Lately I’ve been playing some old games on the PC – those that used to be great but have fallen by the wayside because the platforms they run on aren’t readily available. There were plenty of great games back in the days of the Apple ][+, Nintendo, and classic arcade and pinball games. Some are games you can play quickly and easily when you have a few moments to kill, others can take hours of involved gameplay. What most of them have is good gameplay – either quality puzzles, an engaging story, a high level of excitement, or just some plain old nostalgia. Of course, being able to play without using real money (quarters) is good too.
Here are a few ways you can reconnect with your youth OR try these classics out for the first time. The best part is, rarely do they require the latest fastest PC to play – so fire up that old system and have a go.
Some classic games for forgotten platforms can still be played today thanks to the magic of emulation. Emulation is the ability of your modern x86-based PC to play games written for non-x86 processors. For example, the old Apple ][ uses the venerable 6502 processor – but through the magic of emulation you can play games written for it today on your PC (or your Palm, or your PocketPC, or your Mac – but those are beyond the scope of this article.)
Apple ][ – there are several out there, but the best is AppleWin – it can play most all the games and is easy to use with Windows. Oh, and if you want you can find apple emulators for the Palm, PocketPC, OS X, and more.
Nintendo (NES) – the Nintendo is alive and well thanks to emulations. A very good one is called FCE Ultra and can play most games. If you find a game that can’t be played with this one, you might look at one of the (many) others at Zophar’s NES emulators page. Apparently you can even get multi-player games working over the internet with some of these – wow!
Arcade – there are various emulators available for arcade games, but none come close to MAME (the Multi-Arcade Machine Emulator) in terms of breadth and depth. This tool has it all – the list of chips emulated numbers in the hundreds and it supports over 5000 games! You can find MAME at its homepage, however there are numerous variants – some taking the core of MAME and making it easier to use with games. Again, Zophar has a great page for these.
Pinball – before there was Asteroids or Space Invaders, there was pinball – the silver ball played from Soho down to Brighton and all points far and wide. Today finding your favorite table is probably impossible as most places that had them have replaced by a Starbucks or the tables themselves have been supplanted by video poker or worse, a video game. However, you can keep those pinball dreams alive without having to spend hundreds on a physical machine your wife would kill you for buying. Enter Visual Pinball + PinMAME! With Visual Pinball (a pinball construction set it turns out) you can download and play all the classic tables. If your tastes run towards those new-fangled computer-augmented tables then add in PinMAME and go to town. These programs are awesome, and really give you the total pinball experience – including nudging the table (watch out for Tilt!), feeding it virtual quarters and head to head action!
As you might imagine, I like Zophar’s site for overall news and a ranking of the latest emulators. Finding a good emulator can be hard because there are often so many out there with varying levels of completeness or support. Zophar makes that task a bit easier by stearing towards the good ones.
Another good site is Retrogames. It has the latest retrogaming news as well as an excellent set of forums.
So you’ve got your emulator and your ready to go. But wait – what if you can’t find those old Apple floppies, and where do you put your NES catridges into the PC – they certainly aren’t USB! Well, the news here is kind of fuzzy. You can find the images (disk images or cartridge images) online pretty easily. They aren’t all legal though – you shouldn’t use them without owning the original game. Certainly some games have been abandoned without a clear copyright owner, whereas others are very much alive (I don’t think there are any doubts about who owns the rights to Legend of Zelda or Ultima.) I’m not advocating breaking the law here at all – I personally have owned all these games (although I’d be hard pressed to prove that – I threw out my old Apple and its games years ago.)
Here is a link to the classic Wizardry games for the Apple & NES – all ready to go. If you can’t remember how to play and can’t find your old manual – check out TK421’s Wizardry site for all the details on Wizardry 1 through 8.
Another good link to Apple games can be found at ftp://apple.asimov.net. I’m not sure why Isaac (or whomever owns his domain) chooses to keep these archives, but I’m not going to look this gift horse in the mouth.
You should employ your own search skills to look for MAME ROMs or other NES ROMs – I admit I haven’t looked at too many lately. They are out there – all with that pesky questionable legal status, so be careful. I’m not sure how many people can honestly say they own a Defender or Galaxian machine.
For pinball all you really need is the Virtual Pinball Forum site to get all the latest tables. It does have some annoying download restrictions, but a search can often lead to sites with better access, if fewer tables.