Emulation, Launchbox and Preserving Video Game History

I was first introduced to emulation when I received a disc for my Dreamcast from a friend that contained a complete collection of NES games. Later I would discover the joys of MAME and playing classic arcade games and eventually venture into console emulators.  In 2014 I assembled an arcade cabinet in order to really relive those arcade days.  However it wasn’t until I discovered Launchbox that I realized emulation was more than just playing old games, it was about preserving and enjoying video game history.

A Closet Full of Games

Like many people I’m a collector, so I have a good collection of old systems and games, albeit stored away.  Yet as time goes by its becoming harder to use these older systems with their RF, composite and “gasp” S-Video connections. I recently discovered that my Sega Saturn connects with S-video, something I no longer have the ability to connect. Even with the ability to use these connections the fact is that some old systems, like the N64, start to look really ugly on modern TV’s. If you no longer keep around an old CRT TV in your house, stored in you basement or away in your attic what choices do you have?

One choice you have is that most modern consoles include options to play old games. Nintendo has their Virtual Console, Microsoft has Xbox Live Arcade games for the Xbox 360 and Sony often preserves their more modern classics as HD remasters and collections.  The problem with relying on these services however is often a slow trickle of games and an additional cost to repurchase something you may already own. These services also often struggle with finding the rights to publish many games which limits obscure and less popular games from being released.

The second choice of course is emulators.  Fortunately emulators are not often bothered with limitations of rights and licensing. Emulators all run on modern computers and operating systems.  Many of the better emulators often even make those old games look better on modern monitors and HDTVs.  The trouble with emulation however is at its core the legality of it. Emulators are not illegal but emulators don’t do much without ROMS which of course are.  Setting up emulators can also be a challenge for some people as many aren’t simple plug and play.

If you’ve managed to find a collection of the right emulators and ROMS you still may be just left with a bunch of executable programs and folders filled with files.  In a day and age of digital distribution and front end systems like Steam you may be left feeling like your back in the DOS days (even more so if you’re actually emulating with DOSBox).  That’s when a nice looking front end software comes to your rescue and starts to change the way you feel about your classic gaming collection.


When I built my arcade cabinet I found and utilized Maximus Arcade.  Maximus Arcade is a great front end but three years ago when I began using it, development on it had all but stopped.  I looked at Hyperspin many times but the setup difficulty always put me off.  About a month ago I decided to google “arcade front ends” and stumbled upon Launchbox.  Launchbox is an amazing piece of software, it’s easy to set up and a blast to use.

launchbox interface
Launchbox Interface

When you start working with Launchbox you’ll be introduced to a nice interface, however where things really get good is when you enter BigBox mode.  The basic Launchbox software (which is free) will eventually just be used for importing, changing settings and customizing what you will eventually use in BigBox.  If I’m not adding a new emulator or ROM set or updating or adding images of videos for files I am in BigBox mode playing, reading about and browsing my games.  The $20 one year fee or $50 lifetime fee are well worth it and within hours of installing Launchbox I had already made the purchase.

The real value of Launcbox comes from the great tutorials that are up on their YouTube channel.  When I set up Maximus Arcade it was a lot of trial and error and research.  Setting up Launchbox was not only incredibly easy thanks to the tutorials but those same videos allowed me to get emulators up and running that I never would have dreamed of in the past.

Big Box Mode

Once it’s all together and you start using Launchbox is when you really start to see the value.  The first person I showed my setup too hit the nail right on the head, this was a video game history lesson.  I have a fairly nice collection of games and I’ve bought a lot of the big name games and milestone games over the years but you never really realize how many games are available and finding those gems you’ve maybe only read about and getting a chance to play is a joy.  I have so many memories of playing arcade games throughout my childhood and getting to play them again brings those memories back.  Finding a crazy game that you may have only seen but never played is exciting as well.

With Launchbox though you may simply find yourself browsing your collection and reading up on the information provided via the Launchbox Games database which provides information for just about every game, add an EmuMovies account and you’ll get some nice videos to add to the collection of box art, fan art and screenshots you’ll be able to get from the Launchbox database.

Outside of arcade and console emulation you can also find yourself deep in PC emulation thanks to DOSBox (included with Launchbox) and some crazy collections of Abandonware games you can find on the Internet.  DOS games are unique in a way where you can find some games that still hold up quite well today and some that really don’t.  Again however sometimes it’s just enough to be able to see where some long running game franchises started way back in the early days.  DOSBox may not be for everyone since there is still the challenge of it actually being DOS, but both the DOSBox emulator and Launchbox make it fairly easy to set up and explore old DOS games.

Preserving Our Retro History and Enjoying New Games

Of course looking back always has a direct reflection on the present as well.  After spending some time pursuing the halls of video games past you may find that your interest in the video games of today has been renewed as well.  I’ve found myself purchasing more Nintendo amiibos than I had planned simply because I’ve gone back and discovered characters I simply had to own.  Many of today’s games have found inspiration in the 2D sprites and simple graphics of the 8 and 16 bit eras, and if you’ve got a load of them in your Steam library Launchbox actually connects with Steam (although I haven’t yet added mine) to bring the past and the present together.

Emulation has its limits however and once you get to systems like the OG Xbox and the PS3 and of course newer systems there is little if any option to emulate.  Thankfully I still own both and have set up again! With my PS3 connected once again I’ve discovered HD Remasters of games like Jax and Daxter, Sly Cooper and more!  I would love to see Microsoft figure out a way to begin emulating the OG Xbox alongside the Xbox 360 as part of their Backwards Compatibility efforts.  Sadly I’m unsure if it’s even possibly for Sony to implement Backwards Compatibility in their systems due to the architecture used by the PS2 and the PS3.  Nintendo has an amazing backlog of great games but their slow as turtle release schedule for older games and unique systems with 2 screens and 3D make it a challenge for them as well (although not for the Internet as WiiU emulation is well underway and progressing quite well from what I’ve read).

Overall Launchbox has helped me get back in touch with my gaming roots and to make it easier to share those roots with my kids.  As a side effect it’s actually helped me to start enjoying current gen gaming more as well.  The ease of use has allowed me to have fun rather than struggle with setups.  It’s also a plus to use a program that you know is a labor of love of the developer. At the time of this blog post Launchbox is on version 7.6 with 7.7 soon to come out of beta.  The current release is stable and new features have already been added since I’ve started using it and more are planned for the future.  I look forward to using it and can’t wait to show it off more in the future!