Seldom what they seem: game emulators
by Alan Zisman (c)
1999. First published
in Vancouver Computes,
As that star of a recent hit film (and screen writer
of several others),
William Shakespeare once said, ?A rose, by any other name would still
Computer users, particularly game players, know that
the Bard was really
predicting software emulators.
As personal computers get more powerful, they can do a
lot more than
just run Microsoft Word faster than I can type. Among other tricks,
are now powerful enough to do a respectable job of pretending to be
kinds of computers?emulation.
Products like Connectix?s Virtual PC or Insignia?s
SoftWindows let make
users run a DOS, Windows 3.1, or Windows 95/98 session on a
the usefulness of these systems by letting them (slowly) run a needed
without leaving the cozy cocoon of Mac-friendliness.
For a while, there?s been a game-players emulation
emulators abound, letting PC-using game-players use their machines to
games designed for older game systems like the original Ninentendo. And
some of them work pretty well.
Of course, the problem is how to get the actual games?
there?s no way
to plug a Nintendo game cartridge into a PC or Mac. On a slightly more
underground level of the Internet, searchers can find ROMs-- software
of many popular games. To be legal, users would need to own a copy of
game cartridge, but as long as only older systems and games were being
cloned, it seems like companies didn?t bother to prosecute.
That?s changed recently.
Connectix scored a big hit at the recent MacWorld Expo
with its release
of Virtual Game Station. Not yet released in Canada as I write, this
allows G3 Mac owners to play many PlayStation games from their Mac?s
And it works surprisingly well, though with a couple
Lacking a G3, I packed up my review copy of VGS and a
selection of PlayStation
games, and paid a visit to Vancouver Computes editor Chris Ladd and his
iMac. His 14 year-old, Jeff, and my 15 year-old Joey installed the
and put it through its paces. Their report:
- Some games worked (like Crash Bandicoot Warped),
while others (like EA
Sports NBA 99) didn?t. Connectix has a list of games that they claim
known to work up on their website.
- CD copies don?t work. They don?t work on standard
but there?s a thriving underground market for so-called ?mod chips?,
real PlayStations to use these often-pirated CD copies.
- Performance and appearance were pretty good, though
not quite as smooth
as on a real PlayStation. Presumably, a more powerful G3 would offer
performance. (The software insists on a real G3?it may run on an
upgraded system, but it only supports ATI video cards, used in all real
- Games were playable but awkward using just the
keyboard and mouse.
gameplayers will want to get one or more gamepads to plug into their
And there?s the kicker. New PlayStations are selling for about CDN$175.
Add $25 for a second controller. Or (assuming you have a G3 Mac,
at $1800 for an iMac), get a US$49 (about $75) for a copy of VGS. Two
controllers at US$ 29 each (about $90). You?ll probably need to add a
hub to your iMac, if you don?t already have one?about $100. Is
wrong with this picture?
Still, Connectix reports that Virtual Game Station has
been a hot seller
in the US. Sony (makers of the real PlayStation) has filed suit, but
judge refused the company?s request to ban further sales of the
The program dramatically increases the number of games available for
Mac?in this case, games users can rent at their corner video store.
On the PC side of the force, oddly-named garage
startup Bleem (www.bleem.com)
claims to be close to release of a PlayStation emulator for that
N64-users may be feeling left out?a PC-based N64
was yanked off the Net by its creators, only hours after its release.
Unlimited claimed to be ?shocked? by the flood of people jamming its
site, looking for a copy of the emulator along with pirated game ROMs.
(We couldn?t get it to run, anyway?in our tests, we got game music, but
In the operetta, The Pirates of Penzance, William S.
Gilbert wrote ?Things
are seldom what they seem?skim milk masquerades as cream?. The latest
of emulators seem to be doing the opposite?getting a $2,000 personal
to act as if they were $200 game systems.