A common sentiment found among retro-computing enthusiasts is that there's nothing quite like the real thing. It's understandable, computers and game consoles (i.e., computers disguised as toys and appliances) are physical items and our happy nostalgic memories are complimented by recollections of touch and heft: the feedback of button clicks, shunting cartridges into slots, and so on. However, there's a particular aficionado - we've all met him, he's a member of every fan group and forum - whose affection for real hardware gives way to an unpleasant snobbery. A "true fan" would never emulate, he says, implying that a gaming community is only a place for those with disposable income, space, and a nihilistic acceptance that the platform will die with the original hardware.
I'm certainly not arguing against the value of hardware and experiences which come with it, we're all in agreement of its importance, but I do insist that emulation is also a first class citizen without which a platform has no future.
Ashes to hardware ashes
Take the Atari Jaguar; fewer than 250,000 are known to have been produced, with even fewer numbers of accessories such as CD-ROM drives. Of that number a great deal will have been owned by people with no interest in preservation. Many Jaguars have likely been dumped in the trash along with an avalanche of VCRs. Of the survivors many will suffer electrical faults due to old-age (the dreaded open-circuit capacitor problem). Many more will simply be damaged in accidents.
This is already a serious problem for CD-ROM units which were produced in much smaller numbers than the console itself and are notoriously failure prone - although, arguably, no more so than other CD-ROM drives from the time.
Taking the long view there will be a time when, for most people, original hardware will no longer be a viable way to access the content produced for the platform!
This is perhaps the strongest argument in favour of emulation. New content is vital for a platform and emulation is key to lowering the barrier in producing new content. In the late 70s it took highly skilled programmers with excellent design sense (a very select cross-section of personality) months to produce new games for the Atari 2600 using mainframe computers costing thousands of dollars. Today, a cheap PC with the Stella emulator, which includes an excellent debugger and the ability to step through program execution and inspect the emulated Atari's emulated state. Imagine what those original Atari and Activision programmers could have achieved in an afternoon with such capabilities! Imagine what today's programmers, of all kinds of skill levels, can achieve!
A more thoughtful perspective
I highly recommend that anybody with an interest in retro-gaming listen to Frank Cifaldi's GDC talk on the subject of emulation. It's witty, thought-provoking and quite brilliant. There's a lot to unpack, but in under an hour he touches on numerous relevant subjects such as preservation, the ethics of piracy, and how emulation can be leveraged in the most positive (and commercial!) ways:
My apologies in advance for this post. You may think this is a strange place for this but I can't think of another outlet for it and I can make an Atari connection.
My stepfather is dying. Quickly. I'm not even sure if he's technically my stepfather, but he might as well be.
Growing up, I hated him. I realize hate is a strong word but I HATED him.
Now, I'm pretty devastated by this.
My parents divorced in 1979, when I was six. My mother remarried a true a-hole a year or two later. I'm not certain of the exact date but it was in my 2600 heyday. Those were not good times for me but that's not even worth sharing. They would be divorced by 1983. That's when she met the subject of this post.
She was working for the local newspaper in the classified department and he was the local dog warden. He would place ads for dogs they rounded up and they hit it off.
The summer before I started sixth grade (1984), they moved in together. (This would be my fifth different elementary school since kindergarten.) My disdain for him was immediate.
He had a son and daughter from a previous marriage. The daughter lived with her mom & would visit every other weekend. The son was a year older than me but we didn't get along that great.
He was ridiculously strict. It honestly felt like I was in prison. No candy, no soda, being sent to bed super-early, etc. There was one TV in the house & we had to watch whatever he wanted. (A vivid memory is me coming home from school, finding a cartoon to watch or even an afternoon playoff baseball game (Cubs/Padres), him driving in the driveway, eventually sitting down in his chair in front of the TV & snapping his fingers, demanding the cable box. He would promptly change the channel & eventually settle on some horrible kung fu movie.) My Atari, which I used to shuttle back & forth between my father's house & my mother's was no longer to be connected to the TV.
I remember him arguing with my Mom about my father. Things like the child support check, or him calling to talk to me, etc. Stuff that made me super uncomfortable.
The best times would come from when he would go play cards with his friends. I'd have a few hours with him not in the house but he would come home drunk. If everything would work out, I would be asleep before he came home.
My mom never married him but I'm not sure how the common-law marriage thing works in my state. Regardless, they never split up. He was present in my life until I graduated high school.
I learned quickly to keep my mouth shut & do whatever he ordered me to do. Chores, eating every last bite of foods I despised (I haven't eaten a pea in 25 years and I never will again.) He never hit me, although there were times I wish he did so I could find a way to leave. I used to fantasize about walking the 85 miles to my father's house, while not being exactly sure how to get there.
I do remember blowing up during my senior year of high school. I had a girlfriend (SHOCKING!) and he would limit my time on the phone with her. I don't remember exactly what happened but I remember being in my bedroom with the door shut and hearing him outside complaining about something. I threw a Trapper Keeper (or something similar, it was a notebook/folder) at my dresser, which left a mark. The details are hazy now, but I remember just finally yelling back at him. I knew my days of being under his thumb were almost over.
My escape from him was visiting my Dad every other weekend, vacations & summer. I can't even begin to describe how amazing it felt to be picked up on a Friday after school or Saturday morning. And the feeling of dread I had when I had to return...
Once I graduated high school, I went to a college close to where my Dad lived and I never looked back. To this day, I hate visiting the town where my Mom lives and I'm pretty certain it all stems from these experiences.
Since I left, I would visit my Mom & him on holidays, etc. He would always give me $100 for Christmas and our relationship became amicable. He seemed to love my daughter and she had no problems with him. Things were fine.
This past February, my Mom called me during the middle of the day, which was bizarre. I assumed it was bad news about her Mom, my amazing grandmother, who has Alzheimers and isn't in good shape. It wasn't that. Howard has cancer, it's aggressive and the doctors give him six months to live.
I was shocked & saddened but I wasn't sure how to respond to that news. As much as I hated him, I certainly didn't want this to happen. And I was heartbroken for my poor Mom, as now she has to deal with this.
Since the diagnosis, I've only seen them one time, around my birthday in May. I kept saying that we'd do some things during the summer but it never worked out.
Just this past weekend, the pain of chemotherapy and everything else became too much for him. He decided to stop fighting and is now in hospice care. I'm going to visit him tomorrow. I'm not sure if my daughter or wife (not my daughter's mom, that will be a WHOLE other series of blogs ) will join me but I'm going.
Again, the feelings I have are so conflicted. How can I be so upset about someone who caused me so much pain? Yet, here I am, extremely upset. Part of it is pain for my Mom, imagining how she must be feeling. When the calendar turned to 2016, everything was fine in her world. Now, before Thanksgiving, completely turned upside down. As I spend time thinking and reflecting, I'm continuing to remember things that weren't so bad. How he attended my Student of the Month ceremony in seventh grade when no one else could. How he coached my Babe Ruth teams. How he took me fishing & camping.
It's so strange, so bizarre and so painful. I apologize if this isn't the proper use of the blog but I consider myself amongst friends here and I don't feel like going back to a therapist. I have no interest sharing something like this on Facebook, so here I am.