Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Emulators and ROM Files - A Return to My Video Gaming Roots

According to my father and my uncle, when I was very young, sometime in the years before Preschool, I often played with our family's Atari 2600. Naturally, I have no memories of this, but I do remember seeing a joystick and cartridges for Space Invaders and Centipede lying about long after our system gave up the 8-bit ghost. They were such curious relics from a bygone era, and I wish that I could remember the entertainment they once provided me. Alas, such is the nature of the mind of a very young child.

Though I forget the joy I received from the Atari, I clearly remember my experiences with a game system which surpassed and supplanted the 2600 in almost every way. The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was gifted to my sister and me on a Christmas morning so long ago. The memory of the room in my grandparent's house in which we opened the gift and the joy which welled up within me as I beheld the box with the highlighted system image backed by a magical star field are unforgettable even now, twenty four plus years later. It was one of the greatest days of my life, and considering the years of gaming pleasure which followed opening that gift I can say that such a statement is completely devoid of any hyperbole.

My time with the NES was lengthy and enchanting. I played through the various Mario Brothers games, Metroid, Timelord, Star Wars, Abadox, Mission Impossible, Wolverine, and several other titles. I took in the gameplay patterns, the game design, the look of the characters and their worlds, the catchy game music, and even the occasional comical glitch or two. I also mastered the process of connecting the system to our family television, expediently surpassing my father's knowledge of home entertainment setup. In many ways my time with the NES created a standard by which I've judged every gaming experience since. Even as I progressed through the systems I've owned at one point or another - including the Gameboy, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), the Playstation, the Gameboy Advance, the Xbox, the Playstation 2, the Nintendo DS, the Nintendo 64, and the Xbox 360 (every system I've owned in order of purchase) - I still find myself forming judgement for every experience by comparing them to the pinnacle of my greatest gaming pleasures from the NES.

It's been a long time since I've owned my NES, though. Time passes, life changes, things break, family gets in the way of maintaining a collection (especially if you're poor), and treasured possessions fade away. I've recently entertained the notion of seeking out another NES so that I might revisit my old experiences and discover the ones I was denied due to the circumstances (mostly financial) which prevented the growth of my childhood game library, but it's been difficult to find a system with all the necessary accessories intact and in decent enough shape. Thankfully I had the fortune of attending a BASIC Programming course at my local community college and, through doing so, the opportunity to meet a fellow programmer who was kind enough to gift me with a disc of this thing called an "Emulator" and it's accompanying files known as "ROMs."

I'd like to say that the first time I inserted the NES emulator disc into my PC was as revolutionary or as fantastic as first connecting and playing the NES itself but that's just not true. It was a strange new experience for me since I had, at the time, a very basic knowledge of computer software and keyboard game controls. My initial reaction was one of amusement at the realization of the novelty in the fact that so many games, which would have once filled a wall-sized bookshelf, could now fit conveniently onto a single compact disc. After overcoming the awe and confusion I encountered when I first loaded the disc, I spent hours dabbling with dozens of titles, most of them completely foreign to me. The overall experience was powerfully nostalgic. There I was, a "Nintendo Kid" submerged in the colorful glow of my past, sending familiar sprites, digital extensions of myself, leaping over obstacles, firing pixelated munitions into the guts of so many flashing foes. If felt like I had returned home.

These days I still occasionally return to the emulator. Every once in a while I find that nothing will ease my mind or entertain me more than a romp through the digital worlds of the games from my early years. I fire up one of several emulators for one of several classic game systems. I'm able to revisit my NES heritage, explore the mysterious realms of Sega (a range of games which were alien to me throughout my childhood), dabble with the old Atari games, and test systems which would have never before come to my notice. So, I'm thankful for emulators and the available ROM files out there, posted and maintained by others like me. Those who also dreamed digital dreams and time and time again overcame numerous pixelated challenges. They deserve my greatest thanks for keeping those worlds and dreamways alive and accessible.

Now, if you'll excuse me. I have a date with Satan in the world of Ghosts 'N Goblins. He's not kicking my ass THIS time!

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