Flashcarts, ODEMUs, and Laziness

Dreamcast optical drive emulator

Obtaining the Rhea ODEUM in my Sega Saturn, was a watershed moment for me. Now almost all of my retro consoles are all outfitted with devices that can call up my entire collection for any system. Years ago, I loved getting up, picking a game off the shelf, and changing the game. It was the part of the nostalgic draw: fingering over the spines of game cases, reading over the boxart, and deciding what to play. Lately, I just turn on the console and scroll through which ever menu pops up, whether its an Everdrive or an ODEMU (for those who don't know, Everdrives are cartridges that allow you to play games from an SD card, and ODEMUs are boards installed in a disc-based console, which read games from an SD card as well). I have simply become accustomed to this practice.

My Turbo Everdrive card

There are a few reasons why I play original carts less and less. First, I found myself having to clean the contacts on games more and more. A typical sitting would have me cleaning three to four games, which gets old quickly, and takes a few minutes per. I keep all of my games in cases of some sort; original Genesis clamshells, universal game cases for SNES, and BitBoxes for NES.  I would clean a game if I even suspected that it was slightly dirty. I was always paranoid of putting a game with dirty contacts into my consoles as the that dirt would transfer, and it is way more difficult to clean the contacts in a console than on a cartridge. Granted, the games are thirty years old, and corrosion is expected, but it was getting to be too much. However, with an Everdrive I just leave it in the console, and since it is newer there is no need to clean it - it loads up every time.

There's a reason why game cleaners exist.
Another reason is time. Anyone who has kids will attest that there is less time for gaming, so the act of perusing the collection and selecting a game is time not playing. It sounds weird to say it, as I spent hours curating the reproduction cases for my carts. I still appreciate them, they lovingly adorn my game room, but I don't need to see the case to know if I want to play it anymore.

The Rhea Menu on my Shoot'em ups card

The third reason is game protection. Don't get me wrong, I have always been a gamer first and collector second. I never buy sealed copies of games because I don't think they are worth the premium, and unplayed games take up space. I will play any game that I own, any time. However, there are some games that have steadily climbed in value, and it is almost "safer" to play the roms of games rather than the games themselves. Specifically, Sega Saturn games that are outlandishly valued I would just rather keep out of harms way, especially when playing with the kids or with company.

There are lots of options for displaying/protecting carts 

There was a time when I was determined to play the real cart, convinced that there was a difference in the gameplay experience. This is true of real hardware vs. emulation, but not true between original carts/discs and SD card devices. The data send to the console's processors is still the same data, the console does not treat it differently.

Lastly, its just too easy to play games from these devices, especially when game are organized in menus. I have found myself playing more games that I normally would not have pulled off the shelf, simply because I know that loading it, playing it, and abandoning it takes almost no time at all. I can be reminded of why I don't play a certain game as often, and just press a button combination to get back to the main menu of games. So, maybe it boils down to laziness.

Does this mean that I will never play my original copies of a game again? No, but probably less so. Maybe this is just a phase, maybe next week I'll be exclusively be original discs and carts. Only time will tell if that is truly the case.

Retro Games Rereleases and Piracy

The recent resurgence of retro gaming has caught the eye of game publishers, as we are now seeing a steady increase of retro games being rereleased on modern platforms. Recent examples include the Mega Man Legacy collections, the Sega Genesis Classics Collection, the Capcom Beat'em Ups bundle, Nintendo Switch Online, the  mini consoles (NES, SNES, Playstation, Neo Geo), and others. Publishers are starting to mine the ore of nostalgia that adults thirty years of age and older are susceptible to, and they should. Just because a game was released a long time ago doesn't mean it is no longer relevant or enjoyable.

Movies and music albums are rereleased all the time. How many versions of Star Wars compilations are there? Too many to count! Yet people still love them and snap them up. Some musical groups have just as many "Greatest Hits" albums as studio albums, and yet they still sell. Sega knew this, as there are a glut of Sonic and Genesis collections. This may be annoying to some, but I say more is better. There are so many classic retro games out there that would make a great collection, and the recent Capcom Beat'em Ups collection is a great example. Nearly half of those arcade games did not get an a home port to a console, and were until now, lost to the past. I think Konami should get onboard and put together a series of collections, starting with its Arcade hits.

Rereleases of classic retro games in high definition are always welcome

Some will say these games are available through emulation. While that is true, the issue of roms and piracy jumps to the forefront. Piracy is nothing new when it comes to entertainment media. In the early 2000's the file sharing network known as Napster opened the floodgates to sharing of mp3 music files. Napster was subsequently sued by every meaninful entity in the music industry, and was forced to shut down by the courts. This has since led to changes in how music is distributed, particularly with DRM (digital rights management). The music industry shifted to an open online marketplace for songs priced individually. After doing so, Apple proceeded to sell individual songs in droves as the digital music eclipsed physical music media in the marketplace.

Similarly, recent efforts by Nintendo mirror what transpired nearly twenty years ago, albeit on a smaller scale. Their effors to smash rom sites with litigation have been fairly effective. The major rom sites like Emuparadise, Loveroms, and the Isozone have scaled back or removed altogether copyrighted roms and IPs. Where people stand on the issue is as broad a spectrum as colors in the rainbow, but the writing is on the wall. Nintendo is sending a message, and it was clearly received. This maybe another watershed moment in the history of digital entertainment media, or it may not be. Just like the Whack-A-Mole game at Chuck-E Cheese's, roms may pop up somewhere else eventually.

Retro game collections have been better in recent years
There is an argument that companies don't do enough to preserve their catalog of releases, and this may be true. This can change, if more companies realize the demand, and do something about it. If the companies make these games available, the need for piracy diminishes, and they can actually make money on their IPs again. Win-win, right? I would gladly purchase a legitimate copy of a game, if I could. I'm sure many people out there feel the same way. As long as there is demand for such media, publishers should be able to make a profit  off of selling rereleased games. Part of preserving these retro games is supporting the companies that made them, so that future official rereleases is a realistic possibility.

Some retro-inspired releases
Perhaps the next step in the evolution of video game distribution is a subscription based service, like Netflix, Hulu, etc. This would allow for gaming to be above the table, and also allow for proper rights management to be preserved. It would take some work to track down publishing rights for companies that no longer exist, but it can be done. I don't currently own a Switch, but I like the efforts being made to increase retro game availability. If the same retro releases make their way to PS4 I'm sold. What do you all think? Would you buy rereleases today, even if you have free access to roms online?

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