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Retro Gaming Hacks by Chris Kohler

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Run NES Emulators on the Mac

Make the switch without losing your Nintendo homebrews.

Ah, the bastion of classic gaming for generation Y—the Nintendo Entertainment System. The eight-bit era had a profound impact on the videogame industry, and many people late at night, after downing that second glass of store brand whiskey and half of a leftover burger in the fridge, want to relive the so called “glory days” of gaming. Sure, it’d be simple if it was on their PC. But you’re a hipster with a Powerbook and a massive collection of CDs from indie bands. It’s not that easy. Don’t worry, as this section of the book will walk you through just exactly how you go about playing those NES classics on your Mac.

Before you even worry about stock piling ROMs for the hours upon hours you’ve freed to relive your youth, you’re going to need an emulator. This is the program that allows you to play the ROMs on your Mac. Now, there are a variety of options, and there are a couple really top-notch programs available. Here’s a list of the NES emulators for the Mac:

RockNES

Available at http://www.bannister.org/software/rocknes.htm, this is the premier emulator for NES games on a Mac. The problem is that it isn’t entirely universal. Users with older computers are going to experience some slowdown due to cycle-exact emulation, and the creator recommends at least 1Ghz for proper performance. Testing this program with a 867Mhz G4, I found his statements to be true, as it was choppy at best. When I tested it on a 1.8Ghz G5 processor, I had a much smoother experience.

For those who like the feel of RockNES, there are older versions not supported by the creator available on the net. http://www.johnl.org/ is home to an older version of RockNES that will work on systems with less than a 1Ghz processor.

Also, RockNES supports the Famicom Disk System, along with providing excellent sound support. If you have a new Mac, this is really the emulator you want to be using. Though, if you’re interested in having USB gamepad support, bilinear filtering, full screen mode, and aspect ratio correction, you’ll need to download the available Emulation Enhancer shareware at http://www.bannister.org/software/ee.htm. This software isn’t free and will run you $25. However, Richard Bannister has ported a lot of emulators to Mac OS X, and you only need to purchase Emulation Enhancer once to bring its features to all his emulators.

Nestopia

Also available at http://www.bannister.org/software/nestopia.htm , this program offers a little more of a buffer in terms of processor speed and is widely accepted as the most compatible of Mac emulators. In addition to having cycle-exact emulation, Nestopia supports 143 mappers (which correspond to different chips used in NES cartridges) and five more sound chips. It’s extremely robust, and even if you have above an 800Mhz G4 you’ll get fairly nice emulation with only a couple of hiccups. Nestopia can also use the Emulation Enhancer software to add more features and functionality to this already impressive program.

iNes

For all those who believe OS X is the devil and OS9 is God’s gift to mankind, iNes is definitely the program of choice. It’s an extremely well rounded program, offering a high compatibility rate with both NES ROMs and FDS titles. The one downside is the fact that this emulator doesn’t have the best sound output. Other than that, iNes is a fine emulator.

macFC

While it’s not going to be the main choice for many, this emulator is important because it’s a Japanese version. As such, those who want to play those Famicom Disk System games without a hitch should look into using this emulator (if you know Japanese). Available for download at http://macfc.at.infoseek.co.jp/

These are really your best bets in terms of compatibility, system requirements, amount of mappers, and sound quality. While there are other emulators out there, such FCEUltra and FakeNES, users not experienced with compiling programs themselves will find using the aforementioned programs much easier. Also, RockNES and Nestopia really do everything you need or would want in an emulation program. They’ve also been updated in the past year, meaning if there are glitches, bugs, and a lack of support, they’re more likely to be fixed in programs like Nestopia and RockNES.

Of course, there are many of you who want to do more than just play games. You want to put that noodle to work on your own NES game. Those looking to do just that, or just want to mod someone else’s NES ROM will be dismayed to find there is only one real program for doing this called TileEater. Available at http://www.emulation.net/nintendo, this program only runs in OS 9, so those working on OS X will need to make sure they have the classic software installed to emulate the older operating system. Being the only such program available for any version of the Mac operating system, beggars really can’t be choosers in this case.

Emulation Enhancer, which I mentioned earlier, is one of the many add-ons that you might want to consider to improve the quality of this nostalgic enterprise you’ve embarked on and allow you to use an actual gamepad instead of a keyboard. It’s shareware, so you can download and test this utility before you buy it ($25). It also offers screen filtering, full screen mode, and the developer, Richard Bannister, is also working on network play as well.

For those who want to organize their ROMs, Bannister also provides a utility called RomOrganizer, available at http://www.bannister.org/software/romorga.htm. The program is shareware, reminding you of this fact after every 20 ROM files examined and processed, but allows you to get a really good idea of what it’s all about before you buy. The great thing about this program is that it will be great for looking at the embedded info in the ROM file for not just NES ROMs, but for 22 other systems. That’s right, RomOrganizer supports 23 systems, making it a must have for Mac users in general, not just those who want to play NES ROMs.

With the information in this hack, you should be more than ready to try your hand at running some NES ROMs on your Mac. It might not seem as easy as it was on the PC, which has a multitude of emulators and editing programs, but just remember that even after you make the switch, it’s not really that hard at all to rejoin the world of NES emulation. You’re got the essentials, you’ve got the knowledge, and you’ve got the ROMs—why now, friend, you’re playing with power.

Daniel Dormer

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