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The legal lowdown on game emulators

June 2, 1998
Web posted at: 10:00 a.m. EDT

by The Weasel

(IDG) -- While visiting my folks recently, I was going through serious gaming withdrawal after about two days. No PC meant no Quake II or Total A or Jedi or TRII. My parents, bless their hearts, suggested I fire up the ol' ColecoVision.

Whoa! Zaxxon. Time Pilot. Venture. Turbo. I had forgotten how much these games rocked. It was a refreshing blast from the past.

I got back home and a buddy of mine said, "Dude, don't you have the emulators?" Well, duh! He booted up his PC and a few minutes later I was up to my ears in classic console and arcade games. Sure, some of them were a tad buggy or lacked sound, but the majority were just as good as I'd remembered and ran very smoothly. Quake, shmake-those little guys in Defender need my help.

If you don't have one of the emulators listed below, you're missing out. The emulators are free. The games are free. But, uhhh, you might not be if you download them.

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Get a ROM, Go to Jail

I'd first heard about emulators a couple years ago in secret communiques from people sure that the FBI (or worse, Nintendo) had them under surveillance.

Their paranoia was justified, to a point. The emulator programs that mimic the hardware of a console or arcade system appear to be legal. They're merely programs smart guys have written. What's apparently not legal are the ROMs, the read-only-memory instructions that were burned on the cartridge's chip and are now downloadable from tons of Web sites. But even that's a gray area: You can legally download them if you already own the cartridge or arcade game. (Uhhh, why yes, Officer, I have the Gorf tabletop game in my garage.)

"The FBI won't come knocking on your door," says Kevin "Fragmaster" Bowen, editor of "And Nintendo hasn't really done too much. They've shut down a few emulator sites and ROM sites. Sega's never done anything."

And Atari and Coleco are out of business although Telegames, which holds the rights to a handful of ColecoVision games, has sent cease-and-desist letters to Web sites telling them to pull games.

Insert Coin

So get thee to a Web browser. Before you know it, you'll be experiencing gaming history. Generally, you download and install the emulator for the system you want (you name it and one exists-from Intellivision to arcade classics). Then you find and download/extract the ROMs into the same directory as the emulator. Double-click on the emulator's .exe, load a ROM, and enjoy. Just make sure you own the console, cartridge, and arcade games of choice.

MAME32 (Multiple Arcade Machine emulator) is a great starting point if you're new to the emulation scene. It's a breeze to use and currently emulates 300 arcade games. Just don't tell anyone The Weasel sent you.

Playing a map, mod, or mission that rocks your world? Tell TheWeasel all about it at

The Weasel is not an actual weasel, but a human being who wears a convincing weasel costume. Or so we've been told.

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