Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Now I Love Emulation and Here’s Why

with 3 comments


In the past I have had quite strong opinions about emulation, going so far as to say I prefer not to use it.  My basis was clear in the article, but to sum up I don’t like the screen tearing and framerate issues that often happen with emulation, I hate not using a console’s native controller and the potential of input lag, and of course my ongoing aggression toward piracy.  Since I boldly declared my stance almost four years ago (yep, we celebrate our fourth anniversary in October), a lot has changed.  First of all, many of our readers and listeners have brought to my attention circumstances involving distribution, bootleg, and socioeconomic factors that force them into utilizing emulation, which as a middle class American I don’t have much experience with.  In addition, rarity has become a big reason why I see the value in emulation (or flash carts/burned discs on original hardware, which is the same thing to me).  I don’t think that people who want to experience Snatcher, Panzer Dragoon SagaMichigan: Report from Hell, and so many others should pay a random dude hundreds of dollars that the publishers and developers will never see for this “privilege.”  Those transactions are for the collector, who wants the tangible item, but for the player I think access should be made available and if the business of games does not support this then skating the line of the law is a personal decision each player can make.  Also my experience on Twitch lately has been hilarious because I tend to play on actual hardware and I appear to be one of the few, so my choice to avoid emulation is more of an old man theory than a crusade against piracy and authenticity.

Behold "Frankenconsole"

Behold “Frankenconsole”

The biggest reason I have changed my stance is a much wider phenomenon that has emerged: streaming and gameplay videos.  These have taken off like wildfire and I have seen the views and read the comments from people who appreciate being able to watch a playthrough of a game that’s either hard to find, hard to play, or something they would just prefer to watch than play.  Cynics may look at our YouTube page’s views and scoff, saying you can’t build a business on it, which is fine by me because I prefer to be a resource for a captivated few at no cost.  The trouble is the HDTV problem, which is aside from the depth of the linked article, it basically means that consoles that look great on standard definition CRT televisions (of which I have two) look terrible on HDTVs.  I avoided this issue by avoiding playing consoles on HDTVs, but it was the way my videos looked on YouTube and Twitch that convinced me I needed to take it a step further.  Looking at my capture of SNES game Super Star Wars proves that in standard def the game can look incredibly blurry online but compare it to my video of Super Empire Strikes Back, which was on the same console just passed through an upscaler we see a much better and more crisp image.  I use a basic upscaler that in truth has a ton of lag, but none of that matters because I split the video signal via an amplifier and basically play the game on the TV independent of the delayed stream I send to the capture box and then I adjust for lag by recording the voiceover separate – this makes for a much longer process to create a video but I love the outcome.  Since I didn’t buy an expensive upscaler that works with all consoles my problem comes with consoles that only do basic video out, most notably my Sega Frankenconsole (Genesis/CD/32X),  3DO, Turbografx-16 CD (you get composite out when you add the CD portion), and my NES.  In order to get good upscaled signals I would need RGB cords, mods, and even more expensive ways to show them on either a CRT or HDTV, so aside from NES/Genesis/Turbografx-16 without CD that have extensive libraries on the Wii Virtual Console, my best answer is to either capture these blurry videos or get the upscaled sharp pixels in 720p that I love via emulation.  In an emulator, almost none of this is a problem.  The game upscales for me, it’s presented in gorgeous resolutions of my choice (up to even 1080p), many record your footage so I can interact with an audience on Twitch and then have a usable video of just the game for my ChronCD project, and of course the emulation seems near perfect these days with many of the sound glitches and vsync issues eliminated.  I don’t even have to deal with piracy in many cases because I can simply do a direct rip of the proper game in my collection and it plays perfectly in the emulator.  This is an ideal circumstance for modern gaming to me, because it’s just too damn expensive to set all this up via hardware.

upscaleIt’s not perfect, there are still some issues with picking the right emulator, input lag, and for my 3DO, CD-i, and Saturn there will probably never be an evergreen 100% emulation option so, like my Shenmue stream, I’m using true hardware because the emulation option is just too removed from the original experience.  All things considered, however, it is the best compromise I can find.  Not all problems can be solved with emulation, and I still stand by the fact that 90 percent of the time I’m using original hardware, but for those random times where I need an old game to look bright and beautiful, it’s great to have one more console option.

Side Note: I know someone will eventually ask me about using items like the Retron 5, which will allow upscaled images on seemingly native hardware, but this console is nothing more than an emulation machine disguised as a console that tends to damage carts, break often, and still rely on base emulation technology.  It’s fine for some, but as for me, no thank you.

Written by Fred Rojas

July 31, 2015 at 1:04 pm

Posted in Blog

Tagged with ,

3 Responses

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  1. You have finally seen the light…


    August 2, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    • Well, sorta. He sees the light from underneath the tree, but he ain’t gettin’ a suntan just yet. Personally, I think freeromification of ancient and out of print systems doesn’t hurt anyone, but piracy of current games and systems puts a calculable dent in the industry. But certainly not as much as publishers claim it does.


      August 7, 2015 at 6:51 pm

      • Hey, I’m right here! Haha. Actually bmulligan you are right that at this point modern consoles are super difficult to crack and a majority of emulated games are out of date software that won’t be made commercially available. Gonna do some research and see if I’m right on your hypothesis.

        Fred Rojas

        August 7, 2015 at 7:21 pm

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