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Nintendo Classic Mini spells end of emulation

Nintendo’s refreshed version of the 1986 Nintendo Entertainment System has finally arrived in South Africa, changing the culture of games emulation, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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The Nintendo Classic Mini, a 2016 refresh of the wildly popular Nintendo Entertainment System first released in 1986, has finally arrived in South Africa, and it spells an end to the culture of game emulation that has been particularly strong in this country.

Emulation of the 1986 Nintendo Entertainment System has long been popular for playing classic games on computers without forking out thousands for what is now a collector’s edition. The argument for emulation is almost always backed with, “I purchased this game in the ‘80s or ‘90s but I don’t have the console anymore so I’m going to emulate it with an online back-up”. 

This argument seems fine, in the traditional media back-up sense, because consumers have been backing up their vinyls, tapes and CDs to digital formats for ages. Moreover, this is a perfectly legal thing to do with audio media. Some consumers with damage discs, scratched vinyls and stretched tapes have been digitally downloading the media that they own, often from free and illegal channels, claiming the legal territory of fair use. Is this different to downloading Super Mario Bros if one has purchased it before?

However, the digital backup method becomes illegal with video games. Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft have explicitly outlined the rules: a consumer does not have the right to make back-ups, obtain back-ups and/or use these back-ups to play their games. The reason behind this is that piracy is rife in the game industry, and back-up copies are usually very difficult to create. 

If back-up copies can be made, the media won’t work on the original console. Sony and Microsoft have implemented special copy-protection measures into their disc media to transmit a “disc wobble”. Their console’s lasers read this wobble, to prove that the disc is not a back-up. Blank discs cannot be purchased with this wobble.

Nintendo has taken a slightly more interesting approach to copy-protection. Apart from the Wii and Wii U, every console the company has produced runs off proprietary game cartridges. This has made the need for back-ups irrelevant, as cartridges are far more resilient to damage compared to their disc counterparts. While dust might be a problem on the older cartridges, they just needed a quick blow of air on the receivers, which Nintendo highly recommended against doing, to get the game working again. 

These cartridges were notoriously difficult to back up, but were not immune. Many websites offer backed up games for download, and Nintendo Entertainment System games are not larger than a megabyte, making them extremely attractive to download when one compares the amount of equipment required to back-up one’s personal copy.

Bearing this in mind, emulators found their way through consumers not being able to play copied games on copy-protected consoles and the rapid increase in computing power. Emulation of copyrighted games is still illegal and will continue to be illegal for decades to come, as copyright stands for 75 years and the earliest Nintendo game is less than four decades old. 

Nintendo doesn’t condone emulation at all and has made it clear that it will never produce an emulator for computers. 

Hidden deep in the legal documentation on its corporate website (see https://www.nintendo.com/corp/legal.jsp#helping), the company goes into great detail on its attitude to emulators. 

It states emphatically: “Emulators developed to play copied Nintendo software promote piracy. That’s like asking why doesn’t Nintendo legitimize piracy. It doesn’t make any business sense. It’s that simple and not open to debate.”

That being said, Sony and Nintendo have seen the market for retro gaming and have released solutions to counter emulation.

Sony released a monthly-subscription service called PlayStation Now which allows consumers to play a vast selection of popular PlayStation and PlayStation 2 games on their PlayStation 4 consoles. This service has been well-received in the launch countries, but licensing issues are restricting Sony from going global with this service. 

Nintendo’s Classic Mini is a different story.

It solves a lot of the issues that Sony is facing with licensing through the release of a separate console. This allows licensing to the console itself, which allows worldwide release. The introductory price of R1200 once-off, with 30 pre-installed classic games like the original Super Mario Bros and Donkey Kong, makes this an extremely attractive offer to consumers who want to get the best retro experience while staying on the good side of the law.

The bottom line is, it makes emulation of the console’s games defunct.

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CES: So long, and thanks for all the beer!

Last week, the Las Vegas expo showed off its fun side with state-of-the-art technologies for enjoying beer, writes BRYAN TURNER

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From craft beer-making machines to robots that pour beer, CES had more beer than usual in Las Vegas last week. And even free beer if you found the right stand. Stampede’s saloon-style booth offered beer to visitors who tried out its latest drones, virtual reality, and other gaming products. No beer tech, though.

Here are some of the beer technologies that stood out:

LG HomeBrew – Craft beer made at home

LG’s HomeBrew craft beer-making machine,  debuted at CES 2019, brings the brewing process home thanks to single-use capsules,  a self-cleaning feature, and an algorithm optimised for fermentation. 

Like a Nespresso coffee machine, the beer maker uses capsules, which contain malt, yeast, hop oil and flavouring. At the press of a button, LG HomeBrew automates the whole procedure from fermentation and carbonation to ageing. A companion app lets users check HomeBrew’s status at any time during the process, from their handsets.

The beer machine not only offers a simple way to make craft beer, but also enhances the quality of beer it makes. The fermentation algorithm intelligently controls the fermenting process with precise temperature and pressure control. It automatically sanitises itself, using nothing more than hot water, ensuring everything is hygienically clean for the next batch.

Designed with discerning beer lovers in mind, HomeBrew allows for in-home production of batches of more than 4 litres of beer in a variety of styles. The following five distinctive, flavoured beers are available now: 

  • Hoppy American IPA
  • Golden American Pale Ale
  • Full-bodied English Stout
  • Zesty Belgian-style Witbier
  • Dry Czech Pilsner

The only catch? It takes about two weeks to make, depending on the beer type.

“LG HomeBrew is the culmination of years of home appliance and water purification technologies that we’ve developed over the decades,” said Dan Song, president of LG Electronics Home Appliance & Air Solutions Company. “Homebrewing has grown at an explosive pace, but there are still many beer lovers who haven’t taken the jump because of the barriers to entry, like complexity, and these are the consumers we think will be attracted to LG HomeBrew.”

Click here to read about the party speaker that holds beer and robots that pour beer.

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CES: Alienware gets Legend-ary

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At CES in Las Vegas last week, Dell’s Alienware released a family of high-end, thin, light, and affordable machines for both amateur and professional gamers – and a new identity.

Alienware marked CES 2019 as a brand milestone with the debut of a new design identity, Alienware Legend. It aims to set a new bar of excellence for what gamers want most – performance and function. Alienware says it evaluated multiple concepts and chose one that was the biggest and boldest departure from its current look.

Alienware Legend, says the company, stays true to the brand’s core design tenets, taking cues from its deep roots in sci-fi culture and its early industrial designs, to distinguish the brand from the rest of the industry. The new Legend design is optimised with cutting-edge thermal cooling technology to achieve and sustain overclocking power, improved AlienFX lighting, and ultra-thin screen borders. It also unveiled a new “three-knuckle hinge” design that reduces the overall dimension while creating a stronger assembly, all combining to yield a better gaming experience.

“We’re excited to come to this year’s CES with some truly groundbreaking products, next-gen software and strategic partnerships that will bring more people to experience PC gaming and advance the industry,” said Frank Azor, vice president and general manager of Alienware. “The legend design answers the call for more and better from our gaming community, and the new G Series laptops will make PC gaming even more accessible to those looking for high-performance gaming at a cost they can appreciate.”

Click here to read about Alienware Legend in action with the Area-51m and m-series laptops

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