Today's video games boast near photorealistic graphics, enveloping surround sound and the ability to play against anyone, anywhere in the world.
So why do many still prefer the classics, such as Centipede from the arcades, Lode Runner on the Commodore 64 or Sonic the Hedgehog from the Sega Genesis?
"Old school" gaming not only strikes a nostalgic cord for those old enough to remember the words to 1982’s "Pac-Man Fever," but this was a time where games were easy to control (the Atari 2600 joystick only had one button, if you recall) and you needn't have to download a 200-page PDF manual to figure out what to do.
There is a way to relive the golden age of video games – aside from scouring through garage sales in search of an original Pong console – and it’s a downloadable emulator called MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator).
By definition, an "emulator" is any program that allows a computer to run software designed for a different machine, altogether. For gamers with a yen for yesteryear, this means almost any game, from any platform, can be played on today’s PCs (and other platforms), be it an archaic computer (such as Commodore 64 or Apple II), a video game console (including Intellivision or Colecovision), or an authentic coin-operated arcade machine.
In fact, the software doesn't even know that it is not being played on its target platform.
So, a gamer who downloads, say, Tron, for an emulator isn't seeing a clever remake of the once-popular Bally Midway arcade game – this is the exact same Tron as you remember it from the smoky bar in your neighborhood. Now imagine having thousands of these authentic arcade games on your laptop.
Best of all, MAME is free, available for Windows machines here.
"Wait a sec -- is this legal?", you ask. Well, that’s a tricky question. Emulators by themselves are 100 percent legal to use, but the games themselves (referred to as ROM images) are what might cause the copyright violations (MAME users often find and share these games with others via BitTorrent sites and Usenet).
But so long as the emulator isn't replicating a commercially-available console, such as the Xbox 360 or Nintendo DS, most intellectual property owners (such as Atari) don’t usually go after the makers of these emulators or the distributors of ROM images.
Be sure, though, to read the legal disclaimer at the official MAME site or download the dozen approved games, but be aware they’re usually newly-made adventures instead of classic ones.
MAME developers claim this project is about education and preservation of older games rather than promoting piracy.
Yahoo! Digital Crave users, do you use MAME or another emulator? Do you believe there’s no harm done if the game is 30 years old or do game publishers have a right to protect their copyrights?