyst was a Sega Genesis/Mega Drive emulator which ran most of the games I asked it to, albeit not always at the best frame rate. I was very much a PC and Nintendo kid, and the only real exposure I ever got to Sega when I was growing up was through my Grandad’s next-door-neighbour who had a Master System. Games such as Sonic the Hedgehog and Shinobi had mostly passed me by, but I was ready to rectify this. Through GeneCyst I discovered the delights of such classics as Golden Axe, Alien Storm, Vectorman, and many more. All games that I would later go on to own legitimately. I was still very much a Nintendo lad, but now I had a dark side too. It wasn’t enough though. I needed to see how deep this emulation rabbit hole was.

At the time I hadn’t heard of any other emulators, so I stuck to what I knew. Bloodlust’s latest emulator was a little gem called Callus, which emulated Capcom’s CPS1 and 2 boards. I was addicted to Captain Commando in the arcades, so to have a chance to play the full arcade game at home, without having to spend all my pocket money, was like winning the lottery to me. To this day the old Capcom brawlers are still amongst my favourites, but my actual all-time favourite game was still out of my reach…

Roms and Emulation 3

In 1992 we went on a caravan holiday to The New Forest. My grandparents knew the owner of the campsite, so my parents could get a spot at a greatly reduced price. This particular campsite was known at the time for having one of the best video arcades on the Caravan Club circuit (a pretty lofty claim I’m sure you’ll agree), and as soon as I walked in there I was greeted by an awesome sight; a huge machine, with not one, not two, but FOUR joysticks! The screen was alive with light and colour! Dazzling shades of blue, green and red… oh yes… the red. This was the goriest game I had ever laid my eyes on. The marquee was lit up brightly, and the image of two men running away from an explosion whilst an enigmatic-looking game-show host smiled maniacally is something I don’t think I’ll ever forget. Then the title, Smash TV. That’s a title that really grabs you. Obviously, years later, I needed to play this game again, but how? It wasn’t a Capcom game, so I couldn’t use Callus, and whilst the home ports were fine (the SNES version being particularly fun) they were nothing compared to the arcade game. So I browsed over to askjeeves.com (it was still the nineties) and typed in “How can I play Smash TV on my PC?” And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I discovered MAME…

Oh, my Goodness…

I had no idea that there were so many games available at my fingertips! Not just the classics that I’d played to death in the arcades, but some genuine hidden gems! I went on a mad downloading spree, feeling secure in the (false) knowledge that what I was doing was perfectly legal as long as I deleted the files the next day. I rekindled my love for Rastan, The Simpsons Arcade Game, Spy Hunter, Space Harrier, and I found new love in games such as The Cliffhanger: Edward Randy, Ikari Warriors, A.B. Cop, and the spiritual sequel to my favourite game of all-time, Total Carnage.

Without emulation I never would have been able to discover these wonderful games, and my memories of many of the ones I had played might have faded into obscurity. If I had known about the illegality of downloading roms at the time then maybe I wouldn’t have done it. I’m not trying to encourage you to break the law, but now some of the big companies such as Sega and Nintendo are beginning to realise that people still love their old games, it might be worth checking out the good ol’ Virtual Console again to see if you can find your own hidden gem.

Read part two of Martin’s series on the debate of Roms and Emulation next week!

I have been an avid gamer since the age of four, when my parents gave my sister and I a Binatone TV Master 4 +2, and I've been a retro gamer since well before I knew what a retro gamer actually was. I never "went back" to the old systems - I just never stopped playing them.

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