A LOVE RESURRECTION - February 1997
|"What experience and history teach is this -
that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on
principles deduced from it." - Georg Hegel (1770-1831)
The first question most people ask when confronted with the subject of emulation is: "Why?"
And it's a fair enough question. As the pace of technological advancement continues to accelerate ever more dramatically with every passing month, what kind of madness must possess those who wish to turn their ultrapowered Playstation/Saturn/Pentium Pros into tatty old lumps of ancient 8-bit hardware with microscopic memory, terrible 8-colour graphics and sound like a goose farting in fog? After all, if you want for some insane reason to play ZX81 games instead of PC ones, isn't it an awful lot easier to spend £5 on a ZX81 than to try to make your brand new P200 jump through burning hoops to pretend to be one? And isn't emulation a heck of a lot of trouble to go to for a sad nostalgia trip in the first place, when you could just watch Top Of The Pops 2 instead?
The answer to both of those questions, of course, is an unreserved "Yes". But then, emulation isn't (mostly) actually about nostalgia at all. It's about history. There's a subtle difference.
Despite being over 20 years old, the videogames industry still takes a very juvenile approach to most things (in common, it must be admitted, with most 20-year-olds), and nowhere is this more evident than on the subject of history. Uniquely in popular culture, the videogames business looks on its history with embarrassment and disdain - the most cursory glance at almost any magazine's approach to reviewing so-called "retro" games (either cringeing apologies for still quite liking Robotron even though it doesn't look very nice, or outright "Look-how-crap-the-graphics-on-Xevious-are-ha-ha!" sneering are invariably the order of the day) provides ample evidence of this bizarre tendency.
It's exactly like seeing Barry Norman on Film '97 loudly and openly deriding, say, Citizen Kane, on the grounds that it's black-and-white and there aren't any special effects in it. Or a music press review claiming the new Celine Dion single is clearly superior to the entire recorded output of The Beatles because the lovable moptops didn't use any state-of-the-art samplers or sequencers or have expensive promo videos. (All of which are obviously better than boring old guitars and harmonies and non-state-of-the-art, old sequencers, because they're newer and more complicated, and anyway, music's all about which instruments you use and how much distortion there is on the snare drum sound rather than the tunes, isn't it?)
The games business' embarrassment about its own cultural history, and the perpetration of this embarrassment by ill-informed journalists, is all the more puzzling when you realise what a proud history the games business actually has. The 20 years since Pong and Space Invaders broke the most dramatic new ground in entertainment since the television have seen innovation, imagination, technical achievement, financial success and a rate of progress beyond anything that Nolan Bushnell and the other early pioneers could possibly have imagined. And what the recent boom in emulation represents more than anything else, is a grass-roots attempt to redress this absurd imbalance between achievement and recognition. The answer to the question at the start of the article, therefore, is this:
"Because someone's got to."
The wider world of culture has already begun to take the matter in hand. The Museum Of The Moving Image has been running an exhibition of games history for several months, and the British Film Institute is assembling an archive of every game and games machine ever made. But the biggest strides in preserving the lineage of today's games for posterity are being made by the authors of emulators. Already, anyone with a moderately fast PC and a few hundred megabytes of hard drive space can run their own 20,000-game living museum, containing perfect replications of around 30 old computers and consoles (ie practically all of them), and over 50 coin-op arcade games. A few gaming jewels thought lost even to their authors (like the awesome but never-released Spectrum version of Robotron) have turned up in the unlikeliest places, and been returned to their creators.
And this phenomenon brings us to what is, for EDGE at least, the most alluring attraction of the emulator scene - the discovery of hidden treasures. Games that were never released in certain territories, never completed, suppressed by legal action or simply forgotten about can all come back to life through emulation. Remember Dig Dug 2? Donkey Kong 3? Ever play Prince Of Persia on the Spectrum? Ever seen ridiculous pornographic games on the chunky 8-colour screen of the Atari VCS? Well, now you can. But why would you want to?
"The often-stated, and equally-often derided, notion that old games had better gameplay is, like all cliches, one grounded in obvious truth," says retro specialist Stuart Campbell. "No-one with any sense at all would attempt to deny, for example, that there was, of necessity, a great deal more invention around a decade ago. These days, any new game that isn't a racing game, a beat-'em-up or a Doom clone is something of a revolution. Great game though it quite clearly is, I couldn't bring myself to get the slightest bit excited about Quake, for example, simply because I'd seen it so many times before, only a little bit worse."
So far, so retro. "On the other hand, freed from the tiresome and time-consuming business of having new ideas, developers today frequently execute their old ideas immeasurably better than their older counterparts did (even allowing for the spec differences), and the huge technical expanses of possibility opened up by something like the N64 means that when new ideas do crop up, the sky's pretty much the limit, and the old games don't stand a chance in comparison."
"It's completely facile, then, to say either that all old games were better or that all modern games are better. Only an idiot would attempt such a claim. However, what old games undoubtedly have on their side is that their age gives them a story to tell. It's fascinating to watch things start out years ago and evolve into what they are now, whether those things be developers, programmers or games themselves. Seeing the germs of ideas that became Super Bomberman and Pang start out on the Spectrum and MSX as Eric And The Floaters and Bubble Buster is like being present at a birth, and it's a shame the games business is so squeamish about it."
"I think over the years we've actually lost a lot of gameplay," adds Neil Bradley, author of an excellent emulator for several old vector-graphics coin-ops, including Asteroids and Battle Zone. "Players today didn't get a chance to play some of the classics where you actually had to strategize, and there wasn't a set of jump-left-up sequences to memorize for success. Each game was unique - games of today repeat the same two or three formulae over and over again."
It's also worth pointing out here that there's been an almost unnoticed but completely fundamental change in the whole underlying concept of arcade games in the last 10 years. When the coin-op videogame was invented, arcades were full of distinct, unique games, which were all linked by the fact that the more you played them, the better you got, and the longer your game lasted. If you got good enough - and plenty of people did - you could play Defender, Pac-Man or Asteroids all day on a single credit. They were "games" in the absolute sense - if you obeyed the rules perfectly, you'd never lose.
Modern games, however, aren't really "games" at all, strictly speaking - they're essentially low-rent fairground rides, designed to offer arcade operators a clearly-defined play length, ideally around two to three minutes (freeing them from the nightmare of some spod hogging a potentially-profitable machine all day for 10p). You're not buying the skill challenge of the old games, but a ride, a preset experience (which also explains the massive predominance of the huge, expensive sit-down simulators in almost every modern arcade over the old stand-up cabinets). Think about it - there are essentially two games in modern arcades, the racing game and the beat-'em-up (in the broadest possible sense - in this context, something like a football game in fact qualifies as a "beat-'em-up"). Beat-'em-ups are designed to be played competitively by two players (most gamers sneer at the one-player mode), one of whom will obviously lose within a couple of minutes and have to put more money in. Racing games, after the very short learning curve required to get through all the checkpoints/tracks, have an obvious predefined end. In fact, the better you get at a racing game, the shorter your actual game gets, as you reach the end faster and faster. It's hardly surprising, then, that players who were around in the 80s sometimes hanker for the old way of doing things.
One thing that puzzles many gamers, though, is that it's taken so long for successful emulation of the old games to happen. People have been expecting arcade-perfect coin-op emulation, in particular, since the advent of the Sega Master System. After all, the old coin-ops generally took up less than 50K of memory, and ran at tiny clock speeds of between 1 and 4Hz. What's so hard about doing, say, Galaxian properly on a 100Hz PC or a state-of-the-art Playstation?
"Surprisingly, the PC's video hardware is only just becoming good enough to produce the sort of images that were used on the old arcade games," explains programmer and distributor Lee Taylor.
"For example, the characters in Galaxian, like many other arcade games, used both character and sprite displays to make the screen. When the Galaxians are in convoy, they're in character RAM, but when they attack, the image is deleted from character RAM and a sprite is put in exactly the same place. Reproducing this on the PC means using a bitmapped display, emulating both character and sprite displays. So if a coin-op Galaxian appears using one write to RAM, emulating it on the PC requires something like 64 read and 64 write operations. The number can be reduced a bit by optimisation (using word or double-word read or writes as opposed to byte ones), but even then you're looking at an exponentially higher number of memory operations compared to the original hardware. Add to that the actual emulation of the original processors, and things start to get complicated fast."
Another emulator author, Chris Hardy (Windows 95 versions of Phoenix and Pleiades) notes that "Generally, the older a computer or game is, the more tricks the hardware designer and software engineer had to do to get the required results. The Atari 2600 had very simple hardware, but it's pushed to the limit by the games programmers. Often sprite attributes were changed at near pixel level (sprite multiplexing) to get simple effects, which is a nightmare."
So why are so many people knocking out these emulators like there's no tomorrow, Chris? "Aside from a few problems like these with displays, I think the actual writing is quite easy. One of the most important things to remember is that it's not necessary to actually know anything about how the arcade machine internally works. As long as the programmer emulates the hardware so that the game thinks it's running on a real machine, then the game will run exactly like the real thing. You don't have to worry about what to do with the sprites, what's important is that the emulator knows. Then it'll do all the real work for you."
So it looks like emulation is here to stay, despite the protests of the modernists. The emulation scene, in fact, is ironically one of the most dynamic in the whole games business. Except, of course, that it's not actually part of the games business at all. With very few exceptions, emulators represent a free lunch for gamesplayers - a Web-connected PC is all you need, whether your own or a public one in a Net café (nearly all emulators are tiny, and can easily be taken away on a floppy disk - the most recent Space Invaders arcade emulator takes up a mind-bogglingly tiny 3K), and failing even that, many mail-order outfits sell CDs packed with emulators and thousands of the old games. And while copyright on these ancient games is a bit of a grey area, none of the owners of said copyrights seem to actually care very much in most cases (see BREAKING THE LAW).
And while you might think it's a bit odd for a cutting-edge next-generation magazine like EDGE to say so, there can be very little doubt that that's a good thing. The games business has been keeping its history in the closet for far too long, and hence learning many of the same stupid lessons over and over again without ever taking any notice. If playing a few emulations shows some developers and publishers what actually made the games business take off and fly in the first place, the next generation of games (and gamesplayers) can only benefit.
"Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana (1863-1952)
It's not just the PC that's been blessed with high-quality emulators - the Amiga has several good ones (including Spectrum, Amstrad, C64 and MSX) which can all be found on Aminet, and the Macintosh is also very well-served with ports of most of the major PC names. And the Saturn and Playstation's library of perfect coin-op conversions on the likes of Namco Museum now stands at around 50 titles.
The best jumping-off point for Mac owners is The Macintosh Emulation Homepage, at:
THE NEXT GENERATION OF RETRO
These emulators are all at various stages of development, though none are yet as accomplished as the others mentioned in this article. The pace of progress is high, however, and it's worth keeping a lookout on a regular basis.
GenEm, by XL-it author Markus Gietzen, currently does a very impressive job of running several Mega Drive games (including Sonic), but compatibility rates are still low (10-20% of games run) and sound is rudimentary.
With its custom chips, the SNES is a much trickier proposition for programmers. Several competing emulators are nonetheless in progress, but even the best ones (like the newly-commercialised VSMC) currently only run a few games, and require a very meaty PC (P166+) to get worthwhile performance. This is currently the busiest area in home machine emulation, though, so developments are likely.
A half-decent commercial emulator (Gemulator) is already available, but is afflicted with several problems. You need a real set of ST ROMs to run it properly, it's expensive (you could buy a real ST second-hand for the price of a full copy), and it runs almost no game software. Other emulators, however, (notably one called PaCifiST) are in the pipeline, and look a good deal more promising.
The name to look out for here is UAE, a fast-developing emulator born in Unix but now being produced more or less in parallel with MS-DOS and Windows 95 versions. Software comaptibility is good, but the emulator is still quite slow and buggy. Unlike the ST, however, the Amiga's disk format is totally incompatible with the PC (good old Commodore), so to play your old games you're going to have to rely on game websites or setting up complicated connections between your PC and your real Amiga, which seems to defeat the point somewhat.
For beta downloads and up-to-date info on all of these, the best place to look is Node 99, a general and frequently-updated emulation website at
BREAKING THE LAW
"One of the Seven was wont to say: 'That laws were like cobwebs; where the small flies were caught, and the great brake through.'" - Francis Bacon (1561-1626)(sic)
The laws regarding emulation are slightly confused. It's actually completely legal to write an emulator, but [using] one muddies the waters somewhat. Naturally, it's illegal to own copies of games, whether on tapes, disks or your PC's hard disk. Nintendo in particular have cracked down hard on websites featuring downloadable copies of SNES, NES and Game Boy ROMs, presumably because they can also be used through disk-copying systems to play on the real machines.
The older machines generally fare rather better - the Oric, Spectrum, Amstrad and Dragon, for example, have had many games officially denoted as public domain by their authors and publishers. And older consoles like the Coleco and Atari VCS tend to have a blind eye turned by copyright owners, for obvious reasons. (With a few exceptions, like a clutch of Coleco games owned by Telegames, presumably because they still sell retro consoles and software).
While the matter is still under some debate, it's generally considered to be legal to play emulated copies of games you legally own, as long as you don't play the emulated version and the real thing at the same time. In any case, the people involved in this scene aren't pirates - they're enthusiasts, historians and students. And if the copyright holders of ancient software aren't interested in producing it for the retro market, it would seem pointlessly vindictive and silly to criticise anyone for bringing these old games back from the dead themselves, purely for fun.
EDGE, naturally, does not condone piracy in any form, which is why we haven't published any addresses of web sites containing actual game images. But as long as you're only looking for copies of your own legitimately-owned software, you shouldn't find addresses difficult to come by. Happy hunting.
|These are just a few of the various home computers and
consoles currently emulated, with a selection of the curios you can find for them. All
these emulators can be found on the Internet, and the ones listed are all for the PC. (
Arcade emulators will be covered in depth in Retroview over the next few months.)
The late-arriving ugly sister of the 8-bit computing scene, the Amstrad never really seriously challenged the dominance of the Spectrum and C64 in the mid to late 80s, despite attractive tech specs, good sales and a high level of software support.
STAR GAMES: Very few classic games actually originated on the Amstrad (in fact, offhand EDGE can't think of any), but it did play host to several of the best versions - the CPC port of Donkey Kong remains unrivalled to this day, and is only now about to be eclipsed by genuine emulation of the coin-op code.
EMULATORS: The Amstrad emulator CPE is a superb piece of work, offering full sound and graphic modes support, and running happily either in MS-DOS or through Windows.
The Apple II/e was the first really successful home computer, and was instrumental in bringing the concept of personal computer ownership to the US in particular. Its success can be gauged by the fact that major arcade games were still being converted for it right through to the late 1980s, a decade after the machine's inception.
STAR GAMES: Most interestingly, though, the Apple is also where you find the debut of Castle Wolfenstein, the great-grandfather of Quake. Without this, half the games in the shops today simply wouldn't exist.
EMULATORS: Several Apple emulators are available, but the best EDGE has found is AppleWin, a Windows-native and extremely friendly emulator.
ATARI 2600 VCS
The mother and father of all game consoles, and one of the world's best-selling things of any kind, the VCS is still being sold today, almost 20 years after its first outing (you can go to Argos right now and buy the TV Boy, a tiny hand-held VCS with 128 built-in VCS games that looks like a Mega Drive joypad and plugs straight into the TV, for £25).
STAR GAMES: Pretty much the whole of the first generation of videogames can be found here, as can the fledgling games business' hilarious first attempts at "adult" software in the shapes of Custer's Revenge and Burning Desire (save the girl trapped atop a burning building by winching her out on your, er...). You can also uncover rarities like Coke Wins (a promotional Space Invaders clone, in which the invaders were the letters of the word "Pepsi", and could never actually reach the bottom of the screen, safeguarding the game's title), and Chase The Chuck Wagon, a bizarre dogfood-related promo cart which is the most sought-after title on the VCS collector's circuit and fetches (ho ho) $150 and upwards at a time.
EMULATORS: The fastest and most comprehensive of several VCS emus is John Dullea's PC-Atari, which plays almost every VCS cartridge available and is now Windows-compatible.
The ill-fated follow-up to the VCS was the 5200, also known as the Super System, basically an Atari 400 home computer with the keyboard sawn off.
STAR GAMES: Stillborn in the US and never released in Europe, the 5200 didn't have much of a chance to accumulate an impressive software library, but did carry the full strength of Atari's coin-op roster with it, including some odd cuties like Kangaroo, and a weird version of Space Invaders.
EMULATORS: The only dedicated 5200 emulator is Dan Boris' VSS, a promising effort currently lacking sound support, but Chris Lam's Atari 400/800 emulator Rainbow 95 now also plays 5200 games, with full sound. See the Atari 800 entry for more info.
http://www.cityscape.co.uk/users/jx91/emulators.html (Rainbow 95)
Atari's powerful but hideously overpriced 400 and 800 computers played a significant part in the company's downfall in the 1980s, from which it would never fully recover. Trounced in the UK by the Spectrum and in the US by the C64, the 400/800 series was its own worst enemy, with a fatal reliance on cartridges rather than tapes, and proved that bloodline and pedigree were no guarantee of continuing success. Sadly, Atari never learned this lesson.
STAR GAMES: The Atari machines were dominated by, unsurprisingly, conversions of Atari's massively successful arcade games of the time. Original stuff did show up (as did numerous ports from the Apple), but the comparatively prohibitive cost of Atari software kept innovation down and formula action games prominent. Still, games which never saw life on other platforms appeared here, including innovative space blaster Vanguard, Jr Pacman (the little-seen third game in the series), a surprisingly good clone of fiendishly hard Scramble sequel Super Cobra, an early incarnation of first-person boxing sim Punch-Out and the interesting strategy-game-of-the-film, Wargames.
EMULATORS: There are three main Atari 8-bit emulators; Xformer, XL-It and Rainbow 95. There's very little to choose between the first two (both are very good), and the MS-DOS version of Xformer has recently been released as freeware (until recently it was a crippled shareware release), so you can try them both for free. Between them, they'll run practically all old Atari software. Rainbow 95 is a Win95-only emu which isn't up to the standard of the others yet (a P100 with DirectX is the minumum system, and it's still very slow at that) and costs £15 to register, but is being continually developed and is improving all the time. It's also more flexible than the other two (it emulates the 5200 console as well as the 400, 800, 800XL and 130XE) and has better sound, and will be worth keeping an eye on in the future.
WEB: http://www.halcyon.com/brasoft/ (Xformer)
It's somehow comforting to know that Commodore were as incompetent in the 1980s as they were until the company's recent collapse. Despite their initial attempts to sell it as a serious business machine, Commodore's C64 became the undisputed king of home game micros in the US, and the only serious competitor to the Spectrum in the UK. The C64 had a software library that was unrivalled at the time and, with machine lifespans steadily shortening and programming becoming less and less accessible to the general public, will probably stay unrivalled until the end of time. Happily, a huge percentage of that library is already being preserved.
STAR GAMES: It's difficult to know where to start choosing from the 15,000 or so C64 games currently archived in various places. But a random first selection might throw up the genuinely scary Forbidden Forest, the groundbreakingly pretty Alice In Videoland, the usual clutch of cobwebbed and long-neglected coin-ops (Solar Fox, Juno First, Wizard Of Wor) and the bold first steps of the now-mighty LucasArts, in the striking and unusual form of Rescue On Fractalus. ("Turning maths into graphics!")
EMULATORS: Many C64 emulators are currently available, but the Big Two are PC64 and C64S. They're equally superb technically, but PC64 is Windows-compatible and costs £15 to register, while C64S has to be run from DOS and costs a scary and improbable $60.
WEB: http://www.seattlelab.com/ (C64S)
The aspirational machine for the first generation of game console owners (the N64 to the Atari VCS's Saturn, is a pretty fair analogy), the Colecovision was the first console to boast of "arcade-perfect" games. While this was clearly a claim mostly unsupported by fact, the Coleco was nonetheless undeniably the Rolls-Royce of its time, with graphics unmatched by anything else available to the 80s gameplayer and the power to attempt games beyond the reach of most other systems.
STAR GAMES: Titles worth a look include Campaign 84 (an American Presidential-election strategy game, no less), the then state-of-the-art 3D shoot-'em-up Zaxxon, Sega's obscure Space Fury coin-op, and the 1983 debut of Artillery Duel, the primitive two-player tank battle later to win Most Original Game at the 1996 ECTS Awards when revived as Team 17's Worms.
EMULATORS: Marcel de Kogel's flawless ColemDOS operates beautifully via Win95 (despite the name), and ran everything EDGE could throw at it without breaking sweat (on a comparatively humble PC, too).
A niche machine at the best of times, the massive but mostly-air Dragon (it weighed about the same as a ZX81, though it was 8 times the size) enjoyed a brief period of success at the start of the 80s.
STAR GAMES: the Dragon was well served (indeed, all but monopolised) by Cornish publisher Microdeal, who produced a long line of unofficial clones of popular coin-ops of the time. In fact, for a long time the Dragon was the only place where you could play decent versions of Galaga (Galagon), Crystal Castles (Ice Castles), Time Pilot (Fury), Joust (Buzzard Bait) and Bosconian (Draconian), and is still, as far as EDGE knows, the only place you can find a version of Midway's long-forgotten Zen reflex-tester Space Zap (as Cosmic Zap). There were also some great originals belying the machine's small user base, though, including proto-RPG The Ring Of Darkness and, most notably, the lovely Tutankam-derived maze blaster Time Bandit, (later to be converted to the Atari ST where it would become one of the true ignored classics of the 16-bit age), and the rather less original and highly controversial Pitfall rip-off Cuthbert In The Jungle.
EMULATORS: The best Dragon emulator is actually Coco, written for the Tandy Colour Computer (a close relative) by Jeff Vavasour, who went on to program most versions of Williams Arcade's Greatest Hits. It's another excellent emulator, but beware - unlike many of the emus listed here, the speed isn't framelocked to the original machine's, and if you've got anything stronger than a P100, you'll find it hard to slow it down to a manageable level.
The Game Boy needs no introduction, but is an especially rich source of oddities and rarities.
STAR GAMES: The Japanese-only release of GB Street Fighter 2, the unappreciated Chuckie Egg-inspired wonders of Bill And Ted's Excellent Game Boy Adventure, the original Wave Race and, bizarrely, a homemade conversion of veteran Atari VCS shoot-'em-up Yars' Revenge are just a handful of the strange titles likely to have passed the Western gamer by.
EMULATORS: Marcel de Kogel triumphs once again here, with his superior DOS (but fully Windows-compatible) port of Marat Fayzullin's Virtual Game Boy, VGB-DOS. Full (locked) speed, full sound, a wide range of options and even a pretty GB-style background screen can be found here for your delectation.
GAME GEAR/MASTER SYSTEM
Sega's Game Gear and Master System were technically all but identical, so it's not surprising that emulator authors have killed two birds with one stone.
STAR GAMES: The hen's tooth of the Game Gear is Galaga 91, the least well-known game in the illustrious Galaxian lineage (it looks a lot like, and is a very similar game to, Galaga 88/90 on the PC Engine/Turbo Grafx). All manner of obscure Japanese titles are also to be found, along with games unavailable in the UK since the first weeks of the machine's release. Master System notables include an unexpectedly good version of R-Type and the psychedelic Defender-style shoot-'em-ups of the Fantasy Zone series.
EMULATORS: Again, two main competitors fight it out for the honours here. James McKay's Massage offers a fully-functional shareware release, with many additional features available in a £10 registered version, while Marat Fayzullin's MasterGear is less slick (and is tetchy about Windows), but is free and comes with a pretty Game Gear background for the GG games. Yet again, both are superb, and run practically all games available for the original systems.
The failure of a group of huge Japanese electronics companies to successfully deliver the MSX series of technically impressive, mutually-compatible computers in the early 80s is well documented. What's less well known is just how good a machine the MSX actually was. It lapped up coin-op conversions (MSX Arkanoid is still the definitive version, more than a decade on), and its parentage gave it access to games otherwise unavailable to Western players until the arrival of Namco Museum.
STAR GAMES: Galaga, Rally-X, Mappy, Parodius, Twinbee, Aleste, Bosconian and Mr Do's Wild Ride all made their first official home appearances exclusively on MSX, alongside unfamiliar versions of popular favourites (the legendary Xevious Fordraut Saga). The Japanese flair for inventive, abstract original games also blossomed on the MSX, though, with games like the mind-boggling Telebunnie, a cute maze chaser where you controlled two independent characters (a speedy rabbit and a slow-moving tortoise) simultaneously in a garden-based hunt for fruit. If you're unconvinced about the joys of emulators, fMSX is the place to have your mind changed.
EMULATORS: There's just no stopping Dutch emulation superstar Marcel de Kogel, as he comes up with a third definitive emulator in the shape of fMSX-DOS (once more ported from Marat Fayzullin's original). Marcel also collects teddy bears, incidentally.
The machine that made consoles popular again after the catastrophic Atari VCS-led crash of the early 80s, the NES remains, and is likely to always remain, the biggest-selling console in the world... Ever! The NES's game library was correspondingly huge, and loaded with timeless and seminal classics in exactly the same way that the Master System's wasn't. Whatever happened to Alex Kidd In Saturn World, anyway?
STAR GAMES: The usual suspects here (Mario, Zelda, Castlevania), but also some classic coin-op names never officially released in Europe (Galaga, Mappy, Xevious, dozens of others), weird Japanese originals and conversions of coin-ops that never saw the light of day, like Donkey Kong 3 and the legendary Dig Dug 2.
EMULATORS: NES emulation is still very much a work-in-progress situation, but there are a couple of highly competent emus available. Marat Fayzullin appears again with iNES (for Windows only), a classy emulator supporting (wonky) sound and joysticks, but with a few teething problems and a steep $35 registration fee (a soundless, no-joystick shareware demo is also available). Alternatively, there's a brilliant Japanese emu called Pasofami, also Windows-dedicated and very highly-specced, but which is afflicted by uncertainty about its freeware/shareware/commercial status, and by suspicion regarding a version containing a nasty virus which may, or may not, have been put out by the programmer, irate about illegal distribution.
WEB: http://freeflight.com/fms/iNES/iNESWindows.html (iNES)
http://www.nfinity.com/~swhalen/node99/ (for Pasofami)
An ill-fated attempt to compete with the Spectrum, the Oric sank without trace (except in France, for some reason), and is so short on decent games that emulation is a strictly novelty-value exercise.
STAR GAMES: A decent version of licenced Burger Time clone Mr Wimpy was about as good as it got for Oric fans.
EMULATORS: The Oric emulator of choice is Euphoric, a slightly Puritan but entirely accurate replication of the machine, including the all-important ZAP, PING, SHOOT and EXPLODE commands.
A long-standing cult machine with a small but fanatical fanbase, it's a gaming tragedy that neither the tiny PC Engine nor its Western big brother the Turbo Grafx ever saw official European release. Technically the missing link between the Master System and the Mega Drive, the PCE's strength lay not in what were, at the time, the best specs available on a home console, but in a great collection of superb games. The lack of a significant American influence in the machine's development may partly account for this.
STAR GAMES: Japanese coin-ops, RPGs and originals abound on the PCE, including the seminal Formation Soccer, several incarnations of Bomberman, Galaga 88/90 (as seen on the loading screen of Ridge Racer Revolution), EDGE favourite Ordyne and what's still the best conversion of Irem's mighty R-Type that money can buy. Generally, in fact, the PCE had probably the best good-games-to-bad-games release ratio of any games machine ever, so it's hard to go wrong.
EMULATORS: EDGE can exclusively reveal that the world's first PC Engine emulator is almost complete. MagicEngine runs practically all PCE and Turbo Grafx games beautifully, and should shortly be able to run original Turbo Duo CDs via your PCs CD-ROM drive. It's an astonishing piece of work which arrived completely out of the blue, and rivals the Vectrex emulator DVE as the most impressive technical achievement in the area to date. Keep a close eye on EDGE for further details of this exciting development.
WEB: MagicEngine isn't currently available for download. However, the authors can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell them EDGE sent you.
15 years after its launch, and about five years after its final death as a financially viable platform, the Speccy is, remarkably, still having new games produced for it. The most amazing is a superb conversion of Prince Of Persia, released by members of the emulator community (but runnable on a real Speccy) late last year, and followed fairly quickly by an impressive clone of Super Bomberman. The Spectrum emulator scene is also the liveliest one around, with a very busy and friendly newsgroup at comp.sys.sinclair, and a constant stream of games being continually added to the huge archive, often by the games' authors themselves. The Speccy boasts a back catalogue of over 10,000 games, including many of the most innovative and original titles ever seen on any format, and is the first stop on the journey of anyone attempting to trace the evolution of game design. (And, indeed, game designers - many of today's star British developers started out on the Spectrum, and can have their early works examined on these emulators for signs of budding greatness).
STAR GAMES: Too many to list.
EMULATORS: The Spectrum has attracted more emulators than any other machine, including some of the very best. The discontinued JPP is a very good freeware emu still widely available, and Wspecem is a fast-improving Windows-dedicated emu, but the star of the show is X128, from Massage author James McKay. It offers full Spectrum 128 support (unlike the other two), runs happily under DOS or Windows, and comes with a handy built-in menu system. Gerton Lunter's definitive Z80 is actually even better than X128 (frame locking, joysticks, slightly better sound), but costs £20 for the full registered version (the shareware one is severely crippled) and won't work with Windows, so it's really for the wealthy perfectionist who doesn't mind rebooting their PC a lot.
The odd one out here, and possibly the most impressive achievement to emulate. Unlike every other home game system, the Vectrex used wireframe vector graphics on a dedicated black-and-white monitor.
STAR GAMES: The Vectrex's graphics were, of course, ideal for converting many of the vector-graphics coin-ops of the day, such as Rip-Off, Armor Attack, and Star Castle. More interesting, though, were the Vectrex's (not unsuccessful) attempts to pull off traditional sprite games like Pole Position, Scramble and Berzerk. Again, enthusiasts are actually still producing new games for the Vectrex, most recently versions of Space Invaders and Missile Command. Madness.
EMULATORS: Only one, DVE by Keith Wilkins. A fantastic job all the same, with sound and joystick support, and even a simulation of the plastic overlays the Vectrex used to produce colour displays. You'll need at least a P90 to get any sense out of DVE, however.
The first mass-market colour home micro (pretty much the first one with vaguely decent sound, also), and the predecessor of the C64, the VIC was never as successful as it might have been, due to its being initially shockingly overpriced (just pennies change out of £400- yet another sterling bit of marketing from Commodore), then, when it finally came down to an affordable level, being eclipsed by the all-conquering Spectrum. Still, it was a lot more capable than its paltry 3.5K RAM might suggest, and it did a lot to kickstart the UK games software market.
STAR GAMES: Treasures here, alongside several surprisingly effective Atarisoft conversions of tricky arcade hits like Robotron and Pole Position, include a near-perfect rendition of vector coin-op Omega Race, the legendary two-player Ben Hur simulation of Chariot Race, lost and forgotten coin-op The Pit and the little-known third game starring Miner Willy (of Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy fame), Perils Of Willy.
EMULATORS: A couple of decent efforts, but Boris van Schooten's PC-VIC stands out from the crowd, with full-screen display, sound and joystick support, and almost total software comaptibility.
WEB: http://hydra.cs.utwente.nl/~schooten/software/vic-20/ (PC-VIC)
The missing link between Castle Wolfenstein (see above) and Quake can be found, of all places, on the near-paleolithic ZX81. Other machines had had 3D maze games before, of course, but it wasn't until the terrifying T-Rex of 3D Monster Maze charged down a corridor at you before revealing the huge set of nasty incisors in its gaping maw that gamers had experienced the toe-curling rush of fear later to be induced by Barons Of Hell.
STAR GAMES: Historians can also find on the ZX81 some of the greatest programming feats of all time, including a fully-working Chess program written in just 700 bytes of RAM, games featuring high-resolution graphics (technically impossible on the machine), and the first published works of, among others, Tempest 2000 creator Jeff Minter (a dodgy Centipede clone).
EMULATORS: Xtender by Carlos Delhez is in a field of its own here. The shareware version runs excessively fast on anything more than a P100, but the registered version (£10) is fully speed-locked and comes with over 200 games.