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Chapter 2: Download & Setup

By Alejandro Rodriguez. Last revised Sep 20, 2016.

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This article continues from Chapter 1: Intro to Emulation. I discussed everything a newcomer needs to know about video game emulation: what it is, the cool things it offers, and the legality.

Where to place your emulators

The folders where you can place emulators Folders where you can place emulators

Newbies tend to make the mistake of placing emulators on their C drive. Starting with Windows 8, Microsoft made the C drive a bit restricted to protect you from viruses. Any new folders you create in there will be read-only. Emulators need write access so they can save configurations and save your game progress. To avoid that simply place all your video game emulators in a common location on your computer. For example, such as your Documents, Downloads, or a folder on your desktop.

You can organize your emulators however you wish. You might want to start by creating a folder called Emulation. Inside there create new folders called NES, SNES,Genesis, etc.

Installing an emulator

Unzipping

Most emulators do not have an install wizard like normal programs do. Emulators are standalone programs. All you need to do to 'install' an emulator is extract it from its zip file. Here's a video tutorial if you need help with that: how to unzip files on Windows.

Opening the emulator

To open the emulator you need to look for an EXE file. By default Windows hides file extensions so you won't see an EXE file anywhere. I recommend enabling them - here's a video showing how: how to show file extensions in Windows. So with file extensions showing you can now easily find the EXE. For example, if you downloaded Snes9X you'd look for a file called “snes9x.exe”. Double-click on that to open the emulator.

Creating a shortcut

You might want to create a shortcut to the emulator and place it on your desktop for easy access. Just right-click on the emulator's EXE and click Create Shortcut. Then drag the shortcut file to your desktop.

Finding ROMs

In my links page I have some good links to sites where you can download ROMs and ISOs. If you think my collection of links is terrible and want to find more sites, just Google around. For example, if you want to download Super Mario World just Google “download super mario world snes”.

ROM Naming Conventions

Many emulation websites list games like this:

  • Super Mario All-Stars & World (E) [!]
  • Super Mario All-Stars & World (U)
  • Super Mario World (J) [!]
  • Super Mario World (U) [!]
  • Super Mario World (U) [T-Norwegian_V2001.04.28_Just4Fun]
  • Super Mario World (V1.0) (E)
  • Super Mario World (V1.1) (E) [!]

So what do those symbols at the end mean? Here's the key:

  • (U) United States release
  • (E) Europe release
  • (J) Japan release
  • (###) Checksum
  • (##k) ROM Size
  • (M#) Multilanguage (# of Languages)
  • (V#.#) Version
  • [!] Verified Good Dump
  • [a] Alternate
  • [b] Bad Dump
  • [f] Fixed
  • [h] Hack
  • [o] Overdump
  • [p] Pirate
  • [t] Trained
  • [T] Translation
  • [x] Bad Checksum
  • ZZZ_ Unclassified

After downloading a ROM

So you downloaded a ROM to your Downloads folder. Now what? Note that you don't need to extract it from the ROM. You can leave it inside its zip file. Move the ROM over to a folder that is most convenient for you. You can place it inside the folder where your emulator resides. You can create a new folder and call it “SNES ROMs” - however you want to organize it.

Patching ROMs (what is that?)

The coolest things about video game emulation are ROM hacks and fan translations! ROM hacks offer a new experience for your favorite games. Hacks can:

  • Increase the game's difficulty
  • Rearrange things to create an entirely new game
  • Translate a Japan-exclusive game to English
  • Fix bugs, correct typos, uncensor graphics

This is accomplished by applying a patch (a.k.a. an IPS file) to a ROM. In the root of my FantasyAnime.com I have a detailed patching tutorial explaining the process. I also recommend checking out RomHacking.net. That website contains the largest repository of ROM hacks on the Internet.

Important notes for Android

This guide so far has been only about Windows, but I wanted to touch on a few things for Android devices.

  • To begin with, I hope you have an Android phone or tablet! Apple doesn't allow emulators for iOS. If you're a classic gamer you must have an Android device so you can enjoy emulators on the go.
  • Emulators can easily be found in the Google Play Store. In my emulators page I list the best ones.
  • The Chrome browser on Android is powered by Google's servers to try to speed up load times for you. While that is wonderful, it also prevents you from downloading ROMs from sites that have hotlink protection on their files. What happens is that when you try to download ROMs from a site, you get 'access denied' errors. You can work around this problem by using Firefox for Android instead of Chrome.
  • After downloading a ROM you should use a file manager to create a ROMs folder somewhere. And inside that ROMs folder create sub folders for each system you're collecting ROMs for (i.e. NES, SNES, Genesis, etc.). Use your file manager to move and organize the ROMs you downloaded into these new folders. If your Android device doesn't come pre-installed with a file manager, I recommend downloading Astro File Manager.
  • It's possible to transfer saved games from Windows/Mac emulators to Android emulators (or vice versa). However, most Android emulators aren't compatible with Windows/Mac saves (they should be!). I haven't thoroughly tested which emulators are compatible so I can't give you a proper list. You need to test them out yourself. I do know that Snes9x EX+, Yongzh's emulators, and FPse (a PS1 emulator) are compatible. I talk more about transferring saves in my Game Saves Tutorial.