Your opinion: is emulation better than the real thing?

To emulate or not to emulate – that is the question

With retro gaming becoming big business for the next generation consoles and handhelds, we thought it would be interesting to see what our readers thought of emulation vs real retro gaming on a vintage console. We probably know the outcome of this already, most of our readers are (for want of a better term) a little long in the tooth (like us) and were probably arcade addicts already when the Atari VCS hit the shelves (like us).

For what it’s worth my everyday gaming set up consists of Xbox 360 (for Live action), Sunnyvale VCS (for the woodgrain) and 2 self-modded original Xboxes.

You see, being the old gamer I am, I’m getting too lazy now to keep fetching consoles from my collection and setting them up. That’s where the 2 modded Xboxes come in. Between their upgraded hard drives they contain complete/almost complete ROMsets for nearly every vintage console and computer there is, from VCS to PSX including Arcade emulation. In my opinion there is no better machine to handle retro game emulation, they are dirt cheap, the hardware is stable and they are easy to mod to your liking.

That said, if I weren’t so lazy, I’d still go and fetch the real thing…   you can’t really beat it.

(Edit: I now have the new games room all set up and have 22 consoles all plugged in and ready to go. No more emulation for me if I can help it!)

Oh, and please feel free to leave comments to give reasons for your answer.

Have your say:

Author: Ant Harper

Father, Husband, website developer, avid gamer since the mid-70s and collector of just about anything video game related. 8-Bit microcomputer and Sinclair specialist with a huge Sinclair related collection of his own. Blogs about retro gaming here but occasionally elsewhere when people ask. Bored of Mario and never much liked Zelda. Performs quirkafleegs for cold hard cash. Often found destroying ice crowns in the Lands of Midnight. Remembers: Lunar Lander. Plays: Steel Battalion, Gears of War

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  1. Emulation is better:

    – vast & perfect game libraries
    – save states
    – better graphics
    – choice of controllers
    – saves a lot of space

  2. If you’re playing at home, the real deal everytime.

    But on the go.. there are many advantages to an emulation capable device like a Caanoo. Save states and not having to fiddle with changing carts on a bumpy train being two!

  3. Emulation has its place, but is in no way comparable to the real thing. The sound punches out of original consoles like the SNES and Megadrive EXACTLY as you remember it, whereas with an emulator it is just an adaquate imitation. The graphics also, perfectly proportioned, coloured and exactly as intended, with no antialiasing/etc required. Also, the original controller is required to play the game as designed – any other controller is again, just a poor imitation.

    Having said that, an emulator will save you burning out your machines and if you just want to play the games, save states, ease of access and so on are a great advantage. If you want to play – emulate, if you want to LIVE, pull out the real thing.

  4. I think it’s possible to have near perfect emulation (in so far as our eyes and ears can tell) but we haven’t held the programmers’ feet to the fire in many cases. Considering they aren’t usually getting paid a dime for their work it’s amazing all that’s been done, and it usually bats out the professional offerings in terms of accuracy and features. But I still hope it’ll always be looked at as projects to be improved since eventually the hardware will die out or become to impractical to use. They also are a great convenience if you enjoy playing games across multiple systems. I wish that services like the Virtual Console would expand much further than they have.

  5. Yes, emulation is, as an interesting side-effect, an interesting sort of archiving/preservation of these sometimes ancient games, as more and more consoles and games become prone to failure with the passing and decay of time…
    On a long enough time line, the survival rate for any video game drops to ZERO…WOE unto me and ye…precisely…BUT, you’re DS/PSP/PMP/P.C./Phone is still running great yes..? Then all is not lost…
    Welcome to the future… The future is NOW! 😀

  6. Depending on what system you are trying to emulate on what device. If you have perfect emulation i’d go with that any day. I am amazed at all the extras that have been added to the old consoles I played as a kid. Also now when the retron 5 comes out i will be able to pop my original cart into the console which outputs HD through hdmi applying all the filters emulators normally offer to the roms you download online! I have an ouya and honestly I would go with that over the original hardware any day. I could not possibly hook up all those systems to my tv without a fire hazard! The ouya is tiny and i can pop a usb thumb drive into it with entire romsets! The roms don’t have to be cleaned, they don’t break. Another great thing is save states! The original hardware didn’t have that! Online multiplayer for a game you used to need a friend in the same room to play multiplayer with. The ability to jump into a forum and ask for a second player who could live anywhere in the world!!! Using any controller you want! Mapping controllers how you want them mapped!! PS1 without the jaggies in 1080p! No annoying disc noises! Fast forwarding through boring cut scenes, and annoying loading screens! Custom cheats!!!! Playing old games on the go with no need for any wires or anything but a tablet, phone, dingoo, psp, or whatever you choose! Preserving old games past the time that the physical hardware expires! Wanna use a steering wheel with a game that never worked with one on the original hardware? Sorry not happening. Wanna use a usb steering wheel on that game through an emulator? No problem!! Wanna play duck hunt on an hd tv with the nes. Sorry. Wanna do it on an emulator. No problem!!! You get the idea! Right?

  7. I used to be very much behind the real thing. However, a lack of a dedicated TV, room and shelf space has meant the real thing sits in dust-covered boxes in the loft.
    Enter emulation. ALL the games played from one location. With lovingly organised frontends you can browse, displaying boxart and screenshots and interesting information. With CRT effects if I require. With high resolution options for the 3D games. On my laptop or on the TV. A selection of controllers (I’ve just ordered a Buffalo SNES-alike pad with a good reputation).

    So my collecting has shifted to digital now. Anyone want to buy 2000+ real games?

  8. This isn’t even a matter of opinion.. it’s a simple FACT that playing a game on the original hardware, as intended, is ALWAYS better than emulation. HOWEVER, it’s the extra things that make emulation worthwhile.

    I have tried the latest version of every imaginable emulator on PC, Dingoo, PSP, Vita, Xbox, Wii, Wii U etc, as well as plug and play devices – including Nintenod’s official NES mini) and they all over a solid retro gaming experience.. The main PRO for emulation is, of course, the fact you can have every game at your finger tips.. but buying a Flash card device such as the SNES Everdrive, means you can have every game on original hardware for a small price. Emulations second plus point is the save state.. playing older games now is a time consuming a often frustrating experience, so being able to save.. and to reload after yet another cheap death.. is a godsend!

    Portability is also great – being able to play your SNES / Mega Drive games on a PSP for example.

    But if you are at home, with a proper CRT TV (Playing original hardware on a modern TV is NOT the same and is garbage!) then original stuff wins out every time..

    Here’s my main reason why..

    Take Super Mario Bros 1 and 3 on NES and Super Mario World on SNES.. play them on the original consoles and Mario bounces around like a flea, instantly responding to your button presses – I can zip through the stages bouncing off one block wide platforms with pixel perfect accuracy..

    Trying the same thing on any emulator (especially on Android emulators via a GPD XD or JXD S7800) is NOT the same.. Mario has a tiny tiny delay which makes him feel a bit spongy to control and I always miss jumps as the character runs off the edge of narrow platforms instead of jumping when I pressed the button.. I have tried this on every emulator going.. and the result is always the same.. Even on the NES MINI.. try it for yourself and see..

    For this reason alone Emulation will never be as good as the real deal.. quite why this tiny delay and weird ‘feeling’ in games exists is beyond me… Of course, if you only play RPGs and slow paced games, you will probably never even notice this.. so maybe in that case I would entertain the notion that Emulation is equal or even better than original hardware.. otherwise, not a chance!

  9. It depends, I have a decent collection of game boy games, I like to play those on the real console, DS games also. But for other systems I just go with a raspberry pi on an old CRT I still have around. I still like to collect some PS1 and SNES/SFC games, but I just emulate them, the fast-forward function and save states are really convenient for grinding, skipping load screens… Although input lag can be a problem for some games like Mario World or Super Mario Bros 3, those type of games are still better played on the original hardware.

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