Emulation, game quality, and the value of "intended play"

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Lately I’ve found myself in the likely common position of emulating The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild via Cemu. In truth, I’d thought to revisit the game by playing it on Switch as I had when it released, but despite having put over 300 hours into the game in total around the time of its launch, I just couldn’t get back into it. Having been playing so many PC games in the meanwhile, most with unlocked framerates, the controls of BotW felt less responsive and the framerate more painful than back once upon a starry-eyed launch. I was disappointed when, for 3 days, every time I found myself bored and I sat down to play, I felt the need to turn the game off before I’d even spent half an hour. It was a let-down, sure, but I thought that maybe some games need the novelty of a brand new world and undiscovered mechanics to carry you through the less pleasant aspects of the game, and I was prepared to accept that. On a lark, hoping to find at least some modest engagement in the act of emulation, I tried booting the game up on Cemu in one last gambit for entertainment. Over the course of three days, I was startled to find that I’d somehow put 20 hours into a new file.

Zelda games have always been some of the highest-profile titles on each Nintendo system onto which they’re released. Breath of the Wild was both the Wii U’s swansong as well as one of the most highly praised Zeldas to come out in… good lord, it’s been almost a decade since Skyward Sword. Does that game count as “highly praised”? Well, with Zelda being the uber franchise that it is, it’s no surprise that a Wii U emulator would focus so much on compatibility with BotW, and focus it certainly has. Through the use of community graphics packs, Cemu gives BotW; an extremely comprehensive list of all kinds of odd internal rendering resolutions, the ability to adjust level of detail bias, a toggle for depth of field, enhanced reflections, settings for shadow resolutions (up to 400% base resolutions), and many more aesthetic tweaks. For myself, though, the big cake underneath the delicious icing is the ability to blast that framerate beyond 30fps, beyond 60, even beyond 120, and up to 165fps. I’d have loved a 240fps option, but I have to be frank with myself, my PC would never hit those numbers.

I’m entirely CPU bottlenecked with my RTX 2070 and an i7-4790k, but even on my rig I can maintain 60+ fps @1920x1080 in the open world, and by the sweet sweat of Satan, it both feels and looks like a dream. This is to say nothing of the framerate inside shrines, which is consistently above 120fps, where much less needs to be rendered. At 60fps, actions like sweeping the camera to admire the sprawling landscape, or keeping track of enemy movements to time a parry no longer give me the eye strain it used to on the Switch, and the reduced input latency means that I’m taking less damage as a result of my directions not registering quickly enough. It really is indescribable how it feels to play the game on PC at 120fps as compared to 30, to watch things glide across the screen, and I imagine it’s only something I can show rather than tell. More impressive is how this is all accomplished while also enhancing the quality of the visual assets, as high quality textures can be loaded at extreme distances, the boosted resolution gives everything new clarity, and reflection tweaks give wet or metallic objects a gorgeous, realistic sheen in a sunrise. Combined with the higher resolution, these make the rolling hills of Hyrule look so much more alive, and the act of standing atop a tower becomes more of a marvel than it was on console.

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Even if your PC can't hit framerates of 60fps and a high resolution, so long as your GPU has the VRAM, you can produce a significantly cleaner look via Cemu's ability to force high quality textures to load at a much higher draw distance. For just a single option, I'm surprised it could go on to affect the landscape so drastically. The difference between the Switch and Wii U is certainly visible, but that boost is dwarfed when going to PC.
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Comparison pic provided by user "Abdulrahman" on Resetera.

Interestingly, there are a few unintentional side-effects of the framerate which also end up enhancing the experience in subtle ways, one of which being that the game’s menus don’t exactly know how to deal with the sped up framerate, and as a result they themselves begin running more quickly. This “glitch” actually makes menu management so much less painful by speeding up the act of sorting through items, putting them in your hands for cooking, eating multiples of the same item, and swapping weapons via the d-pad. So many management actions are made less intrusive, and I’m no longer so reticent to swap weapons mid-combat, making what once broke the flow of gameplay now more integrated into it. As a result, I was finding myself less exasperated on average during casual play. It hadn't really occurred to me just how clunky the original game’s menu system was until the problem was accidentally rectified. The game’s input latency is also reduced significantly by the higher framerate and ability to disable v-sync, making techs like bomb impact launches (or “boomy zoomies”, if you prefer the scientific term) much more consistent to perform, though even the most uncomplicated actions like running and jumping are improved by the lowered latency. Granted, not all glitches introduced by the higher framerate are positive, as the physics of some objects tend to break, especially in regards to gravity/buoyancy. Hanging ropes holding lanterns or platforms jiggle continually, items in water behave strangely if thrown from high up by continually bobbing deep into and high out of water, and loosing a chest from dirt using magnesis causes it to rocket much too high into the sky, only falling many seconds later. They don’t impede puzzle-solving, at least as much as I’ve experienced, so I find them more amusing than anything, but it’s still clearly not how objects were intended to interact. It’s a mixed bag, but for me, the benefits outweigh the negatives by many times.

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Now, it’s no secret that companies like Nintendo aren’t exactly fond of the option of emulation being available to the consumer, and understandably so. Competent, accessible console emulation does inherently more easily facilitate software piracy as an alternative to buying games/consoles, even though that very much isn’t the intended effect. Indeed, most high-profile emulators like Cemu specifically and emphatically do not condone the act of piracy, and are more concerned with the act of games preservation. Even still, emulation sits in somewhat of a gray area when it comes to the games industry, not at all illegal (given no copyright is being infringed, code stolen, etc.) but still on the moral/legal fringe. In many circles, emulation is seen as a de-facto less legitimate method of play than official hardware, with some more extreme groups decrying it as nothing but a piracy enabler. That being said, I just can’t deny that what emulation does in service of preservation and accessibility long-term is necessary for games as an artform, despite, though not to minimize, whatever hypothetical damage it might or might not enable to the immediate industry.

What I’ve come to understand more clearly in my time using Cemu, however, is how the act of emulation can actually provide what I consider to be a more “pure” experience for games than even the hardware they were on which they were originally published can provide. In my own case, because of emulation, I was able to engage with a form of Breath of the Wild which I found much more entertaining than it was at launch, and that was solely due to the enhancements provided by said emulation. I’ve seen it repeated often that emulators should do nothing more than provide an experience which endeavors to exactly mimic that of the original hardware, with no exceptions, with anything enabling otherwise being called a detriment to gaming as a whole. There’s a question someone posted in 2013 regarding a mod to potentially increase the framerate of Ocarina of Time from 20fps (NTSC) to 30, or even 60, to which one user replied saying that people who request and utilize emulation-based enhancements are a detriment to "proper" emulation.
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Similarly, in 2019, a small debate regarding how much responsibility an emulator should have with representing the exact state in which a game originally played spawning as a result of the popular SNES emulator, bsnes, allowing for the removal of console slowdown in some games, with many similar arguments made against the feature. From the perspective purely of preservation, I can immediately see why retaining artifacts of the limitations of a console during emulation is extremely important. For example, there currently exists a 60fps mod for Super Mario 64, which is a game I certainly wouldn’t bring myself to play at any other framerate, but while it’s the only viable way for me to personally enjoy the game, I recognize that it’s important that this doesn’t somehow become the only way for people to play it, despite the fact that I regard it as an objective upgrade. Reviews of the game from back in 1996 can be readily dug up online detailing the thoughts people had on the game at the time they were thinking them, but while these contain mostly subjective assessments and takes on the game reflective of the ideals of the gaming community at the time, emulation gives us a unique method of experiencing the game as it existed in the past; a past which could easily be skewed with misinformation.

What if, hypothetically, the 60fps version of SM64 were the only version in circulation? How many decades would it be until the information regarding how the game originally played was lost? Can’t you just picture some edgy 10-year-olds, 50 years from now, saying things like “gosh, games were so much better back in the old days” based off a flawed understanding of the originals due to enhancements in emulation? I mean, if microtransactions become the future then they’d still be right, but I digress. This is something we’ve empirically seen in regards to many things in history, where the negative gets forgotten and the positive gets idealized. For something as quantifiable as the framerate, it’s easy to imagine that that information could be preserved via text alone, but it’s one thing to imagine the game playing at 30fps, and another to understand how it felt. Moreover, what about those aspects less quantifiable? Nobody has, or will ever, document every single position Mario can stand in, or every direction the camera can look in which causes framedrops, or the exact severity of the drops. If emulation doesn’t allow you to preserve those dips in framerate accurately, then in an eventuality where emulation is the only means by which one can access these games (already a truth for a great many games presently), the zeitgeist’s idea of the original experience will have already, if subtly, differed from the reality. These perceptions are important, as they’re frequently drawn upon for contemporary comparisons and discussions, and it affects what we think we understand of the past.

I understand how fragile this situation can be, as I’ve already experienced the phenomenon personally. Having never owned a Super Nintendo as a child, my introduction to the gems of the SNES was via emulation, somewhere around the mid-late 2000s. As I played the seminal classics via the emulators of the time, I found myself not having very much fun at all, and stopped before I even got halfway through any game. I kinda hated the experience, thinking that the games felt extremely clunky and hard to control, which I assumed was because of their age. After all, these games had come out so many years before, and it seemed reasonable to expect some rough patches and growing pains before game developers mastered the minutiae of how games should control. My experience playing an NES emulator made for similar results, and it only solidified this idea for me. What I had yet to understand until much later, as I played a real SNES on a CRT, was that the clunkiness I had just assumed was a product of the games’ ages was actually the input latency brought on by emulation, and had nothing to do with the games at all. In this way, in a microcosm, I had been unintentionally mislead as to the nature of those old games just because of mildly inaccurate emulation. It left an impression of just how easily anyone's perception of the past can be skewed, with no notice or warning. In the near future, there’ll be a generation who will have never played a real N64. Heck, I’m sure there’s already a generation that has no access to a SNES or NES, and whose only experiences of those games have come from emulation, whether official or otherwise. Were it not for Retroarch’s “runahead” feature bringing input latency in line with console hardware (amusingly something which could be called an “enhancement” depending on who you ask), many others would likely have come to the same erroneous conclusions as I did. For those who have only played these retro games via Nintendo’s own, more laggy emulation, their perspectives on these old titles are almost certainly at least somewhat perverted as well, and I imagine they’re likely more disposed to be critical of these older games in discussions than they would be otherwise, just as I was.

It’s definitely important for historical accuracy, then, that once most consumer N64s have ceased to work, we don’t look back upon landmark titles like Super Mario 64 through a 1080p 60fps lens. The critical acclaim that game received upon launch takes on a very different context when you can play the game at its native resolution of 320x240, with a framerate cap of 30fps which frequently dipped into 20fps. I’m not trying to slag the original release of Super Mario 64, mind you, only to point out that just how beloved this game was in its time gives insight into the standards, expectations, and desires of the gaming community as a whole during the late 90s. Without a way to preserve all its jaggies, all its slowdowns, all its original input lag, we lose key information necessary to understand the industry and the consumers at the time. With 1:1 console emulation, or at least as accurate as we can get, we attempt to achieve a unique tool by which we can essentially go back in time to see and feel exactly what caused such a sensation to the best of our abilities, instead of being limited to inference via text descriptions. For perspective, cultural and art historians would kill to have access to a machine which could accurately reproduce the works of Michelangelo, or the plays of Shakespeare, exactly as they were seen in their time, and for good reason. Emulation is that tool for gaming.

That being said, the mere existence of this 60fps SM64 mod alone is not capable of compromising historical preservation, as some would imply, in the same way that a digital edit of Van Gogh’s Starry Night doesn’t change the original. So long as the original experience is maintained/labeled as the original and made readily accessible, then we’ll keep our metaphorical time-machine to see things through the eyes of the consumers of the past. In fact, by completely denying the enhancements that emulators provide, we would strip them of, what is in my strong opinion, one of their most powerful abilities: the means to give us better, more accessible versions of games which we wouldn’t get otherwise.

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Though “improved” is not how many would describe the emulation of these games. A common argument I’ve repeatedly seen against not only the personal implementation of these enhancements, but their existence in general, is that “the games were not intended to be played at higher than 30fps” or “this game was designed around the input lag”. Among others, my biggest issue with these arguments is that they show a critical misunderstanding of the concept of developer intentions. Breath of the Wild was “intended” to be played at 30fps, only insofar as the team made the decision to release it knowing the framerate at which it ran. Yes, the designers deliberately published the game with the understanding that consumers will be playing it at 30fps, but what the argument fails to understand is that this does not mean they would have preferred it to be 30fps, only that it ended up this way. BotW’s designers didn’t implement a 30fps cap because it made the game feel/look the best it could; it was a compromise of hardware with respect to the kind of game they wanted to make. An open world with wide areas full of weather effects, enemies, and many distant objects takes quite a bit of processing, after all, and if the choice was between their entire artistic vision for the gameplay and maintaining 60fps, they naturally prioritized the former. The game has certainly not been made more enjoyable by way of having higher input latency, or by making it more difficult to interpolate and react to objects in motion, or (if you’re like me) giving the player a headache as they try to focus their eyes on 30fps; these were necessities to make it run on the Switch in the form that they wanted. Similarly, the development staff making Ocarina of Time didn’t make the gameplay 20fps purely as a means to facilitate their artistic vision or enhance the player’s experience, it was in order to maintain a relatively high polygon count on screen without the N64 catching fire. Super Mario 64 doesn’t swap out Mario’s default model for a low-poly one when the screen zooms out because the developers thought it looked cool, it was so that they could try their best to maintain the framerate while more and more objects come on screen. These are not elements that serve the game’s or the developers’ intentions, they’re strategic compromises in order to make the best game they can.

This is actually why I see these enhancements, like those I’m using in Breath of the Wild, as a more accurate representation of the experience that the developers would have wanted to provide by circumventing the technical limitations of the hardware. For Breath of the Wild, lowering input latency, making the game run at as high a framerate as your machine can handle, and loading high-quality textures at longer distances serve to remove some of the barriers to immersion that the hardware brought on, making for a game which better achieves the core feelings the developers wanted to evoke. Of course, it’s always important that these enhancements are opt-in, so as not to breed the misunderstanding that the game always ran this way.

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In this way, emulators have become not just a powerful tool for artistic conservation, but also a means to give us better, more accessible versions of the games we currently play. Many games have had elements compromised by the hardware to which they’re beholden, and emulation has evolved with the ability to remove those barriers. Due to console exclusivity, we will almost certainly never get a PC version of Breath of the Wild, but this also means that the game will never be as fun as it could be, or feel as good as it could feel, or look as gorgeous as it might on PC. Experiencing the impact of Cemu’s enhancements has already proven that much to me. I mean, if just a few user enhancements could change the game so much, imagine what an official port with a budget would look like. Emulation can serve as a means to not only show us just how much games can be held back by the concept of artificial exclusivity, but also just how the final quality would have been affected had certain design elements been changed. After all, it’s one thing to guess that a game would have been better if it had less input lag, a higher framerate, a higher resolution, less motion blur, etc., but it’s entirely more useful to see as much empirically, and be able to draw conclusions via observation rather than supposition. Emulation’s enhancements serve to clear up the ambiguity in these kinds of arguments, which are important as a means to give critical feedback and influence how games evolve.

So it's by emulating Zelda on Cemu that I've come to realize how much of a difference emulation can make in gaming. It’s become evident to me, at least, that the conversation should focus less on whether or not emulators should provide enhancements to the games they emulate, and instead on methods by which we can maintain both hardware-accurate emulation and playability enhancements in tandem. Emulation is both the gateway to experiencing the enhanced PC ports of games that we would have never been able to play otherwise, while also a way to preserve the history of gaming in a form which is readily accessible to anyone willing to spend a few minutes. This accessibility is a critical point, mind, as just having original games preserved in a museum somewhere drastically limits the amount of people who will be able to personally educate themselves with it. These two functions are not mutually exclusive, both serve critical roles in today's and the future's gaming cultures, and should both be actively pursued if we want to make the most out of our tools.
 
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PatrickD85

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First of; Very nice item to read, I really enjoyed seeing your take on things!

Emulation should not only be seen for an equivalent ... but in a lot regards as an extension of the life of both consoles and games.

Sadly gaming companies will never look at it like that. And that's ok ... but if they made an effort to make an eco-system where games can really live on. Then you would have astounding gaming libraries.

Im probably going a bit off topic here;

Sure backward compatibility is a thing ... but just look at Nintendo. They killed backward compatibility of numerous times already. By going cart, cd, cart etc.Or even not make Virtual consoles or eshops backward compatibale. I get it ... it's all in favour of the all mighty dollar / yen. But that really stimulates emulation with all its good and bads in the long run.

Well I did an entire rant of this quite a while back; https://www.nintendoreporters.com/en/editorials/general/nintendo-network-id-to-a-higher-level

Quick example; I think I have bought Super Mario Bros, ALTTP, DKC1,2,3 and so on ... multiple times in the past physically, digitally etc. But on Switch ...I have no means to enjoy those past digitals at all. (Sure some or now on Nintendo Switch Online, but that is a bit besides the point).

So yeah emulation ... keep going, keep evolving!
 

Foxi4

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A good article, and an issue that I'm torn on. Emulation certainly allows us to get rid of various artifacts that we had to deal with in the past, but on the flip side, those artifacts also give flavour to the experience that I can't completely dismiss. I like both, but for different reasons. As a collector I will always prefer to run games on original hardware - it has magic and soul in it that cannot be replicated. With that said, I can't deny the convenience and the bells and whistles emulation offers, particularly the increased internal resolution and framerate which enables users to play the same game, just "better". I sit comfortably in the middle, playing my favourite games on whatever means are available at any given time. :P
 

Zense

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Good read. Personally, I only emulate if I know I won't experience any obvious glitches because of it, which is of course subjective because someone more familiar with a game will notice emulation-derived glitches right away. For example, I've always been amazed by how people notice some of those really small sound inconsistencies in official emulation. Maybe it's because they have 1 mill dolars worth of sound equipment plus they've been playing that game since the 80s... I've always wondered if they notice this stuff right away or if they have to make a recording and go through it in very slow motion comparing it side by side with the original hardware. They've got all my respect though for doing this and reporting it.
 

Foxi4

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Good read. Personally, I only emulate if I know I won't experience any obvious glitches because of it, which is of course subjective because someone more familiar with a game will notice emulation-derived glitches right away. For example, I've always been amazed by how people notice some of those really small sound inconsistencies in official emulation. Maybe it's because they have 1 mill dolars worth of sound equipment plus they've been playing that game since the 80s... I've always wondered if they notice this stuff right away or if they have to make a recording and go through it in very slow motion comparing it side by side with the original hardware. They've got all my respect though for doing this and reporting it.
Ah, sound... The one thing I could never pick up on either, unless it was really offensive. Retro games on an old CRT TV sounded like a tin can anyway, the sound accuracy complaints always seemed like nitpicking to me too. :P
 
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cearp

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A while ago when I was playing through Skies of Arcadia again, I decided to play on Dolphin because, I wanted to play the game in 3D (3D projector, 3D tv etc). It was great!
Just like BOTW in Cemu, emulation can add things that are simply not possible when playing on original hardware. So I agree with you in some respects.

But similarly, to be a flexible person you should need to be able to play the original too.
Being 'unable' to play an N64 game because it's not 60fps does show something about character/personality I guess...?
Just like an 'ex-poor person', who is now rich, are they still able to eat ramen noodles and beans? Or can they never touch 'cheap food' again, and only eat at restaurants? There are people on both sides of that spectrum.
I can still play gameboy games, on original hardware, I don't get annoyed or anything like that :)
 
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FAST6191

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I have had this discussion many times over the years from a few different angles. I did also see the amusing related discussion the other month when some people seemed rather upset at netflix for offering high speed playback of videos (with the exception of some music theory videos and one guy with a strong rural Australian accent I don't think I have watched a video at less than 2x in maybe a year or more, the Australian guy being 1.5x. Some say that informational, I have often done it for TV fiction where I can for even longer still).

I suppose step 1 is I have absolutely no regard at all for the intended method of play from the developers or original artists. My time, my screen, my rules. Your artistic vision pales before that -- I will happily contemplate it at times as part of a thought exercise or discussion but in the end it means basically nothing to me, certainly not give it any kind of reverence and consider those that do to be rather uninspired in life. I will not disagree that I am deviating from it, however my time, my screen and my fun to have or lose.
The only problem I have is comparing games (or other things) with others. Can also make reviews harder but if we are allowed to say use these mods, or skip single and only go for multiplayer (or vice versa) or simple stop playing at this point (stop reading, stop watching, these tracks alone in this album...) then meh.

Likewise emulation and piracy via it is down to the person. I don't see it as a grey item at all and would discourage furthering the notion almost as much as the "second hand sales take profits from developers" nonsense.

Playing ROM hacker, particularly in the improvements sector rather than translation, I routinely alter things to my liking at any level I like or fix something I might consider a bug.

In the end I would probably split things a bit.
16 bit and 2d and older stuff I would rather see continue with original hardware. It is an admirable goal for later stuff but I can't play N64 games any more, yet what in many cases represent functional equivalents remade on later consoles I can play happily (once again I still think perfect dark has lessons to teach game devs today, though I would only ever play the 360 XBLA remake of it or ports thereof). Some of the sprite replacement and addition stuff (see in hacker form usually in lua scripts, and in official form in whatever horrors square enix inflict on the world these days and more subtle things we see in GDC talks https://www.gdcvault.com/play/1023470/-It-s-Just-Emulation , and might as well have the follow up https://www.gdcvault.com/play/1025782/It-s-Still-Emulation-Saving ) can be fun but is more limited.
For 3d stuff then the screens above being able to be done almost at the time of the game's release attesting to the abilities of such approaches -- 3d in general being rather amenable to texture fiddling, extra shaders, widescreen and beyond, upscaling, render distance alteration, framerate boosting and more besides. The scope for any particular improvement for the 16 bit and older stuff there being vastly more limited or needing to be hacked in for each and every game. At the same time I don't think I have played an emulator of those older devices for fun without a fairly hard changing graphics and audio filter (if not outright higher resolution audio generation) for years at this point.
We have had cases of emulators that... colour outside the lines going defunct and causing traumas for hacks (some of the older ZSNES builds being a good example, though just as many from the N64 texture replacement world), to say nothing of the shift to console emulation, and later android et al, meaning some people could not bring things along with them (worse was some opted to translate games that way). That I see more as an error of implementation though.

Some have occasionally fired back with "do you think you know better than the one(s) that made it"? I may or may not be able to replace them at their job (3d art, music composition and programming to deadlines is not my thing) but if I have effectively infinite time, freedom to operate without restrictions, a reasonable set of skills, access to any amount of criticism and contemplation (in addition to my own), and the ability to see the end result and tweak accordingly then the smart money is not on them in most cases.
 
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AkiraKurusu

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I just couldn’t get back into it
I couldn't "get into it" at all; it's a boring open-world survival game, with all the hindrances and frustrations and emptiness and repetition of one, with just a thin Legend of Zelda veneer.
Not at all worth anyone's time; go buy Link's Awakening instead, since it's a much better game, and a definite Legend of Zelda game. This can also describe The Wind Waker HD, Twilight Princess (any of the three), A Link Between Worlds and Majora's Mask 3D (just install this restoration pack first).

...Why did this have to be focused so heavily on a mediocre game I would not want my worst enemies to play? Why not a FANTASTIC game, like the aforementioned The Wind Waker HD, Twilight Princess HD, or Pikmin 3?
 
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Kraken_X

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I try to play games in the most enjoyable way for me. For SNES games for example, that means 4k, widescreen, and with an hq4x filter. That isn't at all the way they would play on an actual SNES connected to a modern TV over composite video, but it's how I prefer to play them, and its great that modern emulation allows that. We are even starting to get the point where true widescreen exists for classic games where the emulator can guess at what's beyond what's normally rendered.

Starfox is another interesting case for me. I loved Starfox 64, but could never get into the SNES game because it felt so slow and clunky, even on original hardware. Now that we can play it at 60fps, it's like a completely different game.

I have limited time for gaming so playing "the best possible version of a game" (based on what's individually important to me) is more important than preserving the artist's original intention. Maybe that's an official remake, maybe that's a rom hack, maybe it's just how I have an emulator configured, or maybe that's even on the original unmodified hardware.
 
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osaka35

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I agree. There should always, always be a place made for accuracy, but there should also be room for mods and improvement. We need range, we need flexibility, we need choice on how we play our games. Games should be preserved for what they were at the time they were created. They should also be allowed to be explored, to be pushed to new, weird, or modern heights. There is no need to pick one or the other.
 

gman666

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Honestly, I believe that the whole argument about accuracy and preservation is illogical when you are playing on an emulator. In my opinion, emulators are more so about accessibility than providing a 1:1 experience. Yes, there are emulators that try their best to provide an accurate experience, but the mere act of playing anything on a PC vs the console it was intended for provides an inaccurate experience. But the truth is that finding and collecting decaying/abandoned systems and games can get rather pricey and even impossible in some cases (obscure titles, limited quantity, and extremely expensive). I say that people should stop worrying about whether something is an accurate representation or not and just play the damn game. Seriously, I always see purists that boast about their $100+ Frameisters and FPGA consoles as well as whole rooms full of video games, but they still aren't happy. And when I say that emulators are more about accessibility... I've seen multiple emulation users from South America, Middle East, and parts of Asia that are playing these games because the reality for them is that the hardware is near impossible to acquire on an average wage. While I appreciate that there are those that have a keen eye and can see inaccuracies in emulation (they help in providing a better experience for the rest) people need to stop shaming others that just want to have fun and play how they want. Accurate or Inaccurate just play what YOU prefer.

How's this for inaccuracy?!


 
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AlexMCS

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People who complain about emulation enhancement are as dense as those who complain about PC game mods.
If fact, they should be treated as the very same thing.

Emulation should definitely focus on accuracy first, and improvements should come right along as an option, just like the guy quoted in the opening post typed.
 
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Ev1l0rd

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Hrmmm an interesting article.

For me personally, the actual question on this might be suprising in how far back it dates for me. I first played the original Paper Mario for the Nintendo 64 on an emulator all the way back in like... 2009? At the time I was gaming on a PowerPC Mac, in an era where that architecture was quickly becoming obsoleted. Specifically, I used sixtyforce which at the time had some minor graphical issues (characters would only render as one colored boxes rather than being shaded in dark areas).

This one is a bit in the other direction, but I had send an e-mail at the time asking for the issue to be fixed. The dev took a year to respond but eventually did and I think the problem is now fixed.

The reason I bring this up is because it's actually somewhat a case where emulation downgraded the experience, although not to an unplayable state. One thing that as a result keeps suprising me is how I often see emulation fans woe about the state of tools like zsnes.

I used zsnes back in the day, it was actually very usable for me. Nowadays I see a lot of complaints about how it's inaccurate, but I've always somewhat questioned whether accuracy should really be the altar that gaming preservation should be dedicating itself to. Higan proclaims itself to be the most accurate SNES emulator, but that comes at a far sharper price in technological cost.

It is capable of emulating the chips much better than zsnes could and as a result does suffer from less hacks/a more authentic experience. But the thing is that on my crappy devices (which most consumer-grade devices will go under), Higan would turn my laptop into a CPU heater whereas it would run zsnes without issue.

On a conceptual level, a more accurate emulator that actually emulates the chips is probably going to deliver better results, but comes at a much higher cost in development time and typically isn't viable for systems past the Nintendo 64. On the other hand, an emulator that simply provides translations from the system calls of the game to that the normal hardware can understand is much more viable, but it can result in an awkward patch situation and can result in a less portable emulator. (A really good example of this is PSCX2, which can only run on 64bit hardware normally).

--

On the other hand, there's games where there's a clear improvement. Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door is a really good example. On official hardware, the game already looks gorgeous but is very obviously limited by the lower resolution of the system. Running the game in Dolphin improves things so much. Everything just looks sharper and cleaner.

In a different direction, preserving MP3: Corruption without PrimeHack would be an arduous task. Corruption is a game that used the Wii's IR aiming and motion control capabilities in a lot of ways (there's a reason that for MP1 and MP2, before PrimeHack I always would recommend folks to play the GameCube version instead. While aiming and movement is much more awkward, at least that version mapped well to a controller). It's a case where someone's intentional choice to stray from the intended goal of preserving the game as accurately as possible has actively contributed to keeping a game viable.

I dunno, I have a lot of thoughts on this.
 
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Burlsol

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Personally, I like emulation because it usually offers things like save-states and ability to play on a wider range of devices. This lets me do silly things like play through something like FFVII on my phone 15 minutes at a time during the remainder of my lunch break and not be beholden to finding a save point before my time is up. This lets me poke game memory so that I can shamelessly cheat in games that would otherwise be too annoying to play and maintain an interest in, or experiment with how the game is designed. This lets me play older games that have meaningful rom-hacks that totally change the game experience (Brave New World for FFVI), or change things up in interesting ways (randomizers for Link to the Past).

Yes, there should be some element of replicating the experience of old consoles and games for sake of nostalgia or just to see how far things have come in the last 30 years, but the option of going beyond those limitations should still be there for those who want it.
 

D34DL1N3R

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I couldn't "get into it" at all; it's a boring open-world survival game, with all the hindrances and frustrations and emptiness and repetition of one, with just a thin Legend of Zelda veneer.
Not at all worth anyone's time; go buy Link's Awakening instead, since it's a much better game, and a definite Legend of Zelda game. This can also describe The Wind Waker HD, Twilight Princess (any of the three), A Link Between Worlds and Majora's Mask 3D (just install this restoration pack first).

...Why did this have to be focused so heavily on a mediocre game I would not want my worst enemies to play? Why not a FANTASTIC game, like the aforementioned The Wind Waker HD, Twilight Princess HD, or Pikmin 3?

It's always nice to see someone else who feels BotW is a boring, zzzzzzz-fest, garbage Zelda game.
 

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I too am an "accuracy first" person (especially when original hardware, which usually is intrinsecally 100% accurate, is readily available - as it seems to be in the case of way too many lamers wanting Fr33 G4m3z),
so while "known bad" emulators (original 2004 VBA, Nesticle, ...) are still respectable for having lower requirements or useful features, I still don't agree they should be promoted; similarly, upscaling features and the like have absolutely no business in something that strives for emulating a system*

* a LLE ("true emulator") emulates a system; an HLE runs software for a system, so I don't consider them proper emulators even though certainly using some degree of emulation (despite what WINE's full name means)
 

FAST6191

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but the mere act of playing anything on a PC vs the console it was intended for provides an inaccurate experience

Oh? It is easy to find commonplace scenarios wherein that is the case, however I can't get to it being inherently part of the concept unless we have to count dodgy connections between cart pins and the like (which can technically also be simulated -- cart tilting emulators exist after all) or the smells of decades old fire retardants.

Indeed for the most part I would say everyday emulators since the late DOS era + controller (could have an adapter, otherwise it is functionally no different to a third party controller which were abundant during any era likely to be emulated) would be more than accurate for most purposes and you would need either training or specific games (possibly both) to detect any inaccuracies.
The amount of abysmally calibrated and way past normal overscan CRTs, and later the latency in flat panels, along with potential cable issues until you hit HDMI era + similar woes for audio (my lovely mono speaker on a 14 inch TV vs speakers through an amp on a big boy TV) meaning the idea of a unified experience for those playing games on hardware back in the day is laughable from where I sit, never mind if we also throw PAL vs NTSC into the mix.
 

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In my opinion, emulation should be all about options. Put a toggle in the settings which enables "accurate mode". Emulators should by deafult try to mimic the experience of original hardware, but should give you optins to play the way you want.

I personally prefer playing on emulators. My most played game on the Switch is PPSSPP. Games just look soo much better with upscaling and almost zero load times.

Many console exclusives are unplayable for me on original hardware (hard to get, crap controls). I am mostly a PC gamer and despise controllers and anything that's lower than 60FPS. Emulation allows me to enjoy games which I wouldn't otherwise.

People talk about how emulators enable piracy... Here is my take on the topic of piracy in general:

I pirate. I would buy the game if it came out on PC (and not on a junk launcher). The devs had the potential option to sell me a copy, but they chose not to.​

How exactly is buying used games better than piracy? The devs don't get a cut either way, and playing a pirated version can be a better experience (no disc swap, shorter load times on some consoles).
EDIT: Made the last part more readable
 
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