#9: Kings of convenience

Every so often — typically after I’ve upgraded my PC in some way — I will muck around with Dolphin, the popular GameCube and Wii emulator. It’s a fun, slightly off-kilter way of benchmarking. Rather than seeing how well my tarted-up rig can run a Crysis or Cyberpunk, it’s about whether it has enough horsepower to boost some beloved 15-year-old game to a ludicrous resolution and framerate. The last time I tried it, after building an entirely new PC from scratch, I hit an immediate problem: the new rig had no disc drive. I’d have to download an ISO! Illegally! (Reader, I did.)

Having not dabbled in these corners of the internet for over a decade, I was surprised at how easy the process had become. There were no shady clients to install or dodgy websites to navigate, just a direct download from a webpage. No wonder that Nintendo is so eager to shut these websites down: yesterday it emerged that the company has been awarded $2.1 million in damages after a two-year legal battle with the website ROM Universe, whose owner unwisely decided to defend himself in court.

Clearly Nintendo has to protect its copyrights, and the industry more broadly is correct to fight piracy wherever it encounters it. Making money making games is hard enough as it is. But piracy isn’t always about wanting things for free; it is also a question of convenience. I wasn’t about to buy a DVD drive for my new PC just so I could see how Viewtiful Joe looks in 4K — and if there was a way for me to play it legitimately, I would pay through the nose for it (seriously, will someone please remaster Viewtiful Joe). But in the absence of any official way to play Nintendo’s back catalogue on modern devices, beyond the weird selection of NES and SNES games available through the Switch Online subscription, I had only one decision to make: pirate it, or forget it. I chose the former, and both regretted and resented it.

I think it quite instructive that I hadn’t so much as thought about Dolphin for months until I saw the ROM Universe news, primarily because Super Mario 3D All-Stars has given me a way to play Super Mario Galaxy, another of my emulation white whales, on today’s hardware. I stopped downloading music when Spotify came along. I stopped modding consoles to play import games when worldwide releases became the standard. Twenty years ago, a modded Xbox was a wondrous thing, outfitted with a larger harddrive, packed with emulators and full romsets, and equipped with a powerful media player with which to watch downloaded episodes of the latest US TV shows. Today, a USB drive connected to my Xbox Series X is packed with classics from down the decades, all acquired legitimately, and I can watch US TV through official streaming services on just about any device in the house. When the legal course of action becomes more convenient than the illegal one, the spectre of piracy fades away.

So yes, Nintendo can keep hunting down websites like ROM Universe and suing them into oblivion. But until the company gives people a way to play its classic games legitimately, these sites will continue to appear, and to flourish. A Nintendo subscription service — offering access to everything, or as close to everything as licensing restrictions would allow — seems like such a slam dunk that I’m amazed it hasn’t happened yet. It would certainly make a lot more than $2.1 million, and there’d be no need for Nintendo to spend two years in court to get it. We can but hope. In the meantime, I suppose I’ll settle for that Viewtiful Joe remake. Get your skates on, please.


I may want to play yesterday’s games on today’s hardware, but purists disagree: prices of CRT TV sets are surging to as much as $4,000 on US auction sites.

I greatly enjoyed this Vice story about the rise and fall of a game-cheat ring that is supposedly worth $77 million. Let’s all pack it in and make aimbots instead, eh.

The first fruits of Sony’s investment in fighting-game megatournament Evo: a series of community tourneys with prize pools in the tens of thousands. A little deflating, honestly, but I suppose it’s early days.

Wags mining the source code of not-E3’s website unearthed a work-in-progress list of banned words, including ‘religion’, ‘women rapping’ and ‘Canada’. It’s since been taken offline, but a few more suggestions from me: ‘visceral’, ‘compelling’, and ‘Crash Bandicoot’.

I caught a few errors in yesterday’s email that I’d have spotted pre-send if I wasn’t juggling half-term childcare duties this week. Apologies for that. I shall be more vigilant! Catch you tomorrow.