Modern technology is all very well, but old-school
entertainment still has its charms. Dave Stevenson takes a step back in time.
One last notable emulator worth mentioning
is ScummVM, which doesn’t simulate a particular computer at all, but is rather
an open-source implementation of the game engine that underpins dozens of 1990s
point-and-click adventure games - including Indiana Jones and the Fate of
Atlantis, Sam and Max Hit the Road, Full Throttle and the classic Secret of
Monkey Island. All you need to run Scumm games is the emulator and the original
data files. You can obtain these by buying an old CD-ROM on eBay - expect to
pay between $17 and $50 - or download free and demo games.
last notable emulator worth mentioning is ScummVM
Although DOSBox and ScummVM can work with
original game discs, most emulators can’t use the original media - after all,
there’s nowhere to plug a game cartridge into a modern PC. To play a game you
therefore need to obtain a soft copy of the program data, called a ROM file.
ROMs are often surprisingly small - only a few megabytes in many cases, but the
question of legality is a thorny one.
Following a change in the law in 2012,
British owners of ebooks, CDs and films are permitted to make digital copies of
their content, as long as they don’t circumvent DRM technology. This means that
if you own a game cartridge, you can legally dump its contents to your PC using
a device such as the Retrode, a USB-based reader for Super Nintendo and Sega
can legally dump its contents to your PC using a device such as the Retrode
This isn’t terribly convenient, however, or
cheap: the Retrode costs $65, and has been produced in limited quantities. A much
easier approach is to download ROM files from online archives, which you can
easily find with Google. Unfortunately, downloading a ROM file from a site such
as this is considered copyright infringement. The same is true for
“abandonware” -software so old that the copyright holder no longer sells or
supports it. While you’re unlikely to get in trouble for nabbing a
long-forgotten game, some titles represent trademarks that are still exploited
today, such as the 25-year-old original Prince of Persia.
A final word of warning: not only is
downloading console ROMs legally problematic, it’s also risky. Not every big
link marked “Download” on these sites links to the file you’re looking for.
Some ROM sites use underhand tricks to get you to visit sponsored sites, and
one ROM site in particular is notorious for hectoring you into using its
bespoke downloader, which then tries to install bogus software on your PC alongside the file you’re actually
original 1981 version of Pac-Man
There is a truly free alternative. The
Internet Archive operates a project called The Old School Emulation Center
(TOSEC), which archives classic games for a number of old systems in the name
of preserving classic code in an accessible format. For those averse to
downloading emulators, there’s even in-browser emulation for several platforms,
allowing you to play, for example, the original 1981 version of Pac-Man as it
was on the Atari 2600.