Emulation:  Right or Wrong?
aka "The EmuFAQ"


copyright (c) 1999 Sam Pettus (aka "the Scribe"), all rights reserved

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Module Three:  The Implications
Part 3 - Reflections

from Overclocked #82, "A Vicious Circle," © 2000 David Lloyd
Questions are a burden to others, answers a privilege to oneself.
common Village saying from The Prisoner

     In late May of 1999, I decided that it was necessary to empty out the basement of my home.  It was suffering from a water seepage problem due to a crack in one of its concrete walls, and I had noted with some alarm that the spring rains had already taken their toll on certain items that I had stored down there.  It was with great reluctance that I arranged to set an entire weekend aside from my many projects for the unenviable task.  When the time came, I spent it removing all of the contents from my basement, checking them for water damage, discarding the things that were too badly damaged, setting aside those with only minor damage for future repair, and repacking the rest in a nearby storage building.  Things did not go as fast as I had hoped due to the sheer volume of the material to be moved, and eventually three weekends had to be spent in the effort.  There was also another factor involved, quite unexpected at the time, and that is the one I shall share with you.
     It was on the second weekend, which was largely concerned with shuttling undamaged items from the basement to other storage, that I rediscovered an old friend.  It was necessary for me to shift and restack part of the boxes in the storage building in order to make additional room.  One of these, an old cardboard "carry box" with handle that used to house a Reveal 2X CD-ROM retail kit, proved to be surprisingly heavy and off-balance with regards to its contents.  I set it aside, curious at what it might contain, and finished restacking the boxes.  Once I had finished all that I could before daylight began to fade, I took a deep swig from my nearby glass of tea and then focused my attention on the mysterious carry box.  I took it inside my shop, set it on a nearby table, and opened it.
     Inside was a stock Amiga 1000 computer with all cables, the keyboard, the mouse, and around hundred-odd floppy disks.
     All thoughts of relaxation that evening vanished from my mind and I smiled to myself with delight, running my forefinger over its beloved "rainbow checkmark" on the case's right front corner.  It was not one of my original Amigas, of course - those had been sold along with all of my accessories and software many years before.  It was a gift from one of my co-workers, someone who had also been a fellow Amiga user and had just put it away, forgetting about it with the passing years.  He had stumbled across it while cleaning his apartment last year and given it to me, software and all, knowing my love for the machine and the fact that it would be impossible to resell in local markets.  I had stuck the box in storage and subsequently forgotten about it until today.  It sat before me now, my old friend, a beautiful but tempestuous lady who I had grown to know and love over the space of five years from 1988 to 1992.  Does it surprise you, readers, that I simply could not resist the invitation?
     I spent the rest of the evening with that old Amiga.  I had a stack of old Commodore 1702 and 1802 monitors that I had picked up rather cheaply at a local school auction, and one of these was quickly brought over and connected to the Amiga's color composite video port.  I then spent about a half-hour reconstructing a good set of Kickstart and Workbench disks from the multiple copies my friend had thoughtfully included, all of which had suffered from digital degradation over time.  Once that was accomplished, I spent the next several hours going through the entire set of remaining disks, seeing which ones could be salvaged and which were irreparably lost.  Many fond memories were stirred that evening during my figurative trip back through time - the Amiga sitting before me, its floppy drive softly clicking (oh no, NoClick's corrupted!), while I cycled through each set of program disks, checking them with DiskSalv and then testing them for operability.  You videogame fans of the era will recognize many of the games that I relived that evening ... TV Sports Football and Basketball ... Xenon ... Onslaught ... The King of Chicago ... Defender of the Crown (why has nobody remade this excellent game?!) ... The Great Giana Sisters ... It Came From the Desert (the original, not that Genesis piece of crap!) ... many, many Psygnosis titles (they made their name on the Amiga, remember?) ... and lets not forget the requisite apps, either ... X-Copy Pro (yes!) ... Project D ... Marauder (pan pipes and all!) ... AmiPro ... SuperBase ... Deluxe Paint II ... CygnusEd Professional ... DiskMaster 1.3 ... and so on.  There were many, many more that I missed from those days which had not been included with the disks that came with the system.  I was half hoping to run across a copy of Transformer for you folks, but that was not to be.  I eventually wound up with seventy-odd floppy disks that I had either salvaged or repaired and then recopied, and then discarded the rest.  These were neatly packed up so they wouldn't get scattered, and then I took one last, long, loving look at the familiar blue Workbench screen running on the actual hardware.  Click ... click ... click ... click .... click ....   I shook my head, saddened at what I now must do.  "They just don't make 'em like that anymore," I sighed aloud, and with that I turned it off.  I unscrewed the case and removed the lid, flipping it over, and took one last look at the many names embossed in the plastic of those who had helped to create this technological marvel for its day.  After that, I repacked it back in the box with its disks, put the monitor away, and put the Amiga back into storage with my other momentos from my past.
     Will I ever look at it again?  Unlikely.  Amiga emulators for newer systems have gotten so good that there is really no need to mess with the original hardware anymore.  My old friend will stay there unless I choose to dig it out again or my heirs discover it.  So why did I keep it for so long?  Perhaps it was there to remind me of possibilities realized, of obstacles overcome, and of potentials yet to be tapped.  The Amiga was a legend in its own time, and rightly so, for its reputation was justly deserved.  Even today you can feel the effects of the Amiga legacy in the computer industry, and it has only been within the past two or three years that technology in the IBM PC compatible market has finally surpassed all of the features and options that the Amiga had to offer its users.  It showed the world that computer users wanted more from their systems than "running today's software," and the industry eventually responded.  The Amiga was a window into today's high-tech, high-performance world, where multitasking and multimedia are part of the expected norm, not the exception to the rule.  Emulation was one of the things that helped to build the legend that the Amiga became, and its legacy is still with us.  The Amiga was the one personal computer more than any other that made the concept of emulation into an everyday reality for the common folk, and that legacy will live on long after the last surviving Amiga crumbles into dust.


     It is fitting that we should come full circle as our discussion of emulation draws to its close, and find ourselves back where we started with the legendary Commodore Amiga.  The legal battle for the heart and soul of emulation has come back to its roots, and today's contest between Sony Corporation and bleem LLC is over a matter that was first addressed by the industry a decade ago, during the heyday and as a result of the Amiga.  The very same issues that the lawyers of Sony, Bleem LLC, and Connectix throw at each other have eerie parallels to the A-Max affair.  This is why I and many others hold that the fight over PlayStation emulation directly challenges the legality of third-party emulation that was first established by the A-Max precedent.  Once again, history repeats itself.
     I cannot help but be struck by the fact that classic computing never dies.  Like vintage wine, it just gets better with age.  The actual hardware may deteriorate, the original disks may degrade to the point of uselessness, but ideas and concepts embodied within remain with us.  They are resurrected time and again in new forms, with new window dressing and new features, but underneath all of those high-tech trappings can often be found a notion that in some cases may be decades old.
     It was around mid-September of 1999 that I paid a visit to my local videogame arcade.  I hadn't been in one for about a year, having more important things to do.  I was only going now because some kids had tipped me off that the arcade versions of certain Dreamcast titles were to be found there.  I was planning on buying one of Sega's new 128-bit videogame consoles after the initial rush, giving the market time to detect any undiscovered flaws as it had with other computer products (does the name Microsoft come to mind, anybody?).  I was in effect window shopping, and spent about twenty minutes or so wandering around the place and checking out the games.  Yes, two or three of Sega's new offerings were there, but they were not what had the attention of the folks in the arcade.  Nor did the slick-looking offerings from other vendors hold them, either.  Almost everybody in the place was clustered around a lone cabinet near the front of the store, where a balding, grey-haired fellow not much older than I was busy racking up the high score into the stratosphere.  All of the kids, including the teenagers, were cheering him on.  I noted with fond nostalgia the line of quarters laid across the top of the machine, awaiting their turn in the coin slots in exchange for extended gameplay.  What was the game being played that was gathering so much interest?  The original Galaga.
     It is a shame that it is almost physically impossible to maintain the classic computers and videogames from the past in good working order.  The cost and care for obsolete parts can get rather high, and there comes a point (like many do with public monuments) where you just have to seal the thing up and paint it over, or even replace it with something else.  The computer industry is blessed by the presence of emulation in this regard.  If we are fortunate, and we have been in many cases, thoughtful users and developers (and even bootleggers) have saved copies of our shared past long enough for the emulation scene to rescue them.  In this manner future generations will be able to share in the things that we developed or enjoyed.  Earlier, I proposed four reasons why emulation is still with us.  I would now like to add a fifth - preserving the past.  The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that everything deteriorates over time - a principle that scientists refer to as entropy.  This was recognized by the British Film Institute back in 1997, when they began setting aside room in order to save copies of videogames and other forms of computer entertainment software in an effort to preserve some portion of this particular creative heritage for the enjoyment of future generations.  Emulation represents the last, best hope for preserving working copies of our computer past, because entropy dictates that the original hardware must someday die.  If that hardware has been converted to workable software, though, then it can be copied and preserved along with its software base, archived in multiple locations and stored in multiple copies.  Thus, future generations will one day get to see just what all the hubbub was about back in our time.
     Not too long ago, I wrote a little editorial about the TNT docu-drama Pirates of Silicon Valley, which melodramatically recreated the battle between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates for market dominance in the early days of the personal computer industry.  I was already familiar with the story, and the only reason I watched the movie was to see all of that classic hardware again.  I said as much in my editorial, and half-jokingly asked if anybody had an Altair 8800 emulator.  It was less than 24 hours later when the first of what would wind up to be seven copies of such a program wound up in my email courtesy of my readers.  It was the Altair 8800 Simulator by Claus Gioli of Microsoft, and it was a dead ringer for that classic personal computer.  True, it was just a software-driven graphic on my monitor screen with program code behind it, but it acted and executed just like the real thing.  I challenge you to find anybody who's still using a real Altair 8800 today.  You may find the system, but its users have long since moved on to better things.
     With this in mind, I would like, if you do not mind, to use the final installment of this series of discussions as a soapbox to express my own concerns about the emuscene.  I have tried to refrain from any personal interjections up to this point, preferring instead to lay out the background material in an effort to ensure that all of us are reading the same pages from the same book, as it were.  Mine is not the only opinion you will hear about emulation, but I hope that my background and research coupled together with this particular forum might add some weight to my words.  I have words of criticism for both sides in the great emulation debate, and it is my hope that at least some of them will consider what I have to say.


     It is often easy for a large company or even larger corporate entity to forget that its products are made, sold, and bought for the most part by average, everyday people of the ordinary sort who do indeed have powers of reason, observation, and discretion.  Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the Star Trek science fiction television franchise, was often fond of remarking that his creation was an effort to show "the network" (NBC) that "...there is intelligent life on the other side of the picture tube."  It only takes a brief glance to see the impact that his creation's popularity has had on worldwide culture since its inception back in 1965.  So it is with any market.  If you make a product that pleases the people, then your success is eventually assured.  If, however, you disgruntle your customer base, then you place your product (and your bottom line) at severe risk.  This is one of the oldest maxims in a free market economy; however, it is one of which the big boys often loose sight.
     Consider the case of Atari, one of the true pioneers in the videogame industry and the first major player in the home videogame console market.  The day that they started putting profits ahead of people (the hiring of Ray "the Czar" Kassar) was the day that Atari's inevitable fall was all but assured.  Most of us are by now quite familiar with the great shakeout of 1983 in the home videogame industry, which most attribute to Atari's heavy-handed operations the previous year that eventually resulted a glut of bad, unsaleable Atari 2600 videogames on the market.  The people refused to be force-fed products that they didn't want, and the market wound up being oversaturated.  The crash was caused by the overloaded market, and it was a blow from which Atari has never really recovered.  Indeed, it was a full year before the home videogame market found its feet again, and then only by the sheer willpower and marketing savvy of a little-known Japanese company named Nintendo.
     Consider the case of Apple Computer, the company that helped shape personal computing as we know it today.  They ruled the personal computer industry during the first half of the 1980s with their Apple II and Macintosh PCs, both innovative and widely regarded in their day.  Like Atari, though, Apple finally reached a point where it thought it knew what was better for its customers than the customers did themselves.  The captive Apple user base paid a steep price for Apple's dispensations from on high, and many a disgruntled user chafed over what they perceived as Apple's costly yoke of inadequate user support.  It should have come as no surprise that many bailed once an alternative, cheaper, GUI-based platform in the form of Microsoft Windows and 386-powered IBM PC clones began to make their mark.  Bill Gates and Microsoft were only doing the same thing to Steve Jobs and Apple what the latter had done to the folks at Xerox - appropriating a good idea and adapting it to suit their own tastes - as the subsequent and lengthy lawsuit showed.  Windows did pretty much the same thing as MacOS but at a lower price.  "Our stuff is better!" Steve Jobs reportedly screamed at Bill Gates once he realized the full extent of Microsoft's development efforts.  "It doesn't matter," Bill Gates is reported to have calmly replied, and he was right.  Today's personal computing world is a Windows-driven environment, with Apple firmly relegated to second place in its notable niche market.
     Two different corporations.  Two different product lines.  Both shared the same problem - failure to listen to the demands of their respective user bases.   Both paid the price for their desire to maintain high profits from a proprietary market.
     There's a lesson to be learned here, vendors, and I can sum it up in two words.

     GET REAL.

     The inevitable reality of emulation is something about which you can do a whole lot of nothing.  Yes, you can huff and puff and churn up the water with position papers and court injunctions, but the sad truth of the matter was stated quite succinctly by T. Liam McDonald in his MaximumPC editorial - "You will be emulated."  It is part of the same competitive trend that affects all unique products, whether they be computer hardware or used spatulas.  Your user bases have already indicated their acceptance of emulation and the promise that it holds.  Is it too much to ask you to come to grips with a true market force and accept that which until now you have held to be unacceptable?
     I'm sure that those of us who know our American history will recall that Eli Whitney invented and patented the cotton gin over two centuries ago, but what most people don't know is that he spent the next two decades in court fighting people who were unlawfully copying and selling his product without proper compensation.  He never got to enjoy the fruits of his labor because he was too busy spending the money suing his competitors.  The same pattern has been repeated time and again - every time a new and innovative product hits the market, somebody eventually figures out a way to take advantage of it without compensating its inventor.  The American legal and market systems favor competition regardless of how it comes about because it ultimately results in even more innovation.   Chief Justice Warren Burger, writing the majority opinion on behalf of the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark case of Kewanee Oil v. Bicron, puts it this way:

Novelty ... is not required for a trade secret ....  The holder of a trade secret would not likely share [that] secret with [another] manufacturer who cannot be placed under binding legal obligation to pay a license fee or to protect that secret.  The result would be [to] hoard rather then disseminate knowledge ....  If something is to be discovered at all, very likely it will be discovered by more than one person.  Even if an inventor were to keep that discovery to himself, something that neither the patent nor trade secret laws forbid, there is high probability that it will soon be independently developed.  If the invention, though still a trade secret, is put into public use, the competition is alerted to the existence of the inventor's solution to the problem and may be encouraged to make an extra effort to independently find the solution thus known to be possible....
Remember, U.S. intellectual property law was conceived from day one to favor the dissemination of knowledge over the proprietary concerns of the vendor.  They can have those rights for a time in order to profit from them, but after that they must give them up to the public interest whether they like it or not.  Face it, vendors - the law is slanted against a proprietary mindset.  Sooner or later, whether you like it or not, your product will have to deal with a similar and possibly competing product.  Someday, whether you wish it or not, you will have to deal with the emuscene.
     So, provided that emulation will somehow impact your product sooner or later, what's the best thing to do about it?  Easy - take advantage of it.  Don't try to kill the messenger just because you don't like his message.  He's more likely to sing your tune if you're providing his paycheck.  The same holds true for the presumed threat that emulation poses to proprietary-minded vendors.  Why waste time, money, and effort in legal battles over emulation when you can make money from it instead?  True, it won't be as much as you may have received in original product sales, but it will be a whole lot more than the nothing you're getting now.  Why close your mind to what emulation offers?
     A closed mind rejects alternate possibilities, forestalls the necessity of change, and in the end brings about the kind of disastrous downfalls that both Atari and Apple suffered.  A closed mind is no safety from the attacks of more open-minded competitors, both above and below the board, who are perfectly willing to take the kind of risks that are necessary to move ahead in the marketplace.  A closed mind accepts no assistance, castigates the critic, and endeavors to eliminate everything that so much as deviates one degree from the accepted norm.  Emulation is outside the norm, therefore it is a deviant - inadvisable, inexcusable, and in the end unacceptable.  It allows one to go beyond the boundaries, therefore it must infringe on the necessity of those boundaries.  It permits experiences once thought impossible, therefore it violates the intent of the original experience.  It is perceived to be an evil technology that cannot be controlled, therefore it needs to be destroyed in order to restore that control.  Emulation, to the closed mind, offers nothing in the way of possibility save piracy.
     There is no point in being so close-minded about emulation.  Look around and see how your fellows are taking advantage of it and the promise that it holds.  See how they are accepting the inevitable, grasping the attainable, and then profiting from the profitable?  They are finding ways to make emulation work for them, and they are lining their wallets with their results.  It may not be along the lines that certain advocates in the emuscene would prefer, but at least they're taking steps in what they hold to be "the right direction."  Your fellows are realizing a profit from emulation, while you are not.  You are letting others succeed in a market that you deliberately ignore, and there may not be any fertile ground left for you to plow should you ever come to your senses.
     Above all else, please try to keep in mind that your user base does not consist of a herd of mindless lemmings waiting for you to direct their path through the hoops and hazards of your intended market.  They do not live their lives waiting from day to day for the little driblets of vendor beneficence doled out from corporate headquarters on high.  They have a mind and a will of their own, which you have either forgotten or blithely ignore, and heaven help you if enough of them rebel against the "company plan."  They will only stand being spoon fed on the same bland pabulum for so long, and then they will revolt and go elsewhere for satisfaction.  It has put bigger and better companies than yours out of business.  Others it has forced to the brink of bankruptcy.  You are not immune to the same fate, no matter who you are.  Perhaps its time to show some respect for the wishes of your user base - after all, they're the ones who are putting the paychecks in your pocket every week.  If they want an emulator, then fine - give them an emulator.  Don't drive them away to somebody else's product - not when you can sell them your own product and recapture what would have been lost revenue.  That way, everybody stays happy.  You keep your user base intact, they keep buying your products, you keep pocketing the profit, and that way you can maintain your dominant share of the marketplace.
     Emulation can benefit the vendors, but only if they let it.


     It is rather disturbing to sit back and watch the various activities taking place within today's emulation community and compare them with my own back in the Commodore warez scene just over a full decade ago.  Nothing has changed.  The situations and antics remain the same.  Only the names and faces are different.  You would think that today's users, ranging from the idealists down through the freeware and shareware types and finally ending up with the lamers at the low end of the scale, would have learned something by now.  Instead, we still have the same battles over "first releases," the same titanic struggles among egocentric hackers and their adherents, the same shouting matches and shotgun-style accusations that seemingly fly back and forth at will without thought or comprehension (I think most folks call it "flaming" nowadays), the same rush to collect everything regardless of availability or obscurity without bothering to worry over little details like legalities, the same clash between freewheeling gamer and uncompromising vendor, the same drive to duplicate the seemingly unduplicatable, and so on.  Yes, even the lamers are still with us (although I think most folks in the emuscene call them beggars and moochers), doing their best to leech anything and everything whenever and wherever they can without so much as a "thank you" or "by your leave," and on the whole behaving so badly that they end up lousing up the scene for everybody else.  Sometimes, as I surf the Net and check out the various emusites and the message boards, I almost feel like I'm back at one of the legendary copy parties of old - with I and my fellow hackers along with the real power users on one side of the room, staring in disgust across the tables at the lamers and maggots rooting in their filth on the other side.  We would smile with restrained benevolence and scarcely disguised contempt as they came begging to us for "the new stuff," and then dole out what few offerings we felt like they could handle - all the while secretly despising them and wishing that they would drop dead on the spot.  It is as the saying goes.  "The more things change, the more they stay the same."
     At least one thing has changed, though.  I have.  I'm no longer the devil-may-care computer hacker and bootlegger extraordinare that I was back in those interesting and colorful years of my computer youth.  I'm older, wiser, and more aware of the stakes than I was back then.  I'd be lying if I didn't admit that my close brush with the Sun Devil folks in 1990 played a big part in that, but that was only one factor among many.  I deliberately stayed out of the computer underground for seven years - a place that I loved dearly and still do to this day - and spent most of that time on the corporate side of things.  There's nothing like seeing how the grass grows on the other side of the fence to widen your perspective on the industry, and I've done everything from clerk to company vice president.  It's one thing to be the self-styled power gamer walking up to the front desk with that brand-new product in one hand and your money in the other, angling for a good deal so you can pay as little as possible and get that puppy home and copied for your buddies as fast as you can.  It's quite another thing to be the fellow in the pressed shirt and carefully arranged tie on the other side of the desk looking across your glasses at the long-haired, scruffy-looking dweeb on the other side, who probably still lives in the basement of his parents' home, suspiciously wondering why this little bum just asked you to mark down new merchandise "because it's the only one left, and it's shelf-worn."  Having the vendor's perspective gives you an entirely different outlook on the situation, and calls into question some of the silly things I used to do before I knew better.
     I have two words for the emuscene.

     GROW UP.

     If you ever want to be treated with the respect that you feel the emuscene is due, then you need to start behaving more like the responsible adults you claim to be instead of the unruly pack of preschoolers you appear to be.  What that means, in plain English, is that you need to stop trying to walk all over the rights of the vendors any way and any time you can.  So they've got something new, and you want it?  Just because it's available doesn't give you the right to pirate it.  Don't mess with stuff they don't want you to mess with.  Wait until the time is right, not until the coast is clear.  If you really do need that "ROM" to test your planned emulator, then better be able to document why, and go out and get access to the original as the law requires while you're at it.  If you have a recalcitrant vendor on your hands who hasn't got the message about emulation yet, then the emuscene needs to wall them off and move on.  They'll get the message sooner or later, even the most stubborn of the lot.  Messing around with vendors who don't want to "play the game" is what has gotten us in this fix in the first place, so perhaps it's time to leave them be.  The emuscene is just as guilty of making mistakes as the vendors, and it's time for it to start taking responsibility for its actions.
     As I review the various forms that the emulation community takes, the causes that it tends to champion, and the behavior it tends to decry, one thing in particular tends to strike this former hacker as a little odd.  Why isn't the emulation community policing itself more effectively?  Anarchy invites outside intervention, and that's exactly what's been happening these past two years.  A first-time visitor to the emuscene is most likely to think that we weren't policing ourselves at all, and that we tend to pretty much do what we want when we want and how we want no matter who it hurts, just like our bastard cousins over in warezland.  Take it from me - I know, because I was a pretty big software pirate back in my day, schooled in all the tricks and familiar with all its forms.  You want to know a secret?  We don't look all that different than the warez scene to most eyes, and it's because you guys aren't acting any differently than the people you decry so much.  ManBeast had it right in his editorial - you're pirates, folks, and there's no other way to define it.  You have nobody to blame for that but yourselves.  You, the emuscene, are to blame for all the bad stuff that's happened to you these past two years, and it's all because some of you don't know when to stop and leave well enough alone.
     There are a few of us who are doing our dead level best to try and restore some sanity and legality to the emuscene, but it's like trying to fight our way upstream against a swift down-river current.  We're trying to help the emuscene back on its feet, so it can be what it once was, but many of you seem content merely to reminisce about the "good ol' days" rather than restore the conditions that could bring them about again.  I for one realized what I was doing wrong several months ago, and have been making a concerted, public effort to get my act together, but most of you don't seem to give a damn.  As long as you can get your favorite "proggys" and all the "ROMs" you want, then everything's just fine and folks like me need to "shut yer hole" because there's no problem.  "Vendors?" you sneer.  "What vendors?  Who needs 'em?  They're all rich fat cats, anyway.  They don't need our money.  Besides, we're not hurting anyone, so shaddup and gimme some good ROMz."
     It's time for a reality check, Mr. "I'm-too-good-to-pay-so-bugger-off" Towhead Emufan.  You wouldn't have all those beloved "ROMs" past and present if it weren't for the vendors in the first place.  They put up all of the money and put in all of the work that made them possible, and it's a lot more than you could ever do for them.  Most of you don't even have the decency to go out and buy a used copy of that special favorite to halfway justify its "ROM," and that really gets the vendors wound up.  You are stealing the fruits of their labor - there's no other way to put it - and they don't appreciate it one bit.  That's why they call it piracy, and they will continue to beat up the emuscene until they either knock some sense into your collective heads or shut you down for good.  It doesn't have to be this way, but that's where the emuscene is headed unless you guys come to your senses and grow up.
     Emulation is legal - but software piracy is a crime.  Think about it.


     I would like to beg your indulgence for a while in order to take you on a trip back into time, to a beautiful spring weekend in the month of May.  The year is 1990.  The place is an undisclosed location somewhere in the central United States.  The reason for our journey is a much-anticipated event - the monthly "warez meet" of the Commodore aficionados from almost a half-dozen states within the region.  It is a paid event with many regular attendees, ranging from the lamest of the lame lamers to the brightest and best of the pirates, hackers, phreakers, karders, and other purveyors of questionable and downright illegal activities of the day.  Among the crowd who set up in the hall early that morning are yours truly and his two companions - Tinman (real name withheld by request), a "retired" CIA operative turned sometime hacker and unofficial keeper of the C64/128 flame in our area; and Steve "Skerran" Smith, whom you met briefly back at the beginning - a young Amiga graphics wizard I had befriended in the months following my return from military service.  We had our own little pirate group, just like most of the folks who were in attendance with us, and the primary mission of the day was "to get the warez."  We spent the better part of the morning getting to the prearranged location, whereupon we quickly paid our dues, unloaded our gear, and then cranked up our computer systems to maximum duplicating capacity.

     It is difficult now, looking back, to put into words the sensations I used to get whenever I attended one of these meets. One can never forget the sound of a dozen or so C64/128 computers busily whirring away, merrily chirping the copy music from the 1541 Superkit in unison (though rarely in sync). To say I miss those days would be something of an understatement, for I have not been to anything like them since, and only my recent experience with the emulation underground even comes close to matching it. They were part carnival and part market, pure adrenaline and no limits.
     On one hand you might have a couple of Amiga gamers busily duking it out with each other on Epyx's Barbarian (off with his head!); on the other, you might have a half-dozen lamers fighting over the newest box of warez as if they were a pack of blue-haired biddies all trying to claim the last in-stock Cabbage Patch doll for themselves. Soft drinks and finger foods, the two food groups of the hacker, were in plentiful abundance. The hall would be solid Commodore from one end to the other, except perhaps for two or three "Beemer" users at the far end who largely stayed to themselves.  I usually paid them sympathy visits and always tried to have something to share with them, since mine was often the only Bridgeboard-equipped A2000 in the place. The lamers mentioned earlier would be engaged in their mini-riot at the center of the hall, where the warez groups would stack box upon box of bootleg warez like free tracts at a tent meeting. No taking home, unless they gave them to you, but you could copy anything you wanted as long as you wanted, provided you paid your dues and had enough blanks to last until you finished or quitting time came. We never came home with empty disks, and I and Tinman made sure that we always got the latest stuff first. The older crap could wait - our users were counting on us to come back with the new stuff, and we could fix any bad copies at our convenience on return trips.

     Approximately one-and-a-half hours after the event had officially started, an undercover operative working on behalf of the U.S. Secret Service entered the building and began to set up an Amiga system not far from the door.  His identity was known to me, because Tinman had tipped me off through his law enforcement contacts that he might show up.  Both he and I knew that Operation Sun Devil was already in full swing, but so far Tinman had kept us one step ahead of its reach.  It will come as no surprise to you who are reading this when, acting on Tinman's advice, we immediately packed up and left.  Only Tinman and I knew what was really happening; we did not share our knowledge with Skerran despite his objections at being rushed out before the meet was over.  I did not tell the meet about the informant per Tinman's instructions; I was more concerned that the place was about to be raided and did not want to be caught inside when it happened.  Federal agents stormed the building a mere half-hour after we had departed, by which time we were already a hundred miles away and headed to the presumed safe shelter of our respective homes.  We had escaped the federal dragnet that snared so many others on that day - or so it seemed.
     You will not find my name nor those of my companions anywhere within the Sun Devil records, both public and private.  All trace of our involvement has been neatly expunged, and I suspect that Tinman had a lot to do with it.  It turned out that he too was keeping the Secret Service apprised of the activities of this particular series of warez meets, due to the presence of the phreakers and karders, and we were fortunate enough to have been the group picked to provide his cover.  It would not have been good for the press coverage if the Sun Devil dragnet had netted a "spook" in the process, so we were given just enough time to clear out before the raid came down.  I was understandably upset at my unintended role in these events.  I told Tinman as much about a month later while visiting him at his home, when he revealed as much of the whole story as he ever would.   He died of old age this past May, about the time that the very first version of the EmuFAQ was released, but we often reminisced about that fateful day when my life underwent a sudden and dramatic change.
     "You knew it was going to happen, didn't you?" I demanded of Tinman.
     "Yes, I knew," Tinman replied. "My friends inside warned me. That's why they let us go - my presence there might have raised some questions that they didn't want to answer. Besides, it was to their advantage to have one of their boys scoping out the earlier meets."
     I thought about it for a moment, then shook my head angrily. "I don't believe this. You used us. You used me. I don't appreciate being used - not one bit."
     Tinman reached up and took the cigarette from his mouth, then snuffed it on the porch rail. "Beats being arrested, doesn't it?" he said, looking straight at me. To that I could not reply.
     It's things like this that make you think twice about being a software pirate.

     I spent the next seven years keeping as far away from videogames as possible.  It took me about a year to break up my widely acclaimed and massive collection of Amiga warez (many of which I have yet to see resurface again), and two years later I had sold my beloved souped-up A2000 and everything with it.  I spent the time heavily involved on the business side of the counter - consulting, training, sales, management, and so on.  I got to see and know the computer industry through the eyes of the vendors, and it was an interesting education indeed.  As for my spare time, most of it was spent reacquainting myself with Japanese animation (anime) - in particular the so-called "third wave" that was just hitting the U.S. markets.  I had been a fan of the genre ever since Star Blazers hit the U.S. television market, and it was a knowledge base that would one day prove useful in later research.  Eventually, though, some seven years after Sun Devil, I felt safe enough and confident in my knowledge and experiences to brave the tempestuous waters of the Internet and enjoy the challenge of this bold new frontier in computing.
     I first became aware of the Internet emuscene near the close of 1997, while I was surfing links for DOOM WADs and MP3 decompression utilities.  I noticed a banner for a site called Amiga Emulators Central, and you can imagine the nostalgia that was stirred at the reference to my favorite PC and the best PC of its day (damn straight!).  Several links later I found myself at Jan van Hertog's original Atmospherical Heights, scrolling down the M.A.M.E. list, and I was hooked - hard and fast.  After a month or so, though, I felt rather guilty at not being able to help these youngblood hackers with their emulators, and that's when I came up with the idea of my FAQs.  Harry Tuttle over at The Dump was the first to support me by posting the very first version of the Genesis Game Guide (aka G3), and things eventually developed from there.  I had no idea that it would eventually wind up with the writing of the EmuFAQ, but I'm glad it happened - and so is the rest of the emulation community, too, judging from all of the positive email I'm getting.

     So how did the EmuFAQ come about?
     Back up a step to April of 1999.  Nintendo had just released the first version of its policy statement regarding emulation of its proprietary videogame consoles, and it was met with a great deal of open derision by the emuscene.  "They're just trying to intimidate us," was the common refrain, usually followed by, "It's a load of crap.  They can't prove anything."
     Or could they?
     There had been several efforts to refute Nintendo's "emufaq," as it was fast becoming known, but I was quickly dissatisfied with all of them.  They were written from the heart and amounted to nothing more than singing to the choir, as it were, not reasoned from the head and written for the masses.  They attempted to refute Nintendo's rather broad and unsupported contentions with emotion and rhetoric instead of logic and reason.  I was already appalled by the black eye the emuscene had received over the UltraHLE affair, so I decided to do something about it.  I wrote my own refutal based on my understanding of the facts coupled with some initial research into the legal backing for Nintendo's claims, and Zophar's Domain was kind enough to post it for me.  Needless to say, it caught everybody's attention and I received as many positive responses for it as I had over the Genesis Game Guide.  Thus encouraged, I decided to press on with more thorough research on a revised refutal.
     There's an old saying that is sometimes attributed to Oscar Wilde.  "Be careful what you ask for - you just may get it."
     It was during this period of expanded research into the legality of UltraHLE that I first stumbled across the Sega v. MAPHIA court case.  Everything seemed fine until I began reading its logic regarding fair use, videogame cart dumps, and electronic transmission of same.  I clearly recall getting a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach and then reading it again, just to be sure.  The fair use defense, which I had previously believed covered my emulation research, was not and never had been available to me as an average program user.  I was potentially liable for multiple counts intellectual property infringement.  I read it again, one more time.  The injunction was too detailed, too precise, and I could not ignore its implications, being the thorough researcher that I am.  I could sense the specter of Operation Sun Devil rising up from my past to haunt me once again as I shook my head in shock.
     "No," I whispered, "please God, no.  Not again!  No, no, not again ...."
     The emuscene remembers well that dark day when I pulled every single emulation-related document that I had either written or contributed towards from the Internet.  Many were of the opinion that I was overreacting, but I knew better.  Now that I knew the law, I was responsible for it.  Now that I was liable for that knowledge, I could no longer claim innocent infringement.  The attorneys for the vendors were high-priced, well-versed in the law, and very good at their jobs.  The odds were that I would not get the same kind of break that I got during the Sun Devil raid.  There would be no second chance.
     I had to know. Was emulation legal?
     Now I know - and so do you.
     What will you do with this knowledge?


     I have always wondered, in a metaphysical sense, why I was spared the fate of my fellows on that dark day back in 1990.  The stated reasons are obvious enough, but I've always sensed there was more behind it.  Call it what you will - the hand of God, the mercy of Allah, divine providence, chance of fate, blind luck - but I remain of the firm conviction that there was more at work that day on a higher plain than I realized at the time.  Looking back at those days, and what has happened in my life between then and now, it seems in a very real sense that I was being prepped for this day, when I would be needed to use my knowledge, highlighted by my many experiences and augmented by my talent for research, to address the burning questions about the legality of emulation.  I am one of the few people on the scene uniquely qualified to look at it from all perspectives, which is why I have tried so hard to be even-handed in my treatment of the subject.  To be honest, I'm really no different that those of you who are reading this document.  I'm human just like you, I live a life not all that different from yours, and I enjoy many of the same joys and endure the same mistakes as do you.  The only difference between us is that I was not afraid to speak out in defense of a beloved pasttime, and it is now enriched as a result.  I am naught but a voice from the past crying out to the present in an effort to save the future.  It gives me great satisfaction to know that you have listened to me, and that I have indeed made a difference.  Almost all that I have put forth in the EmuFAQ has been confirmed by Judge Legge's ruling in the bleem! case.  Let us hope that I will ultimately be vindicated.
     If there is an ultimate conclusion to be reached with the EmuFAQ, it is this.  Like any other form of technology, emulation is at best a double-edged sword.  It has its "light" side, and it has its "dark" side, just like the mythical Force so prominently featured in the Star Wars saga.  The dark side is the quicker, faster, easier path to tread, but its ultimate destination is a bottomless void from which few return.  The light side requires discipline, dedication, and above all patience, but its rewards are greater by far in the long run.  Emulation represents great promise, but it also holds great pitfalls.  It should be used to promote the common good, not abused to promote uncommon lawlessness.  There are specific guidelines in place that the emuscene should follow in order to restore and maintain its once-favored reputation, and it needs to do so posthaste.  We now have the momentum to carry this new age of emulation to untold heights; but that same momentum, if abused, could propel us to such depths that the technology could be ultimately withdrawn from us for the remainder of our natural lives.  Do not repeat the mistakes of the past, emufans.  We cannot afford another period such as the past two years have been.  Emulate with your head - not your heart.


     The light of a new dawn finds the old battlefields that we know so well lying still and silent.  A chill mist hangs in the air, partly hiding the bodies scattered hither and yon across the plain.  One can just make out the outlines of the medics and the litter bearers moving among them, tending to the injured or carrying the wounded away.  Oftentimes they will stop and mutter a silent prayer over a still form and then move on, following the muffled moans to the next one down the line.  Off in the distance beyond the mists one can hear the sounds of a great host slowly retreating, while from behind come the calls and rattling of new forces being drawn up, both fresh and veteran, readying themselves for the next confrontation.  I sit to one side, pen and paper in hand as I have done these many months now, and do my best to try and put into words what I have just seen unfold before my eyes.
     We have won.
     For the first time in what seems like an eternity, the winds of change are beginning to blow across the battle lines of the emulation war.  They catch the mournful mist, tearing it into ribbons and speeding the tatters away.  It is a brisk breeze with the scent of hope in it, a fresh fragrance that fans the previously low embers of my fellows into a bright and shining light.  They march past me now, their eyes ablaze and a swagger in their step that was not there before, while from somewhere ahead a cocky cadence begins to call.  I know where they are going, because I will be going with them.  Our front has moved forward, because our enemy has suffered a major defeat.  The forces that would stop free emulation are now in slow retreat while they attempt to regroup themselves, and have left many casualties behind in their wake in their long-fought struggle to resist the inevitable.
     We have won an important victory.
     For myself, I am glad to see that the NextGen wave of emulation will be echoing the new systems coming down the line, forcing the emuscene to once again work with their favorite programs in their original format - just as it was back in my time.  Today's systems share a lot more in common than the average person might think, and the adoption of a common delivery system (irrespective of custom vendor formats) will do much to make the emulation dream a practical reality for the second time around.  The hardware of today and tomorrow will be so powerful that emulation could very well once again become the accepted norm as it once was, not the despised and maligned exception to the norm that it is today.  We are inexorably returning to the days when original systems and their emulators can sit side by side, each running the intended software within its intended delivery system without having to resort to extremes.  It will be good to see those days once again.
     As for me, I still consider myself a part of the emuscene, even though I am not as active as I once was.  There will come a time, as it does to us all, when I will have to step aside and let it go on without me, but that will not be the sad day that I once thought it might be.  We know from where we have come, we know where we now are, and we know where we are going.  That's more than can be said for emulation a year ago, and I am glad to have played my small part.  Even so, I still have a project or two to finish, and I never like to leave things undone.  My ears prick up as I hear the call from the columns marching by.
     "Are you coming?"
     "You bet!" I reply, "just give me a minute to get my stuff."
     And as I grab my gear and hurriedly rush to join them, I cannot help but feel a sense of awe at what is taking place.  Emulation is an inevitable reality, part of the natural evolution of computing technology.  It will happen to all systems sooner or later, given enough interest in the platform.  The original vendors as a whole will not care for this, and will do everything in their power to stop it, but they are fighting a losing battle and they know it.  Our quest to win the emulation war will not come easy, for there are many battles still to fight.  The taste of our recent victory is sweet and both inspires the will and moves the heart, but the head knows better than to rest easy.  The tide may have turned in our favor for now, but the war for the heart and soul of the technology known as emulation rages on.  And as I take my place in the marching columns and keep time with the count of the cadence, I cannot help but reflect on the famous quote by General George S. Patton, arguably one of the finest military field commanders who ever lived.

For over a thousand years, Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of a triumph - a tumultuous parade.  In the procession came trumpeters and musicians, and strange animals from the conquered territories, together with treasure and captured armaments.  The conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him.  Sometimes his children, robed in white, stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses.  A slave stood behind the conqueror, holding a golden crown, and whispering in his ear a warning - that all victory is fleeting.
     We have won an important victory.  The vendors will not forget it.


1.   For what particular "classic" computer system does the author express profound nostalgia?  Why?

2.   What is the truth behind the phrase, "classic computing never dies?"

3.   What is the fifth reason for emulation?  Why is it so important?

4.   What message does the author share with the vendor community?  Explain.

5.   Describe in your own words the problems that a close-minded vendor will ultimately face.

6.   What is the inevitable reality that faces all proprietary technology?

7.   What are some of the parallels that the author draws between the warez scene of the late 1980s and the emuscene of the late 1990s?

8.   What important role do vendors play in making the emuscene ultimately possible?

9.   In the event that the author relates from his past, how did he manage to escape being arrested for software piracy?  What was the real reason for his so-called escape?  How did he react, and what effect did it have on him?

10. Describe in brief the chain of events that resulted in the writing of the EmuFAQ.  What was the ultimate reason that provoked the author to undertake this task?

11. What is the "ultimate conclusion" that the author draws about emulation?  Do you agree with him?  Why or why not?

12. In your own opinion, why does the author close the EmuFAQ with the famous Patton quotation?


1.   Knowing what you do now, what is your opinion with regards to the legality of emulation in general?  What about specific areas, such as computer or videogame emulation?

2.   Will it ever be possible to separate videogame emulation from software piracy?  Why or why not?

3.   What are some things that the vendor community could do to change its relationship with emulation?

4.   What are some things that the emuscene could do to change its relationship with emulation?

5.   What would you like to see happen to the emuscene?

The EmuFAQ (c) 1999 Sam Pettus - section last revised 1 October 1999