. .
. The History of Emulation
and its relationship to computer and videogame history
Updated 10/24/99
. . . .
. Author: The Scribe


I want to thank the many, many people who have made this document possible - providing source material, making suggestions, offering corrections, etc.   I wish I had room to give credit where credit is due, but you know who you are.  Thanks again ... thank you very much.

This document is very much a work in progress.  It is still far from complete on the emulation side of things and probably too long by half on both background data and concurrent events, but this is the way that you have demanded it to read.  My apologies for any errors that may still remain.

As always, your comments are welcome.

Abbreviation key
  • (C) - Combination or "combo" emulator
    • An emulator that has both hardware and software components.  The software component is usually the actual emulator, while the hardware component provides key parts of the original system required for popular emulation.  This offers the most flexibility in terms of design, but is generally frowned upon by emulation purists as not offering "true" emulation.  Combo emulators are by far the most prevalent form of the technology, including many examples not documented here.
  • (F) - Firmware emulator
    • An emulator that is contained entirely within hardware.  This usually involves one or more emulators embedded in ROM that reconfigure the system into behaving like another completely different system.  By far the fastest form of the technology, it is also the most specialized and requires a high degree of systems knowledge in order to implement properly.  Firmware emulators are usually limited to situations where back-compatability with an older system is a major concern.
  • (S) - Software emulator
    • An emulator that is contained entirely within software.  In other words, the only hardware components involved are those of the host system, which the emulator then reconfigures as needed for its own purposes.  Purists consider this to be "true" emulation in that no part of the original system is required.  It is also the slowest form of the technology for the same reason.  The chief advantages to a "true" emulator are twofold - it can be easily changed or updated as need requires, and it can be easily ported across different platforms.

Salad Days:  The Golden Age of Emulation (1989 - 1998)

Background data

The years 1989 -1998 will be forever known to the emuscene as the Golden Age of Emulation.  This is due to many events that happened during this decade:  the legitimization of emulation in the A-Max dispute, the heyday of the Amiga (the best personal computer of its day and the preferred choice for power users, emuhackers, and software pirates alike), the rise of videogame emulation (the most popular and most notorious subgenre of the field), and the rise of the Internet (which would take the emuscene to new heights).

The Golden Age of Emulation is held to have officially began in January of 1989.  This was the year that A-Max was finally made available to the public - both as a BIOS-hacked bootleg (January) and as a legitimate retail product (June).  It is held to have ended on 22 March 1998, the date that the IDSA began its crackdown on unauthorized Internet "ROM" sites in what the emuscene commonly refers to as "the great sweep."

In retrospect, it seems ironic that this widely hailed period in emulation history both began and ended on a note of software piracy. 

  • By January 1989, sales of the Amiga have exceeded 1 million units.  The actual 1 millionth Amiga ships in March.
  • A-Max becomes the first Amiga-based emulator to work with a BIOS dump when a team of hackers figure out a way to dump the required Mac BIOS code from the actual ROMs and make it work with Readysoft's emulator.  The hacked A-Max (S) spreads like wildfire among Amiga software pirates as the year progresses, along with a surprisingly large and varied assortment of bootleg Mac software "for demonstration purposes only" to prove its operability (sound familiar, UltraHLE users?).  Eventually, a public domain program is released to allow owners of legitimate copies to dump the Mac BIOS ROM inside their A-Max adapters under the excuse that "it speeds up the program."
  • In March, a federal district judge rules that Microsoft Windows is not covered under a 1985 software development agreement between Apple and Microsoft.  This allows the Apple v. Microsoft dispute to proceed to trial.
  • Intel releases the first of its 80486 CPUs (the 25 MHz i486).  AMD promptly sets about cloning it, as it is little more than a 386 CPU and 387 FPU integrated on the same mask with 8K of L1 cache (16 K in later, faster versions)  This is the first processor for IBM PC compatibles that is powerful enough to make videogame emulation a practical reality.
  • In July, Commodore discontinues production of the C128 and C128D in favor of the Amiga line.  The C64 remains in limited production due to popular demand.
  • Creative Labs introduces the SoundBlaster 8-bit sound card for IBM PC compatibles.  Although it is not the first such sound card, it proves so popular that SoundBlaster compatible becomes the standard by which all other PC sound cards are judged.
  • The first self-contained, battery-powered, fully functional portable computer (i.e. "notebook") arrives in the form of Compaq's LTE line.
  • Readysoft begins shipping A-Max in June to rave reviews.
  • The expected Apple v. Readysoft lawsuit over A-Max never materializes.  Instead, Apple tries to dry up all third-party sources for Mac BIOS chipsets, but is thwarted by its own profit-hungry vendors and suppliers. The A-Max affair, i.e. the A-Max precedent, legitimizes unauthorized third-party emulation of a proprietary vendor system.
  • Two 16-bit videogame consoles are released in North American to challenge the superiority of the NES - the Turbo GrafX 16 (aka NEC PC Engine) and the Sega Genesis (aka Sega MegaDrive).  Both are well loved by their users, but it is the Genesis that proves the more popular.  It eventually dethrones the NES as the console preferred by home users, thus making Sega the third major player to enter the North American home videogame console market.
  • The Atari Lynx (US$180) becomes the industry's first true handheld videogame console.  It is the first to include its own screen (an earlier Atari product did not) and the first with a color screen.  It is not enough to save the financially ailing Atari.
  • Nintendo releases the first incarnation of the Game Boy (US$149), the longest-lived handheld videogame console to date.
  • A popular practice among emulator programmers at this time is the FPU emulator, designed for systems equipped with 32-bit processors.  Real FPUs are still out of the reach (pricewise) for many users, hence the rise of FPU emulators.  The most popular one among cash-strapped AutoCAD Release 10 users is 87EM (S), a shareware 8087 FPU emulator for IBM PC compatibles by Ron Kimball.
  • The first NeXT computer is shipped, along with the NeXTStep 1.0 OS.
  • Commodore announces the Amiga 2500 in November.  It is the first Amiga with a Motorola 680x0 class processor (25 MHz MC68030) and is quickly accepted by the Amiga community.  It will serve as the basis for the next generation of Amiga systems.
  • As part of the long Apple v. Microsoft struggle, Xerox files a US$150 million copyright lawsuit against Apple in December, claiming that the MacOS infringes on proprietary elements of its Xerox Star GUI.
  • The first new "true" IBM PC emulator in over three years is released in the form of IBeM (S), a shareware program that is faster and far more flexible (adding hard drive support!) than the venerable Transformer.  It quickly supplants its creaky predecessor as the "true" IBM emulator of choice among cash-strapped Amiga users.

  • (NOTEIBeM was later purchased by Consultron and incorporated into its CrossDOS package under the name CrossPC)
  • The November Comdex sees the introduction of Spectre GCR (C) from Gadgets-by-Small, the first full-featured (native disk support) Mac emulator for Atari ST systems.
  • Also at Comdex, Avant-Garde Software announces the impending release of PC-Ditto II.  The product never ships for reasons that remain unknown.
  • This year is forever regarded as one of dark infamy by many computer users of the day due to Operation Sun Devil, a nationwide "sting" against all forms of perceived illegal computer-related activity.  It  sweeps across the entire United States over the course of the year.  Sun Devil is sponsored by the U.S. Secret Service, working in conjunction with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and local law enforcement officials.  Their first target is "The Well," a popular BBS that gained government attention due to the appearance of several hackers and phreakers (slang for "phone hackers") bragging about their exploits.  Like any other government operation, it also accidentally shuts down several perfectly legitimate operations, such as Steve Jackson Games (who was only guilty of writing an old-style RPG based on the computer industry).   Although not all of the arrests and seizures of evidence end in convictions, it is enough to dampen the activities of the so-called "computer underground" for some time.  Sun Devil is the source for the current "bad blood" between the computer sub-culture and law enforcement officials - not to mention the ire poured by users upon anyone who even dare to accuse them of doing something illegal with their machines.
  • Dismal sales of the NeXT "cube" cause the company to redesign the machine.  Backers of Steve Jobs and the NeXT begin to sense impending failure.
  • As part of the continuing Apple v. Microsoft saga, U.S. Federal District Court Judge Vaughn Walker throws out five of  Xerox's six claims in its lawsuit against Apple over the MacOS.
  • Microsoft Windows 3.0 the first "robust" version, ships in May.  Around the same time, 
  • Duo Computers releases the Duo FC, incorporating a PC-AT clone and an NES within the same unit.
  • Commodore releases the Amiga 3000 (US$4100, including monitor).  It is a more compact version of the A2500 sporting a new case design, and is the first Amiga to use both the Advanced Graphics Array (AGA) chipset and the Zorro III bus.  This will serve as the basis for the third and final generation of the legendary computer system's original hardware.
  • Commodore releases the 64GS (C64 Games System) in Europe - the very last version of the venerable Commodore 64.
  • Vortex Systems of Germany releases ATOnce 286 (F) for Amiga systems (US$200), the first commercially vended third-party IBM PC emulator for that platform.
  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) begins an investigation against perceived monopolistic practices on the part of Microsoft. 
  • In Japan, Nintendo releases the successor to the Famicom - the 16-bit Super Famicom.  It is derided by critics as overhyped and underpowered, but it takes the Japanese home videogame market by storm.
  • Also debuting in Japan at this time is SNK's "24-bit" NeoGeo videogame system, available in both home and arcade versions and featuring interchangeable games across the two platforms.  Its performance crushes that of its competitors, but its hefty price tag crushes sales.  It remains to this day the longest-lived videogame console design still in production.

  • (NOTE:  A handheld version of the console dubbed the NeoGeo Pocket was released in September 1999).
  • Sega releases its own handheld videogame system, Game Gear, derived directly from the old Sega Master System.  Again, it it superior to Nintendo's product in almost every aspect (including a color LCD screen as opposed to the original Game Boy's black-and-white), but the cheaper and better-supported Game Boy soon dominates the handheld market.
  • The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals establishes in the case of Lasercomb vs. Reynolds that software EULAs cannot contain any clauses that might be deemed as anti-competitive. An example of this would be barring a user from the right to reverse-engineer the program - an issue that was dealt with specifically in this case.
  • The first salvo in Lotus v. Borland is fired when Lotus Development files a copyright infringement lawsuit against Borland over its inclusion of the Lotus 1-2-3  "slash-bar menu" in Borland's Quattro.  Borland countersues in an effort to have the trial moved from Massachusetts to the more competition-friendly 9th District federal courts in California.
  • In one of the landmark legal cases with regards to the videogame industry, a federal appeals court rules in Galoob v. Nintendo that any method used to "enhance" the videogame experience is not illegal, and also ruled that software vendors may not redefine the concept of market impact in order to bolster their claims against such technology.  The item in question is the Galoob Game Genie, which allows players to modify or cheat at their NES videogames.  This is one of the few setbacks that Nintendo has suffered in its legal history of dealing with possible infringers of its intellectual property, but it is a major one.
  • September sees the arrival of the product that would cement the Amiga's name in the multimedia and video production industry - the NewTek Video Toaster, the first "video production studio on-a-card" for a personal computer.  NewTek promos advertise the fact that the Amiga is the only personal computer (of its day - ed.) powerful enough to handle Toaster technology; in fact, the Toaster was designed specifically with the Amiga in mind.  Among its many features is a powerful 3D rendering and animation package named Lightwave (sound familiar, 3D graphics gurus?).  It should be noted that thousands of Toaster-equpped Amigas are still used by video production companies around the world as of this date, long after the demise of the system.
  • Arbitration is employed in an effort to resolve the Intel v. AMD dispute.  In the meantime, AMD continues to plug away at cloning Intel's newest processors.
  • RDI announces the availability of software-based Mac emulation for SPARC systems.
  • Macronix sues Nintendo, claiming that the NES anti-piracy system prevents products from other vendors from working on the console. (well, DUH!)
  • NeXT Corporation begins to fall apart, with Texas entrepreneur Ross Perot being the first to bail from its board of directors.
  • Commodore jumps on the growing CD-ROM bandwagon by developing and then releasing its own keyboardless system based on Amiga technology.  That system turns out to be the doomed and much-derided CDTV, and Commodore takes a financial beating in its subsequent failure.  This lost market gamble is held by many to be the start of Commodore's decline and fall.
  • Microsoft changes the name of OS/2 v3.0 to Microsoft Windows NT.
  • It is around this time that Yuji Naka, a Japanese videogame programmer, begins work on a NES emulator (S) for the Sega MegaDrive.  This unnamed program is widely regarded as the first videogame emulator.  He is better known for another creation, first released this year, which forever changed the destiny of his employer, Sega Enterprises, The name of this landmark program was a platform game called Sonic the Hedgehog.

  • (NOTE:  Sonic did for Sega what Mario did for Nintendo.  It gave them a sorely needed company mascot for the image-conscious North American market.  Sonic eventually went on to become Sega's flagship franchise.  Any claimed G/MD emulator that will not support the first Sonic game is not even worth considering.)
  • The ban on Internet advertising is lifted in October - a decision that will be regretted by many in the years to come.
  • A consortium of vendors led by Microsoft announce the first Multimedia Personal Computer (MPC) standard.  This standardizes the basic components of personal computers as we know them today, with integrated multimedia-ready audiovisual capabilities.
  • PC Task (S), the first shareware IBM PC emulator for Amiga systems, is released in crippleware form by Quasar Solutions.
  • Insignia Solutions releases SoftPC (S), the first IBM PC emulator for Mac systems.
  • The Intel v. AMD dispute finally erupts into an open legal battle as the very first Am386 CPU, AMD's 100% compatible Intel 80386 clone, is released to the public.  Intel, dissatisfied with the trend that arbitration is taking and upset at AMD's move, files suit against their rival in federal district court.   Intel charges that the Am386 programmed logic array (PLA) uses proprietary Intel microcode and therefore violates Intel's copyrights.  It also charges AMD with violation of the Landham Act by using the number "386" as part of the name for its clone CPU, as that number is included in the trademarked name "i386" (Intel's term for the 80386).  In the meantime, Intel begins preliminary work on the 64-bit successor to the 80486 CPU.
  • Under growing pressure from increased Genesis sales (due to Yuji Naka's Sonic The Hedgehog), Nintendo brings the Super Famicom to the North American market under the name Super Nintendo (SNES).  They had not intended to do so this soon, but the unexpected popularity of the first Sonic game caught them off guard.  Its debut title is Super Mario World. but even with this successful game it takes a few years for Nintendo to regain its market superiority.

  • (NOTE:  The Super Nintendo did not become the number one videogame console in the United States until 1996, by which time the Genesis was already in decline.  Nintendo is the only videogame company to date that has twice held the number one spot in this regard, and it dominated outside the United States during this time.)
  • Nintendo enters into a joint agreement with  Sony to develop a CD-ROM drive for the Super Famicom, thus echoing moves by its competitors NEC and Sega.  The new accessory is given the working title of PlayStation.
  • Atari begins releasing unlicensed NES games using its Rabbit 10NES emulation technology, thus violating multiple points of its licensing agreement with Nintendo.  Nintendo files a broadly based copyright infringement lawsuit against Atari in federal district court.  Atari countersues, claiming that Nintendo's charges are without merit.  This officially kicks off the Nintendo v. Atari court battle, the first since the A-Max dispute to deal (however indirectly) with the topic of emulation.
  • Accolade inadvertently misuses a Sega-registered trademark in its next batch of unlicensed Genesis games by including a small portion of some undocumented Sega microcode in its program headers.  Accolade developers theorize that it will be necessary for some new and as-yet-undocumented feature of the console.  In fact, it is "trap code" along the lines of Nintendo's 10NES security system for the NES.  It is designed to activate the TradeMark Security System (TMSS) that Sega has added to its newer Genesis consoles.  Sega files suit against Accolade, charging them with both copyright and trademark infringement over violation of the TMSS and its code.  Thus begins Sega v. Accolade, which will prove to be one of the landmark cases with regards to the practice of lawful reverse-engineering in general and its use by the emuscene in particular.
  • The Personal Computer Industry's "Days of Darkness" -  Round 1
    • The IBM PS/1 line (Personal System), intended for low-end consumer use and massively hyped by retailers, is a dismal failure.  Many perceptive computer users see it as little more than a next-generation IBM PCjr (which it is), and this attitude is the chief reason for its unwelcome reception.  IBM suffers its first decline in revenue in 45 years.
    • At the same time, there is a slowdown across-the-board in personal computer purchases, with all vendors taking a hit in their projected profits to some degree.  Cost of the newer, more powerful systems is commonly cited as the main factor.
    • A major shakeup among PC dealers occurs due to an oversaturated market.  ComputerLand buys out Nynex, CompuCom buys out Computer Factory, ValCom and Inacomp merge, JWP buys out BusinessLand, and Intelligent Electronics acquires Bizmart.
    • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) launches a formal antitrust investigation of Microsoft.  The announcement, although expected by some, still manages to shake the industry.
    • As part of its strategy to deal with the changing tide of the personal computer market, IBM reorganizes, with many divisions either gaining more autonomy or being spun off into wholly owned subsidiaries.  Thousands of IBM employees and executives lose their jobs or are forced into early retirement.
    • AT&T dissolves its personal computer operations, sending thousands more computer systems specialists and former mid-level management types to unemployment offices.
    • The IBM layoffs, coupled with shakeups at other computer-related firms, increased federal taxes ("Read my lips - no new taxes" - yeah, right!) and a general business downturn occurring about the same time send the United States economy into deep recession.  Many businesses layoff large numbers of employees at this time.
    • This author loses his high-paying computer consulting job due to the forces at work during this time.  It would be two years before he would find steady employment again, although it would be outside the industry.  He devises the following joke to explain his predicament, and it puts his local unemployment office manager in stitches:  "My company downsized, I got outplaced, and now I'm suffering negative cash flow as a result of employment deficit disorder."
  • The price of Microsoft stock on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) reaches US$113 a share.  As a result, Bill Gates passes Wal-Mart's Sam Walton to become the richest man in the United States (a title he still enjoys as of this date).
  • Five years of arbitration ends in the Intel v. AMD dispute.  AMD is awarded full rights to produce and sell its Am386 line of CPUs.  It is also awarded US$15 million in damages (it had originally asked for US$2.2 billion).  The court battle continues, though, with both a federal district court and a parallel jury trial ruling that AMD does not have the right to use proprietary Intel code in its products even though that code was licensed for earlier products (the Am286 CPU and Am287 FPU).  This ruling is important for the emuscene in that it confirms the restrictive nature of licensed proprietary microcode usage.  AMD will eventually wind up licensing the offending code from Intel the following year in order to avoid the lengthy reverse-engineering process and thus delay its products.  As a result, the Am38x line is the last to use proprietary Intel microcode, with all future AMD product based on either reverse-engineering or in-house designs.
  • The Sega v. Accolade lawsuit is settled out of court.  On appeal, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that Accolade was not guilty of trademark infringement by innocently invoking the Genesis TMSS with its unlicensed games; however, they were guility of copyright infringement by using unlicensed Sega microcode. This is the first of two landmark rulings that helped define the practice of lawful reverse-engineering as it is understood today.
  • The Nintendo v. Atari legal battle is decided in Nintendo's favor by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.  They find Atari's Rabbit emulation technology to be illegal in two regards - first, that it contains extraneous elements not necessary to properly duplicate the requred functions of Nintendo's 10NES; and second, that it unlawfully violated Nintendo's copyright on the actual 10NES code due to the way in which it was created.  This is the second of two landmark rulings that helped define the practice of lawful reverse-engineering as it is understood today.  It also darkened Nintendo's perception of emulation technology from this point forward and helped further refine the legal boundaries of emulation, as the court ruled that an emulator which either
    • "generates signals functionally indistinguishable" from the original product, or
    • contains "protectable expressions" duplicated from same that go beyond the emulator's "stated purpose"
    is potentially at fault for copyright infringement.  This is in keeping with the "doctrine of equivalents" test for patent infringement established by Penwalt v. Durand-Weyland.
  • Argonaut Software works up GameBoy 68000 (S), a prototype GameBoy emulator for the Amiga.  It is an effort to see whether or not the concept is feasible.  This "pseudo-emulator" only works with one program, a custom version of Alexy Pajitnov's Tetris.  The test program is somehow leaked to the Amiga software pirates, and from there it is seen by many users over the next couple of years (including this author, Emulation Rambler author Jason Compton, and legendary emucoder Marat Fayzullin).  Its chief claim to fame is to let the "independent" programmers know that videogame emulation is now feasible, and soon many "regular" and "pirate" programmers turn their talents to the task.
  • Microsoft ships Microsoft Windows 3.1 in May - arguably the most successful GUI-based OS of its day.  A minor update in October called Windows for Workgroups add networking support an a new disk-caching system supposedly "borrowed" from the next version of Windows (code-named Chicago).
  • In April, Federal District Judge Vaughn Walker rules in the Apple v. Microsoft dispute that the vast majority of the GUI elements at dispute were either covered by the old Apple-Microsoft development contract or were not copyrightable.  Apple asks Judge Vaughn  to reconsider his decision, but their request is rejected in an August hearing.  Apple then appeals the decision, but the appeal subsequently fails.  It is a major victory for Microsft and yet another landmark ruling for the computer industry, in that only limited, specific portions of an on-screen graphical display are copyrightable.
  • In June, Intel introduces the first incarnation of Peripheral Connect Interconnect (PCI) expansion bus architecture - the "cart slot" technology that is the standard for most modern desktop computer systems.  About the same time, the VESA consortium introduces the VESA Local Bus (VLB), a similar yet incompatible product designed around 486 CPUs.  VLB technology would eventually fall out of favor and disappear along with the demise of the 486.
  • A minor stir is caused by the appearance of AmIBM, the first ever "hoax emulator."  It fools many computer users into thinking that Amiga emulation has been accomplished on 386-equipped IBM PC clones.
  • Sega releases the Sega CD (aka Mega CD overseas) accessory for use with the Genesis (US$300).  It is the first Genesis accessory to give the console something of the power of the SNES/SFC (true sprite scaling and zooming).  Its potential is seriously hampered by Sega's reluctant access to development tools, with the result that many of its early titles are either interactive moves or ports of popular Genesis titles with a CD-quality soundtrack. 
  • Sony completes the prototype for the SNES PlayStation CD-ROM drive.  In a surprise move, Nintendo decides to drop the project for reasons that are never fully understood even today.  Angered by Nintendo's behavior, Sony uses its experience to develop an all-new 32-bit home videogame system from scratch, based around the CD-ROM delivery system that it originally developed for Nintendo.
  • The last old-style Amiga models, the A600 and A1200, are announced.  These are both AGA machines and among those to include the new AGA 2 graphics specification.  By now it is public knowledge that Commodore's profit margins are shrinking, although Commodore refuses to discuss the issue. 
  • Lotus scores a major court victory against Borland in the Lotus v. Borland copyright dispute.  Borland is forced to remove all 1-2-3 support from its Quattro line of products.  Borland subsequently appeals both the ruling and the US$100 million in damages awarded to Lotus.
  • The MPC Level 2 standard is introduced - the first to require a 32-bit processor (the 16 MHz 80386SX).
  • Intel begins full-scale development of its next generation of CPUs, named "Pentium" instead of i80586 because the Intel v. AMD dispute has confirmed that numbers cannot be trademarked even if they are part of a product name.  The name is met with jeers by the personal computer industry, with AMD executives quipping that it is "better suited  for a brand of toothpaste."
  • The Personal Computer Industry's "Days of Darkness" -  Round 2
    • Compaq sets a trend by introducing its own line of low-priced consumer-oriented personal computers - sometimes  as much as 50% below the cost of a comparable comptetitor's product.  Unlike IBM's PS/1 line, Compaq's  products are cross-compatible with its other lines and just as powerful.  The industry takes note, and soon others begin following Compaq's lead.  It is a trend that remains with us to this day.
    • Wang Laboratories files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  Many Wang employees find themselves visiting their neighborhood charity soup kitchens shortly thereafter.
    • IBM reports its worst year in its long, history, with revenues of US$64.5 billion but ending up with a net loss of US$ 5 billion.  IBM chairman John Akers resigns.

    • Louis Gerstner is appointed as the new chairman of IBM.  He follows Compaq's price-slashing lead, and also begins work on a totally new line of personal computers, later known as the Ambra product line.
      (NOTE:  Gerstner eventually restores IBM's good fortunes over the next eight years.  He steps down as head of IBM in 1999, leaving behind a profitable corporation.  IBM may have started the "days of darkness," but it also lead the way in leaving them behind.)
  • Microsoft formally unveils Microsoft Windows NT.
  • British software house Blittersoft releases PCx (S) for the Amiga (US$20).  It has the notable distinction of being the last known "true" IBM PC emulator for the platform.
  • Intel begins shipping the Pentium CPU.
  • The FTC ends its investigation of Microsoft without action, but the Clinton-staffed Department of Justice picks up the slack and launches its own investigation.  Political wags note in snide asides that Microsoft chairman Bill Gates will not support the controversial American president, financial or otherwise.

  • (NOTE:  Bill Gates was recently quoted by CNN as saying that he wished he had settled with the Justice Department at this point rather than put up with all the misery that eventually resulted from Microsoft's seeming aloofness towards the investigation.)
  • John Sculley leaves the helm of Apple Computer after a decade on the job.
  • The Plug-and-Play specification for personal computer peripherals is first outlined by Microsoft.
  • Amstrad, working in conjunction with Sega, releases the Sega TeraDrive (C) for MegaDrive videogame developers.  It is a stock 386SX computer that includes a MegaDrive on a custom ISA card.
  • Apple introduces the DOS Compatible Card (C) for MC680x0-powered Mac systems, providing full IBM PC compatibility and utilizing a 486SX CPU.
  • Nintendo unveils its "improved cartridge slot" for the NES, which gives the unit the top-down design that it should have had in the first place.  Curiously enough, the new incarnation of the NES lacks the anti-piracy system of its predecessor, but the physical design of the unit prevents use of the NES Game Genie.  Interesting!
  • Christian Bauer releases Shapeshifter (C) a shareware Mac emulator for Amiga computers.
  • Commodore releases the A2386SX Bridgeboard (C) for the Amiga (US$1000), the third and final of Commodore's own in-house IBM PC emulators.  It does not sell well due to its high price, which is comparable to that of a real 386SX computer.  A planned 486 version is eventually scrapped, although several third-party vendors pick up the slack in later years.
  • Apple becomes the first personal computer manufacturer to stake out a major presence in the Internet service market.
  • Apple discontinues the original DOS Compatible Card in favor of the Houdini (C) a new model with an on-board 486DX2 CPU designed expressly for use with its new PowerMac line.  The entire inventory of Houdini boards sells out within a few months.
  • Reply Technologies licenses the original DOS Compatible Card technology from Apple and uses it as the basis for its own product, DOS-on-Mac (C).
  • International Meta Systems files for a patent describing technology that will permit RISC processors to emulate instruction sets used by other processors.
  • The Emplant (C) a multifunction emulation board designed by Jim Drew, is released for the Amiga.  Mac and IBM PC emulation are the only two options ever offered for it.
  • The Careless Gamer releases MegaDrive (S), the very first emulator for Sega's popular Genesis and MegaDrive16-bit home videogame consoles (G/MD).  It is also currently acknowledged as the oldest known "public" videogame system emulator, although research continues in this regard.  It only works with the first Sonic the Hedgehog game, and not very well at that, either.  Work is discontinued after the programmer accidentally loses his source code.
  • Chris George releases the very first (non-working) version of VSMC (S), the very first Super Nintendo and Super Famicom (SNES/SFC) emulator.

  • (NOTE:  Work actually began in late 1993, and development was discontinued in 1997 for an unusual reason - see separate entry for details).
  • The illegality of distributing dumped copies of videogame ROMs via telecommunications techniques is established in the Sega v. MAPHIA legal proceeding against a San Francisco software pirate BBS network.
  • (NOTE:  From this point on, videogame ROM dumps regardless of origin will be referred to as "ROMs")
  • Apple offers a second, improved version of the Houdini board for PowerMac computers.
  • The Internet's second Amiga "hoax emulator," NXAmiga, makes the obligatory rounds on the Internet.
  • The emuscene begins to take shape as the first dedicated Internet emulation sites are founded.
  • Marat Fayzullin comes into possession of several Game Boy hacking and programming FAQs from those in the Amiga pirate community who had been inspired by the Argonaut pseudo-emulator.  He uses them, along with other source material, to develop Virtual Game Boy (S).  It is the first cross-platform Game Boy emulator and the first emulator with open source code.  It is still considered by many to be the best videgame emulator of its kind.
  • Apple holds a public demonstration of MacOS running on a PowerPC-equipped IBM personal computer system.
  • Insignia Systems offers SoftPCPro (S) and SoftWindows (S), both significantly enhanced custom versions of its original SoftPC IBM PC emulator for Mac systems.  SoftPCPro is for all Macs, whereas SoftWindows is designed with the PowerMac line in mind.
  • ARDI releases Executor (C) a Mac emulator for both Unix and IBM PC compatible systems.
  • The Internet emuscene begins in earnest, with a numbered of now-revered sites going online at this time.  Among those still with us as of this date are Archaic Ruins, Emulation Zone, SYS2064, and Zophar's Domain.  Others that are now gone but not forgotten include Dave's Video Game Classics, ROMlist, Insert Coin, Node99, SNESmerism, The Vault, and the original, now-legendary Atmospherical Heights.

  • (NOTE:  Dave's Video Game Classics changed its name in 1999 to Vintage Gaming and its focus as well, despite its new name.  It has now limited its attentions to M.A.M.E. and NextGen emulation.  Vintiage Gaming is still going strong as of this date).
  • Neil Bradley releases EMU (S), one of the very first arcade videogame emulators.
  • David Spicer releases Sparcade (S), the first multiplatform (home and arcade) videogame emulator.
  • Nicola Salmora releases a Pac-Man emulator.  Soon he begins adding support for the different arcade variations of Pac-Man, and then support for arcade videogames that originally ran on similar hardware.  Others join him in his efforts, adding their own subroutines for their favorite arcade platforms, and the program eventually evolves into M.A.M.E. (S).  The name stands for Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator, and it is the emuscene's oldest, most versatile, and most revered multisystem arcade videogame emulator.  It quickly becomes the de facto standard for arcade videogame fans, supporting more titles and more different types of emulation than any other comparable emulator (it broke the 2000 title mark in the year 2000).
  • James McKay releases Massage (S) which sets a new standard for Sega Master System and Sega Game Gear emulation.
  • Super Pasofami (S) for Windows-based systems achieves the distinction of becoming the first working SNES/SFC emulator.
  • Ernesto Corvi releases Super Virtual Wild Card, (S) considered by the majority of the emuscene as the first decent SNES/SFC emulator.
  • Gary Henderson and Jeremy Koot release SNES96 (S).  This would eventually evolve into SNES9X (S), the best cross-platform SNES/SFC emulator yet developed.
  • Emulation comes full circle as a team of programmers led by Bernard Schmidt release the first version of UAE (S) aka the Universal Amiga Emulator.  It is quickly dubbed the "Useless Amiga Emulator" due to the fact that the initial release will not work with any Amiga software, but that will soon change.
  • VSMC becomes the first videogame emulator to be offered as shareware when an improved version is released in crippleware form.  There is a wave of protest against the move by the emuscene.  Subsequently, a "hacked" version of VSMC appears some three months later that allows access to all of its features without paying the requisite fees.  Its author, Chris George leaves the emuscene in disgust, unhappy at being the first victim of a emulator "hack" or "rip" sponsored by the Internet emuscene (but by no means the last).  Credit for the "liberated" VSMC is generally assigned to a hacker known only as "Ice Wizard."
  • Harry Tuttle founds The Dump, one of the early popular "ROM" sites.  It originally starts out as a NES site, but later changes gears and becomes better known for its vast collection of G/MD, TG16/PCE, and NeoGeo "ROMs."
  • The Reservoir Gods release GodBoy (S) one of the early Game Boy emulators.
  • Sony releases the NetYaroze, a customized matte black PlayStation videogame console that can interface to an IBM compatible computer.  It is designed to assist programmers in developing new PlayStation releases.  It is notoriously unreliable, and PlayStation developers soon develop a yearning for an alternate product.  That appears in the form of Caetla (saw-eh-lah), a replacement ROM for the popular PSX Game Shark enhancer that more or less allows the same thing but with a regular PlayStation and with any IBM compatible computer.

  • (NOTE:  Many credit Caetla both with destroying market demand for the NetYaroze and with providing a valuable reverse-engineering tool for learing the inner operations of the PlayStation))
  • Duddie and Rafu release the very first version of PSEmu (S), the first PlayStation emulator.  While it does not as yet work with anything, it is a sign that the next generation of videogame emulators is already on the way

  • (NOTE:  The current incarnation is called PSEmu Pro).
  • Bloodlust Software releases three remarkable emulators for IBM PC compatibles within a few short months - Genecyst (S) long the standard for G/MD emulation and still quite popular even today; NESticle (S) long the standard for NES emulation; and Callus (S) a Capcom CPS-1 (Street Fighter 2, et. al.) arcade videogame emulator.  These emulators intitate a sudden flood of new "ROM" sites to support them.
  • Christian Schiller founds Eidolon's Inn, widely regarded as the best of the Sega-oriented sites.
  • Lord ESNES and Ishmair release ESNES (S) the first working freeware SNES/SFC emulator.
  • Videogame emuscene legends _Demo_ and zsknight release the very first version of ZSNES. (S), a surprisingly sophisticated SNES/SFC emulator for IBM PC compatibles.  Over the years, it would go on to become the favorite of DOS users and also vie for top honors as "the best of the best" with SNES9X.
  • The first formal protest by a vendor against the emuscene is filed when Zyrinx Software threatens The Dump with a copyright infringement lawsuit over the appearance of its G/MD game Zero Tolerance on the site.  The dump is pulled per Zyrinx's request, and the matter is dropped.  It is ironic to note that Zero Tolerance would eventually become the G/MD library's first inactive commercial "ROM" about a year later.
  • Steve Snake, author of the popular arcade videogame NBA Jam and a longtime G/MD fan, releases his KGen (S) G/MD emulator for IBM PC compatibles.  In its last incarnation (KGen 98 v0.4, 1998), it was widely regarded as the best DOS-based G/MD emulator of its day and surpassed Genecyst to become the de facto standard by which all subsequent G/MD emulators are judged.
  • Eidolon releases the first version of his Genesis Compatibility Chart (the title is later shortened to the Genesis Chart), comparing the performances of KGen and Genecyst with all of the G/MD "ROMs" in his possession.  It would eventually become one of the key FAQs of the Sega emuscene.
  • Connectix Corporation releases VirtualPC (S) for the Macintosh, designed to provide Windows software support for the entire PowerMac line.
  • RPGe, founded by Shadow and later continued by SoM2Freak, Barubary, and harmony7, releases the very first full translation patch for a videogame "ROM."  It is a commercial-quality English translation of Final Fantasy V for the Japanese Super Famicom, thus enabling American Super Nintendo fans to finally enjoy one of the missing pieces in the Final Fantasy saga.

  • (NOTE:  Many translation groups outside of RPGe acknowledge their achievement, and it has since become something of a yardstick by which similar efforts are judged.  It immediately inspired many copycat efforts, mostly of titles already released in English but suffering from heavy-handed censorship during the process.  It should also be noted that Square finally brought their own English-language version of FF5 to the U.S. in late 1999 as part of the Final Fantasy Anthology for the PlayStation)
  • In the meantime, the software pirates have been monitoring the growing Internet emuscene with considerable interest.  Dedicated "ROM" sites, which began appearing the year before, now begin to pop up in earnest all over the Internet.  It quickly becomes apparent that the software pirate groups such as Vertigo 2099 are responsible for many of the "new ROMs" appearing on the emuscene, including many for both arcade and home videogame systems that have yet to be emulated.  The intervention by the software pirates along with the sudden explosive growth of "ROM sites" at this time is generally held to be the event that brought about the end of the Golden Age of Emulation (1989 - 1998).
1998 (January - March)
  • Ian Bell, author of the classic videogame Elite, release the NES version (along with other ports) to the public domain.  Long held the first such release for the emuscene, it was eventually discounted due to the fact that coauthor David Barben had never relinquished his joint ownership of the copyright.  The fight for ownership rights is still raging as of this date.
  • Steve Snake grants a rare interview to Paulo Biezuner.  Among other things, he says, "I don't believe [that] N64 emulation will be possible for many years, if ever."  He was somewhat more positive about the possibilities for a working PlayStation emulator.

  • (NOTE:  The original for this interview appears to have been lost.  The comments above are provided courtesy of Harry Tuttle and The Dump: Genesis news archives)
  • Sam Pettus begins work on the Genesis Game Guide (G3).  It will evolve over the next year-and-a-half into the definitive guide to all titles produced for Sega G/MD/32X/CD systems.
  • Peter Hirschbirg releases his Vector Dream arcade videogame emulator.

  • On 22 March 1998, the IDSA mounts an all-out attack against the emuscene's many "ROM" sites, threatening legal action for their apparent support of software piracy.  The campaign continues on throughout the spring and summer, and eventually tapers off in the fall.  Among the casualties on the very first day of the IDSA's campaign are Atmospherical Heights, The Dump: Genesis, and Knapper's MacMAME site.  M.A.M.E. itself comes under attack by the IDSA at this time, but somehow survives.  Among the emusite and "ROM site" casualties that stack up in the wake of the IDSA campaign are such notables as EmuNews, The ROM Palace, the SNES Cauldron, SNESmerism, and many others.
to be continued  . . .

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The History of Emulation by Sam Pettus, copyright © 1999 Zophar's Domain, all rights reserved.

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