Emulators is software that lets you use your computer to play software or games designed for other systems. In other words it "emulates" hardware. A few years ago emulation was known only to a few programmers who mainly were interested in "classic" arcade games like Space Invaders and Pac-man. Nowadays emulation has progressed to the stage where a Dreamcast emulator was in development before the actual console was released. This has led to a lot of games companies clamping down on emulation of their systems while they are still commercially viable as they view emulation as a form of piracy. Games for the systems can be downloaded from the net and my roms page is located here on a separate server. It is still easy to get roms through any search engine if the game you are looking for is not available here. I shall start off my review of emulators with the Nintendo systems, the company behind the home console boom.....
Nintendo most popular system was the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) released in 1985 to tremendous success. The high quality of it's software notably "Super Mario Bros." contributed hugely to this. It was one of the first home consoles to be widely emulated due to it's popularity and the huge number of games available. The system has been emulated to near perfection by many emulators the best of which is Nesticle .
The Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) was the NES's 16-bit successor which was released in 1991. By this stage Nintendo has allowed Sega to obtain a significant market share due to the delay in releasing the SNES. Although the superior hardware and games of the new system eventually overcame Sega's Genesis Nintendo's delays in releasing hardware led to it's relegation to third place in market share in future years. The SNES is fondly remembered by many due to it's many classis titles like Mario Kart, Streetfighter 2 and Zelda. It also has been emulated to near perfection; the best two emulators are Snes 9x (version 1.29 Windows) and Zsnes (version 9.88 Dos). Tech. specs are here
The Nintendo 64 was Nintendo's answer to Sony and Sega's next-generation machines. Unfortunatly for Nintendo it was too little, too late; it had allowed Sony to build up a huge market share and the machine is regarded as a failure. It had very poor sales in Japan but was a mild success in the US. The poor quality of the third-party games developed for it and the lack of games for the system was the main reason for it's failure. As always the Nintendo games released for it were excellent notably Zelda, Mario 64 and Goldeneye. The actual machine is much more complex than anything previously released as it is based on Silicon Graphics workstations. Only a few emulators are available for it and you need a powerful system to run them. The best of these is UltraHLE. The technical specifications are available here
Nintendo portable system is the Gameboy which was released in 1989. Although it had inferior hardware to Sega's GameGear and Atari's Lynx it was much popular and outlasted both of them. It had more games released for it than both of it's competitors and the recent release of Pokemon has ensured it's popularity. Pokemon is a game where you train a monster which then fights with someone's elses Pokemon via a Gameboy link up. The recent release of the Gameboy Colour and the Gameboy Pocket which are both backwardly compatable means people will be playing Gameboy games for sometimes to come. Emulators are available for both the Colour and original Gameboy the best of which is no$$GMB.
Sega was Nintendo's main competitor in both the 8-bit and 16-bit market. It has recently released the 128-bit Dreamcast which is selling well despite a sluggish start in Japan. The 32-bit Saturn was a flop despite a few good games for it. Emulators for the Master-system and the Gamegear are available but the lack of decent games for both systems means I won't go into any detail here. The best one for these systems is BRSMS. The Genesis was released in 1992 two years ahead of the SNES . It had some decent games available for it and emulation of the console is at a very advanced stage, DGen being the best one.
Sony was a late entry into the games market in 1996 with it's Playstation. The Playstation was developed from a Cd-rom add-on for the SNES that Sony was researching with Nintendo. It was a huge success for Sony beating both Sega and Nintendo at their own game; games! Emulation of the console started with the now defunct PSEemu project which offers advanced emulation. Bleem is a better emulators but does cost $30. You need the actual game cd's to play the games on your PC but with a second generation 3d-card on your PC the games look much better than on the original.
Upwards of 5,000 arcade games are now availlable to play on your home PC. From Space Invaders to Street Fighter 2 to King of Fighters 99 all you need is the emulator and the rom. MAME currently supports 3,000 games most of them older ones, Callus emulates Capcom games e.g Final Fight, Streetfighter and Neorage plays Neo-geo games. All of the above are excellent emulators and roms of arcade games are easy to find on the net.