What is: Game Emulation?


Games like Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess look as good as new with an emulator.

Story by Jorge Soares-Paulino, Copy Editor

As time goes on, it becomes exponentially harder to play older games. If you want to play a certain game for the GameBoy Advance (GBA), you’ll have to first find a functioning GBA system, and you’ll probably have to find a charger for it, as well, unless it somehow managed to sustain some power since you’ve last played it. Then there’s the matter of actually finding the game you want to play, which can be downright impossible for certain GBA games. The fact of the matter is that playing your favorite childhood games is difficult to achieve. That is, unless you use an emulator.

Game emulation is simply the process of simulating a game system on an ordinary computer. This process can be used to emulate games from the NES console to the Nintendo Wii, all just by running a program that’s free and available to all. And this isn’t entirely a new creation, either; video-game emulation has been around for nearly two decades, the first popularized emulator being Marat Fayzullin’s iNES. Nowadays, emulators like Henrik Rydgård’s Dolphin are able to not only emulate games from the GameCube and Wii consoles, but it’s also able to improve a game’s graphics and visuals to make playing an old game feel like a new experience.

Modern emulators come with a host of features and abilities that can upgrade games visually and gameplay-wise. Like before, Dolphin is one of these fancy new emulators, being able to upscale a GameCube game from it’s native 480p resolution to an HD resolution of 1080p. The PCSX2 emulator can even run PlayStation 2 games at a 4k resolution, as well as implement features like Antialiasing and Post-Processing*. Some emulators allow online play with other people who also have the emulator, or allow controller-support, so you can play with your trusty old Wii remote. In short, recent emulators have tons of features that can take an old game and make it seem almost new.

But why would one want to play an old game with an emulator? Besides the visual factors, most old games are simply unavailable to buy anymore. GameStop officially stopped carrying PS2 games in 2012, and stopped selling Nintendo DS consoles back in 2011. Unless you want to pay $300 to a Nintendo 64 game collector on eBay, finding an original copy of your favorite childhood game is next to impossible. Beyond that, emulators also allow access to games that were never available for purchase in your country in the first place. The Nintendo NES and SNES consoles were completely region-locked from release, so games released only in Japan or Germany or other regions in the world couldn’t work on an American NES and SNES. No such restrictions exist on emulators, so you can play your old region-exclusive games to your heart’s content.

Now, before you go to the Dolphin Emulator’s website and download every ROM and ISO file* you see, you should know about the legal issues emulators pose. On it’s own, emulators are completely legal in every way, shape, and form. The fact that ROM files are so easy to download, however, causes some people to think downloading any game is okay. However, it shouldn’t be done, as downloading a game you don’t or haven’t owned is strictly illegal. By downloading a ROM or ISO file, you agree that you own or have owned the game in question. So while it may be easy to download any game you’d like, it’s not recommended since you risk getting a notice from your internet service provider.

Contrary to what you might think, playing games from your childhood has never been easier. Gaming emulation has evolved to the point where playing your favorite games is just a click away, and with modern emulators like Dolphin and PCSX2, your old games can look like they just came out yesterday. Now all you need is more free time to play through them!  


* Terms to know:

  • “Antialiasing:” Smooths out the edges of polygons in games, giving a more HD look.
  • “Post-Processing:” Effects like motion blur and lighting bloom, creating realistic visuals.
  • “ROM/ISO File:” Both common forms of game data, ROMs typically containing data from a cartridge and ISOs containing data from a disc.

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