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Education Classic Games (Games) Emulation (Games) Entertainment Games

UK University Making Universal Game Emulator 217

Posted by Soulskill
from the it's-good-to-have-ego-strength dept.
Techradar reports that researchers at the University of Portsmouth in England are working on a project to create a game emulator that will "recognise and play all types of videogames and computer files from the 1970s through to the present day." One of the major goals of the project is to preserve software from early in the computer age. David Anderson of the Humanities Computing Group said, "Early hardware, like games consoles and computers, are already found in museums. But if you can't show visitors what they did, by playing the software on them, it would be much the same as putting musical instruments on display but throwing away all the music. ... Games particularly tend not to be archived because they are seen as disposable, pulp cultural artefacts, but they represent a really important part of our recent cultural history. Games are one of the biggest media formats on the planet and we must preserve them for future generations."
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UK University Making Universal Game Emulator

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  • So basically (Score:5, Insightful)

    by abigsmurf (919188) on Thursday February 12, 2009 @07:30AM (#26825531)

    It's going to be a GUI that just links dozens of different emulators?

    • Re:So basically (Score:5, Insightful)

      by cayenne8 (626475) on Thursday February 12, 2009 @07:38AM (#26825589) Homepage Journal
      So, are they trying to recreate MAME [mamedev.org]?
      • Re:So basically (Score:5, Informative)

        by damaki (997243) on Thursday February 12, 2009 @08:26AM (#26825865)
        It's more like Mame and MESS [mess.org] together.
        • Re:So basically (Score:4, Interesting)

          by stonedcat (80201) <hikaricore [at] gmail.com> on Thursday February 12, 2009 @08:44AM (#26825965) Homepage

          MESS has really crappy support for a lot of games, it was a great idea but quite a let down from my experience.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by blincoln (592401)

            MESS has really crappy support for a lot of games, it was a great idea but quite a let down from my experience.

            What did you run into trouble with?

            I've thrown a bunch of Atari 5200, ColecoVision, Intellivision, and Sega Master System games at it and they all worked great. I haven't tried some of the more obscure consoles though.

            • MESS is okay, but in my experience it's better to go with dedicated programs like Stella 2600, NESticle, CCS64, and so on. Just as a PS1 game runs better on a PS1 versus a PS3, so too do ROMs run best on programs dedicated to one hardware device at a time.

              BTW:

              Anybody figure-out how to emulate N64's Resident Evil 2 yet? So far I've been able to run all games except that one, probably because it uses MPEG2-encoded videos. Whenever I want to play it, I have to dustoff the old console which is too much hassl

    • by Stellian (673475)

      It's gonna be a refrigerator-shaped device containing the actual hardware.

      You will never see, in your lifetime, successful emulation of the latest generation of consoles. The decryption keys, internal architecture and DRM protections are virtually impossible to reverse engineer.

      • Re:So basically (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Antique Geekmeister (740220) on Thursday February 12, 2009 @07:46AM (#26825653)
        Would you care to bet on that? While decryption capability is fascinating, its use for DRM is not its strongest use. The keys are consistently handled quite badly. Witness the failures to protect the keys for DVD's and the very swift cracking of Blu-Ray protection for examples of how quickly such technologies can be cracked.
      • Re:So basically (Score:5, Informative)

        by courseofhumanevents (1168415) on Thursday February 12, 2009 @07:49AM (#26825677)
        Wrong. [dolphin-emu.com] Dolphin is already playing two or three Wii games perfectly.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Gah. I just checked the compatibility list on that site, and their "green" (perfect) and "yellow" game status icons are virtually indistinguishable to me thanks to my (mild!) form of colour-blindness.

          Worse, the site does not even provide the information in any other way: no easy-to-recognise symbols (green checkmarks vs. yellow exclamation marks, say), tooltips for the icons, textual representations - nothing at all.

          About the only way for me to find out what a game's status is is to select "View image" from

          • About the only way for me to find out what a game's status is is to select "View image" from Firefox's context menu and check out the filename in the URL.

            Or... you could just adblock one of them.

        • by tepples (727027)

          The downloads page [dolphin-emu.com] states that you have to register and log in before you can download Dolphin, and the registration page [dolphin-emu.com] states that you have to agree to a non-disclosure agreement [dolphin-emu.com] before you can register. Why is that?

        • by ravyne (858869)
          Eh, its hard to call the Wii "current gen" though -- just because they still sell it hardly makes its technology current, and in fact its hardware is little more than a gamecube that's been overclocked 50% with some fancy controllers thrown in.

          What that spells is a single-core PowerPC G3 with a subset of Altivec running at half-width (2 floats) at around 730Mhz and a GPU which doesn't support programmable shaders, be they geometry, pixel, vertex or otherwise.

          Now, Nintendo and others did some great games
      • Re:So basically (Score:5, Insightful)

        by syntaxglitch (889367) on Thursday February 12, 2009 @07:58AM (#26825737)

        DRM still has the awkward flaw of giving the user both the key and the lock and hoping that they won't figure it out.

        Modern encryption is computationally intractable for solid, mathematical reasons, but that doesn't really apply to smoke and mirrors DRM schemes. The keys and everything else are in there, and a university probably has better access to stuff like high-end hardware analysis tools vs. your average basement-dwelling w4r3z guy.

        • Not if he has a botnet... Possibly made out of those exact computers. O:-)

      • by zappepcs (820751)

        Isn't this the line taken by people that think DRM works? I think those people have been proven rather wrong on nearly every occasion. "virtually impossible" ? Now that's the kind of phrase that helped Sony decide a rootkit was a good thing to put on audio CDs. Awesome.

        Archiving software and hardware is a concern for more than games, and I think it's a very good effort whether for games or old MS Office formats. Some day they are going to get a call from some government needing 2.7345TB of tape archives tra

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by ultranova (717540)

        You will never see, in your lifetime, successful emulation of the latest generation of consoles. The decryption keys, internal architecture and DRM protections are virtually impossible to reverse engineer.

        And yet those consoles already have modchips or other cracks, which kinda implies that someone has managed to reverse engineer said protections.

        No, the real problem is that current generation of PCs simply don't have the horsepower to emulate the latest generation consoles. Moore's law will take care of t

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          And even if console X would turn out to have a truly uncrackable security, given enough time it can be emulated at the level of individual transistors, given the chip blueprints

          Which raises the question, where do you plan to get the netlist for the part, which is what you really need to emulate it? And for that matter, are you getting the PCB layout? No? Okay, so how are you planning to get the design of the multi-level circuit board figured out? Since you're not getting the netlists, what electron microscope are you planning to put the chips in? And what technique do you plan to use to convert the imagery into a netlist?

          They want to be able to emulate current-generation consoles,

          • by blincoln (592401)

            Since you're not getting the netlists, what electron microscope are you planning to put the chips in?

            You don't need an electron microscope to reverse-engineer ICs. Have a look at the interesting photos over at Flylogic [flylogic.net]. Once you know the physical design, even in a worst-case scenario someone could manually inspect the photos to figure out exactly how it worked.

            • by drinkypoo (153816)

              Since their website didn't work even after I enabled javascript for their domain, I'm not sure what flylogic actually does. Perhaps someone can make a wikipedia page explaining them one day. Are they the ones with the microscope, or what? I mean, presumably someone has to pop the head off a chip to get the ball rolling.

        • by Hatta (162192)

          No, the real problem is that current generation of PCs simply don't have the horsepower to emulate the latest generation consoles. Moore's law will take care of that problem in a decade or so.

          I'm not worried about Moore's law, or processor speed. I'm worried about developer time. The more complex these things get, the more code it's going to take to emulate them, and the longer it will take to write these emulators. There are hundreds of people working on Wine, it's not even an emulator, and it has prett

          • You know, there's a point at which developers stive too far - the complexity gets so high that not enough people are willing to do the work. What you end up with is something unusable after years of effort, and no end in sight.

            I recently witnessed this when I decided to try-out ReactOS. I was thinking about developing for it, depending on the state of the project. I loaded up their pre-configured Qemu image, and gave it a look; despite years of development, the OS felt clunky. In Explorer, the display r

      • by russotto (537200)

        The decryption keys, internal architecture and DRM protections are virtually impossible to reverse engineer.

        Yeah, because DRM has always held up to attack in the past.

        And because there's no chance hardware, say, 20 years from now, will have the power to emulate stuff which is state of the art today.

    • Re:So basically (Score:4, Interesting)

      by s13g3 (110658) on Thursday February 12, 2009 @08:54AM (#26826017) Journal

      No, I think the point here is not to just recreate MAME, but to create a legitimate system of emulation that can can be used for valid historic archive purposes and with the proper corporate and social legitimacy perhaps be able to obtain licenses to otherwise copywritten, trademarked and DRM'd material - something not just meant to allow gamers and pirates to play old games and validate seemingly obsolete trademarks, but rather to allow museums and the like to preserve these works, and perhaps commercial ventures to place these systems in arcades, Wally-worlds, malls, etc. and perhaps earn some licensing profit from these sorts of ventures off of software that otherwise only costs them money to enforce trademark on, yet has likely not returned any real profit in a long time.

      • by tepples (727027)

        with the proper corporate and social legitimacy perhaps be able to obtain licenses to otherwise copywritten, trademarked and DRM'd material

        What is "copywritten"? People keep using that word. I do not think it means [wikipedia.org] what you think it means [wikipedia.org].

        perhaps earn some licensing profit from these sorts of ventures off of software that otherwise only costs them money to enforce trademark on, yet has likely not returned any real profit in a long time.

        The profit comes from the fact that the work is out of print and therefore does not compete with the publisher's latest and greatest works. It's the same reason Disney puts movies "back in the vault" after they've been on DVD for six months.

        • by s13g3 (110658)

          I am aware of the differences between copyright and copywriting. My usage, it could be debated, in some cases, could actually apply to the subject at hand, though I perhaps should have instead said "copyrighted": "copywritten" isn't necessarily entirely wrong as the past participle of "copywrite", such as when referring to material that was in created by a copywriter for the purposes of advertising or story or what have you. However, starting a semantics debate on the usage of term which you so very obvious

      • So they are going to polish up the Website and the UI a bit then? And purchase rights to run these games from the game designers if they are still around.

      • Re:So basically (Score:5, Informative)

        by tuffy (10202) on Thursday February 12, 2009 @10:26AM (#26826927) Homepage Journal

        No, I think the point here is not to just recreate MAME, but to create a legitimate system of emulation that can can be used for valid historic archive purposes

        MAME is a system of emulation for valid historic archive purposes. [mamedev.org] Its whole purpose is to preserve classic video games with the greatest accuracy possible. If these guys don't leverage the MAME team's work, they have no chance of success because systems like the CPS-2 or DECO Cassette System will have degraded out of existence while they spend 10 years reinventing the wheel. [mamedev.org]

  • mess, eh? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 12, 2009 @07:34AM (#26825559)

    mess is just that for home systems (consoles and computers), while mame is for the arcade machines... so where are the news except that someone just decided to invent the wheel once again?

    btw mess and mame are excpetionally well documented... http://mess.org/ [mess.org] for those too lazy to google it up

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      mess is just that for home systems (consoles and computers), while mame is for the arcade machines... so where are the news except that someone just decided to invent the wheel once again?

      You've already answered your question right there. The article specifically mentions that they won't focus on certain emulator types. This is FAR more reaching in scope than MESS or MAME are. Also, it's entirely possible that they're getting permission to use MESS and MAME code in their project. The article doesn't go i
      • by F-3582 (996772)
        You know, MESS could easily be expanded to any of these systems, as well, looking at the the way it is structured: Every IC, be it a CPU, a graphics chip, you name it, has its very own emulation core which get linked together by so-called 'drivers' which basically provide additional info like memory map, crystal clock speeds etc. Every system/arcade PCB class has its own driver which avoid much redundancy. MAME and MESS basically create a virtual recreation of the PCB.

        It would be a lot more efficient if
    • MESS sucks, especially their license as it is not a true Open Source license.

  • Early computer music (Score:5, Interesting)

    by troll8901 (1397145) * <troll8901@gmail.com> on Thursday February 12, 2009 @07:36AM (#26825573) Journal

    Sometimes, I'm still blown away by the music in early 1990s LucasArts and Sierra games.

    Monkey Island 1 and 2
    Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis
    Leisure Suit Larry 5 ... and so on.

    They're making music sound good on a Yamaha OPL3 FM chip.

    • by omeomi (675045)
      I don't know why you got downmodded for this... There's a lot of really cool music in early games, especially considering the hardware and software restrictions of early devices. Take the C64 SID chip for instance. Composers had to learn some pretty interesting techniques for making music in those days.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Threni (635302)

        > I don't know why you got downmodded for this... There's a lot of really cool music in early games, especially considering the hardware and software restrictions of early devices. Take the C64 SID
        > chip for instance. Composers had to learn some pretty interesting techniques for making music in those days.

        I think it's because only computer nerds like computer game music. It's generally dreadful (largely until CDs became available for in-game soundtracks and they got proper musicians in). Lets face

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      I understand that.

      put the copy of Red Alert III that I rented in the Xbox360 and had a big smile when the theme music started. Same song as red alert 1.. that rocks!

      too bad EA destroyed the awesome programmers and games at Westwood studios. red alert 3 sucks.

      • by Compholio (770966)
        It's actually a bit different, but it is very reminiscent of the original. If you buy the Premier Edition the soundtrack has the different versions of the theme music from all three games.
    • by Yvan256 (722131)

      If you think the music from those games sound good on an OPL3 you really should get yourself a Roland MT-32, CM-32L or CM-64.

      And if you run those games on an old PC with an ISA slot, you can also the LAPC-1 to your options.

      The soundtracks for the LucasGames and Sierra games of this era were made for these synths.

    • by Samah (729132)

      Sometimes, I'm still blown away by the music in early 1990s LucasArts and Sierra games.
      *snip*
      Leisure Suit Larry 5 ... and so on.

      I'm somewhat worried that you were paying that much attention to the music in LSL. Needed something to amuse you while trying to answer obscure American references for the "parental lockout"? ;)

  • DRM + DirectX (Score:5, Interesting)

    by El_Muerte_TDS (592157) <{elmuerte} {at} {drunksnipers.com}> on Thursday February 12, 2009 @07:36AM (#26825575) Homepage

    Good luck trying to beat the various forms of DRM through an emulator (without using a crack).
    Also DirectX is also a bitch, specially the earlier versions (4-6) have various compatibility issues.

    • Re:DRM + DirectX (Score:4, Interesting)

      by pla (258480) on Thursday February 12, 2009 @09:36AM (#26826395) Journal
      Good luck trying to beat the various forms of DRM through an emulator (without using a crack).

      Which leads us to one nice aspect of emulation - You can pre-crack the DRM of the image, and just don't implement it at all in the emulator.


      Also DirectX is also a bitch, specially the earlier versions (4-6) have various compatibility issues.

      Emulating a known API takes far less work than emulating actual hardware at the per-chip level - Thus the reason it took a decade and numerous speed hacks to get decent SNES emulation, while we had PS1 and N64 emulators fairly stable (if slow) even before the EOL of those consoles.
    • by EvilIdler (21087)

      DirectX 4-6 problematic? There was a certain terror named DirectX 2 which I seem to recall Microsoft dropped real fast. It was barely better than what existed for Win3.x, with new and interesting problems.

  • by Alarindris (1253418) on Thursday February 12, 2009 @07:40AM (#26825595)
    What? You guys are just gonna mash up a bunch of emulators? That's so stupid!!
    I could just download a bunch of different ones doing a bunch of research and do it that way!!
    I hate that you guys are just putting all that together for me, cause I could just do it myself!!

    That's why you can't have nice things assholes, you don't appreciate it.

    Why do people have a problem with this?
    • I don't have a problem with the idea, but they are doomed to failure. They will NEVER be able to get up to present day. We still don't have perfect emulation for N64, for example. Saturn emulation is as I understand actually somewhat working now but still highly sketchy. We're talking about systems from the last generation that are poorly documented, and always will be. And I might point out that there are tons of SNES games that don't work right in ANY emulator. We can't get SNES emulation 100% and they want to come up to the modern day? IMPOSSIBLE. Or at least, so improbable (you'll never get the information you NEED out of the manufacturers) that it might as well be impossible.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Kankraka (936176)
        Zsnes took everything I ever threw at it. Every rom I tried to play -worked-, even the StarFox II beta was fully playable, and really, really fun. Snes9x choked on it, but zsnes came through. The only SNES games I've had trouble with were using an emulator on my DS, and I believe it's largely because the emulator is still under development. Kirby's superstar doesn't work at all, Link to the Past is playable but has sprite layering issues. Aerobiz Supersonic works awesome, and I wish Koei would pump out a mo
    • They're not making a emulator for playing bootleg and pirated games, they're doing it for museums and archives. It's about preserving our cultural heritage for our kids. It's about our hist...

      Wow, I can't even type that with a straight face. Whoever bullshitted their way into a grant for this deserves an award of some sort. Is there an award for bullshit artists, I mean besides political office?

  • by Max Romantschuk (132276) <max@romantschuk.fi> on Thursday February 12, 2009 @08:02AM (#26825753) Homepage

    Accepting games as a cultural artifact is very important. This will in the long run open up a legal way of running abandonware, which is a great thing both for history as well as entertainment.

    When credible, tax-funded institutions start highlighting the legal problems with running and copying old software the law will eventually adapt.

  • This is cute, but just think about the problem of trying to preserve the gameplay of various MMO games, without the servers. I'm not thinking of a real preservation, but of how you might attempt to reconstruct the graphics and the movement and battle models from captured screen video + synchronized keyboard + mouse inputs.

    To be more concrete, say we have as many players as we want playing WoW using a real time KVM-over-IP setup and we record the IP streams. How could we use the information to produce a sing

    • by pla (258480)
      This is cute, but just think about the problem of trying to preserve the gameplay of various MMO games, without the servers

      Reproducing the social aspects of them, no. But the actual gameplay part, that just takes a suitable AI player - And in MMOs, lets face it, "suitable AI" means "shout random boasts of your latest kill/find" and "go to dungeon X, clear it out, teleport home if you get hurt too badly, rinse wash repeat".
  • Preservation (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MobyDisk (75490) on Thursday February 12, 2009 @08:31AM (#26825879) Homepage

    I'm glad someone is taking preservation seriously. These are a part of our history. I wonder what the government will do about copyright, which is the usual counter-argument. Especially now that copyrights last for 6 billion years or so.

    • by horza (87255)

      No reason the government can't just buy a copy of the game and let people experience it in the museums, much as they do with books for libraries. Where there is nobody to pay then assume it's abandonware until an author reclaims it and asks for it to be removed. No retroactive compensation but a fixed small sum that can be paid for future use.

      Phillip.

      • by Oidhche (1244906)

        They might be able to buy a copy of the game, but I'm pretty sure someone's gonna have issues with them allowing people to play it.

        And when it's no longer possible to legally obtain a copy, it gets even more problematic. AFAIK, there's no legal concept of abandonware. The developer might have packed his toys and gone home, but that doesn't mean you can "pirate" his software.

        Which only shows how asinine the law is.

        • by Nursie (632944)

          Not only that, but what happens when the hardware breaks?

          Having an emulator, and the source for said emulator, is an important part of the archive.

      • by MobyDisk (75490)

        Lots of these games can't be bought. That's a big part of why we need preservation.

        Also, that media companies think that if I buy a game, I can't play it on an emulator. And if I buy a movie, I can't watch it on my computer. And if I buy a CD, I can't listen to it on an mp3 player.

    • Tip: they're not taking it seriously, if this is what they're coming up with.

    • by F-3582 (996772)
      There is already a team of highly skilled developers [mamedev.org] being very busy at this exact same task. And there's another team of highly skilled developers [mess.org] being very busy at making all torts of computers work on that platform.
  • Loading... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PhilJC (928205) on Thursday February 12, 2009 @08:32AM (#26825889) Homepage
    If they really want to emulate systems of old are they going to add the loading screens to the tape loading computers?

    The countless hours I lost of life watching the eplieptic fit inducing loading screen of my Spectrum 48k really made you appreciate the game once you did finally start playing (oh and then when you did get them loaded up a speck of dust would land on the power cable or you had the temerity to press a key a little too hard and the whole system would reset)
  • by linebackn (131821) on Thursday February 12, 2009 @09:05AM (#26826113)

    Preserving games is nice and all, but it seems to me to be only part of what should be preserved. I feel it is just as important to be able to look back at old word processors, spreadsheets, desktop shells, disk utilities, programming environments, obscure OSes, and more. They may not be as glamorous as preserving games, but they are just as worthy of preservation.

  • I find it interesting how the only "reasonable" comments about this are responses like "Why do this I could just download a bunch of emulators instead of this!!"... that's the whole point.

    Download 1 emulator that is a singular source to play all the older games. instead of having multiple emulators for multiple game system formats etc... such a pain in the arse.

    Don't get me wrong, I am concerned that they might just screw up a lot of good parts of many emulators out there (save state etc). I think this is a

  • Controllers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EdgeyEdgey (1172665) on Thursday February 12, 2009 @09:13AM (#26826205)
    How are you going to play the games?
    What is pong without the rotary control?
    Imagine (in 50 years time) playing Wii bowling without the wiimote.
    How are you going to get a light gun to work without a screen that does a full refresh.
    etc.
    • How are you going to play the games?
      Imagine (in 50 years time) playing Wii bowling without the wiimote.

      It's been taken care of. You just use a DataMold. I can't talk about it. Well I could --- but then I'd have to kill you.

    • Imagine (in 50 years time) playing Wii bowling without the wiimote.

      You have to use your hands? That's like a baby's toy.

  • by Ambitwistor (1041236) on Thursday February 12, 2009 @10:21AM (#26826847)

    But can it emulate Tennis for Two [wikipedia.org]? (These guys [gamersquarter.com] did it...)

  • by Yvan256 (722131) on Thursday February 12, 2009 @10:47AM (#26827245) Homepage Journal

    If we take for granted that preserving history includes videogames, shouldn't game companies that don't disclose specifications, ROMs, etc. be considered as targets for some kind of anti-history-archiving laws, if such a thing exists?

    And if such a law exists or ever exists, we get in the same "differents countries, different rules" and "how much time to we give them before asking for the specs", etc.

    I bet Tecmo would apply to have a Disney-esque protection on Pac-Man, for example.

    • The AFI is a hybrid government-industry organization charged with identifying and preserving key Hollywood films. It started in the 1960s when the fear was television would decimate Hollywood and original film negatives lost. Each year they choose 25 classic films for special preservation. Since then movie technology and economics has changed considerably. But there is still the chance that even digital films can be lost.
  • From the summary:

    ...it would be much the same as putting musical instruments on display but throwing away all the music

    What an awful metaphor. Unlike old games that may become difficult to acquire, how the hell do you "throw away all the music"? You can still pick up an instrument and play whatever you want on it, existing or original. Also, there are few instruments that "become obsolete" like game systems.

    So no, it wouldn't be "much the same" at all, actually.

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