The Newbies Guide To Playing Old Games With Emulators

Some games are just too good to leave in the past. If you are fed up with the latest graphics and games consoles, let us help you go back to how it used to be. There is no need to leave your favorite games behind.

You may no longer have the right console or the game you are missing. Fear not, we have everything you need to know about playing these games from the comfort of your current PC or laptop. So what are you waiting for? Let's get gaming.

What Is Emulating?

You must have seen it before and been left in a mild state of confusion. Looking over someone's shoulder, happening to catch a glimpse of some old-school classics being played, here, in the 21st century.

No, these games have not been re-released for you to use on your PC.

How have these games been reborn onto a computer screen? The answer is emulating. Emulating is making your computer system behave like a different system. Essentially, you are tricking your computer into being your favorite console of yesteryear.

The Pros of Emulating Games

psX Emulators

Unsurprisingly, that there are many great things about emulating games, as opposed to tracking down an old console and the games you miss. First and foremost is cost. Emulators can be downloaded for free from the internet.

In addition to affordability, they are relatively easy to set up and get going. With just a few simple steps, which we will outline below, these classic games can be back in play in no time.

What if the game you’re hoping to play wasn’t all that mainstream? Emulating has you covered, as pretty much every games console you can think of has an emulator. Even legacy microcomputer platforms.

Emulators are also compatible and easy to set up on a variety of computer systems. Whether you’re a Windows or Mac user, you shouldn’t have a problem setting up and using an emulator.

Linux users may have fewer options; however, there are still plenty of compatible emulators to get you going.

The Cons of Emulating Games

Legality of Rom

What's not to love so far? Any game you can think of - for free. It's a wonder there are any negatives. However, there are a few downsides.

With so many different emulators out there, it can take time to sift through and find the best match for you. To get the best gaming experience, it is best to do some research and experiment with the different emulators that are available.

The main downside with emulators is the not-so-minor detail of legality. While emulators themselves are perfectly legal, the process required to obtain original game files is a bit of a gray area. These game files come in the form of ROMs.

We will go into more detail about what ROMs actually are a bit later in the article. However, the files containing the original game have more often than not been created illegally. That is, without the permission of the game's creators, for example, Nintendo or SEGA.

With that said, emulating games could be considered to be illegal as it involves downloaded pirate software. Even if the original publisher does not exist anymore, these files do not belong to the public.

So, approach with caution when downloading ROMs. Even though you may not be harming anyone by downloading games that are no longer in circulation, it’s still not legal.

How to Play Old Games With Emulators

Now that we have highlighted the gray area of emulating, it is up to you how you proceed. If you are still interested in having a go, here are some simple steps to get you started.

1. Choose and Download an Emulator

SNES Emulator

An emulator is a special piece of software that mirrors the hardware of your favorite old-school console. Thus making it possible for your computer to run any classic game you desire. You need an emulator to open the game software or ROM.

Emulators are commonly built by enthusiasts. These can vary, from a devoted fan of a particular console to an entire community coming together to create one. As these are created by fans for fans, emulators are usually easy to access and download online, for free.

Those developing the emulators try very hard to make them as accurate as they can. This high level of accuracy makes the gaming experience as original as possible. Emulators can be found for pretty much every gaming console you can think of.

With so many emulators out there, finding one to download is really easy. The most straightforward option is to download a console-specific emulator. Basically, if you are hoping to play a game from a Game Boy, then download a Game Boy emulator.

A more complex emulator can also be downloaded. RetroArch is a great program that combines all different emulators from every system you can think of. This makes it an excellent option if you are planning on playing a variety of different old-school games.

While RetroArch is a great program for accessing every game you can imagine, it’s a little bit complicated to install. If you are up for the challenge, you can follow our instructions later on in the article. However, we are keeping it simple for now, with just one emulator at a time.

Generally speaking, emulators have not been installed the way other Windows software might be. Emulator programs are portable and come complete in a folder. Within this folder will be all of the different things you need to set up your emulator.

To get your emulator open, you want to look for a specific file within the downloaded folder package. The file you are looking for will be a .exe file. Double click and the emulator should launch.

2. Choose and Download ROMs

ROM files for Download

A ROM is a pirated copy of an original game disk or cartridge. Just like pirating DVDs, downloading ripped copies of games is also illegal, as you do not own the software. With that in mind, many of the websites that you will be able to obtain these game files from are frequently shut down.

Finding a place to download the game you are looking for can take time, but is done in a similar way to downloading other ripped files from the internet. A quick google search for ROM downloads delivers plenty of options to choose from. However, approach with caution when downloading ripped files.

Not only is it illegal, but as you cannot be sure where the file is coming from, it could also contain malware or viruses. Make sure you have antivirus software installed to keep your computer protected before downloading anything from the internet.

It can also be helpful to read other user’s comments, as they are usually quick to point out if a file is bogus or not.

Once you have found a ROM of the game you are looking for, download it and save it onto your computer. With a ROM and an installed emulator, you will be ready to get gaming.

3. Get Gaming

After downloading an emulator, as well as the files of the game you are hoping to play, it is easy to start up the game. With the emulator opens, click ‘file’ and then ‘select ROM’. Select the game that you have downloaded, which will be a win.rar file.

The game should launch, and off you go on a trip down memory lane. We hope that the game you have chosen lives up to expectations. Sometimes we can forget how far we have come in terms of game quality and graphics.

Playing Old Games With RetroArch

Retro Arch Emulation

If you are looking for the ultimate emulator, then RetroArch is a great option. It serves as an all-in-one gaming interface on your laptop or computer. Being all-in-one allows you to play pretty much any game you can think of, from any console imaginable.

RetroArch will work across a variety of systems, including Microsoft, Android, Linux, Mac, and iOS. It is easy for users to navigate through their library of games, change the console, and set up a gamepad, thanks to the accessible interface menu. With a click of a few buttons, it is easy to transition from game to game and console to console.

With so many options available for users, setting up can be a little tricky. However, RetroArch is always updating and improving its software. These updates help users to get the best gaming experience possible, so it is worth it for true gamers.

The main focus of RetroArch is to allow users to tweak the settings and get a genuine gaming experience. This program is targeting users who have an eye for detail and are looking to reproduce a past game as accurately as they can.

If you are not as interested in the details, then it could be a waste of time downloading such a complex program.

1. Download

To get started, download RetroArch and unzip the downloaded file. Once downloaded and unzipped, the program should launch.

2. Set Your Controls

One of the main features of RetroArch is that it is made for use with a console controller. After downloading the program, the first thing you should do is set up the controller you want to use for playing. Here’s how:

  • Launch RetroArch.
  • Plugin any USB games controller you want to use, most are compatible.
  • Once plugged in, RetroArch will detect the controller automatically.
  • In some cases, the buttons will automatically configure, however, it's best to double-check.
  • Using the arrow keys of your computer keyboard, make your way to Settings.
  • Press X to select Settings.
  • Navigate within this menu to Input and select it by pressing X.
  • Scroll down and select an option that says User 1 Bind All, by pressing X.
  • A graphic overlay will open to set up the controller, use your controller to follow the instructions.
  • Complete the above steps with any additional controllers you want to use.

3. Video Settings

SNES Resolution Settings

Before you start playing, adapting the video settings will provide you with an optimal gaming experience. Here is how you can adjust the video settings:

Use the arrow keys, or configured controller, to make your way to the settings menu.

Select Video in the settings menu.

Once inside the video settings, you are offered a huge amount of options. This allows you to tweak the smaller details of the game to make the experience as genuine as possible. If you are not sure where to start when it comes to changing the video settings, here are some ideas:

Unless you want to play the game in a smaller window, turn the full-screen mode on.

Turn off ‘full-screen window mode’. This will help to decrease any lag.

Turn on Hard GPU Sync to help reduce lag.

4. Download Specific Emulators

While RetroArch is designed to work as an emulator for a variety of consoles, it does not come with any emulators built-in. You must locate and download the emulators you want to use within RetroArch. This can be done within the program, here's how:

Select Online Updater on the RetroArch main menu.

In RetroArch an emulator is called a ‘core’ - select the option Core Updater from the online updater menu.

A list of different emulators will appear—select any that you want to use, followed by X to download them.

5. Organize Your Emulators and ROM Files

Organize SNES

After downloading the emulators you want, you will need to set them up and organize the ROM files you want to run.

Assuming you have already downloaded a collection of different ROMs, make sure they are all saved in the same folder.

Go to the settings menu and select Directory, followed by File Browser Dir.

From here, select the directory where you have saved all of your ROMs.

Return to the main menu and then click Add Content, followed by Scan Directory.

Select the ROM folder you want to load.

Once you have loaded ROMs into the program, an icon will appear showing the console it is from. You can easily navigate through your ROMs by pressing the left and right arrow buttons on your controller.

6. Play

After downloading and setting up the ROMs and emulators, you are finally ready to play. RetroArch is designed to allow users seamless transition between consoles. Here’s a quick rundown on how to switch between games consoles:

  • When looking at the main menu, navigate using the right key to select the console you want.
  • The games you have that are compatible will be shown, select the one you would like to play.
  • After selecting the game, choose the emulator you want to run it.
  • Press Start Content and the game will launch.

7. Save

RetroArch Games

Once you’ve had enough of a particular game, you can save it, ready to return whenever you like. Games can easily be saved and reloaded when playing them in RetroArch.

From your game, go back to the menu.

Select the option, Save State.

The game can be reloaded at a different time by selecting Load State from the menu within the same game.

Final Thoughts

Now you have all the information you need to start playing your favorite old games. Emulators are a great way to revisit your favorite games and consoles from the past. However, there are few things to remember before you start.

There are loads of different emulators available and some are better than others. It will take time, along with a bit of trial and error, to find the best emulator for you. Emulators are easy to find and download for free online.

The game itself, however, is downloaded as ROM. Remember, it is illegal to download pirated games and software, so proceed with caution. While you may not get caught, you are still breaking the law.

Ensure your computer is also protected with antivirus software before you start downloading ROMs. Downloading illegal files from unknown sources on the internet can leave your computer vulnerable to viruses and malware. Always do your research and read other users’ comments before downloading.


Having said that, emulators and ROMs are a great way to travel back in time. This convenient way of playing different games from different consoles makes a trip down memory lane great fun. Especially with a program like RetroArch where you can easily play every game, from every console imaginable, all in one place.

Whether you are only interested in one game console emulator or will be downloading a variety, we hope you won’t be disappointed. Sometimes nostalgia can take over, and the memories of these games are better than the realities. Modern games are worlds apart from these old-school classics.

 With that in mind, we hope you enjoy your trip down memory lane. Have fun using some of the original consoles of your childhood, all from the comfort of your computer. And don’t get caught when downloading illegal ROMs, otherwise, it might be "game over".

About the Author Marcus

Marcus has a graduate degree in computer engineering and has many years of experience in cutting-edge technology research and development in both startups and Fortune 500 corporations. In his free time, he enjoys RTS gaming.

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