Chapter 2: Download & Setup
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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
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
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.
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”.
Another useful Google trick is to use it to search Reddit. People upload large games to Google Drive or other cloud platforms. Large ISOs such as for PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PSP, Wii, and Switch. You won't find links to these cloud repositories on Google, but you'll find them on Reddit. You can use Google to help search Reddit with search phrases like “reddit download playstation 2 games” or “reddit download nintendo switch games”.
Batch download of ROMs
Typical ROM sites require you to download ROMs one at a time. It can be annoying when you just want to download all SNES games with a single click. Fortunately, it is possible to download all ROMs for any retro system with just a single click! The best site I know of that offers bulk downloads of ROMs is Archive.org. The tricky part is that the site is horrible to navigate; it's not easy to find the ROM collections. Fortunately, you can 'hack' this UX problem by using Google to find what you're looking for.
On Google, search for “archive.org [system] collection”. You can download all ROMs for every classic system in a zip file or torrent.
For example, let's say you want to download every SNES game:
- On Google, search for: “archive.org snes collection”.
- Click the first link in the search results, as shown here
- In the right column, you'll see a box with “Download options” and “ZIP” or “TORRENT”, as shown here . Click on the option you want.
Classic systems only
At the time I'm writing this, only classic systems (up to the 16-bit era) can be downloaded in bulk with a single click. Newer systems don't have a zip option (due to their large size) and their torrent files never seem to have a healthy amount of seeds. You probably wouldn't have enough space on your computer anyway to download all games for a CD-based system. To put things in perspective, here are the memory size totals for the PlayStation systems:
- PlayStation 1: 8,502 games - 3.8 TB total size
- PlayStation 2: 7,738 games - 18 TB total size
- PlayStation 3: 1,877 games - 16 TB total size
So yeah, it's not going to happen to be able to download all games for those systems with a single click.
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, uncensored 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.
Video game emulation on Android
This website is primarily dedicated to video game emulators on Windows, but I do cover a good portion of Android. Check out my guides:
- Android Video Game Emulators - A general run-through of video game emulation on Android.
- RetroArch - A massive emulator that supports over 40 video game systems!