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"Classic Games on Your Home Computer"
  11/01/1999

Ever wish you could play some of the classic video games again? Using a process called emulation, you can enjoy many of your old favorites on your home computer. Emulators are designed to allow your computer to act like, or emulate, the actual hardware of the emulated system. It's possible to emulate everything from console systems like the Atari 2600 to computer systems like the Commodore 64.

There are two basic types of emulators. The first one is a single system or single game emulator. Examples are an NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) emulator, an Atari 2600 emulator, or Commodore 64 emulator. These emulators only emulate one type of system or game. Other emulators have been built to emulate multiple machines. MAME, for instance, is an arcade machine emulator that emulates hundreds of arcade games. Because not all arcade games run on the same type of hardware, MAME uses a driver system to emulate particular games. That's a vast simplification, but this is why multi-emulators require more resources than single system emulators in most cases.

Emulators are elaborate pieces of software, and most do not emulate a hardware system perfectly. With some emulators, the imperfections may be very minor, such as a slight graphics or color problem. Some emulators won't run certain games at all, or they may have sound problems. Other emulators may lack joystick support or other significant features due to the difficulty of emulating them. There are also emulators that act so much like the original that it is almost impossible to distinguish the original from the emulated.

Emulators are great, but they will not actually do anything without ROM's or disk images, because they are the actual copies of the games. ROM's are copies of cartridges, while disk images are copies of media such as diskettes. A copy of an Atari 2600 game is a ROM, while a copy of a Commodore 64 game is a disk image. A Commodore 64 emulator doesn't do you any good if you don't have disk images to use.

As far as emulators go, all emulators are legal. It's not illegal to emulate something, unless the emulator contains copyrighted material such as a BIOS image. Most emulators don't. There are a few that do, and they have permission to distribute the material or may be distributed with everything but the copyrighted materials. ROM's are another story as they are copyrighted. In some cases, the company that holds the copyright to these games doesn't even exist anymore. Still, technically, most ROM's are probably illegal. There are exceptions as some companies have released their games to the public domain or condoned not-for-profit distribution. The legalization of ROM's is a very complicated issue. If you are uncertain, it's best to be on the safe side and not download or use anything that might contain copyrighted materials.

Emulators allow your computer to act like the actual hardware of the emulated system, such as a console system like the Atari 2600 or a computer system like the Commodore 64. They can also emulate the hardware of various classic arcade games. They are a fun way to play some of your old time favorites without needing to dust off that old ColecoVision in the closet.

  - by Clayton Crooks

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  comp.emulators.*
  alt.emulators.*
  alt.games.*