A Nothing Emulator

I’ve been embroiled in this constantly recurring debate over whether or not PC gaming is dead or dying. This entry is not about that continuing discussion, but rather a related idea that came to me while in the shower today. No, I’m not lying. I actually thought of this in the shower. If you’re a serious gamer you’ve used an emulator before. An emulator is a piece of software which translates machine language designed for one computer architecture for another. So if you take a program written to run on a SPARC processor an emulator will allow you to run that program on an x86 processor. Gamers use emulation software to allow programs designed to for old game consoles to run on modern PCs.

The idea I came up with is to make an emulator that emulates nothing. Instead of trying to make something to emulate a game console just make up a brand new amazing game console on paper and emulate that. If you’re computer savvy you probably realize this is essentially what Java is, a virtual machine. But imagine if someone made up a brand new virtual machine designed for games.

I’m confident that if such a system were implemented and supported by developers it would create a new revolution in PC gaming. It would make it easier to program PC games since developers would no longer worry about users having different hardware. They would just have to write games to work with the virtual machine without caring about what hardware is underneath. The emulator’s interface can include means to distribute games over the net and include an online matchup system for multiplayer gaming.

Think of it like this. What if the XboX 360 was a free piece of software that ran on any computing device ever instead of being an expensive piece of hardware. It would be like having a game console that never became obsolete. People would continue to use it and make games for it forever. Game developers would make money based on how many copies of their games sold and how much they sold for. The company developing the emulator would charge a fee for having games listed and perhaps advertising in the interface, but not during games.

All the detriments of PC gaming would also go away. No more difficulty installing games or not getting them to work. No more complications with patches. No more tricky copy protection schemes. All the detriments of PC gaming would be eliminated without getting rid of any of the benefits like the KVM.

I’m sure I’m not the first person to think of this. And some people might argue that Steam is almost this already. The difference is that Steam is really just a front end for MS Windows. For Steam to fulfill this role and achieve all the benefits it would have to become much more than it is.

There is one negative to this that is the full power of PC hardware would not be able to be easily harnessed. The performance would be well above that of Java or VMWare, but it would not come close to fully utilizing the hardware. The emulator would always cause a performance hit by nature. One solution is to have an operating system instead of a VM. Maybe there can be an OS on a LiveCD or such, but I do not think that by taking on the OS route will this be successful. We’re just going to have to start shying away from crazy insane graphics and put more emphasis on making games that many people will buy.

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3 Responses to A Nothing Emulator

  1. James says:

    That would be pretty cool. I’d dig(digg?) it, if for no other reason then because it’d take a lot of the hassle out of Linux gaming.

    Though, I don’t think all our problems with piracy would go away. Whatever media they picked to use, it would be just a matter of time before someone came up with an easy way to make copies of the game.

  2. Apreche says:

    Copies of a game don’t help you if you need to login to an online service with a complex challenge/response mechanism to access the games. Maybe eventually people would pirate 1-player games, but you could technically prevent people from pirate multiplayer games.

    It doesn’t really matter. The best way to fight piracy is not with DRM technology. The way to fight piracy is to make the system so easy and cheap that it’s easier to not pirate than to pirate. People only pirate because it is too difficult or expensive to get things legitimately. If original awesome GBA quality games could be downloaded easily for $1-$5 not many people would pirate them.

  3. Jacob says:

    I’ve actually always had the idea that a Game OS would be cool because it would devote your hardware entirely to the game at hand, like a console. It would have support for the latest DirectX and OpenGL engines, and it would be booted when the gamer is in the mood solely for gaming (ie no office apps), like at home or at a LAN. I know that the user would need to have the drivers for his audio/video/other hardware, although I don’t know what manner of drivers they would be. In my ideal realization the very simple OS would be based on FreeBSD for its rock-solid track record and the ability to execute Linux binaries; this would potentially answer the driver question, as many companies are now offering support for the OS.

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