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Emulation: it’s not just for computers anymore

by Tom Zjaba (feedback), May 2, 2001

When you hear the word “emulation” you most likely think of computers. Programs like MAME and MacMAME, iNES and NESticle, MESS, and Stella are among some of the popular emulators and until recently, you needed a personal computer to play them. But something has changed, something that no one could have imagined a year ago – emulators are now being made for a home console!

When the Sega Dreamcast was released back in 1999, it was made as a state-of-the-art game console to play games made for the system. But a wonderous, underground movement has started where programmers have created emulators that work on the Sega Dreamcast. Now there are emulators with a wide range of playability, some actually very good. While programmers have developed the most obvious emulator for Dreamcast, namely its precursor the Genesis, there are also emulators for the original 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Nintendo, Game Boy, Neo Geo, Neo Geo Pocket, Spectrum (a European system) and the MSX (a Japanese system that is very similar to the Colecovision).

These emulators are not perfect – many are far from it – but they are being updated all the time and the problems are being smoothed over. Soon you should see nearly perfect ports, with all the control, sounds and gameplay that you remember.

The big breakthrough in the emulation scene for the Dreamcast came when Sega itself released an emulation CD with a dozen classic Genesis games on it, called the Sega Smash Pack. Within weeks of its release, the code was hacked and versions of it were being made that included all the Genesis games, instead of just a handful.

While the granddaddy of emulators, MAME, has not been ported over to the Dreamcast, it is only a matter of time. There are already signs of individual classic games or families of games being released, like Phoenix. This is essentially how MAME started, with small pockets of emulation that were eventually brought together into one incredible emulator.

What is even more amazing is that there is work to convert PC games over to the Dreamcast. The only one that I know of that has been successfully ported is Quake 1, but it's a start, and there are a lot of others that are in the works as well. So while Sega may have pulled the plug on the system and commercial software may only be available for the next year, the underground scene will make sure that the Dreamcast stays alive for a long time.

To see all that is happening in the Dreamcast emulation scene, check out the Dreamcast Emulation site. It has all the up-to-the-minute information about all the emulators as well as PC ports.

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