Losing battle against ROMs

Rather than discussing how disappointed I’m in the Mega Man X Legacy Collections input lag, removed songs and censorship, the more interesting topic is Nintendo going after ROM sites again.

The whole thing with ROMs isn’t about an issue of legality when, that’s a clear cut thing. What isn’t concerns the relation of re-releases and ROMs. Emulators and ROMs are still popular, perhaps more than previously due to more accurate emulators being more available rather than junk like ZSNES. The increasing amount of fantranslations making games like Rudra no Hihou/ Treasure of Rudra available to the English-speaking audiences is reason enough to download whatever emulator seems to do the job and launch the game without any other considerations done. Then you have games that have changed graphics, completely overhauled game mechanics and pretty much everything under the sun you can think of. All you need to do is to patch the original ROM file and launch it in an emulator. Hell, even patching is optional, as most ROM sources simply list all known variants, patched or not, for any given title. Of course, some people just want to play Super Mario Bros.

Nintendo out of all companies probably has the most reason to dislike ROMs. Well, next to Sega. This is due to the fact how many classic titles exist on NES and SNES. As I’ve said before, any company who is releasing a title on a platform that allows the consumer to buy Super Mario Bros. 3 has high standards to live up against.

One of Wii’s most important lifelines was the Virtual Console. Titles on it outsell some of Nintendo’s big name titles, which didn’t put the Big N into right mindset. If you can’t obsolete a thirty years old game, then clearly something’s not right in the design and execution department. You may not be able to fight consumers’ nostalgia, but you can make see what makes that nostalgia ticking and tackle that. New Super Mario Bros. may have been rather mediocre after the fact, but after twenty year long drought of no 2D Mario it was a breeze of fresh air. Never went anywhere, and the New SMB titles ultimately lacked in quality.

The general consumer will drop five bucks for an old game in digital form, even more if the title’s a household name or holds some special place in his heart. The Virtual Console was a great thing, offering games across the platforms like no other. In the absence of Virtual Console, where does the consumer turn to? Without the older systems plugged in, and not too many have Wii or Wii U plugged in anymore, hardware emulation seems like the next best thing.

Nintendo of course has all the rights to protect their IPs and copyrights. Them shutting down Another Metroid 2 Remake a while back was them covering their asses and to remove competition from their own Metroid 2 remake. We can debate which one was better, but we can say for certain that AM2R was more faithful to the original and didn’t screw up the mechanics. Nintendo Switch Online is supposedly successor to the Virtual Console, but the concept and execution are a far cry from the store that Virtual Console is/was. NSO is essentially a subscription service to let you play online, with the whole thing about being able to play limited number of classic titles being a secondary element to it.

NSO is not a good replacement for the VC. VC wasn’t just about Nintendo’s own titles, but that may have been something that did rub them the wrong way. Nintendo wishes they had been as creative and innovative with their games as Sega was in their golden days, who constantly pushed the envelope with their groundbreaking arcade titles. The PC-Engine titles were a massive pull with the Japanese, with titles like The Kung Fu (known as China Warrior on the TruboGrafx-16) hitting the retro consensus there. There’s a market here that goes largely unused.

Nintendo could slap their in-house emulator for the Switch and sell every single NES game they own rights to for some three bucks. They’d probably make stupidly large amount of money off of them, probably more than what NSO could. Have all other companies that saw the success of Virtual Console hop aboard and have them re-release these title as well. Even better if you had opened this system to those who already had VC titles on the 3DS and could carry their games along just fine. This would have been beneficial and logical step for Nintendo on the long run, as it would have brought incredible amount of content to Switch from the get go.

An age-old argument against emulation from the industry has been that it damages the sales of future re-releases. VC was a massive success, PSN and XBLA’s retro titles slightly less so. Consumers will pay for what they like if its available at a decent price. Considering Nintendo is essentially ceasing its sales of older titles in order to move to Netflix styled subscription for them, the argument has less base than they want to believe.

All these companies know that they can’t stop emulation and piracy. It’s a losing battle, but all the companies have to do it. If they don’t, it’s very easy to see them fall into realm of abandonment and free for all to use. This extents to emulators being taken down as well. Only when patents expire does a company lose most control, like with the NES. When NES’ patent expired, the market saw a slight flood of clone consoles. The consoles themselves were legal, but some of them had build-in ROMs. This is often circumvented by just adding SD-card slot to the machine.

The retro game market is going to more expensive direction as the time go by, and it would be natural for the industry to take an advantage of this through re-releases and competent compilations. However, often we see budget packs with attention put to the presentation or alternative modes rather than on optimisation. Guess we’ll just have to wait and keep emulating before companies make older titles viable options again.

Cookies, tomato sauce and fictional character personalities

When you go visit your local groceries store next time, check out the cookies section. I want you to notice all the different sort of cookies there are, from salty to tasteless and all the way to the most sweetest thing imaginable. Check the amount of flavours they have and how many of the cookies have a varying degree of chocolate. Some have huge chunks, some have small bits spread everywhere and some just have top of solid sweet chocolate. Naturally you’ll also find immense amounts of cookies that have no chocolate at all. Some may have strawberry bits, some may have blueberry bits and some may have bits of Love inside of them. I mean Blackcurrant.

Move to the sauce section, and pay attention to the amount of different consistency in e.g. Dolmio sauces. You got different consistencies in one flavour alone, from runny to very chunky. In the basic tomato sauce there should be around five levels of chunkiness, and one of the levels without a doubt is the one you personally prefer over any other.

There are numerous different variations of one thing because consumers do not have one thing they love. There is no best, only bests.

This applies to electronic games just as much as it does apply groceries. You have numerous different First Person Shooting games varying from runny to chunky in order to appease different sub-sect inside the customer group. Just like there are people who dislike tomato sauce, there are people who can’t get into FPS games and will opt for something else. Same with Role Playing Games, where you have the solid, crunchy chocolate ones in form of Final Fantasy, and then the foamy ones with chocolate bits thrown in there randomly in form of Dragon Quest. It is not uncommon to find people who prefer multiple options, but there are usually few options they’d always prefer over the many others.

Just like Muv-Luv has different routes for different girls, the reader selects those routes first he finds most preferable. There is no worse or best route when it comes to personal selection, but depending how well the route is written can be reviewed as per literary standards.

Certain things can be quantified and observed to see what is, purely objectively speaking, better over another. It’s not uncommon to see people claiming one thing being horrible and mass having shit taste because they prefer one thing over the other. That’s the immature way of taking it, and because we can only argue over our preferences and not facts, this happen every time a solid, positive experience is involved. I have observed arguments over the smallest things being better over another, like between two brands of ketchup, but we all know that such things are moot.

To some extent.

The ketchup that sells the most is most preferable, the best out there. However, there are numerous different ketchups that sell around equal numbers. The aforementioned bests. This is a highly interesting thing when you begin to look into this, because it’s not apparent at first. Actually, the whole multiple types of sauces thing is relatively new thing overall, as for the longest time the market people saw the best thing being what was stereotypically seen as the best, the most classic of tomato sauces. Nowadays it would feel weird not to have large selection one thing in different flavours.

When it comes to electronic games, the term experience with them is thrown out far too many times. The problem with a claim of a game being an extraordinary experience is that the claim is based on either marketing quip or a personal experience, thus lacking proper validity. It’s an opinion.

What constitutes as a part of the game experience is rather vague, and once again, up to individuals to determine. For some the experience itself is only the game’s play itself. In cinema terms, it’s watching the movie. Other people on the other hand may see the game experience as something a bit larger, starting from unwrapping/ unboxing the game to putting the game inside the machine and everything that surrounds this. Some dislike this whole physical thing just like some people have moved into having only digital game libraries on their consoles.

This entry actually got its start from a small discussion whether or not emulators offered a better experience than physical consoles. Emulator enthusiasts are ready to claim their side as the victor, and they’d be incorrect. However, before the physical folks start to grin, they’re the same. If we are to use the term subject, we have to keep in mind that it is a person’s subjective, personal reality over a thing. That can’t be denied by anything, and claiming that this person is wrong in his opinion or experience would invalidate the claimer’s own doings just as much.

We all know that emulators allow all sorts of interesting things that the physical consoles don’t, like upscaling, filters, further colour options, save states and so on. That can’t be disagreed with and these can be left alone if one chooses to do so. With emulators we have the issue of emulation and that is a quantifiable and we can compare the function of the emulator over the physical console. An emulator like ZSNES that runs on hacks and plugins with inaccurate timings, causing the game being played inaccurately. An emulator is supposed to emulate, and we can argue with a solid base that an emulator should be able to emulate the console perfectly in order to be considered to convey the same experience of the game. Then again, if you consider the physicality, then even the very notion of running an emulator throws this out of the window. You also have the number of people who don’t care about the accuracy of the emulators and concern themselves only over how well the emulator is able to run. With a real console you wouldn’t have compatibility issues, and that if anything we all can agree is a detriment on the emulators.

With emulation and physical consoles we need to remember that it is the console that is emulated, not the game. While there is an attitude that a console is not able to run a game properly due to the console being too weak, we need to remember that the game is made for the console. There are clear limitations given both in software and in hardware. Most of the hardware is set in stone, and the things like the controller sets certain limits. A NES controller can’t have the amount of functions that a SNES controller has, but that it not detrimental to the game itself.

In overall terms console games are programmed to their respective consoles and blaming the console for the slowdowns and such in the game is largely misplaced. As console games are made for a console, it is up to the game developer to see that the game is able to run on the given console. There are numerous way a skilled developer is able to get around the limitations a console offers, and with all and any console generations we’ve seen numerous ways how numerous limitations have been defeated in a way or another. If a developer finds a console too powerless for their designed game, they are always free to move to PC platform, which relatively speaking has no real limits. Then again, the PC platform then brings in the numerous different configurations it can have and is completely different can of worms. Or used to be, seeing how this and last generation of game console are dumbed down PCs.

Nevertheless, as a game is intended to be run on certain hardware and is designed to solely run on that hardware, emulation must reflect this. However, the older the console, the more tricks you will find, like developers using CRT televisions’ Rainbow Banding to make create effects in-game or have memory buffer zones in the overscan area. Some games are known to use the hardware’s limitations for the benefit of the game. Space Invaders is a well known title that abused the hardware’s incapability to play at best speed initially, but as the aliens die out the hardware is able to handle the game better, thus the faster movement of the aliens toward the end of the round. An emulator would accurately need to emulate the cycles and timings in the hardware, as well as their limitations, in order to create an accurate representation of the game and the hardware.

However, in reality most people don’t care about the accuracy or how well the emulator itself emulates the console as long as the game is playable. That is a preference just as any, and does not constitute as a valid argument in a proper discussion on the things despite many arguing otherwise.

As you’ve figured out, the people offering any product needs think of the multiple customers within the a group of customers. This seems evident in itself, but we all know that people mainly see their opinions and preferences over other’s. This doesn’t work when you’re trying to make a living. While you may be able to sell one type of product for some time enough to make a living, it is imperative to broaden the selection and your own horizons in order to expand the market and avoid oversaturation. Rarely it is the case of one person doing one product to a market for too long. Everybody will buy one sauce if only one variety is offered. You would find a sweet spot for selling a more chunky variation of that sauce.

The experiences and the preferences that go with them are individual. You’ll find people who share your preferences and have completely different ones. As they are subjective, neither is better over the other, and perhaps it would be best if we’d try to understand where they come from their stand. Of course, it goes both ways, and if the other guy calls your waifu a shit, be sure to respectively disagree.

Then you can tell him to go step unto cat shit.

Piracy, emulators and history

First of all, head to byuu’s homepage to update your bsnes. Some time ago they finally cracked the last of the chips, and now bsnes is basically a virtual SNES for you. It also supports more consoles now, like the Famicom and GameBoy.

With every negative thing piracy does, there’s always that one thing that it excels at; archival. Without piracy most of the PC games of the 80’s and back would’ve been lost in the annals of time. For example, I believe part of Atari 520ST games have been physically lost, but thanks to the piracy rings we have bakcups of them. Originally in disk format, then later as data. Same goes for the Commodore 64 and all other computers. Partial reason most likely was that part of the 80’s computers used C-cassettes as their choice of media, like the ZX Spectrum. Some of them later gained cartridge add-ons or similar, but it still begs the question how many of these games have survived in their original form, and in what shape they are.

Piracy archives pretty much everything. The Internet has sources for some films’ VHS rips that no longer exist on the market in any form. You may find sixth or eight generation tapes that some obscure Hong Kong dealer may have, if you’re desperate for a physical copy. Physical media usually lasts long, unless it’s easy to damage. C-cassettes and floppy disks are rather easy to damage, and lower quality productions usually eroded far faster than their pricier counterparts. In comparison, a dog once ate parts of my NES cartridge away, chipping some of it off and all that, but the game survived mostly intact. It still works the same, even thou part of the lower PCB was literally chewed off.

I have no real trust on the DVD format and beyond. Piracy will archive these films and games as it has always done. I haven’t met any disc rot in my library as of now, but I suspect that in the next ten years part of my films and games will become unplayable because of it. With movies it’s not that big of a deal, as the experience doesn’t change on the format outside quality. However, experiencing games does change with a jump from consoles to emulators. This is why well coded emulators that emulate the hardware are needed.

Emulators’ first and foremost mission has always been to emulate the original platform. At some point most people lost this idea and emulators’ purpose was corrupted simply to play games. The notion “to emulate something” is a misnomer, as you don’t emulate the games, you emulate the platform they run on. This is why precise and accurate emulation is required by the core idea; to both preserve the functions of the original platform as closely as possible in digital form, and to provide as perfectly emulated platform the games run on as possible. bsnes and MAME are two emulators that still continue to follow the idea of historical archival, thou MAME has become exceedingly heavy at it’s core and partially is held together with hacks.

Hacks and plugins in emulators is not a good thing. This means that the emulator is not doing a good job at emulating the system. ZSNES still runs mostly on hacks that do not emulate the workings of a real SNES as it should, and ePSXe relies heavily on plugins and their workings. From gamers perspective anything that makes the games playable is enough, but when get over the initial excitement, you realize that lack of proper emulation affects the gameplay experience. Some emulators actually go beyond what the original system could’ve done and removes slowdowns and such. However, there are multiple games out there that use various systems’ limitations to create gameplay. For a simple example let’s use Space Invaders. The original hardware it ran on could barely run the game. Basically it ran too slow and couldn’t handle all the objects on the screen. As the player defeats the aliens one by one, the game gets faster as less and less objects appear on screen. If we take the approach ZSNES and similar emulators, Space Invaders should run on the speed that it runs when there’s only one alien on the screen. We all can agree that this isn’t how the game works, but this is what some of the emulators do; fixing what wasn’t broken via “over emulating.”

As playable emulation does not exclude accurate emulation or vice versa, the only reason people still want to use ZSNES is because they simply refuse to change their habits.

Even when games break down, the systems may survive. It’s rather easy to get games from the Internet and them to a disc. With a modded console, or in Dreamcast’s case modded disc image, you can run games on their original systems. What about cartridge systems the reader asks. To that I answer; there are flash carts like Everdrive. At some point in the future carts will erode and die. Custom cartridges like the Everdrive is then one of the answers how to play these games outside re-releases. While I applaud Nintendo and other companies on their older game re-releases with the new systems as downloadable games, we all can agree that playing Super Mario Bros. on the Wii is not the same thing as playing it on a real NES. Flash drive carts are in their infancy as there isn’t much people working on them, but I hope that at some point we will go over the threshold where the carts support all the games in a system’s library.

Ultimately, all physical systems will break down. Piracy will conserve the games in their ROM form. Emulators like bnses will conserve the platforms as closely as possible to their true counterparts. While piracy can’t be promoted, it is a necessary evil. As history has showed, companies tend to misplace and destroy source codes and protoypes. For example, Sega pretty much lost all source codes on their Saturn era games. This is why all Saturn games we see re-released, like Princess Crown, are emulated. Unless someone in Sega actually reverse engineers Saturn’s workings, we’re never going to see Saturn games on modern consoles as ports. Seeing how Saturn works, nobody really is interested even making proper emulators for it, let alone reverse engineer it.