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Retro Gaming: Just Play The Games

I see articles and videos all the time about retro gaming, and the opinion of what is the absolute best way to play a game. These conversations have been going on for decades, ever since emulators started hitting the internet back in the late 90’s. The big hot topic now is how to play games with original hardware.

You’ll see so many people make videos talking about analog inputs and dedicating time and money and mostly space to play retro games on original hardware and displaying it on professional CRT monitors. There are multiple issues with this.

  1. The Cost

The reason most people don’t do this is because it’s expensive. CRTs are EXPENSIVE (The good stuff anyways). Look at all the subreddits and any video about retro gaming and it’s all about some professional studio monitor from the early 90’s. Which aren’t being produced anymore and you “have to have it to get the best picture”. They are now rare, so it drives the cost up.

Retro gaming is expensive. Everything has jumped up in price because of the YouTube age. Now relatively bland and boring games are expensive because kids are watching retro reviews and everyone wants to become the next Angry Video Game Nerd. So the cost for bad games rises and it’s just a pain to acquire games, because it’s being bought up by hoarders who only want to collect or make the same exact video as everyone else is making.

The Framemiester is a small set top box like system, like an Apple TV, that houses a small PCB that will take an analog signal and converts it to a digital format that will allow all modern TVs to read that signal and put it out on the display correctly. Since older game systems put out a 240p signal, modern TVs have a hard time reading it properly. So the Framemiester exists to help assist that signal. The issue is that just the converter alone used to cost around $300 and is an import item. Now it’s around $450…. JUST FOR A CONVERTER!

2. The Space

Back when I was running Games 4 U, I found a huge 32 inch CRT Sony Trinitron TV in the back alleyway that was being tossed out. I quickly waited till no one was around, and under the cover of the pale moonlight and snatched it away from being destroyed when the trash men came. 

This lead to me lugging around this TV for almost a decade and having it take up a large amount of space in my house while only being hooked up several times, mostly to test systems and games to get them ready for selling. Once I realized how stupid it was, I threw the thing away and felt so much better about the space I reclaimed…. Plus the thing was crazy heavy. The other issue is the screen size. 32” is nothing… especially since no one is a kid anymore and aren’t going to sit on the floor right in front of a TV. Everything is wall mounted, and older cables didn’t take into account of how much length would be required for future tech. So you end up having to hunch over in front of a gigantic modern TV with too small of cables, or, you hunker over a tiny professional studio monitor that has a screen size of 15” to “Play it right” or you have a massively big tube TV that has the screen size of 32” inches, that takes up half of the room for what is modernly referred to as child sized screen.

3. The Time

The amount of time setting everything up properly, getting all the proper analog cables, TV, converter, systems, and games is just way too much. Most people spend years trying to acquire the right setup, and cables. YEARS!!!. Only for them to put it in a game room and look at it and never really play anything. What a waste.

Then. on the flip side of the conversation, you have the emulation side of things. Which somehow have a whole other set of issues.

The MiSter
Aside from the stupid naming convention of having alternating caps. I see people flocking to this as the premiere way of playing old games while still adhering to the standard of using semi real hardware.

For those who don’t know what The Mister is, it’s an emulation machine, but this is what is known as a FPGA, which allows for the entire hardware of any video game system to be scanned and copied onto a piece of software and then emulated through programing on a chip. Which theoretically is perfect emulation. 

The main issue I have with this piece of hardware, is it’s still very very very basic. It’s much harder to put together, expensive and is only available in very rare quantities. Technically it’s open source and will allow anyone to work on it and develop for it. There is a community that is devoted to creating “Cores” that are basically the systems being emulated. There is a Sega Genesis core, a NES core, a Super Nintendo Core. The thing is, these cores are very early and lacking a lot of features that are common on any emulator that is 2 decades old at this point. Stuff like save states and rewind and fast forward are just not there at all. Which is a big reason why emulation is great. Adding functionality to older games to make it easier to jump in and out of as an adult who doesn’t have all the time in the world.

Scanlines

Ugh… this one pisses me off to no end. Scanlines are a filter put on top of the existing game, that tries to replicate the way CRT’s function. With older tube technology, each frame would be shot from the back of the tube onto the screen, half in one frame, then the other half in the next frame. What Scanline filters TRY to do, is replicate this look, but do such a poor job that you just literally are putting black lines on half of the picture instead and it just looks like complete trash. 

Input Latency (or commonly referred to as Lag)

One thing you will always here when it comes down to Real Hardware VS Emulation is that emulation has lag. Where you press an input on the controller, and that signal takes so long to get to the display that it can be hard to play games because of the precise movements and timing. 

This is half true. Yes emulation can involve lag, but that timing is in milliseconds. Several thousandths of a second… which is an extremely short time. Most of this issue actually lies within the display more than the emulation. Most modern TVs have a decent amount of input lag on it’s default setting. But if you take even a moment to actually go through your TVs settings, you can change it to “Game Mode” which will turn off a lot of the post processing that will introduce lag in the first place. 

So now that the display is configured properly, you can actually load up an emulated game and see the lag in action. A very popular emulator RetroArch (Actually more of a front end with cores that are actually emulators) but you can load a game, pause and advance the game one frame at a time and actually count the frames of lag…. Guess how many frames of input lag are on most games? Two. 2 frames out of 60, depending on the game. Again milliseconds. And now with emulation in the last few years, they’ve added additional runtimes to allow for 0 input latency and it actually performs BETTER than the original hardware.

So it all comes down to personal preference. Myself, personally I’ll play 99% of my games emulated at this point. Since the tech is so far advanced, and actually adds so many useful features and quality of life improvements to gaming, it’s my prefered method. But, there is always something about holding the original controller, and having a cartridge you have to pop in the system. Its nostalgia, and most can’t separate that from the actual games. 

The main purpose of this arcticle is to outline all the reasons why people take sides, for or against emulation. But the heart of the matter is getting the games into as many people’s hands as possible, and emulation can do that much quicker and easier and cheaper. Games are about having fun, and when a community like the collector or youtube communites make it about something else, it ruins the fun. One of my favorite things, when I was modding Xboxes was to show the customer just how many games they had at their fingertips. I would ask them to name any game from their childhood, and within 30 seconds they were playing it. ANY GAME… It was a joy to see people’s faces light up like that. 

This shouldn’t be about the proper way to play, because 99% of people couldn’t tell the difference between emulation and real hardware… and it also doesn’t really matter. The differences are so negligible that all you are doing is fussing over settings and physical attributes instead of just enjoying the game itself. It becomes all about the setup and not about the act. So, I implore people, do whatever you want, but don’t let it be the focus. Instead, just sit down and play the game instead of fussing over what cables you are using.