Maker Monday: EmulationStation and RetroArch on Windows

I love my video games.  I can waste all kinds of time playing them, from old Atari to the (semi-) latest and greatest on the PS4 or Steam.  But lately, I’ve been trending towards the older stuff, and it’s actually led to some productive projects on my part.

I suppose it’s the truth about science and technology (and motivation): the enterprising slob will work hard now in order than he can be lazy later.

mqdefaultOne such project, which I just finished a few hours ago, involved running EmulationStation, a slick front-end navigation software that lets you glide between emulators you can run on your computer, on Windows.  Of course, emulation aggregators still being fairly new to me, I didn’t realize that was all it did until shortly before getting everything to work.  Fortunately, the searching I did led me to a YouTuber’s wonderful instruction video, which also showed me how to get RetroArch, which is what runs and manages the various emulators one may try to use while trying to play all those games of old.

In the past, running emulators was fairly easy, as you were often doing it one emulator at a time.  You could find an emulator for, say, the Atari 2600, download it, then download the ROMs (aka game files) for that system.  Once all that was done, you would run the Atari emulator, then use it to open the ROMs and play the games.  It was simple enough that I could do it with little effort.

And you can still do it that way if you want.  But as the number of legacy gaming systems grows larger and larger as the years wear on, having an all-in-one approach can be nice if you want to play on more than one system.  RetroPie, for example basically runs EmulationStation and RetroArch together, specifically for Linux and Raspberry Pi users, and it’s great.

6mlcyt1I wanted a similar experience, but for Windows instead.  That way I could put the full power of my PC behind the gaming, and run some of the more robust systems.  In this day and age, I knew it would be more than capable of running any of the systems RetroArch supports.

Now, in order to get this newer experience, some of the same old basics still apply.  You’re finding the software, downloading it, and getting the ROMs and loading them when needed.  But you’re going to end up doing some configuring on your own, and that can get a little scary at first.  As best I can remember, the list of tasks went something like this:

  1. Download the EmulationStation installer, and run it.
  2. Open the software, then close it out.  This generates the .emulationstation folder in Windows Explorer you’ll need to work in.  (ES itself doesn’t work yet, because you need to have a multi-system emulator to work with it. Like RetroArch.)
  3. In the .emulationstation folder, find the es_systems.cfg file.  Open it in Notepad.  This is where you’ll configure the display notes and data of the gaming systems you want to play.  (The YouTuber whose video I followed had a file I could simply copy and paste so I didn’t have to think too much about this, but you’ll need to configure it if you’re going to use different game systems than what he had on his file.  It’s actually not difficult to copy the structure and specify which systems you want to use.)
  4. Download a build of RetroArch from libretro.com that’s compatible with your version of Windows (32-bit or 64-bit).  Also download the cores.
  5. Go to the .emulationstation folder on your user directory in Windows, and create a new folder, named systems.  Inside the systems folder, create another new folder, retroarch.
  6. Extract the contents of the RetroArch build (it should be a zip file) to the retroarch folder you’ve created.
  7. Extract the cores to the cores folder that should now be in the retroarch folder.
  8. Add your ROMs.  You’ll have to go and find them online, and I’d recommend filing them into folders categorized by system.  Put your ROMs in a new folder (roms) in the .emulationstation folder.

It’s not an impossible series of steps by any means, but perhaps a touch more intimidating than it used to be.  My advice: take your time, pay close attention to the video or tutorial web page you’re using, and do your best.  I’ve been pretty successful at these projects so far, and it’s mostly been by being careful and thorough as I go.  For the most part, however, I’m finding these experiences great, as I both learn how these things work and feel satisfied that I’ve conquered another skill to add to my meager technological repertoire.

And of course remember, piracy is bad.  I know these games are old, and haven’t been sold in years, but video game companies still don’t want you playing them unless you own a copy of the games you download–and for some, even that isn’t good enough.  Just remember to game responsibly.

At this point, you should be good to go.  I’d recommend doing some play testing, and seeing how functions like saving and game navigation work, but based on the little gaming I was able to do, I’m for the most part pleased with how this project turned out.  It’ll be fun to recreate some of the gaming memories I experienced during my misspent youth.

Happy gaming!

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NaNoWriMo, and the Benefits of Failure

It’s been about a month since I’ve posted anything here, and a lot has happened in that time.  Holiday stuff, family stuff, personal stuff, all kinds of stuff that has–of course–affected my ability to keep my nose to the proverbial grindstone where writing has been concerned.  With that said, I’m hopefully back to blogging regularly, and writing more consistently even when I’m not blogging.

As I mentioned in previous posts, I participated in NaNoWriMo this year, and managed to get a large chunk written of a novel that I’ve been spinning around in my head for years.  In terms of the stated victory conditions for NaNoWriMo–50,000 words of a novel written during the month of November–I technically did not win; my novel has come in at just under 40,000 words, and it’s not complete.  However, I’m not sure my failure this year is as complete as one might initially believe, even when one factors in the excellent pace I was maintaining at the beginning of the month, and the sudden drop-off at the end.

A number of factors have led me to consider that this failure might be one of the better things to happen to me, from the standpoint of one who aspires to write for a living.  Consider the following:

  1. The story that I’ve told this year is far more complete–or, at least closer to being completed–than the partial novel I wrote 3 years ago, when I “won” NaNoWriMo by getting 50,000 words pounded out.  That story, which still remains badly unfinished, was only to about the halfway point of the plot before I hit the word count minimum, and I haven’t had the gumption to go back and finish it.  This story, I’ve basically finished: there’s a beginning, middle, and clear end, and could probably work as it stands with a little bit of editing, polish, and a little more content.  I feel much better about this unfinished novel than the technical winner I wrote in 2013.
  2. I tried a new approach to this story that I hadn’t with the others–I wrote it in first person.  Typically, I’ve gone for the third person omniscient point of view, and even though I’ve gotten used to writing that way, I’m not sure it’s helped me over the years.  First person has allowed me to get into the head of my protagonist–no, it’s allowed me to express things through my protagonist’s viewpoint in a way that has just come off as more natural and relevant to the story I’m trying to tell.  It probably means I’ll be rewriting a lot of previously written stories, but I simply can’t get over how right it feels.
  3. My characters were talking to me.  This had previously only happened once previously, in a scene that still strikes me as one of the best character moments I’ve ever written.  It came about in that feeling of not actually having written it, but merely serving as the mouthpiece, or recorder, of your character’s words and actions.  That happened again during this story, and it resulted in some long-standing questions finally getting answered about several characters and their motivations.  It enabled me to get my characters to the final conflict, and has had significant bearing on the aftermath.  As I work to finish out the piece entirely, I look forward to hearing more from them.

I think the most significant indicator of this failure being in name only is that I’m still working to flesh this story out and finish it.  Consider it one of my New Year’s resolutions, but if I can get this story finished by the end of the month, I’ll think of this year’s NaNoWriMo as one of my most successful ever, regardless of whether or not I actually “won” or not.

Writing Goals for the Rest of 2016

I’ve recently made a significant change to my life, going from full-time work to a part-time position that is both less stressful and which gives me more time to devote to more creative pursuits.  While I think I’ve gotten good about managing my time over the last few months, I’m trying especially hard to keep my nose to the grindstone with regard to being both more creative and more productive with that creativity, given my newfound extra time.  I therefore went and gave myself a few goals to hit by the end of this year.

  • Do one of the following three things, every day:
    • Write at least 500 words.  That’s the bare minimum, not a finish-line goal for the day.  Getting words written and looking/sounding passable for an audience is one way I’ve found to keep the creative juices flowing.  It could take the form of blog posts (like this one), creative nonfiction (like my reviews on Superior Spider-Talk), or other creative works that don’t get immediately posted.
    • Draw a one-page comic or illustration.  Or part of a comic.  You get the idea.  I’m no great artist, but I wish I was.  At least enough to want to occasionally try my hand at it.  What I’ve found out about it is that it’s hard work, and you have to put a lot of effort in to get any good.  If I can at least do this occasionally, maybe I’ll get marginally better over time.
    • Make something handy or crafty.  This is currently a just-in-case option that I don’t think I’ll be making much use of for the time being, but it falls under the umbrella of doing a craft, or building something decorative or of utility that takes time, energy, supplies, and some level of craftsmanship.  Making a duct tape wallet, making a cutting board, or even playing a song on a musical instrument (of which I currently have no expertise in any instrument).  So, yeah.  Probably a ways off on this one.
  • Finish the “bible” for the novel I’m working on by the end of this month.
    I just started piecing together a comprehensive, up to date version of a bible I had created for a series of stories I’ve been thinking about for far too long.  I’m intending it to have multiple arcs and parts, and figured I’d build up as much of that world as I can retain and put it somewhere I can access it later.  It should contain characters, plot elements, themes, and setting notes that will hopefully allow me to keep things straight as I proceed.  Once it’s done, I’ll start working in earnest on the first novel.
  • Participate in 24-Hour Comics Day this year (October 1).
    I tried this once a few years ago, and failed miserably.  Not entirely shameful, when you consider that the goal is creating a 24-page comic in 24 hours.  At this point, I’ve at least got an idea of what to expect, and hopefully can drum up some moral support and motivation by reaching out to others this year.  I think at this point I’ll need to keep it to simple drawings of simple plots and themes.  And I’ll need lots of caffeine.
  • Participate in NaNoWriMo in November.
    I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month twice, in 2012 and 2013.  I failed in 2012, but managed to attain victory conditions by writing 50,000 words of a novel in 2013.  I’m hoping and planning to replicate my triumph from three years ago, hopefully in the pursuit of this novel.
  • Start pitching a draft of my novel to agents and/or publishers by year’s end.
    By this point, if I’ve stayed on task, I should have at least a few chapters written and can start trying to shop this story out to potential venues for publication.  I don’t know if I’ll go looking for an agent, try smaller publishers independently, or try to self-publish.  I’m already starting to think about this, but the important thing is that I try to get my work out there.

Anyway, feel free to hold me to these goals by asking me how I’m doing with each of them.  I don’t always manage to complete the daily goal (500 words or such), but I have gotten better at it lately.  I’m hoping that by making these plans and sticking to them, I’ll start making some headway in carving out a more creative and fulfilling path for myself.