Emulation:  Right or Wrong?
aka "The EmuFAQ"


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

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Y2K Addendum:  The Effects

OverClocked #85, "The Refresh Reflex" © 2000 David Lloyd

     Hi.  It's me.
     I know you're out there.  I know you're working as fast as you can to catch me.  I thought I should call and let you know how things stand.  I know you're real proud of this world you've built, the way it works, all the nice little rules and such, but I've got some bad news.
     I've decided to make a few changes .....
- Neo, The Matrix (original shooting script)
     It was this past January that I sold my old Amiga.
     You remember?  The one of which I wrote so lovingly at the end of Module 3?  The machine that I accidentally discovered in my basement, the same that helped revive my fond hacker memories from my past?  The machine which, along with its millions of brethren, helped bring about the Golden Age of Emulation?  Yes, that one.  It is now residing in the home of a well mannered Japanese gentleman, who is undoubtedly putting it to more use than I would have these days.  He wanted it, and I sold it to him.  It's a "thing" that I have about old computer hardware.  I'd rather have it put to good use than slowly molder away unused in a storage shed somewhere.  Even old hardware has its uses, and that is a mantra that I have maintained ever since I cracked open the packing crate to my beloved Commodore 64 so many years ago.
     I guess that my love of all things retrotech is what first attracted me to the emuscene in the first place.  This was not mere nostalgia; indeed, it was something more.  I knew these systems, inside and out.  I knew the software, from both the user's and developer's perspectives.  I knew how to use it, forwards and back.  In an age were technology advances are measured by the second, it was refreshing to see something familiar, something constant, something tried and true, something proven and established amid the rapidly changing panoply of ever-improving computer technology.  It may be old and in many cases obsolete, but that in no way diminished its value.  I'm excited that so many people are rediscovering our shared digital past.  There's a lot of good stuff back there, even if it isn't very pretty by today's' texture mapped and polymorphic standards.  It was "good stuff" then, and it's still "good stuff" now, even after the passage of so many years.
     Of course, my retrotech nostalgia also revived memories of my darker side, the days when I was an active participant in the hacking scene of the 1980 and early 1990s.  Like today's space cowboys, we wanted and got the best in order to carry out our own anarchistic attacks against the digital establishment of our time.  Back then, real hackers worshipped such vintage machines as the Commodore 64, and I was one of the lucky few who managed to scrape up the dough for the prized SX-64 portable version.  Oh, the fun I used to have with that thing and my trusty copies of Sgt. Pepper and Fast Hack'em!  While we're at it, let's not forget the warez.  You wanted warez?  I had 'em ... all of 'em ... anything you could ever possibly want for the C64, C128 (yes, I shelled out US$450 for the 128D), and my beloved, hacker-worn Amiga 2000.  Those days are now but a distant memory, and you know by now how they eventually ended, but I still can't help but smile as I think back to that time.  I was young, headstrong, irresponsible, and determined to conquer the world.  You see, I had an advantage that most of the adults were sadly lacking.  I knew computers, inside and out.  I knew how you were supposed to use and maintain them, and I knew the other things you could do with them that the manuals didn't cover.  Even after I was forced to go legit, it was a knowledge base that kept me employed for quite a while.
     That's one of the biggest problems in getting too close to technology.  Unless you can somehow manage the near-impossible effort of keeping up with all of the latest changes, it will eventually pass you by.  I saw it coming, I knew that I couldn't stop it, and so I prepared for that inevitable day when I couldn't play the part of computer freebooter anymore.  I sharpened my skills in other areas, so that when that day finally came and I was left behind, I was not entirely without resources.  It was still a bit of a shock, and it took me about a year before I finally got back up into speed, but I can't count myself a true hacker anymore.  I'm just a user now, same as the majority of you reading this.  Some of you are in the same boat as I, technology having passed you by, whereas others are just getting started.  Regardless of who you are, though, we share one thing in common - a love for the machine and a respectful reverence for the potential that yet remains to be unlocked.  We stand on the shoulders of giants, and others will rise above us to raise the digital pyramid to new and lofty heights.  It doesn't hurt to climb down once in a while and see where we've been.  It helps us to see where next we should go.

     There remains a tendency among the vendors and the mainstream press to slam emulation almost as hard as they do computer hacking.  I frankly have never considered computer hacking to be the disrespectful profession for which it is often portrayed.  If I recall my high school English classes correctly, a "hack" was a writer who got the knock-off or odd jobs that nobody else wanted.  They had to be fast in order to meet deadline, yet their work had to be good enough to pass muster with the public.  So it is today with the "hacker" - the digital reincarnation of the "hack" writer.  There's nothing dishonorable about being a hacker.  It's just that the nature of the profession requires you to think outside the box and beyond the accepted parameters almost all the time, and it takes considerable skill to be a good hacker.
     Yes, it is true that there are a few renegades who give hacking a bad name, but not all hackers are evil teenagers or unprincipled college students whose sole purpose in life is to somehow break into the CIA's mainframe and uncover the truth behind the Roswell Incident.  Hackers have their own ethics, their own morals (yes, they do, believe it or not), and their own code of honor.  The emuscene owes hacking a debt of gratitude, because it would never have existed had not a now-forgotten IBM customer back in the early 1960s hacked his mainframe in order to run programs it wasn't designed to execute.  That story is what supposedly gave Larry Moss the idea for emulation, and hacking has remained an integral part of the emuscene even since.  In fact, the commercial emulators are by far outnumbered by hacker products, and the latter are often just as good as or in some cases even better than what the big boys produce.  The same is true for the rest of the computer industry - almost all real innovations can be traced back to creative hacks cooked up on the spot or in a flash of inspiration by an inspired hacker (or a closet one).  You want to know something else?  Even the big boys, such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, have hacking in their blood.  It's part of the industry.  It's not going away.  There has been hacking in the past, hacking continues in the present, and hacking will go on in the future.  I just wish that for once we could get the mainstream to understand that, instead of focusing on the few bad apples that bounce out of the barrel.
     I hope that in some future time, when computer historians look back and are forced to come to grips with the emuscene of our day, that they will give proper credit to the emucoders in our midst.  These überhackers have managed to recreate complete vintage systems entirely in software (in many cases), allowing old programs to run on new hardware.  That's no small feat, believe me.  You emucoders know what I'm talking about.  Those of you who have worked with them know just how much time and effort goes into their projects.  Those of you who patronize your favorite emulators appreciate their efforts.  It's such a shame that there remain so many who would rather snipe away at what they blithely label as "illegal emulation" rather than become involved and get up close and personal with the emuscene.  I have had the good fortune to do that just these past two years, and I am enriched thereby.  The emuscene has reinvigorated my love for the machine, has restored my delight in experience the joy of artful programming, and allowed me to once again relive the highlights of computer days gone by.  It's our shared heritage that the emuscene is saving.  No matter that certain vendors can't see beyond the buckles of their money belts.  What they think doesn't matter in the long run.  What they provide will outlast them, so long as there remains some means to preserve and present on tomorrow's technology.
     You can't save live code in cold print.  You can't capture the essence of the program presentation in static media.  No, you have to recreate the entire experience, both the good and the bad, as best as programming skill and available resources will permit, so that current and future generations will better appreciate just how far we've come.  There's really only one way to do that that remains constant, giving the rapid changes in computer technology, and that is the art of emulation.  Time will pass, memories will fade, and machines will crumble away, but the code will survive.  Long after we are all dead and gone, the code will still be there for some future computer user to rediscover and say, "Wow!  They did that back then?  Neat!"  Think I'm crazy?  Perhaps ... but just look at how today's users are rediscovering the vintage treasures of our past.  The code will survive, for thanks to the emuscene, it will never die.

     I find it rather ironic that the company who opened the Pandora's box on noninfringing technology back in the early 1980s is the same that has brought about the legalization of emulation.  Sony, the inventors of the Betamax, who fought long and hard to justify its existence against a resolute foe, also fought equally hard some two decades later in order to stop the same thing from happening to them.  They failed, in part to their own successful actions in the past, and emulation is now legal as a result.  Emulation is legal.  It still gives me chills whenever I say that.  I knew it instinctively, as did we all, back in the dark time when I set out to prove that it was actually true.  You know, in a way, it's sad that the one company who had originally championed a form of noninfringing technology didn't want the same yardstick applied once their turn came.  "Not in my backyard," as the old saw goes.  Well, so much for their efforts.  They were doomed from the start, as I knew they would be, but rest assured that I impatiently waited, perched on the edge of my seat, along with the rest of you.  Would I be proven right, or would the unrestrained use of emulation technology be forever hobbled by monopolistic vendor desire?  It was fortunate that things turned out the way that they did, and a royal screw-up by one of our greatest foes has turned out to be our unlikely salvation.  We have Sony to thank for the legalization of emulation, just as we have Sony to thank for the legalization of audiovisual broadcast recording.  Who would have thought it?
     You want to hear something almost equally strange?  How about Nintendo taking part in the emuscene?  Sega, yes - they've always been there for us - but Nintendo?  Who would have thought that, too, back during the time when Nintendo was going after anybody and everybody who even so much as dared to discuss emulation of their systems?  Yet here we are in the year 2000, and RandNet is getting ready to set up a commercial NES ROM site for paying Nintendo customers.  I can only imagine how much it took for them to even consider the possibility in the first place, so my hat's off to them.  I know it's not as big a step as some of you would like to see, but give them credit anyway.  It took a lot for them to go even that far.  Let's hope that this tentative step leads to even bolder moves in the near future, but they won't do it unless there's something in it for them.  Only your patronage and support will encourage them to continue, otherwise they'll pop right back into their shell faster than you can say Nintendo Entertainment System.  If that means going to their website and paying them for their ROMs, then so be it.  Oh, and while you grit your teeth and mumble about having to pay for computer games that are long past their heyday, remember that it wasn't very long ago that Nintendo was busting one ROM site after another.  It pays to have at least one legal Nintendo ROM site, even if you have to pay Nintendo to use it.
     Speaking of which, as this is my final address to the emuscene, I would like to thank Sega for its unspoken support of my activities all this time.  You were always there for me, even during those days in which I questioned whether or not I could continue at all, and it was largely due to people who work with you, who know and love your systems and your software, that I was able to continue.  You never objected to my efforts, even though they involved unlicensed emulation, and you have given me a straight answer to every question I have ever asked.  You have never been afraid of the promise that emulation holds, and you have been willing to stick out you neck time and again in unceasing quest of its potential.  Such effort deserves to be rewarded, and I have done so in more than words alone.  In the past two years, I have purchased over US$2000 worth of Sega products, and it is a trend that will no doubt continue into the foreseeable future.  It's like the old adage says, "You scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours."  Some of that money might have gone to your competitors, but they have as yet to show any evidence of your class.  It's not big by your multimillion dollar standards, and is not as much as I would have liked to give, but I have done what I can.  I wish I could do more, but other tasks draw me away.  Perhaps, once all is said and done, I might be able to come back and pick up where I have left off.  I had seven years of catch-up to do last time.  Let's hope it's not nearly as much should next time come.

     I now find myself viewing the emuscene from a distance, no longer playing the front line role that I once so thoroughly enjoyed.  My part in the great emulation debate is now over.  I set out to prove that emulation was a legitimate practice, and the U.S. Court of Appeals has affirmed my assertions as legal fact.  Having fought and triumphed, it is now time for me to move on.
     I have no doubts that I may pop back in now and again, watching the Second Golden Age of Emulation unfold, but not for long and never in the prominent role that I once played.  This is not my time.  I was part of the First Golden Age, from its glorious inception back in those heady Amiga days up to the recent dark times.  I saw the paradigm shift taking place.  I saw my fellow emufans suffering from a lack of knowledge and direction at the hands of those who would take full advantage of the situation.  I drew a line in the sand and said, "Enough."  I helped my fellows in their time of trial, and in so doing helped usher in the Second Golden Age.  I guess that makes me a midwife or attendant of sorts, if anything, but I'm not alone.  As I have stated time and again, mine was but one small part among many.  It just happened to be more vocal and therefore more visible than others who deserve more recognition than I.
     Yes, you are now witnessing the unfolding of the Second Golden Age of Emulation.  The first began with A-Max and the nextgen machines of the 1990s - the Amiga, the Macintosh, the Atari ST.  The second age comes as personal computers undergo yet another convulsive revolution in capabilities - the G4 PowerMacs, the Windows 2000 and Linux boxes, the 128-bit videogame consoles, and so on.  We have passed yet another threshold, a new virtual explosion in computer technology is upon us, and the trend will continue as surely as the one terabyte hard drive will soon inhabit our desktops.  New technology.  It is at the heart of each successive paradigm shift that catapults the computer industry to new and lofty heights every five to ten years or so, and it is carrying the emuscene right along with it.  New emulators will be required for the new systems.  New projects will be undertaken at emulating the old systems on the new ones.  New efforts will be made to preserve old code and make it work with these new systems.  It's going to be a wonderful time, just like it was back in the early 1990s.  It's the dawn of a new age for the emuscene - the Second Golden Age of Emulation.  My only regret is that I will not be here to enjoy the full fruits of our shared labors.
     You see, change is at the heart of humanity.  One of my all-time favorite quotes on the subject was uttered as an admonition by Duke Leto Atredies to his son Paul in the movie version of Frank Herbert's Dune.  "Without change, something sleeps inside us and seldom awakens.  The sleeper must awaken."  My time in the emuscene has been long, eventful, and ultimately enjoyable, but the sleeper has awakened for another cause.  New opportunities await, new fields of battle beckon, and others in desperate straits cry out for someone to aid them in their fight for justice.  I know I can help them.  I've done it before, and I'll do it again.  As long as the cause is just and the means exist, I will always resist those who would repress others in any way.  The Goliaths of this world will never last so long as there remains at least one David to take his sling, pick up five small stones, and walk unflinchingly towards his seemingly invincible foe.  My sling is in hand, and my pouch is full.  It's time for the next challenge.  The road is unfamiliar, the foe untested, but my resolve is no less strong that it was here.  Be that as it may, though, I leave the future of the emuscene in good hands.  I know that my place will not remain empty if need requires.  I was but one David among many, and others will surely rise to combat the challenge should the emuscene ever suffer such travails again.  Your foes may be different, your battlefield digital instead of physical, but your determination and desire will be no less strong than those in the physical world.  You will someday triumph, despite everything that can and will be thrown at you.  You are survivors.  You will survive.
     Be seeing you.

     The old battlefield which we know only too well lies quiet again, save for the sounds of movement on its outer edges.  Sitting on the horizon just within the line of sight is the final prize - the last fortress of monopolistic might.  Facing its walls, as far as the eye can see, is a vast host of diverse peoples, united in common cause against a common foe.  From tender youths to grizzled veterans, from neophyte newbies to hardened hackers, they stand ready for battle.  There can be no doubt about the outcome now, save for an act of divine providence or utter stupidity.  They have the momentum now.  It is their fight to lose ... or win.
     The leaders of the emuscene survey their assembled might as they plan their final stroke.  They are not alone, for three other armies stand ready to join the fray.  There are the legions of the black army, the freebooters and mercenaries, who are only their to take advantage of the situation, but the emuscene does not scoff their aid.  There is a host of renegade vendors, far larger and stronger than even the emuscene had initially hoped, who have seen the truth of the cause and joined their fates to it.  Finally, there is a crack battalion of federal troops waiting in reserve, who entered the affray unlooked-for in the emuscene's greatest hour of need and helped it win the field.  They will not join the fight unless absolutely necessary, but their aid is no less welcome.  The forces of free emulation are thus far stronger than even their dwindling foes had ever dreamed.  It is an uneven fight against a desperate and well-entrenched foe, but one from which the emuscene does not shirk.  Even so, it will take courage and skill to manage such disparate hosts and unite them in common cause.  The emuscene now has the means to win the emulation war.  Victory can be theirs for the taking, provided that they have the will and resolve to seize every opportunity, whatever the cost may be.
     Suddenly there rings forth a shout from the front of the host, and a lone warrior stands forth before the fray.  A grizzled veteran, he is but one of the many who have led the charge in the emulation war, and his is the honor of launching this, the final assault in a long and vicious campaign.  With one hand he slide-cocks his shotgun, and then slaps the other into place on its grip.  He surveys his fellows as he grins with delight, chomping down on the half-burned cigar sticking out of one side of his mouth, then utters the final call to arms.
     "Let's rock!"

I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storms of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. ... [W]e shall not flag nor fail.  We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and the oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.
- Sir Winston Churchill
"Dunkirk," Blood, Sweat, and Tears

The EmuFAQ - (c) 1999 Sam Pettus, all rights reserved.  Penned 17 March 2000.