In the world of computers, an emulator is a piece of hardware that “emulates” (or imitates) another piece of hardware. For example, DOSBox is a popular COLECOVISION ROMs emulator which can emulate the old MS-DOS command line interface which was popular in the 80’s. Since a lot of software written back in the 80’s is incompatible with modern operating systems, running DOSBox can allow a user to run those old applications.
One specific class of emulator is the “console emulator”. These are used to emulate the hardware of a popular video game system. For example, the NES console might be replicated on a PC computer, or on a Nintendo 64. This would allow NES games to be played on either a PC or on a Ninetendo 64. Typically, the hardware which is emulated must be less powerful than the system on which it is emulated. So, it would make little sense to create a Nintendo 64 emulator for the NES, because the NES isn’t powerful enough to run Nintendo 64 games.
Although emulation has been around for many years, the first mainstream breakthrough was the release of Nesticle in 1997. This was a program which allowed NES games to be played on a PC computer. After installing the program, users could play almost any NES game they wished by downloading a freely available ROM from the internet. (In the world of video game emulators, “ROM” is the term for a game file). Many programmers and hackers were impressed by the attractive interface and usability of Nesticle, and they began working on emulators for other game systems.
Soon, emulators for the SNES, like ZSNES and SNES9x, were developed. As time progressed, almost every game system became emulated. The time lag between a console’s release and the time for it to become emulated also began significantly shrinking with each console generation. There are already emulators available for the Wii, Xbox360, and Sony PS3.
It has become increasing popular to emulate old game machines on portable devices. For example, there are NES and SNES emulators for Nintendo’s Game Boy and DS video game machines, and for the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch. These emulators are great for playing classic games on the go.
Of course, there are some legal issues surrounding the subject of emulation. Video game companies generally frown on it, but under United States law, it is legal to emulate a console as long as you originally bought the console, according to the Lewis Galoob Toys, Inc. vs. Nintendo of America, Inc court ruling. It is also legal to obtain and play copies of the games which you own. Many budding programmers also like to create their own games for a system even though the system itself may be defunct and out of use. They can release or sell their game to people who can play it on an emulator..