Crusading investigative journalism is all very well, but at the end of the day there’s nothing Emulation Zone likes better than puerile schoolboy humour, so your reporter always allows himself a little chuckle when the updating of an emu allows for headlines like this one, seen recently on top emu site Retrogames: “A NEW MESS HAS BEEN RELEASED”. Fnark!

MESS, which is long overdue a proper mention on these pages, stands, rather strainingly, for Multiple Emulator Super System. It’s yet another in the long line of spinoffs from the greatest piece of PC coding of all time, the arcade emulator MAME. Rather than arcade games, however, MESS emulates home console and computer systems. More precisely, it emulates a staggering 152 home console and computer systems, dating all the way back to the Commodore PET of the 1970s and right up to platforms as recent as the GameBoy Color, and covering just about anything that ever happened in home gaming in between.

It’s the only place where ageing emu fans will find emulation of all the strange and obscure formats that they read about in the games magazines of the early 80s, where upwards of 20 formats all struggled for supremacy at the same time, before inevitably being crushed by the juggernauts of the Spectrum and C64. Machines like the PDP-1 (home of Space War, generally considered the first videogame ever), the Sord M5, the Bally Astrocade, the Emerson Arcadia 2001 (a futuristically-titled but primitive console actually dating from 1982), the Quickshot Supervision (a short-lived GameBoy wannabe from the people who made the 1980s’ favourite joysticks), the Memotech MTX512... they’re all here, each one bringing a thrill to the hearts of perhaps as many as seven or eight people.

The best thing about MESS, however, is that it also rescues some obscure but great machines which were previously emulated only by DOS programs, and which had hence been lost to posterity all over again with the advent of stupid incompatible operating systems like Windows XP which simply refuse point-blank to run most old MS-DOS progs - because that would be, y’know, useful in a supposedly backwards-compatible hardware platform like the PC. Historic systems like the Vectrex and the Dragon 32 can now only be run - by most people, anyway - with the help of MESS, and for that alone this enormous, sprawling, ludicrously ambitious program deserves a rather more generous share of the acclaim more regularly piled on its illustrious parent.


The Vectrex, last bastion of sticking bits of coloured plastic over the screen.

Trust us, you don’t want to see the Dragon 32 in its “colour” mode.






THE RAT (Spectrum, 1984, Scorpion Software)

Everyone’s getting terribly excited these days about Republic: The Revolution, what with its subversive message and focus on walking around a city sweet-talking and intimidating other people to get them to do what you want. But of course, there’s nothing new under the sun in the world of videogames, and it’s now almost two decades since the invention of a game that did practically everything Republic does, but without the massively bloated and entirely unnecessary 3D graphics or the absurd system spec. The Rat is, to the best of Emu Zone’s knowledge, the only game ever written about piracy from the pirate’s perspective. (1984 being, of course, a more innocent time when piracy was a harmless playground pastime, rather than the industry-destroying monster it so obviously is now.)

Playing the part of a schoolboy pirate, your goal is to obtain copies of every game in circulation, by both fair means and foul (getting a job to buy games, stealing them from shops, cracking and copying them, or persuading or bullying the game’s cast of characters into swapping with you in order to build your collection). Like Republic, it’s all about resource-management but with a personal twist (for example, you can spend your money on going to a gym so you’ll be better at beating people up to get them to give you stuff), and unlike Republic you don’t need to spend £300 upgrading your PC in order to play it. The Rat - why pay more?



(Left) Limitless possibilities for naughtiness. Well, seven possibilities, anyway.


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