Opinion: Embrace Emulation

Computer games have a pretty short history when you compare them with other media - books, movies and music all have far, far more works attributed to them than video games could ever have - and yet those media [books, movies and music] don't have nearly the same technological hill to climb as video games.

Whole chunks of gaming history just get abandoned as we march ever onward toward greater polygon counts, better musical fidelity and tonal shifts in gameplay. Where once the platforming collect-a-thon ruled the roost, today, most people only really want to play first/third person shooters.

And in that shift - from one platform to the next - we lose games. Sometimes catastrophically terrible games, but sometimes, we lose wonderful pieces of history, too. Like Banjo Kazooie or Okami.

One of the answers? Emulation. But the industry tends to frown upon emulation, because it requires reverse engineering the original game console [or operating system] and Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft aren't fans of that.

But...

Emulation [Attempts] To Preserve The Original Experience

We should - to some degree or another - be attempting to preserve as much of the original game as we possibly can, but remakes and remasters generally throw all that painstaking work out the window all in the name of "fancier graphics"

Like a fine bottle of preserved olives, some games get better with age.

Playing old games is an interesting experience. Often, the design for those games is a lot less forgiving than a modern game might be [or even a modern re-tooling of that same game] - playing Banjo Kazooie for the Nintendo 64 is a vastly different animal from playing the recent XBox360 port.

In the original version of the game, one of the objectives is to collect notes that allow you to open up areas of the overworld. In that version, the minute you die, [ie: the minute you lose a life due to a failed jump or just through messing with an enemy] you get shunted back to the beginning of the world you were currently playing and you have to start from scratch, re-collecting all those notes. This creates a very specific sort of tension that most modern games lack.

The new experience on the 360 is far more forgiving. It saves the game the minute you get a note, so it's always possible just to pick up from where you left off.  While this is fantastic from a gameplay perspective [you can always turn the console off at any time and come back, picking up right where you left off] - that very special tension of playing extremely well [or squeaking through a level on one "health point"] has completely been erased.

in the case of emulation, here, we could very much have the best of both worlds. Purists who wanted to play the game as it was get the ability to do so. Folks who wanted a smoother experience can simply save state. [a function of an emulator that generally saves the world exactly as it is right at that second - kind of like a save game for most consoles/pc games, but a little different.]

Emulation Allows For Broader Scope When It Comes To Fan Content

Fans can make a game have tremendously long legs. And emulation has helped that to some degree, by allowing the fans to dig into the architecture of the game, sometimes sprucing it up as they go. And the best part? This is all optional.

Fans. Blowing content your way since Adventure/Colossal Cave Adventure.  [The 1979 game by William Crowther and Don Woods]

Repackaged games - of the sort that Microsoft released with Banjo Kazooie are "official rebundles" that are put onto an official channel. In this case, Microsoft most certainly doesn't want you to go digging through the game files to tinker.

With emulation, there are a lot of fan patches that help the game, either upping polygon counts through texture packs, or removing bad glitches that were present in the original. This sort of tinkering can only happen because the fans get to know those systems very well, and they get to understanding what the hardware was physically capable of. Once run through the wringer of a powerful computer [or other device] emulating the original hardware, they can push that original system to it's limit.

They can also change the game in ways the developer never really considered. Kaizo Mario 64 is a project that was built as a labour of love for Mario 64. It utilized many of the assets of Mario 64 in new and uinque ways to present a game that was consistently more difficult than the original it was based on. That sort of innovation and invention very rarely comes from "official" remasters of the game.

Emulation Gives Us Access To ALL Of The Games In A System's Library.

Sometimes, it's easy to find cartridges for games systems of yore, but they might not work. Or finding the original console might be tricky. Emulation solves many of those problems.

Collecting books? No problem. Collecting games? Hardware hurdle.

When people think of the Playstation era of games, they think of - primarily - Final Fantasy 7. Likewise, when people remember the Xbox360, they're likely to be drawn directly to system seller Halo. But for both of these consoles, there were many other experiences that have been long forgotten. Like the horrifically bad Eternal Ring [for the Playstation 2] or my perennial worst-game-ever Basil, The Great Mouse Detective for ZX Spectrum.

The point is, they can't all be winners. But with emulation, we, the players, get to decide what we want to experience. Officially endorsed remakes or ports are just that - the games that the original publisher/distributor thinks are worth your time and you should be playing.

And yet, games history is so broad and colourful that it's almost sad that we're abandoning all these "non-winners" on the sidelines. People like great B-movies, right? Why not let them get their hands on fun/flawed "B-games" if they so desire?

Conclusion

It's pretty sad that emulation is such a frowned-upon topic in "official" circles. There's so much to gain by having access to those long-forgotten experiences that it seems pretty short sighted to me to just shut all that interesting talk right out.