[stella] The future of emulation

Subject: [stella] The future of emulation
From: Glenn Saunders <cybpunks@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sat, 26 Aug 2000 13:19:43 -0700
At 12:54 PM 8/26/2000 -0400, you wrote:
How well did Activision Classics do?  It seems to me that TPTB would look
at that project, regardless of its technical merits - or utter lack thereof
- and go, "No one bought that one, why would they buy more of the same from

I think it sold about a half a million copies, despite a poor emulation and zero history stuff. Better than a lot of titles that never made back their investments.

We made all sorts of arguments like these in our proposal to Hasbro.

Then again, I've gotten all the Hasbro 3D revamps in the cutout bin after
6-8 months of release (in some cases cheaper than the e-games knockoffs)

Believe it or not, but titles like Frogger and Centipede have very long sales curves compared to most titles--because they don't really have to succeed based on them being "state of the art". So obsolescence isn't really a concern. Check the sales charts and see which titles keep lingering.

but never any of the emulation-themed stuff like Activision Classics or the

Well of course there is a lot of competition from free emulation. I think that's the biggest issue.

wonder if whoever owns Taito now will sue Hasbro for their Arkanoid-ripoff
3D version of Breakout the way Hasbro sued e-games ;) )

Isn't Arkanoid a Breakout ripoff?

end, I wrote a VB applet to just let me play the games off a menu, and when
I'm curious about the history I go to the Intellivision website rather than
hunt for the CD.  (tangent: Anyone gotten the Intellivision Rules CD yet,
and is it any better that way?)

If you just want to play the games, you can download them, legally or not. The purpose of doing an emulator should be for the history and the glossy presentation first, the games second.

Also, remember that Activision Classics is for the Playstation. That's a closed system. No non-commercial alternatives there.

When you can pack every released 2600 game onto a floppy, and all the
variants and hacks and protos on another, making the whole shebang
downloadable by cable modem users in about 3 seconds, and you release 20

Our proposal to Hasbro was to include everything Hasbro has the rights to (including all the 3rd parties they retroactively gobbled up, plus protos) on one CD.

This would be with reformatted scanned in manuals, documentary footage, trivia, and a nice graphical front-end. I think that would be worth $30 vs. ASCII manuals, raw ROM images, and primitive emulator front-ends, don't you think?

We would have done it had they wanted to break it into two or three volumes, but we'd still be talking something like 100 or more titles per CD. By breaking it into multiple CDs it would give us the advantage of more room for video clips. We're talking CD, not DVD. You can't hold much video on a CD. So it's not like there would be a lot of wasted space on each of them.

If it were done on DVD you'd easily be able to do it all on one disc. We have indeed explored the possibility of doing this for a particular upcoming game platform some people may know that is now well behind the shadow of Playstation 2, up to and including having a dev system on free loan from them.

really old games for 30 bucks, you're just not going to be able to compete
with those who ignore copyright.  People like me will buy it, and maybe the
dozen old game enthusiasts who still aren't on the net, and that's about it.

On the PC platform, maybe. What about Playstation? Why then did Activision Classics sell so well since it violated all the rules by having a bad emulator, not enough titles, and no history stuff?

That indicates to me that at least in the console domain, you can sell more than enough CDs to make a profit.

The Playstation AC can't do full-speed 2600 emulation?  Ewwww.  Then again,
it is only 33MHz, so go figure.

It does between 15-30fps rather than 60. The colors and sounds are also not totally accurate.

If you believe the word of the guy I spoke to, then you can't just point to the clock speed of the R3000 as an excuse. If it could have been done, it should have been done, but the project had a quick turnaround and they did NOT want to spend any extra time tweaking it. They had a ship date and that was it.

Had they chosen this other guy's emulator it wouldn't have been a problem. John Harris also thought he could do a 1:1 emulator and was in on again off again negotiations with them. They had every opportunity to do it right and it was botched at every step of the way.

Not to mention that Kaboom doesn't support any sort of analog controls.

Don't think I didn't give them any advice when I was speaking to the producer, I sure did. But it was too late even if they did want to listen to me. Corporate straight-jacketing at its best.

The sad part is that the corporations have the ability to get classic games out into the mainstream public and we can't. We wind up just preaching to the converted. Corporate budgets also have the ability to provide a financial motivation to get a higher quality of spit and polish on these packages than is practical for freeware emulation which is created by part-time hobby coders. And lastly, corporations have the law in their favor.

Cyberpunks theoretically could create a CD (it would take a while, plus Brad has opted out of the project, so we need another programmer to finish ActiveStella) just as good as what we would do for Hasbro and release it ourselves, but we don't have the rights to anything but the Starpath catalog. We do not want to do it if it isn't perfectly legal, and we don't think we could cut a workable licensing deal with Hasbro or Activision. And even if we did, how many could we sell? We'd never make it into mainstream stores. So there really isn't any point to it unless it has corporate backing of some kind.

After CG Expo someone, I forget who, was saying something like "I'm not quite sure what Cyberpunks are all about."

I hope these last few messages have shed more light on that.

We spent most of last year trying to break away from being purely small fry guys and do a one-time major project for a major publisher that leverages our pre-existing assets. It's not about raping the classic game community for profit. We were just trying to take some ownership of the 2600 commercial emu scene in order to broaden it and get better history stuff out there into the mainstream. We thought if Hasbro is going to do a 2600 emu (and at the time it seemed inevitable) we thought we'd be the best people to come to directly to do it vs. anyone else, including Digital Eclipse, because we had everything in the can and wouldn't have to subcontract anything out. We'd be there fighting to make sure no corners were cut. To be one of the true classic gamers making it into the INSIDE.

We had a lot of creative ideas on how to make the package more well-rounded, enhance the emulator in some novel ways, cool front-end ideas, and so on. It was going to have some surprises.

I'm being as open about this information as I am because I don't think anyone else is going to steal our thunder anymore and we're about ready to abandon crusading to cut a deal.

I guess we're fortunate to have made it as far as we did in the negotiations process with some of these entitites (the list is longer than those mentioned).

We still have a couple leads but they are still far off and pretty thin. Hopefully something will happen but the sum of my experiences to date indicates that these companies see little market left for commercial 2600 emulation, at least on the PC and consoles. We may still be able to do something online where people don't have to pay to play. Witness Shockwave.com.

Anyway, if we don't make any headway in the next six months or so I will release Brad from the Cyberpunks contract and he will be free to release the ActiveStella sources to the net if he wishes. It's an unsigned ActiveX control right now that needs a few tweaks to get out of Beta at its current feature-set. It would be interesting seeing what people do with it on the web. It would need to get converted into a Shockwave XTra to work with Shockwave Director files. Only Director Projectors can use ActiveX controls, which is Purely because of Macromedia's own internet security paranoia...

But imagine Atari 2600 emulators on people's websites acting as interactive banners. I've seen Java applet banners that play like Defender. Coke Wins with a clickthrough to coke.com? I don't know how I'd feel about that.

Glenn Saunders - Producer - Cyberpunks Entertainment Personal homepage: http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/1698 Cyberpunks Entertainment: http://cyberpunks.uni.cc

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