PCZ ISSUE 139 - MARCH 2004



Just for a little change, this month Emu Zone thought it’d be interesting to take a look at the “legitimate” side of emulation, and particularly the changes that have been brought about in it as a result of the work of the unofficial emu community. Emu fans have for many years been rightly dismissive of the games industry’s attempts to commercialise emulation, citing anorexic retro packs with a tiny handful of ancient games being sold for full price, and recreations which are substantially inferior to that available in the likes of MAME.

Very recently, though, the industry has started to take these criticisms on board, with the release of rather more respectable efforts like Midway Arcade Treasures - which collects together 20 old coin-ops, largely from earlier retro packs but also including previously-unpublished games like Joust 2 (though sadly not the ultra-rare Marble Madness 2, an arcade Holy Grail which isn’t emulated anywhere) - and the impressive Activision Anthology: Remix Edition pack of VCS games which includes various prototypes, alternate versions and oddities among its whopping roster of 75 titles, along with various other bells and whistles.

The latest and biggest commercial retro package is the clunkily-monikered Atari: The 80 Classic Games from the artist formerly known as Infogrames, a curious compilation which gathers together 18 old Atari coin-ops (most of which have already been published four or five times in retro collections), alongside 62 (presumably) titles from the VCS console, which marks the first time as far as Emu Zone knows that any of Atari’s VCS titles have been available in an official retro pack. It’s a somewhat schizophrenic release – the arcade games are beautifully emulated, with a slick front end, enhanced play modes and a variety of options for MAME-style backdrops and screen surrounds which add greatly to the experience.

The VCS titles, on the other hand, have to suffer a bizarre and messy front end which makes getting into the actual game quite a challenging task, and by some kind of staggeringly inexplicable oversight (or more likely contractual wrangle), YOU DON’T GET SPACE INVADERS OR PAC-MAN. (But don’t worry – Math Grand Prix and Basic Programming are present and correct.) There’s also a decent amount of bonus material, in the form of trivia, high-resolution scans of historical memorabilia, and half-an-hour of low-quality interview footage with Nolan Bushnell.

It’s taken the industry a long time, but the pressure of unofficial emulation is finally starting to bring about some decent official releases. Let’s hope it continues.


A rarity: commercial emulation that’s better than MAME.

Sadly, the controls don’t animate.

Any fool could have told the four kings not to build their castles so close together.



OutRun (Spectrum 128/US Gold, 1988)

The late-80s home-computer and console incarnations of Sega’s legendary seaside driving game OutRun are among the most infamous episodes of the games industry’s history. Recipients of what was at the time probably the biggest campaign of hype ever seen for a home game, the ports were uniformly dreadful, and none was more heavily panned by gamers than the Spectrum version. Fraudulently advertised (the impressive-looking “Spectrum screenshots” in the ads were in fact mockups) and cowered before by games mags (most gave it tentatively decent reviews, before being buried in complaints by readers for their cowardice), Probe’s conversion was a scabby affair whose biggest crime was in slowing the game’s speed to a crawl, and then further crippling it with a terrible multiload system which meant you (literally) spent more time rewinding and fast-forwarding your tape deck to find the next stage than you did racing.

“So what’s it doing as Emulation Of The Month, you fat idiot?”, disgruntled Emu Zone viewers might be asking. And the answer is that Speccy OutRun showcases why emulation is so fantastic, because it enables you to put right at a stroke the biggest things that were wrong with the game and enjoy it as it might have been. If you load the 128K TAP-file version of OutRun into top Speccy emu Spectaculator, then set the emulator’s clock speed to “2x real Spectrum”, you suddenly have a version of Speccy OutRun that runs (obviously) twice as fast, and which loads new stages for you automatically and instantly, magically transforming the game from a gruelling-to-endure lame duck into a speedy, addictive challenge. Albeit one where the music sounds a bit funny. One of the greatest things about emulation is that as well as a nostalgia trip, it sometimes offers us a tantalising glimpse of an alternative past, and nowhere are those two factors blended more effectively than this.



(Left) It’s still not much like 249kmh, though.


Emulation Zone is brought to you in association with the International World Of Stuart Foundation.