My Amiga 1200HD has a problem, and in terms of an early 90s computer it’s a pretty serious one. The floppy drive is – for want of a better term – pooched. It’s not broken-and-battered-selling-its-body-on-street-corners pooched, but it’s certainly squealy-squeaky-read-what-disk? pooched, which is almost as bad.
So I started roaming various retro gaming forums asking for the best solution to circumventing the aged and unreliable floppy disk technology, particularly as even with a working floppy drive, the magnetic media of circa 1990’s double-density floppies are starting to fail by the sheer force of entropy. I got all kinds of useful suggestions, ranging from flash to PCMCIA readers, WHDLoad, burning ADF files to new disks etc – all of which you can Google for yourself, but the one that really struck me was someone making the statement, “why don’t you just run an emulator on your PC? Save yourself the hassle”.
Interesting posit from random internet forum user #298,867,112. Why don’t I just run an emulator on the PC and save myself the hassle?
There’s no logical reason I shouldn’t. WinUAE is an incredibly successful, robust emulator and one of my all time favorite emulator platforms, and the truth of the matter is that it’ll emulate in software as well as if not better than the real hardware itself.
Emulation of platforms is even a pet interest of mine, I completely dig the whole opcode thing, the abstraction of hardware and the immortality afforded elderly gaming systems by the hard working chaps behind WinUAE, Snes9x etc. Hell, one of my first published articles was on the topic of emulation.
So why did I come away feeling slightly annoyed at random internet forum user #298,867,112?
It’s because to me, emulation doesn’t really cut it. It ticks all the boxes, and it’ll run my Amiga games with clockwork precision, but there’s something missing from the whole experience. It’s that tangible sense you get from actually engaging the vintage gaming platform you’re in front of. The Amiga can and will be a pain, there will be errors, bad disks, an array of hair-tearing problems – but when it’s running, it’ll be oh so real. The sight and feel of the keyboard, the constant whirring of the ancient hard drive, the thrashing of the dodgy, worn down joystick.
These are things that for the most part an emulator can’t give you. It’s the sweat, blood and yes, the frustration of using the machine too. An emulator is by and large a flawless experience, but you become so far removed from the unique experience of actually gaming on a machine made just a few short weeks after the extinction of Archaeopteryx
Emulators are handy, useful and have their place in the world without a doubt, but I can never accept their use as a replacement for actually playing on the machine being emulated. Is a racing simulator ever the same as sitting in the cockpit of an F1 car? I doubt it.
Nothing is going to emulate the clunk of the Amiga keyboard, nothing is going to emulate blowing into a NES cart, or the wiggling of a Master System RF cable.
I’m sorry random internet forum user #298,867,112, but I’ve realised that for me, the experience is as much about the trials and frustrations and reality of retro gaming as the sunshine and 8-bit lollipops, and that’s just the way I like it.