By definition, emulation is the effort to reproduce the function of a specific hardware or software environment.
So what does emulation mean for us retro gaming enthusiasts?
Well, ’emulation’ can represent the software and hardware that we can use to recreate the environment of a specific retro gaming console.
Of course, gaming consoles are highly customized hardware environments that have been specifically tuned to play proprietary video game software.
So playing games on the console they were intended is going to produce the best results.
You would experience the game exactly as intended by the developer, who produced the game title with that console in mind.
But there are many different cases where original hardware is not available.
The reason for the absence of the original hardware could be due to the hardware being obsolete, difficult to obtain, or…. well…. you’re just cheap.
But seriously though, some of us do not have access to a retro gaming environment.
Whatever the reason… we do have the option to emulate.
And as retro gaming consoles or even personal computers become obsolete, more difficult to find, increasingly rare and valuable… the need to preserve these experiences becomes more vital.
And that is often the actual reason (and sometimes excuse) why emulation is defended by the developers and users… preservation.
The creation of emulation programs and the proliferation of ROM files throughout the web (whether you agree with it or not) is essentially backing up those gaming experiences and making them available to future generations.
So whether you are talking about MsDOS, Atari 2600, Game Boy, or Playstation 3… there is an app for that.
Emulation on a Personal Computer
Emulation is entirely software based.
It is taking a programming language and telling it exactly how to behave like the intended hardware.
Even emulation programs, by definition, can become obsolete, because they are simply applications aka programs that are created to run on a particular operating system.
(ie… a Game Boy emulator that is programmed to be used on the current MacOS.)
But generally speaking, we have a bunch of programs created for Windows PC, MacOS, and Android that will emulate many of the popular retro gaming consoles.
With a little bit of effort, a quick google search, and downloading a few programs and ROMS (“read only memory” which are the files for a video game title)…
You will likely be playing some of your favorite retro games on your personal computer straight away.
We also created a list of the Best Mac Emulators, Best Emulators For PC and Best Android Emulators.
With awesome plug and play controllers from companies like 8bitdo, emulation on the computer is a pretty agreeable experience.
Emulation on a Retro Handheld
If you know anything about RetroDodo, it should come as no surprise to you that our favorite way to emulate video games is on a retro handheld console.
We have produced a ton of content about retro handheld consoles, but if you need a refresher, maybe take a look at our list of the 33 Best Retro Handhelds.
A retro handheld console is like any other computer. It is a custom piece of hardware intended to support a desired set of software…
And in the case of retro handheld consoles.. they are small computers made specifically to play video game emulators.
They come in a range of shapes and sizes, and they all come with their own front end software.. but they all basically do the same thing…
They take the ROM file of a video game and open it in an emulation program.
The benefit of playing retro video games on a new emulation console is that you get the full experience of a gaming console in-hand.
For most gaming enthusiasts, actually holding a gaming console is a vital part of the magical experience.
Retro gaming consoles take the place of the original hardware, and often expand upon what was possible in the “good ol’ days”, bringing entirely new ways to experience retro video games.
In some cases, they make home console games portable for the first time.
What is FPGA?
FPGA is short for field programmable gate array which in simple terms is the use of a complicated computer chip that can be programmed to change its function.
The recent release and excitement over the Analogue Pocket has a lot of people talking about this thing “FPGA”.
And in the case of the Analogue Pocket, an FPGA chip has been used to recreate the function of the gaming consoles it can supplant.
I am avoiding the use of the word “emulate” when describing this process.
Technically, I believe you could describe this process as emulation.
But it is literally recreating the hardware to perform exactly as the intended console would.
So it does not use software to translate the game cartridges that you insert into the console… it literally plays the carts exactly as the original hardware did.
The game (and the player) shouldn’t know the difference at all.
We recently discussed Analogue Pocket VS Modded Gameboy VS Handheld Emulator to dive a bit deeper into the subject.
But long story short, you should not look at FPGA as emulation.
A lot of us want to play games, no matter how we gotta do it.
Especially when we are talking about retro video games…
The best option for experiencing the magic of those games (if you do not still own the original hardware and games) is to emulate.
And if you feel comfortable downloading an emulation program (they are safe) and also searching for ROM files online (they are usually safe, especially if found on any reputable website)…
The option for emulation is there.
We did cover the topic of the the morality and legality of emulation in our article Are Emulators Legal?
It is our personal belief that there is no harm in the use of a ROM file to play a video game that is no longer on the market by the original developers and publishers.
(We know, it can go much deeper than that. It is a highly debatable topic.)
And one of our personal favorite things in the entire world is browsing a huge library of retro video games and jumping into one on our retro handheld console of choice (you all know by now that mine is the RG351V).
If you’ve never experienced emulation, we are here to let you know… it is a thing… it works… it’s awesome.
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Anthony has been a video game lover ever since he can remember. He became a fulltime nomad in 2018, living throughout most of Asia. He focused his passion in retro gaming and began creating a game for the Game Boy Color while living in Nara, Japan during the 2020 pandemic. He is now in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where he spends most of his time gaming, going on long walks and meeting as many stray dogs as possible.