Emulators — Good and Otherwise

I’m gearing up to teach a Video Game Culture and Theory course this January. 

The first time I taught it, in 2006, it didn’t occur to me that students who were looking for information on, say, Space Invaders, would just play any old flash clone, without being discerning about whether it was a faithful port, a full-scale emulation, or just someone’s half-finished programming exercise. 

So this post is starting the work of collecting good online emulators for some of the classic games we’ll discuss.

Eliza (my hosted version of Hayden’s java emulation)
Pac-Man (looks like a faithful web-based java emulation)
Space Invaders

  • A good introduction to the issues emulators face (the example is Space Invaders, but there’s no playable emulation on this page).
  • This freaky Flash re-imagination has very little in common with the arcade game.

3 thoughts on “Emulators — Good and Otherwise

  1. I doodled with MAME a while back, but it had been a while. I forgot how great the gameplay can be… and how much I suck at video games these days.
    I do hope you’ll share a link to the syllabus. I’m teaching a New Media course in the spring, and haven’t decided if we’ll do game content. Being able to borrow from you would make that easier ;)

  2. Awesome stuff, Matt. I was thinking of you when I wrote this post!
    Because it’s an online-only course compressed into three weeks, I don’t have a setup where I can demonstrate MAME for the students, but yes, part of the arcade game unit will ask them to focus on the sensory experiences that the web can’t convey. I remember the Q-bert banging death — I always felt bad for him.
    I’m being called away.

  3. Any chance of auditing from a distance? Sounds like a fun. A couple of quick thoughts:
    If you’re going to explore arcade games in any depth, I really encourage you to have the students examine the entire machine and not just the emulated code. Even if it’s just looking at pictures online, the games seem so much more engaging when you see all of the little extra touches that were added. So many of the arcade games in the 80’s had “ambiance” features that don’t carry over into PC or online ports. Space Invaders is a prime example. Using a half-silvered mirror set at an angle and a back-lit cardboard display mounted in the cabinet, the original game made it appear the alien invaders were “floating” above a day-glo orange moon. It looked incredible in person. In comparison, the plain black background of most emulations is boring. Other examples of this type of “atmospheric” gaming: Tapper had beer tap shaped controls and had a brass bar rail mounted to the cabinet. Q*Bert had a pinball solenoid mounted in the bottom of the cabinet that would make a “knock” sound when your character fell off the side of the pyramid. After Burner used a force-feedback joystick and thumper motors to simulate an out-of-control plane. All of these little details really add to the games, and it makes the blocky sprites and simple gameplay less of an issue.
    If you have the time and resources, I encourage you to look into MAME, the multiple arcade machine emulator. The academic nature of your use should obviate any legal hassle, and you could simply delete the ROMs at semester’s end. MAME uses the original machine code found on the arcade PCBs, and is the closest thing to playing the real games that you can find.

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