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Digital Emulation (Games)

Retro Roundup: Old Computers Emulated Right In Your Browser 78

An anonymous reader writes: If you ever wanted to program an Altair, an Apple I, or a COSMAC ELF you may think you either have to buy one (expensive now) or load and configure simulation software. However, there's a slew of browser-based emulators for everything from a PDP-11 to Windows 1.0 out there. Some use Java, but many use Javascript and many perform better on a modern PC then they did in their original. If you want to learn some history or just want to finally play with the computers you saw in the magazines 35 years ago, these are great fun and slightly addictive.
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Retro Roundup: Old Computers Emulated Right In Your Browser

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  • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @12:09PM (#50620363) Homepage

    Oh, come on ... I expected to see an "emulators are for cows" post by now. Someone is slacking off.

    Moo.

  • We keep trying at Zophar's Domain Javascript [zophar.net] but we need more help.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    No mention of JSMESS. The Hackaday editors are getting almost as bad as the Slashdot editors: http://www.archiveteam.org/index.php?title=Javascript_Mess

  • by kheldan ( 1460303 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @12:45PM (#50620589) Journal
    Also, people who apparently either don't have any sense of fun, or perhaps they're all millennials and poo-poo anything older than they are, or maybe both. For cryin' out loud, people, these emulators for (in some cases literally) antique hardware aren't intended for 'serious' use, or development, or anything like that: They're intended to be fun to play with, or maybe educational since most of them are emulating systems that either don't exist anymore or are so rare that you'll likely never even see one in the flesh. Yes, some of us are old enough that we actually owned (or built, as the case may be) some of these systems, but again: If you're complaining about them then I question whether you have any sense of what's fun or not. When some of these computers were available, screwing around with computers was still fun; they're not as much fun in many ways now, because it's all too much serious business, and too much of it is closed-source, proprietary, locks the user out, physically inaccessible, or in some extreme cases you get prosecuted or sued in civil court for getting caught messing with it. In many cases some of the hardware may as well be potted in a solid brick of opaque epoxy, for all the good it'll do you to try to get at the actual hardware. Building a complete computer system from component parts (i.e. requiring soldering)? So impractical now as to be nigh-unto impossible (I could do it, but there's no point anymore). The closest thing we have anymore is you younger guys screwing around with microcontrollers (many of which are more powerful than many of the computers being emulated here, ironically enough), but even then you have to have an entire modern computer just to write the simplest code for them, there's no 'front panel' where you can enter machine code directly, one byte at a time. Don't knock it 'till you try it, guys (and ladies).
    • Actually, there are plenty of rational comments in this thread, but they've all been moderated down to -1.

      Why all non-favourable comments have been greeted with "nuke from orbit" is an interesting question, but it's clear that in this thread, rational discussion and dissenting opinion is not welcome.

      Slashdot seems to be getting more and more like this. I've been here a long time, but I can't really say I know why it's happening. I don't. Maybe the art of nuanced discussion is disappearing from public spa

      • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @01:22PM (#50620825) Homepage Journal

        Well, 90% of them are off-topic, complaining about the wording, or just trolls about Java. I'm not entirely sure what nuanced discussion in the -1 realm you're referring to. I think the nearest I saw to a remotely reasonable modded down comment was a whine about how the poster felt the browser was not the right place for a computer emulator, which... didn't address even the reasons implied in TFS.

        Me, I'm very glad people are building these things. Keeping older platforms alive isn't just nice for nostalgia reasons, it reminds us of the good things we're missing today and stops them from being forgotten.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Me, I'm very glad people are building these things. Keeping older platforms alive isn't just nice for nostalgia reasons, it reminds us of the good things we're missing today and stops them from being forgotten.

          The problem, as I see it, is that by doing it in Javascript, we're introducing a new dependency: the code will only work on a browser produced in 2015.

          That's because Javascript, as implemented in a browser, is itself is a moving target. Go on, just try to browse the modern web in Mozilla 1.0. Or F

          • The problem, as I see it, is that by doing it in Javascript, we're introducing a new dependency: the code will only work on a browser produced in 2015. That's because Javascript, as implemented in a browser, is itself is a moving target. Go on, just try to browse the modern web in Mozilla 1.0. Or Firefox 3.6. You'll find half the Javascript-dependent sites of 2015 simply doesn't work on older browsers.

            Is that strictly relevant? I think the dependency we're really introducing is: the code will only work on a browser produced in 2015 or later. If an emulator was originally built for Firefox 41, five years from now I won't care whether or not it runs in Firefox 1.0 as long as it still runs in Firefox 2020.

            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by Anonymous Coward

              The problem, as I see it, is that by doing it in Javascript, we're introducing a new dependency: the code will only work on a browser produced in 2015. That's because Javascript, as implemented in a browser, is itself is a moving target. Go on, just try to browse the modern web in Mozilla 1.0. Or Firefox 3.6. You'll find half the Javascript-dependent sites of 2015 simply doesn't work on older browsers.

              Is that strictly relevant? I think the dependency we're really introducing is: the code will only work on a

          • by ras ( 84108 ) <russell-slashdot.stuart@id@au> on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @07:19PM (#50623117) Homepage

            The problem, as I see it, is that by doing it in Javascript, we're introducing a new dependency: the code will only work on a browser produced in 2015.

            Well you can rest easy then, because no one is writing this stuff in JavaScript.

            What triggered this change is Emscripten, which is a back end for LLVM that targets ... JavaScript. Actually it targets asm.js, which runs at about 1/2 native speed in Firefox (not so fast in Chrome, because Google thinks the solution to the same problem is NaCl).

            What that means is any compiler that uses LLVM can now compile to asm.js. Which means any program written in Python, Rust, Go (there are a whole pile of languages) can now be compiled to run in the browser. In particular Clang is a C compiler for LLVM. Dosbox is a x86 + MSDOS emulator, written in C. Ergo Dosbox can now be compiled to JavaScript and this run in the browser. Js-dos [js-dos.com] is a site apparently dedicated hosting games that does just that. The game console emulators are also written in C. So they to can and now have been compiled to asm.js. Because modern web browsers support WebGL, OpenGL games that have been open sourced (like Quake3) have also been compiled to JavaScript, and run spookelly well. Which is how we get to the plethora of games mentioned in the article. Pity it didn't mention the technology behind it.

            But why stop a games? Sqlite3 [github.com] has been recompiled for Javascript. It can do in browser SQL queries in about 2ms, and is a damned site nicer to use than wandering through a spiderweb of Javascript objects. But why stick to something sane? You can now do ffmpeg encoding [github.io] in your browser.

      • I've been here longer than it appears I have, just lost access to my original account..

        What you're seeing happen here, is an influx of common, garden-variety trolls, along with some sad-sacks who, for whatever reasons, seem to only be interested in being negative and starting arguments solely for the sake of starting arguments, not because they have any particular viewpoint they want to defend. You're right, though, the overall tone of this place (and many places where discussions can happen on the Intern
    • In many cases some of the hardware may as well be potted in a solid brick of opaque epoxy, for all the good it'll do you to try to get at the actual hardware.

      Actually there are numerous industries (auto being one) that do this very thing with their proprietary electronics.

      • Actually there are numerous industries (auto being one) that do this very thing with their proprietary electronics.

        Heh, where do you think I got the reference from? I've seen things that were like that. I also used to (back in a previous life) repair arcade games; it was not at all uncommon in that industry for them to sand the part numbers off all the ICs on a PCB to deter pirates from copying the design. Would also make it damned near impossible in some cases to repair them.

        • by ArhcAngel ( 247594 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @02:22PM (#50621263)
          What I found most humorous was when I was working for a Delphi remanufacturing shop. GM's Delphi A/C Delco design engineers actually baked dummy circuits into their ECM's. They did nothing but if a component in the circuit went bad the entire unit failed. I think I repaired more dummy circuits than actual working circuits on that ECM.
          • Holy crap, I thought the arcade game industry was paranoid, but that absolutely takes the cake, and as it turns out the cake really is a lie! XD
            • Yeah, they had a joint venture with Suzuki I believe it was where their ECM was being used in some cross branded vehicles and they didn't want Suzuki reverse engineering their circuit. What's funny is back then the whole thing was a few logic gates and some FETs to drive the fuel injectors. Nothing like what goes into them today.
    • by Pseudonymous Powers ( 4097097 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @01:46PM (#50621005)

      Agreed, for the most part. Most of the posters seem to be angry because these emulators are browser-based, because apparently native or app-based emulators for forty-year-old game consoles whose killer app was a purple block that chases a cyan block are for real, legitimate, artistic visionaries, while browser-based versions are for dumb stupid babies.

      This strikes me like a 45-year-old dude whose hobby is modelling 16th-century Spanish sailing ships in balsa-wood setting fire to the basement workshop of a 35-year old dude someone whose hobby is building 16th-century Portuguese sailing ships out of matchsticks after their parents naively set up a play-date for them.

    • What are you talking about? The comments I see aren't poo-pooing emulation, they're poo-pooing *browser-based* emulation. Maybe you've gotten too old and forgotten, but I actually remember the days when applications ran natively on computers, rather than only in browsers with HTML5 and CSS and JavaScript. Native emulators for all these systems *already exist*, and have been around for many years, and they're naturally going to run far faster and have better features than anything that runs on a browser.

      • by 0dugo0 ( 735093 )

        With the help of emscripten native emulators are being ported to the browser, warts, features and all. See eg. JSMESS. For games this is great because there is often a ceiling for the speed you need and you can get it out of any recent hardware. There is _nothing_ easy about getting something to run natively in MESS the first time. If you want to share the CastleVania experience you can embed it in a tweet. How awesome is that!

  • by jpellino ( 202698 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @01:18PM (#50620789)
    If not, I'm shipping the whole thing out to Sun, postage COD.
  • by iCEBaLM ( 34905 )

    Still no MIPS SGI emulators, I want my IRIX damnit!

    • by mvdw ( 613057 )
      Yeah, agreed. I have some old proprietary IRIX software I'd really like to be able to run, and don't want to have to fire up (read: make work) any of the old SGI hardware I have lying around. Would be better if I could just emulate it...
  • One thing that was cool about my TRS-80 Model I (and indeed of most PCs 35 years ago) was it booted straight into a BASIC interpreter. You cold literally start typing BASIC - And many of us did.

    Kids today.

    Now get off my lawn.
    • My first computer was a ZX80 -- fond memories!

      I liked it enough that my hobby Calculator app for Windows is now programmable in BASIC. It turns out that making a BASIC interpreter is pretty simple these days; there's a bunch of parser-generators to make it simple to program up the language, and modern computers are super-fast even when dealing with non-optimized code. In fact, the hard part is that people expect more GUI bits in the code, and getting those to all work took longer than the actual programm

    • by creimer ( 824291 )
      The TRASH-80 was before my time. I got the Commodore VIC-20 and 64 in the early 1980's when I became a teenager.
    • Built-in BASIC = cool, you say? Damn you!

      I've wasted countless hours in my life typing BASIC, only to achieve modest results. If only a more powerful language had been included in those machines... Say Forth, or C, or Lisp, or <insert structured-language-of-choice here>. Had any such language been built into popular machines of the day, science and technology would have advanced so much faster that every citizen on this planet would have had his/her own flying car and faster-than-light spaceship by

    • Re:TRS-80 Basic (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ag0ny ( 59629 ) <<ten.ariednaval> <ta> <ivaj>> on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @08:45PM (#50623575) Homepage

      That's actually how I learnt to code as a child, using MSX-BASIC. I'm now 40 and still using MSX computers (real hardware, though the emulators are useful for development).

      If you're interesting in learning to code for these things (they're Z80-based, like the TRS-80), I'm writing a course about coding with the MSX-C compiler. 26 chapters released so far:

      http://www.lavandeira.net/rele... [lavandeira.net]

  • by tomhath ( 637240 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @01:43PM (#50620989)
    Wow, blast from the past. My first ever computer was an Ohio Scientific "Superboard"; single board computer with a keyboard on the motherboard, no case, power supply, or monitor. Came with 8KB of RAM, only ran Basic (Copyright Microsoft, 1978) and 6502 assembler (entered in hex). You could load and store your programs to cassette tapes at 300 baud. At the time I was programming IBM/370 mainframes at work in FORTRAN IV. Now get off my lawn.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      On the UK version (UK-101) you could mod the UART to use 600 or 1200 baud for the cassette, and another hardware mod let you switch between 1 and 2 MHz clock (which made PacMan very difficult).

      • by Anonymous Coward

        My C1P (US version, with case) was moded to 600 baud cassette, and 2MHz clock; so it wasn't just the UK version that could do this.

  • Nerd sniped (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Damn this article, ended up playing Rogue for almost two hours.

  • All I need to know... Does Windows 1.0 come with Reversi?

  • by LichtSpektren ( 4201985 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @03:00PM (#50621515)
    It keeps printing SYSTEMCTL: NOT FOUND. What's up with that?
    • by pla ( 258480 )
      Just mount the partition from any ol' bootable CD and 'cat' the logs to get more information.

      Oh, wait...

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