What is game emulation

What is Game Emulation, and How Does It Relate to Arcade Games? What You Need to Know!

Remember that rush of excitement as you inserted a coin into your favourite arcade machine, ready for an epic gaming adventure? Well, you're not alone. Many people still long for those thrilling experiences from their childhood.

Finding authentic arcade machines can be quite challenging these days. The demand may be high, but the supply is limited. And even if you manage to find one in fresh condition, maintenance and space constraints become major concerns. This leads us to an interesting alternative: game emulation! But what is game emulation, and how does it relate to arcade games?

Dedicated gamers have always searched for ways to recreate those classic titles. Thanks to the advancement in technology, they can now use software emulators on computers or consoles. These emulators mimic the gaming capabilities of original hardware systems such as the Atari or Sega Genesis.

However, nothing quite beats the feeling of standing in front of a real cabinet in a real arcade parlour. Also, playing these classic games through emulation might raise questions about authenticity compared with traditional arcades. However, with an emulator, you can access not only one specific machine but an entire library of classic games from multiple platforms all in one place.

The purpose of this article is simple – we want to provide valuable information for those who are interested in experiencing their favourite arcade games in today's world.

What is Game Emulation, and How Does It Relate to Arcade Games?

Game emulation allows gamers to replicate the experience of playing classic arcade games on their computers, smartphones, or modern gaming consoles. An emulator is a software or hardware tool that imitates a video game console, enabling you to play retro games from platforms like Nintendo, Sega, and Sony.

To run these emulated games, you need access to the original game files stored in what's known as ROMs (read-only memory). These ROMs contain all the necessary data from cartridges or discs and can be obtained using specialised hardware.

For example, when working with cartridge-based consoles like Nintendo Game Boy or Sega Genesis/Mega Drive systems, an adapter connects the console to a computer for extracting data into ROM format. With disc-based consoles such as PlayStation and Xbox systems, ISO image files are created by copying optical media onto your computer's storage.

So, in simple words, when you combine emulation software with compatible game ROMs or ISOs on your device, you gain easy access to an extensive library of amazing titles!

It’s one point that now we can play those retro arcade games on our own PC using emulators. But that doesn’t make it the same as a gaming cabinet. So what are the differences? The following table will give you a better understanding:



Arcade Machines

Mode of Play

You can play on consoles or computers with game emulators.

Arcade machines require physical cabinets.


Emulation replicates the software and functionality of old gaming systems.

Arcade machines use authentic system boards for a genuine experience.

Number of Games to Access

The emulator lets you access a wide range of games from different platforms in one place.

Arcade cabinets offer particular games that are compatible with that machine.

Additional Features

Emulators typically provide additional features like save states and customisable controls.

A gaming cabinet does not usually come with any extra features.

Maintenance and Space

Emulators do not ask for any physical space or maintenance.

Arcade machines are big cabinets that require space and regular upkeep.


At the end of the day, the feel of using tangible buttons and joysticks on an actual cabinet is part of the unique charm found only with authentic arcade game experiences!

arcade games

How Does Video Game Emulation Work?

There are different ways to emulate video games, and each one has its own unique technique. In one way, the original hardware is completely copied, and in another, software programs are used that act like consoles on current computers.

Software-based emulation can be resource-intensive and demanding for even high-performance PCs compared to their original counterparts. Developers face significant challenges in creating smooth and reliable emulators. That is because the emulators have to accurately replicate the gaming experience without glitches or errors.

Older consoles have been successfully emulated to near perfection. However, newer systems like the Xbox 360 or Sony PSP pose a greater challenge due to their advanced hardware architecture.

It's theoretically possible to emulate any video game console or system. But, there are limitations imposed by console developers who actively protect their proprietary technologies and intellectual property rights. Knock-offs of popular game consoles exist in some form within the market. So, major developers always remain cautious about unauthorised emulation activities.

How to Play Classic Arcade Games?

There are several ways to play classic arcade games. You may prefer playing on your PC with emulation software. Some people like to explore handheld devices dedicated to retro gaming. You can also enjoy modern remastered versions and ports of classic titles on various consoles. You'll also find compilation releases that bring multiple arcade games together with suitable controls. Let's dive into each option in more detail and find the best way for you to relive those arcade moments!

  • Emulation on PC

Emulation on PC is one of the most popular ways to play classic arcade games. You can transform your computer into a virtual arcade powerhouse with emulation software such as MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator).

You have to download the game ROMs and load them into the emulator, allowing you to relive those nostalgic moments right from your desktop. Plus, with features like save states and customisable controls, you can tailor your gaming experience to suit your preferences.

  • Emulation Handhelds

If you're someone who enjoys gaming on the go, emulation handheld devices might be your perfect solution. These compact devices come preloaded with a multitude of classic arcade games. It's a game piece that you can experience anytime, anywhere.

One popular option is the Game Boy Advance emulator. It lets you play iconic titles like Super Mario Bros and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

  • Modern Remasters or Ports

For those who want a more polished and updated experience, modern remasters or ports of classic arcade games are available. These versions often showcase enhanced graphics, improved sound quality, and even additional features like online multiplayer options. Companies like Capcom have released popular titles like Street Fighter II: Champion Edition for modern consoles such as PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.

These remastered editions breathe new life into the beloved classics. At the same time, they maintain the essence that made the games so iconic.

  • New Retro Game Systems

In an era where Nintendo no longer produces cartridge-based consoles, and Sega has shifted its focus elsewhere, third-party companies have stepped in with innovative solutions.

Companies like Analogue, Cyber Gadget, Hyperkin, and Innex have developed their own game systems that support classic cartridges. These modern consoles feature slots for one or more vintage game cartridges. Depending on the system you choose, they utilise either software emulation or hardware-based electronics to play these games seamlessly.

  • Compilation Consoles

If you prefer a more compact and convenient option, compilation consoles are worth considering. They became extremely popular not too long ago. And they were one of the easiest ways to enjoy vintage gaming on original systems.

You might recall the NES Classic and SNES Classic as some of the early pioneers in this space. You had to plug in a console directly into your TV and experience those low-resolution sprites come alive in crisp high-definition! Enhanced visuals and save states are two of the most convenient features. With save states, you're allowed to pick up where you left off the last time you played.

  • Modern Arcade Machines

While game emulation on computers and consoles offers convenience, nothing quite matches the experience of playing on a real arcade machine.

Many amazing new arcade games are available from Arcades Australia. These games combine the best of old-school gaming with cutting-edge technology. In our collection, we have custom-built cabinets with beautiful designs and high-quality parts that make sure you have the original game experience.

These state-of-the-art machines are equipped with multiple games from different eras and genres. From retro classics like Pac-Man and Street Fighter to modern hits like Mario Kart DX - there's something for everyone. With Arcades Australia, you can embrace the joyous spirit of arcades right at your fingertips!

arcade game emulators

What Are Some Popular Arcade Game Emulators and Their Features?

Since you're eager to explore the world of game emulation, let's dive into some popular arcade game emulators and their features. These software tools allow you to play classic arcade games on your computer or console with ease.

We have already talked about MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator). Another renowned emulator is FinalBurn Alpha (FBA), which focuses primarily on Capcom systems. FBA boasts high compatibility and performance for games such as Marvel vs Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes and Street Fighter III: Third Strike.

For fans of retro handheld gaming devices like Game Boy or Game Gear, VisualBoy Advance (VBA) comes in handy! This versatile emulator lets players relive timeless classics like Pokémon or The Legend of Zelda right from their PC. 

What Are the Challenges of Emulation?

While game emulation opens up a world of possibilities for arcade enthusiasts, it does come with its fair share of problems. Here are a few hurdles you may encounter:

  • Not All Games Work Perfectly

Emulating complex arcade hardware can be tricky. Some games might not run as smoothly as others. Compatibility issues arise due to differences in software versions or incomplete emulation accuracy.

  • You Need a Proper Controller for Full Authenticity

Sure, you can play emulated games using your computer keyboard or standard console controller. But if you want that authentic arcade experience, investing in an appropriate joystick or control panel is essential.

  • Modern Features Can Ruin Your Experience

Many emulator options offer features like save states and graphical enhancements. These changes could detract from the nostalgic feeling we crave when playing classic titles on original cabinets.

Can Players Legally Emulate Arcade Games on Their Computers or Consoles?

It is completely legal to use emulation software to play video games that you have already purchased. However, remember that downloading ROMs for games you don't own a copy of is technically not legal in certain countries.

Having said that, there are numerous websites where you can easily find emulators and ROMs available for download. The popularity of game emulation has grown so significantly that the scene has become too vast for game companies to shut down entirely. As a result, many of these companies have taken notice and started re-releasing their old games and consoles.

Final Thoughts

Game emulation allows players to enjoy a wide range of titles from various platforms and eras. And you can have them all in one convenient place. But, there are challenges and legal considerations. So be an honourable gamer and respect intellectual property rights!

If you're looking for an authentic arcade experience, consider investing in an arcade machine or cabinet from Arcades Australia. With our high-quality offerings and commitment to customer satisfaction, we are your go-to source for all things related to arcade gaming.

Reach out to us and dive into the world of retro gaming with Arcades Australia today!
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