Jump to content
PFL

The Future of Emulation?

Recommended Posts

I've noticed that over the past few months or so the emulation 'scene' seems to be most active on the Android platform. I'm starting to think that this may be the future platform for most, if not all software based emulation. Windows used to be strong but doesn't seem to be quite the target anymore and 'desktop' for want of a better term seems to have always lagged behind. Now, though, there's rarely a day goes by withouta new build of some emu or other for Android... What do you lot think?

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I know just the basic about android and I really don't understand it.

 

It seems to be a linux with a very small, poor environment compared to gnu. A java implementation, runs some programs written in C and doesn't allow other languages and many goodies found in a traditional linux + gnu OS?

 

If that is Android, I don't see any advantages in the platform besides a huge new hardware devices made possible.

In the sofware side and thus with emulation Android seems to be a step back.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I wouldn't say the future is exclusively in Android+other portable OSes and PC-based emulation is dying or anything.

 

The thing is that classic systems from the 70s-90s have been running on PC Dos, Windows and other OS systems since the late 80s if not earlier.

Most of the classic hardware has at least one matured emulator, some have several or more.

 

Once matured, the new releases tend to trail off somewhat.

 

The difference with Android is that it's relatively new, and IMO the interface still leaves much to be desired so there is still much room for improvement in both the OS and software being written for it.

 

Android also has that portability attraction - computing has taken a new direction the last few years and smartphones/tablets have taken centre stage. Casual gaming as a result has taken off, and most games from before the mid 1980s would be considered casual by today's standards.

Edited by Rybags

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think the future of emulation is FPGA based. The closer to the metal you get, the better the results are going to be. We have decently running emulators for just about everything, now we need to focus on accuracy. Accuracy means emulating every gate on every chip, which means you need a lot of CPU power, or reimplementing the chips. Putting abstraction layers like with Android will only slow things down, introduce more lag, eat more battery power.

 

And that's just the future of old school emulation. The scary part is emulation of modern consoles in the future. They're far more complex than the systems we grew up with. Even the original Xbox has yet to have a decent emulator. Is anyone really up to the challenge of writing PCSX3?

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would agree that we'll see more and more emulation done on Android. That's not to say it'll disappear on other platforms, but the openness and the mobility of Android lend themselves to classic gaming.

 

I have both an iPad and a Chromebook. While I like both platforms for different reasons, I do find it annoying that I have to pull my 7-lb Windows laptop out of a drawer to emulate much of anything. I could see having an Android device for gaming, as long as it supported a physical controller rather than touch screen input.

Edited by ls650

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Android also has that portability attraction - computing has taken a new direction the last few years and smartphones/tablets have taken centre stage. Casual gaming as a result has taken off, and most games from before the mid 1980s would be considered casual by today's standards.

You make a valid point. Many 16-bit and later era games were epic campaigns that lasted a very long time. The benefit of saving your progress meant you didn't have to slug through the entire campaign in one sitting, write down passwords in a notebook, or leave the console sitting powered on for hours or days while life's other priorities took precedent. That lead to longer games that often took days to complete. Nothing wrong with that.

 

However the pick-up-and-play style of many new mobile games that makes them popular pastimes while sitting on a toilet, standing in line, or waiting outside the office, etc, are very similar to the old arcade-style games that we had back in the day. Put a few quarters in one machine, then move on to another. I can sit with a stack of Atari VCS games and play them one after the other in consecutive order, and easily blow an hour or more without spending more than a few minutes at a time on one game cart. I used to play this kind of style with some of the arcade ports when I first started NES collecting back in the early 2000s as well.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The future will always be porting everything to the latest device, but I don't know how you say the desktop scene lags behind... windows is still the best platform for emulation especially when you start to get into the really weird (Vectrex) stuff.

 

Most of the android work is porting the stuff made on a pc or in linux. Not that that isn't difficult.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The future of emulation is incredibly bright and happy!

 

If it's anything like the past 20 years; expect to see continuing advances in accuracy and compatibility like never before! I've been following the emulation scene like even before Mike Cuddy's Gyruss Audio Emulator, DAS Arcade, Dave Spicer's Sparcade, and Jeff Vavasour's & Digital Eclipse's Arcade Classics. Let's not forget the Activision ActionPacks and Microsoft Arcade for Windows 3.1.

 

As old hardware dies out and becomes more of a collectors "thing", the remaining hardware will be used less and less. As old CRTs burn out they aren't going to be replaced. And there's always some sort of glitch and incompatibility with the latest and greatest TVs when hooked up to classic hardware. Though it isn't always the case, it's getting worse as time rolls on. And don't forget these next points either. Contacts will corrode and wear thin. Plastics will decompose and rot. Static electricity will zap some chips. Capacitors will dry out. Manuals and papers fade, get lost, or torn. Some classic game paraphernalia even gets stolen or perhaps destroyed in natural disasters or house fires. Emulation solves all those problems.

 

Eventually there will be more enthusiasts than there are genuine original consoles. Emulation will fill that gap. Many folks, far more than you'd care to imagine or admit, are tired of finicky 35 year old hardware. They will turn to emulation.

 

If your emulated virtual game console ever breaks, you can recreate it by reloading the software on new hardware or patching the emulation core itself.. if that was the problem. And besides, everytime an update comes don't you feel like your VGC just got a little tune up? Emulation stuff, since it is written by sensible & intelligent blokes, is one classification of software I do not mind updating almost blindly. There's always improvements that are timely and functional and targeted-just-right.

 

Emulation is not just a way to preserve the old classics, but a way move them through time in a lossless manner. You can rest assured that some form of hardware and software will always be around to fire up that game of Combat or Missile Command. And furthermore, I can't ever see hardware changing so rapidly and quickly that existing emulators will be left behind. There will be ports and if necessary, an emulator within an emulator. Like using DOSbox to run older versions of M.A.M.E.

 

You naysayers, you're gonna get dragged screaming and kicking into the 21st century whether you like it or not. And emulation is the force that's gonna do it.

 

Emulation - Bringing games into the future, one day at a time.

Edited by Keatah
  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

^^ I, for one, have no qualms playing on an Atari system that's a year older than I am (if the date stamp on the motherboard is any indication). Emulation be damned!

 

Some stuff you just can't emulate. I'd like to see someone emulate the exact nuances of a dirty connector in a real NES, for example. I say it cannot be done, not that you'd really want to, LOL! :P

Edited by stardust4ever

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Eventually you'll have no choice but to use emulation. Either that or build parts for existing hardware and effect repairs. Or even build new hardware entirely. From direct observations, the necessary skill to do those repairs is dwindling as people bury themselves in social media style distractions. Time which should be spent on real-world fix-it skills.

 

When I was a kid, we didn't HAVE videogames; other than the dedicated bleeps and bloops of pong sports consoles. A kid can only play so much of that before he wanders off into dad's electronics and mechanical "shop" in the garage and starts playing with stuff there. This is the sort of interchange a young boy should be having on a rainy impossible-to-play-outside day. Not youtube and internet nonsense.

 

I did an informal survey of about 100 people in the neighborhood that have older consoles (SNES and earlier), and 14 of them knew very basic electronics. A dismal 6 owned and claimed to know how to use a DMM. And I doubt any of them could fix more than busted wire in the power cord, if they could find and determine that as a cause of failure in the first place! Classic gamers need to get with the program!

 

Dirty connectors BAH!! I hate them and definitely don't want to emulate them! AND emulation is designed to eliminate dirty connectors by very nature of not simulating random changes on data lines. And the newer intel microprocessors have a quantum-like random number generator built around a real noise generating circuit going in and out of race conditions. I mean if it were desirable and wanted, you can bet yo'little ass there'd be routines to instill random noise in the emulated game. There's a small attempt at something like this in Stella. But I never use it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

^^ I, for one, have no qualms playing on an Atari system that's a year older than I am (if the date stamp on the motherboard is any indication). Emulation be damned!

 

 

 

It isn't about wanting to get rid of the original hardware and replace it with emulation. Emulation is going to eventually be the only way to experience the classics. Ohh I'm sure that there'll be isolated pockets of original hardware that survive the next 100 years under the care of technical people and collectors.

 

But by and large that will be the exception rather than the rule. Emulation brings classic gaming and computing to anyone that wants it, here, now, today, with repeatable accuracy and trouble-free operation. No worries about intermittent or worn connections.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've noticed that over the past few months or so the emulation 'scene' seems to be most active on the Android platform.  I'm starting to think that this may be the future platform for most, if not all software based emulation.  Windows used to be strong but doesn't seem to be quite the target anymore and 'desktop' for want of a better term seems to have always lagged behind.  Now, though, there's rarely a day goes by without a new build of some emu or other for Android... What do you lot think?

Android has ~15 years of Windows development to catch up with.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As someone who has worn out three Dreamcast consoles and got sick of trying to source new GDI drive mechs (from experience I don't believe those EBAY sellers saying their GDI parts are brand new) I can say that now that DEmul/ Makaron, even with graphical glitches etc are far more reliable at loading/playing games than the console in my basement. And the Xbox 360 wireless controller for the PC is even better than the Dreamcast controller.

 

Keetah has a point.

 

While it's always nicer using the original hardware to play games the ability to keep those consoles running is largely down to the mechanisms used. A N64 is far more likely to stand the test of time than the Dreamcast or an Xbox. Any console that used proprietary disc mechanisms like GDI or has encryption built into the mech is far and away more difficult to obtain replacement parts as time goes by and time has taught me that cartridge based systems are easier to maintain if you are a non-uber tech person or don't have ready access to someone who is (assuming you can source the necessary replacement parts). Assuming an emulator is developed that is accurate enough to run games for a system at a level that the user is happy with then it certainly removes the need for maintaining a large collection of computers/consoles in ones possession.

 

Interesting to me is whether people think the latest consoles (Xbox One and PS4) will actually be easier in time to emulate than the X-360 and PS3? Both use x86 CPU's and PC oriented GPU's so it would seem to me that if someone were to crack their TPM/security it 'should/might' be easier in theory to emulate on a PC (ala MacOS running on PCs) due to the lack of needing to emulate Cell/PowerPC used in the previous generation. I am thinking Taito X here as an example. Then again has Sega's Lindbergh arcade hardware been cracked yet?

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hardware like SEGA Lindberg is similar to a PC, but with a lot of minor differences in timings and firmwares. There's a lot of things missing or done differently from the bios when compared to a pc. There are also things missing from the OS. And the API for graphics, for example, is going to be different than your stock Windows PC + Graphics Card + Drivers. This custom motherboard is going to get information from the main memory to the graphics card faster (or slightly differently) than your home PC box does.

 

It is important to understand that when you eliminate the hulking mess of Windows and other OS'es and talk to the hardware directly you can get a lot more done for a lot less cost in both software and hardware. Think of it as the difference between Assembly Language vs. BASIC.

 

I don't believe that emulation as we know it (Stella or MAME) is going to be the best approach here. To play these at home I foresee a custom OS that reads the game code and presents it to your existing hardware minus the protection and timing stuff. I imagine that the task would be tons easier if minor changes were made to the "ROM" code of the games themselves. Think bypassing the security modules.

 

I see the emulation software acting more as a translator, packager, or presenter. The fact that there is a standard GPU + CPU in the Lindberg box makes this method too compelling when compared against pure software emulation. You've got the original instruction sets, in hardware, in your PC box right now. It would be foolish to re-simulate or re-emulate all that when instead you could have the original game ROM calling them. You just need to build an interface between the ROM and your personal hardware.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What stardust4ever means above with the video is that we're all going to die in a nuclear holocaust, so we won't need emulation. :D

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Future%27s_So_Bright,_I_Gotta_Wear_Shades

Pat revealed on VH1's 100 Greatest One-Hit Wonders of the 80s that the meaning of the song was widely misinterpreted as a positive perspective in regard to the near future. Pat somewhat clarified the meaning by stating that it was, contrary to popular belief, a "grim" outlook. While not saying so directly, he hinted at the idea that the bright future was in fact due to impending nuclear holocaust. The "job waiting" after graduation signified the demand for nuclear scientists to facilitate such events. Pat drew upon the multitude of past predictions which transcend several cultures that foreshadow the world ending in the 1980s, along with the nuclear tension at the height of the cold war to compile the song.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have a shielded safe within a safe. And in there I have several hermetically sealed containers. This stuff isn't all that big. Smaller = less risk of destruction. It contains:

 

1- Stealth ultra-small PC.

2- Automotive grade LCD monitor.

3- Folding mechanical keyboard.

4- Small supply of CMOS backup batteries.

5- SuperCapacitor sealed electrolytics (alternative to cmos battery).

6- Box of solar cells.

7- Basic toolkit, hookup wire, conductive adhesive for repairs and assembly of solar array.

8- Solder. And metal rods with sharp point + ceramic handle, enabling you to solder with campfire heat.

9- Printed printouts & microfiche of important documentation and select code.

10- 5 USB disks with emulation material.

11- Ultrabook PC with batteries removed and set at 50% charge (I don't expect these batteries to last long term).

12- Several quick reference cards 1-2-3 style for setup.

13- Backups of serial flash roms from HDD controllers.

14- An older but less capable PC motherboard that uses only EPROM for bios.

15- Various connectors and odds and ends for basic repairs.

16- USB-IDE-SATA connector and adapter kit.

17- Gravis controller + adapter.

18- Some memory cards SD CF uSD.

19- Power adapters and pocket inverter.

20- Box various assorted electronic parts.

 

This should cover most apocalyptic scenarios and allow us to play the classics. And we all know hardware can live for 40 years already. And that is with use and abuse! But with some TLC and good storage even the dreaded bit-rot on floppies doesn't seem to be manifesting itself. I've got tons of disks from the 1980's which are still viable.

 

In case of nuclear holocaust or other world-spanning disaster, this is likely to be the only surviving repository of classic gaming and computing material. At least one of any considerable size and magnitude.

 

I have made it a serious long-term project. Every three years or so I'll un-earth it and update it. Last update was this past spring. 30-months to go till next update.

  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have made it a serious long-term project. Every three years or so I'll un-earth it and update it. Last update was this past spring. 30-months to go till next update.

I like this idea! I've been thinking of putting together something similar, and I'll surely borrow a few ideas from your list. I've also been saving PC parts from about 1997 to 2003: they can be used to build inexpensive computers which are still decent performers, and more importantly, are unencumbered by secure boot and other freedom-limiting "improvements" that were added to PCs later.

 

I also agree with your points about emulation. Hobbyists maintain vintage computers and consoles for different reasons, some of which can now be served just as well with emulation. If all one wants from these old machines is to use the software designed for them, and assuming an accurate emulator is available, emulation usually represents a more convenient solution. It can only become more convenient in the future, as emulation-capable platforms become cheaper and more diverse, and as the necessary ancillary technologies (available display devices, and perhaps even power sources) continue to diverge from those the original hardware was designed to use.

 

There are still those of us who value an authentic experience enough to keep bulky CRTs around, and who need functional specimens of the original hardware because we are hackers (in the original, non-pejorative sense) who are interested in exploring how these systems work, but there's no denying that we are an aging and diminishing subset of the population. As a general rule, younger folks don't give a damn about creating things or learning how things work; they're much happier with apps and black boxes which hide all the complexities and make all the big decisions for them.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I know all about kids just using computers and not actually doing anything useful with them. Smartphones are even worse! Today's parents are too overly impressed with 3yr-old junior pressing buttons and seemingly doing something worthwhile. NOT!

 

I remember I went on a tour at a NASA facility when I was a kid back in the very late 1970's. 1979 or 1980. And one of the engineers in mission control gave me a floppy disk with mission statistics and a couple of then "hi-res" pictures. I was like so proud and gushing all over the place! I went home and built a Faraday cage out of soup cans to protect it.

 

Now, currently, the little Faraday cage has grown up into a full-blown "emulation bunker" about a 65/35 hardware/software mix. With continuing advancements in hardware and storage techniques I'd like to see it go to 50/50.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think that today's purists are a little too narrow minded and drivel in trivial minutiae. Take for example a one avid gamer I still know from the 1970's who has now grown up and runs his own corporate law firm. You can be pretty much assured he owns the firm because he didn't spend the intervening 35 years playing videogames, chasing consoles, or waiting in line at bust buy at 3 am for the latest GTA. Nor did he spend time driving around trashing for old CRT's. And he doesn't spend time sitting on fleabay trying to get a perfect collection going. Time better spent elsewhere.

 

But TODAY he is shown a nicely set-up emulation system. He'll get hit with a nostalgia blast just as hard as a CRT purist does. All with the convenience and real world practicality of emulation. When Combat or Outlaw pop up on the screen it's 1979 all over again! To me, that is mission accomplished!

 

STRONGLY IMHO The little extra realism afforded by CRT display and real console hardware isn't worth his time and effort to spend on maintaining it. And like I said before - emulation doesn't need any maintenance aside from periodic updating or tweaking to enable use on current hardware.

 

Besides I hate what the radiation does to my brain!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What stardust4ever means above with the video is that we're all going to die in a nuclear holocaust, so we won't need emulation. :D

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Future%27s_So_Bright,_I_Gotta_Wear_Shades

I never got the reference to nuclear holocaust either. I just thought he was singing about the bright future he had, like many upper-middle class pricks of the day. Not to say the artist was a prick but a lot of young rich whipper-snappers are.

 

Well, the good news is that original carts with mask ROMs will likely survive the radiation blast, however all those EPROMs in your precious homebrew games and prototypes will likely be wiped clean by the lethal dose of ionizing radiation. And if it's not the gamma radiation nuking the ROMs, the invisible EMP shockwave from the blast will likely destroy whatever working TTL and CMOS logic chips remain inside the consoles. Not that it will matter much. I don't think anyone will be too concerned trying to play video games during the last few hours before they succumb to the radiation poisoning. The games are probably a lot more radiation hardened than we are. :-o

Edited by stardust4ever
  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I like to develop on emulation. I like to run things on both hardware and emulation.

 

Personally, I too believe the FPGA devices will play a big part in the future. I've got a DE2 that is being used to help develop a new micro-controller. So far, it's been very impressive in it's ability to render silicon as an emulation. Fast too. And it's only a hint at what will come in the next 10 years.

 

Running on a well engineered FPGA emulation will differ very little, if at all, from the real deal. And that means all the controllers, etc... will work too, as well as modern displays right along side legacy ones.

 

To be perfectly honest, I'm slowly leaving CRT land. I have a few, but they will likely be the last, unless I build my own specialized one. I might do that. But, modern displays can deliver great experiences now and an FPGA is particularly good at bridging that gap.

 

As for emulating current consoles? I'm not sure that I care. But, there are people coming up through the ranks who will, so I'll bet they get emulated too. IMHO, games and other applications where part of it is located on a server somewhere are going to be increasingly painful.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

STRONGLY IMHO The little extra realism afforded by CRT display and real console hardware isn't worth his time and effort to spend on maintaining it. And like I said before - emulation doesn't need any maintenance aside from periodic updating or tweaking to enable use on current hardware.

I agree with your opinion for the most part, but emulation does have an inherent systemic flaw: Emulators need to be coded, compiled and configured for the target modern machines and their operating systems. In 50 years, perhaps there will still be an OS called "Windows", but it surely won't be anything like the Windows we know today. Same goes for any other current OS, in addition to operating systems that haven't been invented yet. If you think today's emulators will run smoothly on those future machines, think again. Various compatibility issues will pop up, so with each new generation of operating systems, the emulators need to be recoded and recompiled.

 

Right now we've got a small army of bedroom coders who are in their late 30s or 40s, and are motivated by the challenge of replicating the video game machines from their childhood in software form, and they're doing all they can to run the cart/disk dumps and provide a gameplay experience as close as possible to the original hardware. So these are really the golden years of emulation. But what about in 20 to 30 years from now, or later? Who will code emulators of "classic" machines for the future computers? Will the nostalgia factor still be as strong as it is now for the Atari 2600, the NES and other "classic" machines? Surely not...

 

There will come a time, in just a few decades, when these consoles and computers will stop being "classics", and will simply be viewed as "prehistoric" by most people. With nostalgia not being part of the equation at all, there will be some occasional curiosity about these "prehistoric" games, and those who try these games (in museums, or after downloading them from some historical reference site on the internet) may actually enjoy them and want to try more games created during that same era. Looking at it this way, you can see the historical imperative of preserving these old games long after the supporting hardware has perished from old age. We're talking about building a historical library of old games for the very long term.

 

This is why I say that the future of emulation lies in plain technical documentation.

 

There is no doubt in my mind that some people, 100 years from now, will read about the NES, watch old visual records of Super Mario Bros running on an old TV screen, and will want to actually try Super Mario Bros just for kicks. They will track down the most "recent" NES emulator but they won't be able to get it to run properly on their state-of-the-art 100000Mhz computer set up in their bedrooms, for a variety of technical reasons. So one guy among these people of the future will set out to create a new NES emulator that runs on the latest computers, and he will share the fruits of his labours with others who want to try Super Mario Bros and other NES games. Wait a decade or two and the same story will repeat itself with a new iteration of faster family computers, and the ROMs and disk images that have been dumped in the last 20+ years will continue to live on for anyone in the far future who wants to try them.

 

However, in order for this future to come to past, the people who will make new emulators for future computers will need to have access to complete technical documentation about the original hardware. This documentation needs to be written down in every detail, and must survive in one form or another through the ages. Does this documentation exist right now? Of course, but is this documentation structured in a way that can be decyphered and understood by future generations of programmers who want to create new iterations of emulators? I'm sure there's a bit of extra work that can be done in that respect...

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...