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!

Why Horror Games Fascinate Me, Yet I Won’t Play Them… Much

October has been an extremely enjoyable month for me so far, and not just because I’ve gotten such good responses to my daily two-sentence horror stories.  With the weather changing, the temperatures dropping, and the sights of Halloween costumes just on the horizon, this month has felt like a month of transition, relaxation, and rejuvenation.  And while I’ve had a lot of fun getting these two-sentence horror stories out in front of people, it would be easy to forget that this blog is not just for short, terror-inducing content.  So I figured I’d talk about another topic I like, while still keeping to the horror theme: video games.

I do enjoy my video games, and while I don’t consider myself a power gamer by any stretch of the imagination–I simply can’t devote the time and energy needed to any one game like that anymore, much less several of them–I do consider video games an integral part of my regular relaxation.  They are to me an excellent way to unwind, forget about the trials and tribulations of the regular grind of the workday, and immerse yourself in a virtual world.  They can also be a time sink and occasional money sink, but I like to think I’ve become a little more savvy about navigating those particular minefields, at least most of the time.

thewalkingdead_seasontwo_episode4_2There also exists a cute little fascination I have with horror stories and the creepy and macabre.  I love reading creepypastas and listening to YouTube videos about them, and I have my own copy of the Scary Stories Treasury, the collection of all three volumes of Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark books (the Gammell illustrated ones, thank you very much).  I even enjoy and revere the old slasher horror films that got started in the 70s and 80s–you know, Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, Leatherface; those types of movies.  You’d think this particular obsession would dovetail nicely with my love of video games and send me clamoring to get my hands on some interactive scares, thrills, and chills.

But the thing is, I really don’t play horror video games.

Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy them.  I actually do have a couple of horror games on my Steam account that I have played, and still do (though instances of doing so are few and far between), and I’m happy to watch particular Twitch streamers and YouTube stars do playthroughs of the latest squick-filled story.  But personally, there’s a marked difference between reading a scary story and experiencing one in real-time through a video game.  You get drawn in and manipulated in a way that, for better or worse, can’t often be matched by the mediums of film or prose.

I’ll give you a couple of situations as an example.  

mollydollyI listened to/watched a YouTube video that contained, among other creepypasta stories, the story of Molly the Dolly.  It was extremely well narrated, and the jumpy, jagged animation, though fairly simple, was very effective in making the story stick to my memory.  After I was done with that list, and ready to go to bed, I remember being a little creeped out by the memory of that story, and had some trouble sleeping, but overall was able to get a full night’s rest.  An effectively told story, that I thought would have worked in Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark if it were still going, kept me up a little, but didn’t scare me awake.

Now for the video games.

fnafslenderhorrorA couple years ago, on Halloween, I decided to try my hand at a couple of horror games–Slender: the Arrival, and Five Nights at Freddy’s, for the record.  I handed out candy that night, and then turned out the lights, fired up my computer, and downloaded and played them.  I gave each several hours worth of attention, enduring both the uncertainty of where Slenderman would appear and short out my camera view, and the firsthand apprehension (and explosion of terror) of when and where one of those damn animatronic things would pop out and get me–yay, jump scares.  By the time I was done playing, I knew I wouldn’t be sleeping that night.  Thank goodness I didn’t have to work the next morning.

So, simply put, I like sleeping, and the horror games I have played have made that difficult.  True, I may become desensitized to them with more exposure.  But in the meantime, I just want to sleep.

nt-whf-hnThat’s not to say I patently avoid horror games.  I’ve been intrigued by games like Night Terrors, a “Pokemon GO for horror fans,” as touted by some; We Happy Few, which looks like it’s a psychedelic balance of managing your meds enough to blend into the horrific, mask-wearing community without getting consumed by them; and Hello Neighbor, a game that apparently tracks your habits so the AI can design traps for the way you think.  All look like they’re worth a play, and I may even do so if I’m feeling particularly brave.

But for the most part, I’m content to keep the horror gaming genre at arms length.  I like my scares, and I like my video games, but I think combining the two would not work for me on a firsthand basis, at least not for a while.  I’ll be happy to watch them as let’s plays, and even occasionally dabble in one once in a while, but for now at least, I believe I’ll be happiest just watching or hearing about them.  

At least then I can laugh at the scare the damn things give me.