18 July 1997

Is It Live or Is It Emulated? - Part 2: Commercial and Upcoming Emulators (originally for Suite 101)

[Suite 101 articles introduction]

Last time I talked about shareware and freeware console emulators you could download from the Internet. This time I'm going to discuss commercial emulators available in stores and those that are still under development. The advantages of commercial emulators are primarily support and games. Commercial products have an entire company's support line open to answer any questions or problems you might have. Commercial emulators also come with a selection of games, so you don't have the legal or moral conflicts of using illegal ROM images.

The first commercial emulator was Activision's Atari 2600 Action Packs. It was actually the first ever, full Atari 2600 emulator. There have been three Action Packs released, each with 15 games included. The first two Action Packs were for Microsoft Windows 3.x. Later, versions were released for the Macintosh and Windows 95. The third Action Pack was released briefly for Windows 95. Unlike the first two, which only contained titles written by Activision, the third Pack had a few games Activision licensed from Atari (notably Yars' Revenge and Combat). (Actually, the second Pack contained Atlantis, a game by Imagic. Activision had bought all the 2600 titles produced by Imagic and Absolute some time after the 1984 video game crash.) Apparently the Action Packs have not sold as well as Activision thought they would, so it doesn't look like there will be any more. The third Pack was actually recalled. If you're industrious, you might still find the first two with all three versions (Windows 3.x, Windows 95, and Macintosh) in a single package.

Currently, the only other commercial emulator is the Personal Arcade, a Colecovision emulator by Telegames. It is for Windows 95 only. So far only one volume containing ten games, few of which are among the best known titles, has been released. Unlike Activision, Telegames has a free sample version of their emulator available for download.

Don't despair because of the lack of commercial emulators. There are more on the way! Perhaps the best recent news on the emulator front is the upcoming Intellivision emulator. The Blue Sky Rangers have formed a new company, Intellivision Productions Inc., and bought the rights to the Intellivision system and games. Although they currently do not have a publisher, the Blue Sky Rangers are hoping to release a CD with the emulator and a complete catalog of Intellivision games, including some unreleased ones that were in development but never marketed, in the fall of 1997. You can get a demo copy now that allows you to play Astrosmash on your PC. The final emulator package should also be available for the Macintosh.

Another emulator under development is an Atari 2600 emulator created by the Cyberpunks, a group of 2600 enthusiasts who coordinate via the Internet. Their emulator will include full emulation of the Starpath Supercharger, a very nice peripheral for the 2600. (See the above link for a full description.) They are currently negotiating with Atari and Activision. If things go as they plan, they will use Activision as their publisher (thus probably officially bringing and end to the Action Packs) and the CD will contain the complete Atari, Activision, and Starpath catalogs, including some unreleased games.

There's no telling what other emulators might be in development, either commercially or just has hobby projects by individual programmers. I have heard rumors of a Magnavox Odyssey² emulator for the PC and a Vectrex emulator for Macs. In any case, there has been a large surge in emulating classic video game consoles now that today's personal computers are up to the task. Expect it to continue for a few years to come.

Copyright 1997, i5ive communications inc. Used with permission.

[2013-04-28: Needless to say, you can't buy any of these any more.  Although you can still get the Intellivision emulator sequel, Intellivision Rocks, from the Blue Sky Rangers.  And sadly, the Cyperpunks project never made it to market.]

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