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Why were emulators made in the first place?


Keatah
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Why were emulators made in the first place?

 

Was it so that we could play arcade games on our home computers?

 

Were they an exercise in programming? It seems like many a-good emulators have their roots in comp-sci classrom projects

 

Were they for commercial/private financial gain? You know, make something to make something to make money.

 

How about as an effort to preserve the games of the past? Many emulators seem to use this "excuse".

 

Maybe they were made as a utility to help facilitate classic computer usage in modern times.

 

Or how about a chance to relive the past.

 

Maybe just a simple "ohh look how cool this is.." type of thing?

 

It's all discussion fodder because I'm bored!

 

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Wikipedia has some good stuff on the topic. Mostly about games (the Williams Arcade emulations of Defender, Joust and Robotron on the 68000 Mac were amazing), but there's this:

 

The word "emulator" was coined in 1963 at IBM[18] during development of the NPL (IBM 360) product line, using a "new combination of software, microcode, and hardware".[19] They discovered that using microcode hardware instead of software simulation, to execute programs written for earlier IBM computers, dramatically increased simulation speed. Earlier, IBM provided simulators for, e.g., the 650 on the 705.[20] In addition to simulators, IBM had compatibility features on the 709 and 7090,[21] for which it provided the IBM 709 computer with a program to run legacy programs written for the IBM 704 on the 709 and later on the IBM 7090. This program used the instructions added by the compatibility feature[22] to trap instructions requiring special handling; all other 704 instructions ran the same on a 7090. The compatibility feature on the 1410[23] only required setting a console toggle switch, not a support program.

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Commodore released the PET emulator for the C64 very early in that machine's life as a quick way to expand the 64's available software library. Of course the number of native C64 titles quickly outstripped those for the PET but it did provide some incentive for PET users to migrate.

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Commercial/consumer emulators in general, yes, were a way to either try to maintain backward compatibility or to emulate another computer that was maybe either more successful or had software available that your own computer didn't.

 

I'm sure that there were emulators used before that for scientific or other reasons, though.

 

Game emulators specifically can trace their lineage back to the system changers and whatnot; most of these actually had the real hardware inside but the idea was to be able to be able to play games made for another system, thereby removing a competitive advantage. Essentially there's no conceptual difference between a software emulator and reverse engineered hardware - the idea in both cases is just to allow the user to play another system's games. They're different approaches to the same end goal; emulation is just cheaper to implement provided there's enough computing horsepower.

 

So I think there were economic/competitive reasons initially; like most other things, it was all about money. But the concept then trickled down into the free software community.

 

I think the idea of emulation has been around even in the mainstream for basically as long as computers and game consoles have existed. I specifically remember debating with my friends in the early 80's about whether one computer was powerful enough to run another computer's programs if only somebody would write an emulator. That was sort of our litmus test for power; if you could convince somebody that one computer could run another's programs even through a software interpreter, that was clear evidence of technical superiority.

 

I'm not sure what the first common emulator was, though. We must have gotten the idea of comparing computers this way from something specific, but that's the part I don't remember. I know there were emulators to run Mac programs on the Atari ST, to run ST programs on Amiga, etc. but I'm pretty sure there was mainstrean home emulation available even before that because I specifically remember talking to my friends about whether a C64 could successfully emulate an Apple II.

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At some point in the middle 1990s the MSX was considered obsolete, everyone start trashing machines and the emulators were the way to play the disappearing platform.

 

But still the MSX is alive much like Atari, Colecovision, Intellivision, etc. And the emulators brought new people to the system which then started buying again the machines to experience the real thing.

 

Myself I wrote an emulator to play the things I thought never was going to have, but now have them!

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Keatah I think that really would have ever been the only real reason. People can go on and on about video games or old operating systems, but in the end, digital or not. To emulate something, is to copy the functionality of something that no longer exists or is no longer supported so you can still use it into the future.

 

Hell if you think about it an old player piano is emulating having a human at the keyboard by using a set of gears, a spindle with notches, and a roll of paper with holes so it knows what to do. Fast forward from that 'computer' and you have that IBM instance in the second post where emulate was coined in 1963.

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Commodore released the PET emulator for the C64 very early in that machine's life as a quick way to expand the 64's available software library. Of course the number of native C64 titles quickly outstripped those for the PET but it did provide some incentive for PET users to migrate.

PETs were the computers we used in high school, lol.

 

Gawd am I old.

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Sounds like the need to maintain backward compatibility was the first use.

 

Yes and just like now there were varying degrees of accuracy in emulation; the C128's emulation of the C64 was near perfect while the CoCo3's emulation of the VDG chip via the GIME lost valuable semigraphics modes.

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While obviously games are the driving force behind emulators, there is some use for actual business functions.

 

I used to work as a government archivist, and one major topic of ongoing discussion was maintaining access to legacy data. One approach that was suggested (though, to my knowledge, never implemented) was using emulation. Data could thus be accessed/manipulated using the original software running (in emulation) on modern hardware.

 

For that matter, my bank currently uses DOS Box (or something much like that) to provide access to an internal customer database. It works well, and the staff are comfortable using it, so the powers that be see no reason to upgrade to a modern GUI. It makes me smile very time I see it in use.

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Why were emulators made in the first place?

 

Was it so that we could play arcade games on our home computers?

 

Were they an exercise in programming? It seems like many a-good emulators have their roots in comp-sci classrom projects

 

Were they for commercial/private financial gain? You know, make something to make something to make money.

 

How about as an effort to preserve the games of the past? Many emulators seem to use this "excuse".

 

Maybe they were made as a utility to help facilitate classic computer usage in modern times.

 

Or how about a chance to relive the past.

 

Maybe just a simple "ohh look how cool this is.." type of thing?

 

It's all discussion fodder because I'm bored!

 

 

I was following the scene when the emulation explosion of the mid-90s happened. I would say most of the reasons you listed, although there are relatively few commercial general-purpose emulators.

 

The other ingredient was the internet. Prior to the mid 90s, most people weren't on the internet, and emulators were relatively rare and often commercial products. Then in the space of a few months in the 90s, Mame and emulators for many other systems sprang up.

Edited by zzip
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Yes, the internet has facilitated this quite a lot! Also, storage.

 

Remember when copying CDs was prohibitively expensive?

 

Or transferring multiple megabytes of data was slow and painful? To say nothing of CD images?

 

Flash drives had capacities measured in megabytes, not gigabytes, and we paid big bonus for it.

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Yes, the internet has facilitated this quite a lot! Also, storage.

 

Remember when copying CDs was prohibitively expensive?

 

Or transferring multiple megabytes of data was slow and painful? To say nothing of CD images?

 

Flash drives had capacities measured in megabytes, not gigabytes, and we paid big bonus for it.

 

Yes, storage helped a lot with later emulators.

 

For the early 8-bits, you could fit the entire game libraries of several systems on a single CD and still have space left :)

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Commodore released the PET emulator for the C64 very early in that machine's life as a quick way to expand the 64's available software library. Of course the number of native C64 titles quickly outstripped those for the PET but it did provide some incentive for PET users to migrate.

 

I still have that tape. That was my first exposure to an emulator, although I wouldn't necessarily think of it as such until arcade emulators started to make their presence felt in the 90s.

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Why were emulators made in the first place?

 

Was it so that we could play arcade games on our home computers?

 

Were they an exercise in programming? It seems like many a-good emulators have their roots in comp-sci classrom projects

 

Were they for commercial/private financial gain? You know, make something to make something to make money.

 

How about as an effort to preserve the games of the past? Many emulators seem to use this "excuse".

 

Maybe they were made as a utility to help facilitate classic computer usage in modern times.

 

Or how about a chance to relive the past.

 

Maybe just a simple "ohh look how cool this is.." type of thing?

 

It's all discussion fodder because I'm bored!

 

Back when I spoke to technical people about it back in 1997, the general consensus was that it was for purposes of preservation.

 

At that time, arcade system boards were being piled up in parking lots and slated to be melted down for gold. Then it occurred to someone that if it kept up at that rate, some of the code would be gone forever. People had tired to get source code from the original programmers for a number of games and were told that the code they had was incomplete, not in their possession, or long since deleted.

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My first few IT jobs were on Wang VS systems. My first IT job was data entry/system operations at a medical company in Houston. It was ideal as I'd attend morning classes at U of H, then come into work around 1pm. From 1-6 I did data entry then, after everybody else left, I'd run the batch jobs/reports, and finally do the system backups. If I had any time left before 9pm I was allowed to program on the system, so I would analyze the batch jobs/reports and find ways to improve their performance - resulting in even more free time :) For the system backups we used removable drive packs that were used in washing machine sized drive units.

Wang VS drive unit
post-3056-0-07525500-1487115361_thumb.jpg

Closeup of a drive pack.
post-3056-0-98053400-1487115570_thumb.jpg

To put the pack in the drive you remove the bottom of the protective case (the black visible below the transparent blue cover), use the handle to screw the pack into the drive unit, lift the handle to remove the cover (so the drive heads could slid into place), and finally close the unit.

A few years later I started working at K*Tec, and a few years after that at Kent Electronics (of which K*Tec was a subsidiary). Kent & K*Tec are both mentioned in that Wang wiki article, though they dropped the * for some reason :|.

Thomas Junker was a contract programmer at the medical company and later left to contract for Kent. At the time all custom programming for K*Tec was done at Kent, but K*Tec got tired of continually getting bumped in the queue and decided it'd be better to have their own IT staff. Tom was instrumental in getting me hired on as K*Tec's first in-house programmer.


I'm sure you're wondering what this has to do with emulation! In 92 Wang went bankrupt and struggled on for a few more years. During that time a lot of companies grew, and the extra data caused the nightly batch jobs to run into the morning business hours. At K*Tec I headed up the task to install a second Wang VS and split the workload so Houston employees would use one system while non-Houston employees would use another. Eventually our growth made it so that wasn't enough and we migrated to an IBM AS/400.

Other companies didn't have the ability to migrate - either they didn't have the staff, know-how, and/or funds to do so. Tom started up a company that created a Wang VS emulator that ran on a Linux server. For those companies that couldn't migrate all they needed to do was restore a backup into the emulator and they were ready for business with a significantly faster system. Sadly Tom succumbed to cancer back in 2010 so I don't know if people are still using the Wang emulator.

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Yes, the internet has facilitated this quite a lot! Also, storage.

 

Remember when copying CDs was prohibitively expensive?

 

Or transferring multiple megabytes of data was slow and painful? To say nothing of CD images?

 

Flash drives had capacities measured in megabytes, not gigabytes, and we paid big bonus for it.

 

 

Growing up my family got our first PC in '94. When looking at games I remember thinking, "WOW, that must be a good game, it's a megabyte." :o

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The first computer I bought on my own was a Mac IIsi with 5 megs of Ram and an 80 MB hard drive. Thought I would never need more. The color version of Crystal Quest was the bees knees.

 

As far as emulators go, I think I remember trying out an Apple IIe emulator on it. I don't remember what it was called or how well it worked.

 

Then I remember installing an X11 implementation on it, but it was not full on Unix+X11. I am thinking it was just the client part as I had to run an X11 program remotely from a mainframe. I don't remember what for. I guess that is not emulation though. Dang... I hate getting old and not remembering this stuff

 

It wasn't until I obtained a PowerMac 8500 did I start messing around with video game emulators.

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Growing up my family got our first PC in '94. When looking at games I remember thinking, "WOW, that must be a good game, it's a megabyte." :o

Yes. The size of the game was the single most important way (to my infantile mind) of determining how good a game was back then. Not sure when I got over that methodology.

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Yes. The size of the game was the single most important way (to my infantile mind) of determining how good a game was back then. Not sure when I got over that methodology.

 

I want to say in my mind it happened for me when games got to about the 2GB mark. I want to say that's when how good the graphics engines were, and how well they were implemented really started to take over and matter. I don't know if that's the case but that's what's kind of sticking out in my head.

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The PET emulator on the C64 is designed to match a PET 2001 with BASIC 2 (although some sites claim it can match a 4032 with BASIC 4 as well) and will intercept those POKEs and PEEKs the developer Bob Fairbairn was aware of. IIRC it only runs a smaller selection of software intended for 40 column PETs and boots with medium grey text on dark grey background instead of white on black like a 2001 or green on black like later PETs. The emulator consists of two files though, so the loader can be modified with different colour settings, as suggested elsewhere on the Internet.

 

Here is the manual, by the way: http://www.pcmuseum.ca/Brochures/MANC64PetEmulator.pdf

 

Also, the C128 has a VIC-II, a SID, a CPU that is binary compatible with the 6510 and the ROMs of a C64 so I wouldn't agree that the C128 emulates a C64, rather it runs a different operating system on reboot, just like a ZX Spectrum 128 or +2 can run in 128K mode or classic 48K mode, or a newer Amiga could be fitted with a Kickswitch to select which Kickstart version to boot.

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The first computer I bought on my own was a Mac IIsi with 5 megs of Ram and an 80 MB hard drive. Thought I would never need more. The color version of Crystal Quest was the bees knees.

 

Still is. Two dollars well spent:

http://store.steampowered.com/sub/113614/?utm_source=SteamDB&utm_medium=SteamDB&utm_campaign=SteamDB%20Subs%20Page

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Growing up my family got our first PC in '94. When looking at games I remember thinking, "WOW, that must be a good game, it's a megabyte." :o

 

Lol, I remember reading a review of King's Quest and saw that it required 128K RAM (on PC), and remember thinking that seemed like an incredible amount and I thought the game must be mind-blowing-- This was a time when our 8-bits were still limited to 64K mostly.

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