“The Magic of Dedicated Hardware:” An Emulation Enthusiast’s Rejoinder

May 11, 2013

Note: These opinions are the author’s alone.  Don’t go yelling at Wololo because you don’t agree with me.  That’s all!

On Saturday at EuroGamer, an article was posted that argued that the proper way to enjoy a game is on the hardware it was designed for.  Now, I love EuroGamer.  It’s a great site, and EuroGamer’s Digital Foundry articles are especially neat to a geek like me.  But this article went against everything I stand for as far as games go.  PSOne classics on a Vita or PS3 are not a valid way to enjoy PSOne games?  I shouldn’t play the 3DS version of Ocarina of Time because it isn’t how the developer originally intended the game to be played?  In the next few paragraphs, I will offer a different perspective: one where emulation is not only a valid way to play games, but a good thing for classic gaming overall.

big nes

According to EuroGamer, this girl isn’t actually having fun.  Sorry to deceive you.

The following sums up my entire premise: games are made to be fun.  Forget the “games as art” debate, as it doesn’t affect this subject.  Even “art games” are meant to be fun.  Flower was fun.  Braid was fun.  Shadow of the Colossus was fun.  If a game is not fun, then it has failed at being a game.

Consider my daughter.  When I got a 3DS, I gave her my DS (she was 5 at the time).  She loved Pokemon.  She didn’t know what she was doing, and frequently did things wrong (like trying to pokeball a monster at full health), but she was having fun.  Was she experiencing the game wrongly?  I would argue “no.”  The game existed to be enjoyed, and she was enjoying it, so everyone was happy.  Happy ending, right?

Not according to the EuroGamer blogger.  She wasn’t playing the game “right,” and that is what counts.  Is there a “right” way to play a game?  I would agree that there are “authentic” ways to play a game.  For the authentic PSOne experience, you need a CRT television, some Pearl Jam playing in the background, a PSOne and a good game or three.  For an authentic Vectrex experience, you need, well, a Vectrex.  But is the authentic experience the same as the “right” experience?


The “right” way to play Vectrex?

Let’s consider my situation.  I still have my PSOne and a stack of games, but I don’t have an SDTV anymore.  One of the wonders of HDTVs is that SD looks remarkably bad on them.  I could run at the native system resolution, but that means my game will be in a small box in the middle of the screen.  That sucks!  My TV can stretch the image to fit the screen, but that just makes the picture blurry and ugly.  What am I to do?


FF9, did you always looks so . . . chunky?

Enter emulation.  The emulation scene was originally about preserving classic games (I was there, I’m old—some time I’ll write about the evolution of the scene).  And emulator coders have really gone out of their way to accommodate different experiences.  You want to filter the sprites for higher resolutions?  They’ll do that.  You want to emulate playing on a screen with scanlines?  They’ll do that too.

So when I’m emulating (be it on my PSP, my Vita, my PS3, one of my Nintendo devices, or on my PC), I personally prefer a filtered, sharpened experience, and I can get that.  And someone who wants a more authentic experience can get what he or she wants too.  Win-win, right?


Emulation to the rescue!

Apparently not, according to the blogger at EuroGamer.  Because while I’m having fun playing on my HDTV, I’m not honoring the “authorial intent” of the game.  By his logic, his experience is more “correct” than mine.  Unfortunately for him, the facts do not bear this out.

Consider, for example, Shadow of the Colossus.  It was a great game which took advantage of every last drop of power the PS2 had.  But the PS2 game, the original experience, did not match the “authorial intent.”  There were framerate issues that were fixed in the PS3 HD port.  The game was filled with glitches that were fixed in the HD port.  Did Team Ico really intend this?  Of course not.  That’s why the problems were fixed in the remaster.  What was Team Ico’s “authorial intent?”  For people to play their game and have fun.

This brings us full circle.  Games are made to be fun.  If someone enjoys going for the most “authentic” experience possible, then the game succeeded.  If someone enjoys blowing their classic games up to 1080p with smoothing enabled, then the game succeeded.  If someone enjoys sprite swapping and using their own sprites to play, then the game succeeded.  All of these are valid experiences!  If anyone tries to tell you the “right” way to play a game, I say tell him or her to get lost.  Are you having fun?  Then you’re doing it right.


Eric Estrada says you’re alright!

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