Retrogaming and emulation, a matter of nostalgia – LCDG

Cyril Valens

– Published on 01/06/2023 at 18:35

Today, the average age of gamers, regardless of gender, is around 40, the same age as video games. In recent years, there has been a craze to rediscover the feel of older consoles, either on older machines or through emulation. The projects of dedicated enthusiasts have given way to business. For the love of the game?

Since 2010, we’ve seen the birth of Facebook pages and forums where “retrogamers” meet to discuss. Even if the movement has existed since the late 1990s, there has been an explosion of the phenomenon in the recent period. These forties and older survived the advent of video games in their youth. And a certain form of nostalgia pushes them to want to rediscover the names of yesteryears, to relive forgotten sensations, and to share them with the little ones. Initially, flea markets were the first source of equipment and ammunition. Most sellers are not aware of the value of the products they sell. eBay and specialty stores are fast becoming mainstream vendors.

Retrogaming structured

If the eBay auction site is like a court of wonders: a super NES in its original unopened box (in excellent condition) sells for more than 1,000 euros, stores use it as an argus, all the same in their favor. Along with hardware, there is emulation (see below). There are many emulators available. Each of them corresponds to the console and is available on Windows, MacOs and Linux operating systems. However, almost all existing models have programs such as Recalbox, Batocera or RetroPie. The main advantage of emulation is its cost. Indeed, the aforementioned software is free, and the materials to build your retro console, if you don’t want to use your own computer, cost about sixty euros. In addition, the assembly remains accessible to mere mortals and does not require special tools. However, retrogaming supporters are divided by an “ideological” quarrel.

Here is an example of a found price for a new super NES in original packaging.

Differences between retrogaming hardware and emulation

For fans of retrogaming, only games on vintage equipment (hardware) are real retrogaming. For them, emulation, even with vintage controllers, remains an ersatz of average quality. Apart from these differences in sensibility, even these dubious considerations, money remains the sinew of war.

Indeed, the desire to play original material requires resources. Not to mention the price of cartridges (an element that can deteriorate over time) and the purchase of an HDMI adapter. Not everyone has a CRT TV in the attic. The console itself can break, and getting Nintendo Super-NES parts is a real obstacle course. The merit of the American manufacturer Hyperkin is that he launched a “universal” machine on the market. The Retron N5 supports cartridges from four Kyoto consoles (NES, Super NES, GB Color and GBA) as well as Sega Megadrive. Most experts praise its effectiveness, but deplore the poor finish and a certain fragility. Be that as it may, financial constraints, petty material worries explain the success of emulation. Save Space: Having dozens of consoles with hundreds of games in a miniature box is something magical.

The use of console operating systems (“bios”) and ROMs (game cartridge or DVD content files) creates legal problems. Since this content is protected by copyright and publisher’s rights, it may not be copied. Then there is the question of compensation. However, most games have not been released for decades. This absence creates an area of ​​legal uncertainty. Uncertainty, which is skillfully supported by stores selling “ready to play” consoles. The developers of the emulator programs mention this lightly.

Volunteer projects taken over by stores

Software developers like Recalbox are passionate volunteers who rely heavily on donations. However, they mention the problem of imitating systems such as Roma imports. These files are usually protected by copyright. As a result, they ignore this “problem” or sometimes invoke the right to private copy. It is clear that it would be necessary to have all the consoles and all the cartridges of the emulated systems. Some online stores don’t hesitate to offer plug-and-play systems that bundle around fifty old consoles and over 20,000 titles. Sometimes they renounce themselves, relying on the right to private copy, or simply ignore this “legal concern”.

A simple USB dongle with Batocera and Roms installed turns any PC into a retro console.

The answer is “consolers”

It is curious that instead of chasing them, the major console manufacturers have re-released their favorite models in the “mini” format, providing them with more or less cult games. Previously, Sega and Atari were inspired by nostalgia, re-released for modern machines, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, classic Atari flashbacks and collections of Sega Megadrive classics.

The miniature case of the NES, Super NES, Megadrive, or PlayStation houses a nanocomputer that simply runs the emulator. Equipped with original controllers, an HDMI connector and graphic filters, these Lilliputian models offer reproducible results on an HD screen (4K not recommended). Produced in very limited quantities and initially sold at a fair price (150 euros), they have become collectibles. On eBay, collectors don’t hesitate to pay four to five times what they buy. All these initiatives make this market niche very profitable.

Nintendo was the first to release a mini version of its 8-bit console.

Thriving (deceptive) market

Unfortunately, and this is not the case with video games, business always outpaces non-commercial projects. Inevitably, once demand reaches a certain critical mass. Browsing the net, it’s pretty easy to find old console bios and ROMs to download. These free downloads are paid for in the form of ready-to-play consoles that are sold at inflated prices. Shops that specialize in retro games make the newbie believe that it takes a lot of technical know-how to create a retro station. As for the auctions and prices that cross over on eBay, actual products are negotiated at insane prices. These mundane electronic items are unfortunately categorized as collectibles and subject to speculation. I find it necessary to discuss copyright and video game publisher rights. In fact, in less than five years, any name becomes obsolete. It is no longer used even by its publisher. On this occasion, we could also talk about abandoned software.

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