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MHaensel

Emulation versus the real thing

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I'd love to hear other people's perspectives on physical hardware vs. emulation.

I find myself window shopping for retro computers: a TRS-80 Model II, a 68040 or PowerPC Mac, maybe an early XT or AT clone . . . computers I liked/wanted at the time, or would want looking back on it. I've also recreated the experience using emulators.

 

Plus points for emulators:

  • Integrates my retro environment with a computer with full internet access
  • No need to store physical hardware (I don't have a lot of free space)
  • Recreate basically any hardware configuration desired
  • Use any keyboard/monitor/laptop I want (!)

 

But there are things emulation doesn't scratch the nostalgia itch for:

  • Classic MacOS: was engineered to be instantly responsive to mouse movement, I don't think emulators quite capture this
  • Floppy disks: a program was a physical thing you could organize and file
  • The feel and sound of an old computer

 

So I toss it out to the forum: do you prefer emulation, physical hardware, or a mix? Was there something you liked so much you needed the physical machine?

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Posted (edited)

Sigh.

 

This argument gets dragged out every other week. Same points made over and over. I do understand the feel of nostalgia...however there is a much greater concern...

 

At some point, ALL the hardware is going to be dead, so we need to focus on making the emulators as accurate as possible.

 

-Thom

 

Edited by tschak909
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Every method has its best use case.  Old hardware being ever increasingly problematic because of age and price.

 

To keep classic consoles relevant you need accurate emulation, new development tools and new hardware.  So, if I have a choice of where to put my money it's on those.

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9 hours ago, MHaensel said:

Classic MacOS: was engineered to be instantly responsive to mouse movement, I don't think emulators quite capture this

This might be important for action video games.  A lot of the lag comes from the processing in modern TVs and displays.  Not much an emulator can do about that.

 

You can also consider hardware emulation through FPGA; closer to real hardware than software emulation.  You might be familiar with the the Mister FPGA project.

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:)  I have answered and given thoughts on this matter so many times over the past 25 years, I have only this to say: back in 1995 I was banned from an Amiga IRC channel for asking about UAE.  Things change over time.

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20 minutes ago, MHaensel said:

Sorry, I would close the thread if I could...

Not a chance! You've opened up an extremely long, narrow and deep rabbit hole that will drag on for umpteen pages and then some. Besides, Keatah hasn't chimed in yet with his obligatory opinion on the subject. Wait for him, wait for him... 
 

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Just now, save2600 said:

Not a chance! You've opened up an extremely long, narrow and deep rabbit hole that will drag on for umpteen pages and then some. Besides, Keatah hasn't chimed in yet with his obligatory opinion on the subject. Wait for him, wait for him... 
 

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I was gonna say, no need to close the thread, but now that you mention it.... :D

 

 

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He's probably too busy at the moment.

I heard he personally flew his private jet out to his firm's east coast location to assist his people in finding a cure and vaccine for covid-19.

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Emulation's pretty awesome, I wouldn't be able to play some games and systems that I don't have without it.

 

But there are some pretty good reasons to use the old hardware besides nostalgia (which is a fantastic reason in itself) particularly when it comes to the C64, and the Atari 2600.

 

The C64 because of the subtractive analog synth, the SID chip, which cannot be truly emulated and is so fantastic it has been put into commercial instruments for professional musicians.

 

And the Atari 2600, because it can draw 60 full frames per second and is that responsive as well, this is difficult to emulate along with the twin oscillators and their filters which are more primative yet still analog, like the SID. 

 

Here are some examples with an interesting game to play  that illustrates some of these discrepancies that make the game nearly impossible to beat in an emulator but much easier to play on real hardware and with better sound and graphics (scroll up for the comparison vid). 

 

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Unequivocally emulators are transcendental. They permit the dead machine's soul to live on indefinitely. Amid an arrangement of witchbottles and astrolabes the tortured spirit is lifted from the disembodied, rusting, deteriorating shell, and transplanted into a shiny new embodiment. In the process of all this witchcraftery the revived ghost gains new abilities the old carcass never had. Things like reliability, convenience, and versatility. Some would even say they have powers exceeding their progenitors.

 

On 6/17/2020 at 9:41 PM, tschak909 said:

Sigh, This argument gets dragged out every other week. Same points made over and over. I do understand the feel of nostalgia...however there is a much greater concern...

That's right. At first it was about nostalgia. As time passed preservation became just as important if not more so. And It is vital to have discussions like this because there are always going to be newbies trying to make sense of it all.

 

On 6/17/2020 at 9:41 PM, tschak909 said:

At some point, ALL the hardware is going to be dead, so we need to focus on making the emulators as accurate as possible. -Thom

Absolutely correct. It won't be here forever. I maintain a modest collection of a few vintage PCs and some TRS-80 Pocket Computers. It's all sentimental stuff. But it still needs looking after.

 

Things like PCEM, DosBox, MS Virtual PC, VMware, and Virtual Box are important. And in light of rapidly changing hardware and OS'es it's important to be familiar with them. You may use them professionally for running other OS'es or playing vintage 80's and 90's PC games. Think DOS based CGA/EGA/VGA games and even the early 3D games.

 

Some emulators like Stella or MAME have been in development for 20+ years and have a rich heritage of solid coding. They are very accurate thanks to developers and users demanding perfection. It's a good thing that's only getting better.

 

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Posted (edited)

I've stated my spicy opinion on the matter numerous times, but I'll do it again anyway:)

 

Unlike the majority of the users on this forum, I never got to use the original hardware in its heyday (I'd say the average user age is between 35-50 years old whereas I'm 14) so I love having the original hardware so I can experience the same thing the previous generations did. Playing an Atari game on a CRT with the low humming sound filling up the room is a great experience, it's also nice to hear gears and stuff moving while you wait for an FDS game to load.

 

Unfortunately, it gets kind of difficult playing on real hardware for one reason or another, that's when emulation comes in, I can lay down in my bed or sit at my computer with my modded 3DS and play just about any game I want, yes some games don't run properly, yes the sound can be off, but it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make in exchange for convenience.

 

Like other people have said, there's going to be one day (hopefully in the far, far future) where most, if not all classic systems and games will be broken beyond repair and the only way to play them is through emulation. So instead of looking at pros and cons, we should accept this fate and help make emulators as accurate as we possibly can so when these systems stop working we can have 1:1 replicas (this is coming from someone who favors original hardware over emulation).

 

Overall, I'd say the pros to emulation are convenience, good preservation, and the ability to add stuff that's absent from OG hardware (e.g. Online play). The cons are not always accurate, some emulators are poor quality, and the games lose some of their "soul" through emulation.

 

Okay, now that I've written an essay, I'm going to bed.

Edited by Magmavision2000
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Posted (edited)
12 hours ago, MHaensel said:

Sorry, I would close the thread if I could. Thank your for your perspectives.

Do not be sorry one iota!

All perspectives on how we played games back in the day and how we will play games is important and valuable. It's culture. Maybe not high-society. But culture nonetheless. And everyone has right to an opinion on the topic.

 

On 6/17/2020 at 9:38 PM, MHaensel said:

I'd love to hear other people's perspectives on physical hardware vs. emulation.

My perspective is simple. When physical hardware is in top-shape it's a good reference. It's the real deal. Can't disagree there.

 

Emulation will provide you with higher levels of consistency. It's been over 5 or 10 years since I had to like adjust colors on Emulator Stella.

 

Emulation is very convenient. There are people that have 50,000+ roms and counting. All available instantly without muss & fuss. All in one place without sprawl or ugliness of cheap display shelving. No Clutter!

 

Emulation is reliable. Through the roof reliable! The virtual consoles of Emulator Altirra or Emulator Stella always work once you get them set-up. And once it works it will always work.

 

Emulation is versatile. There are literally hundreds of thousands of hardware/configurations a given handful of emulators will run on. From old vintage Pentium II machines through the latest i9s and Ryzens. Not to mention portable tablets and phones and set top boxes. But for the premier experience you will want at least modern-day i7.

 

Quote

I find myself window shopping for retro computers: a TRS-80 Model II, a 68040 or PowerPC Mac, maybe an early XT or AT clone . . . computers I liked/wanted at the time, or would want looking back on it. I've also recreated the experience using emulators.

 

Plus points for emulators:

  • Integrates my retro environment with a computer with full internet access
  • No need to store physical hardware (I don't have a lot of free space)
  • Recreate basically any hardware configuration desired
  • Use any keyboard/monitor/laptop I want (!)

All very good and valid real-world points. Powerful points.

 

Integrating retro + internet can be a great thing. I've gotten so many tips, pointers, and general know-how from just visiting this forum.

 

A lot of physical hardware can become a burden no matter how nicely arranged and nicely stored - short of hiring a curator or caretaker.

 

Emulator Altirra and Emulator VICE are good examples of the third point. I can play Atari 400 StarRaiders one moment then Gyruss on the C64 instantly the next. Reliably, quickly, and elegantly. If I want more memory, more storage, a turbo-speed CPU, a variety of phospohor styles and flavors, or stereo sound, I can have them! If I want a green or amber or b/w monitor I can have that too. Playing Star Raiders in b/w is very late 1950'ish - however unlikely that to have actually happened!

 

And of course, you get to use any controllers or other hardware that suits your fancy. Absolutely. The right controller can prevent RSI especially with a tunable rapid-fire like MAME has now.

 

Quote

But there are things emulation doesn't scratch the nostalgia itch for:

  • Classic MacOS: was engineered to be instantly responsive to mouse movement, I don't think emulators quite capture this
  • Floppy disks: a program was a physical thing you could organize and file
  • The feel and sound of an old computer

Early Apple hardware can be some of the most elegant and simplistic computer designs ever. Of any computer that can do useful things that is. On some aspects of (Apple hardware) that's right - emulation isn't quite there yet. I believe it will be in time.

 

As far as floppy disks go. Good riddance. You can create your own virtual filing system on a blank hard disk or two. Most USB HDDs are about the size of an Atari VCS cartridge and can be made to look nice on a shelf.

 

But the beauty is inside. How you build your folder tree. How you arrange things. What you collect. Do it long enough and it becomes a map of your mind. It is your thing. Your gig. A very personal experience.

 

For the most sentimental and nostalgic of us, only real hardware will do. It's why I maintain a small modest collection of real hardware as mentioned earlier. My original stuff I had in school back in the day. And a few later things. It's perfectly fine to have some grounding in and connections to real physical hardware.

 

Quote

So I toss it out to the forum: do you prefer emulation, physical hardware, or a mix? Was there something you liked so much you needed the physical machine?

I strongly prefer emulation. It's become so good, so versatile, reliable, convenient, I wouldn't have it any other way. Emulation allows me to have the All-In-One imaginary UltraVision consoles I dreamed about as a kid. But like I say for about the millionth time I keep a few sentimental machines around. Anything else is e-waste.

 

And here is another argument to ponder. Some may say that emulation is a pain in the ass to set up. Consider the time spent doing it and doing right - it's the same thing as acquiring and maintaining real hardware. Playing with configuration files is the emulator equivalent of adjusting analog controls on a CRT, cleaning contacts, testing power supplies, modding things, running out to goodwill and garage sales, scanning through ebay, organizing and expanding shelving.. And getting an emulator update is similar to getting a new revision of hardware - only less annoying. It's a hobby and time has to be spent somewhere!

 

 

 

Edited by Keatah
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On 6/17/2020 at 10:38 PM, MHaensel said:

But there are things emulation doesn't scratch the nostalgia itch for:

  • Classic MacOS: was engineered to be instantly responsive to mouse movement, I don't think emulators quite capture this
  • Floppy disks: a program was a physical thing you could organize and file
  • The feel and sound of an old computer

 

So I toss it out to the forum: do you prefer emulation, physical hardware, or a mix? Was there something you liked so much you needed the physical machine?

Can't speak to the first one as I've never used the original macs

 

But floppy disks suck.  I've had too many fail on me, they are slow and have limited space.  Floppy organization meant having cases full of them.  So I don't find myself getting nostalgic for that medium.   Besides virtually all computer emulators let you use virtual floppies.  Some emulators will allow you to use actual floppies if you have the hardware

 

Feel and Sound-  I've seen some emulators try to capture this.   I think FS-UAE has a full set of floppy disk sounds it will play as it loads disks.   Nice touch, but I'd rather have the emulator load disks as fast as possible.   Some have really good CRT emulation that will even emulate CRT imperfections like color bleeds and ghosting

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For me the fun in vintage computing is playing with old hardware. I'm not a purist, and quite happily upgrade my machines and use modern peripherals.  I keep some floppies and tapes around for nostalgia's sake, but run everything off of a more modern storage system. I rarely use emulators as I find using old software through emulation to be boring. So what if a powerful modern machine can run ancient primitive programs? No fun in that for me. The systems I use in emulation are ones I don't own and am unlikely to. 

 

 

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On 6/18/2020 at 7:20 AM, mr_me said:

This might be important for action video games.  A lot of the lag comes from the processing in modern TVs and displays.  Not much an emulator can do about that.

Some televisions have a game-mode where excessive processing is turned off. Some have those features so-well-renamed to something else you'll never figure it out.

 

On 6/18/2020 at 7:20 AM, mr_me said:

You can also consider hardware emulation through FPGA; closer to real hardware than software emulation.  You might be familiar with the the Mister FPGA project.

FPGA is closer to hardware in that its hardware. Little else. In fact IIRC some developers claim FPGAs impose a set of their own timing limitations right off the bat. Whereas software - being infinitely flexible - can work around that.

 

Software can use multiple CPU cores. A custom chip to each. If so desired. Though current software emulators tend to use one core only. Eventually that's going to change. And the first chink in the armor is like with SDL. CRT effects are offloaded to the graphics card and the OS itself.

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Posted (edited)

Having heard  this argument since first discovering an emulator in 1995... let me condense it down:

 

Over the long haul, technology has made emulation better and OEM hardware worse.  That's not an endorsement of one over the other, it's simply pointing out that the trend is toward emulation, for MANY reasons.

Edited by godslabrat

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On 6/17/2020 at 9:38 PM, MHaensel said:

I'd love to hear other people's perspectives on physical hardware vs. emulation.

I find myself window shopping for retro computers: a TRS-80 Model II, a 68040 or PowerPC Mac, maybe an early XT or AT clone . . . computers I liked/wanted at the time, or would want looking back on it. I've also recreated the experience using emulators.

 

Plus points for emulators:

  • Integrates my retro environment with a computer with full internet access
  • No need to store physical hardware (I don't have a lot of free space)
  • Recreate basically any hardware configuration desired
  • Use any keyboard/monitor/laptop I want (!)

 

But there are things emulation doesn't scratch the nostalgia itch for:

  • Classic MacOS: was engineered to be instantly responsive to mouse movement, I don't think emulators quite capture this
  • Floppy disks: a program was a physical thing you could organize and file
  • The feel and sound of an old computer

 

So I toss it out to the forum: do you prefer emulation, physical hardware, or a mix? Was there something you liked so much you needed the physical machine?

 

Emulation:

 

This can be a lot easier to set up and run 

Also, emulation's color accuracy is not 100%.

No need for cables everywhere.

No need to hassle with floppy drives with bad sectors, slow speed, and everything else

It's easy to make and fiddle with byte hacks, if one cares to know machine language coding

 

 

The real deal:

 

The tangibility and sound and feel of the original experience. The authenticity.

Floppy drives were cool at the time and made a marvelous noise... so did the Atari computer when it loaded from disk.

Cartridges just work

Controllers just work:  Finding a controller to run in an emulator and having response time that's 100% on par is a chore. I own "Fatal Run" for example but the keyboard, while serviceable, is nowhere near an actual joystick - of which getting on that doesn't sway in one direction or falter with a keymapping, and so on... yuck. Using the arrow keys works but isn't as flexible either

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