Sunday, 15 May 2011

Emulation: on not being American

It's interesting sometimes to contrast how American and British (and to some extent European) retrocomputing enthusiasts look at the area of emulation. These days gaming is pretty much global -- PC, PS3 and so on -- but that wasn't nearly so much the case in the old days. We in Britain had a very substantial home computer industry in the early-mid 1980s, after all, and given that and the fact that it was feasible back then for bedroom coders to produce commercial software alone we had much less need to bow to what America or Japan did.

And that word "computer" is important. The Atari 2600 and the NES, for example, weren't nearly the phenomena over here that they were in the US, and a major reason for that is that we had Sinclair, Acorn and Amstrad producing enormous numbers of computers rather than consoles, and those are what the average 12-year-old had at school (in Acorn's case) or at home (in the case of the others). Of the American manufacturers, Commodore did well and Atari (with the 400/800) to an extent, but you rarely saw UK homes with an Apple II, TRS-80 or TI99/4A.

So when you have a console like our very own GP2X, with a strong coding base in Europe, you're likely to get emulators for more of the British machines than you might otherwise do with such a (relatively) small installation base. And that is in fact the case: the relevant section of the OHH archive has good emulators for half a dozen major British micros: the Amstrad CPC, BBC Micro, Dragon, Sam Coupé, Spectrum and ZX80/81. (Okay, the Sam Coupé isn't really major, but still...) I'm not counting the Archimedes emulator as (like so much GP2X stuff) it has never been finished.

I wonder sometimes whether this gives European coders a slight advantage. If you had a NES, all you were likely to do was shove in a cartridge and go. But those of us who had computers expected to do at least a little programming from time to time, even if we mostly had our machines for leisure purposes. Sometimes that hacking was needed just to get a game to run, after all! The 1980s generation of kids was the only one, ever, who learned to program on a mass scale from before they even reached their teens. That's something that's largely missing today, and I think it's a real shame.

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