For the last few years I’ve posted occasionally about emulation on Microsoft’s hardware and operating systems as both introduced some significant changes to how emulation apps could run and how they could branch out to form factors that were previously unseen in Windows machines. Even in that space of time much was improved that showed that a REALLY portable PC could double as a killer retro gaming device.
But tech changes quickly and the middle of 2015 introduced Microsoft’s latest attempt at creating one operating system to rule them all in Windows 10. After much of the negative feedback from Windows 8, the new OS takes those criticisms and creates an environment that better supports the wide range of configurations possible with a PC. However touchscreen users lost out a little as the shift back from a more touch oriented system to the classic desktop significantly reduced the drive towards full screen (universal) apps.
With the new application models that were possible I was hoping it might create a shift towards more user friendly experiences for emulators that could leverage the new OS. However it hasn’t quite worked out as expected.
Emulators in the Windows Store: no more 😦
After previously thinking that there was plenty of potential for Universal Windows Platform versions of emulators to become popular, Microsoft made it policy earlier this year to not allow such software to be available from the Windows Store.
Most of it seemed to be in response to Nesbox appearing on the Xbox One for a short time and the possible issues with running other platform’s games on Xbox but the reality was that very few of the emulators in the store were getting any long term support from developers. At least for the ones I had owned they were rarely updated past Windows 8.1 which wasn’t a good sign of any long term successes.
I think it is a massive shame we aren’t seeing more development here – being able to have emulators work across both PC and Mobile consistently was massively appealing if you were invested in the ecosystem. Maybe if Microsoft ever take a stab at a “Surface Phone” and get developers excited again we might see it happen but not now. So it falls back to developers making the most of Win32 and building apps that work better across a variety of environments.
Still… Windows can still make things better
Even with the appeal of UWP emulators being lessened/torpedoed I’d like to see Microsoft at least try to introduce some features to the OS that could make developer’s lives a little bit easier.
Though not much value to desktop users, if there was a standardised virtual controller added to their touch/virtual keyboard approximating a 360 controller) it could guarantee that there was a means to provide appropriate inputs regardless of the Windows device the emulator was running on.
Removing the need for app developers to come up with their own solutions might help to simplify development of existing apps and ensure that even Win32 based emulators can be friendly to touchscreen users.
A couple of interesting updates…
I might not have used my PC or Surface as much for emulation lately but I’ve still been keeping an eye on things from time to time and it never ceases to amaze me some of the cool stuff emulation developers continue to come up with.
It was actually the announcement of a new version of Dolphin, the Gamecube and Wii emulator, that initially made me want to revisit this topic. My library of Nintendo titles is fairly limited on both platforms but I do have two NGC games that I am pretty fond of: Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader and Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike. I also have the Wii version of Resident Evil 4 which I still think is a much better game than the sequels that followed.
I don’t have access to a lot of stuff to test it with (if you can’t find stuff online you might need to mod your Wii to rip discs) but that it even works, an in 1080p too, is quite an achievement from my perspective. The developers aren’t resting on their laurels either with fledgling support for the Wii Shop and Virtual Console which is insane yet totally brilliant.
The website for Dolphin can be found here.
It’s makes me feel a little old thinking that MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) is twenty years old now and I was experiencing arcade games through it right back in the beginning. Originally intended to emulate just arcade systems, it would later spawn a home computer and console variant known as MESS (Multiple Emulator Super System) that would eventually be folded back into MAME.
You’d think that there’d be no more machines to emulate in that time but MAME’s developers continue to surprise as the introduction of support for Nintendo’s Game & Watch systems proves. I still have my Mario Bros Game & Watch here so despite no need to actually emulate it for me I think it’s great that these systems are being brought to life this way for others to experience.
Some great work has been done on the user interface to make it more friendly for mouse users which is great to see. Though it leans more towards the functional rather than the spectacle it’s still a significant step up from the old and I really appreciate the improvements.
The latest version of MAME can be found on their website.
Retro gaming is an industry now
It seems now many publishers are keen to leverage their back catalogues through compilations or backward compatibility so there might be less of a need for enthusiast type software like this in the future.
However while there are old and obscure systems out there not getting the love they deserve I’m glad there’s software like MAME still around to show someone still cares.