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Delta: Game Emulator: The battle of emulation and game preservation

All screenshots by: Joey Crossney, App by: Riley Testut

Apr. 18, 2024 was a big day for game emulation enthusiasts and gamers alike. The Delta: Game Emulator was released on the Apple app store by a developer named Riley Testut. The app is completely free yet features few compromises. Delta: Game Emulator can play every Nintendo system up to and including the Nintendo DS except for  the GameCube.

An emulator is a piece of software that replicates older hardware’s code and information, allowing users to play older titles on modern hardware. This technology is a point of contention for some companies. Some support it because their re-releases of older games usually use emulation, but some are against it in that the companies will take down certain emulators and roms that they don’t want being on the internet. 

This is such a big deal because Apple had previously not allowed game emulators on their app store, but with a recent change in rules, they made it possible for Testut to release this app. The opening of the possibilities of emulation has sparked a new interest in Apple users yet  with these new opportunities comes debate over the legality of emulation.

Many people question the legality of emulation as it replicates and uses companies’ older code sometimes to run these games. 

Not only that, but fans have to acquire the games themselves, which is an entirely separate beast. Games are typically stored in a ROM (read only memory) file format which contains part of the read only memory chip found in a game cartridge for instance. These ROMs are then used in emulators to play the games. Obtaining said ROMs is where the legality of it truly comes in. There are ways to dump your own ROM from a cartridge into a file to be put on your computer. This is generally deemed as being legal to do and is generally how people are “supposed” to do things. However, most people don’t bother with this as it requires an original copy of each game which can be very expensive, and the ROM dumping devices are pricey as well. Instead, people illegally download the ROMs off the internet to then be played straight away on an emulator. 

People say it’s illegal for several reasons: For starters, if it’s a game that is actively being sold or has been re-released recently, it can take away from the company’s sales. But what if it hasn’t been re-released on modern hardware or even re-released at all? That’s why people defend downloading ROMS, arguing that it preserves games as well as being easier and cheaper than official or legal means.

Game preservation is something the game industry notoriously fails at. According to the Video Game History Foundation, about 87 percent of classic games are not preserved and are missing. 

This is a big problem as that means most people can only play a small fraction of all games ever made. Usually the games only re-released by companies are games that are popular with critics or fans. Games in series like Super Mario or Sonic the Hedgehog are mostly well preserved given their popularity, but even these franchises have gaps. Emulators are a great solution to preservation, as they are on the internet and can be downloaded for generations to come given how widespread the internet is.

However, companies like Nintendo make it hard for fans to preserve what they won’t, as the company will give DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedowns to people who post ROMs or emulators online, threatening them to take the emulators down or face legal issues with Nintendo or pay massive fines. Nintnedo likes to do this often, but they tend to leave people with few choices since they cherry pick which games they want to re-release on top of making people pay for these games each time a new system comes out. 

All in all, Delta will most likely determine the future legality of emulation, as there are none or very few specific laws or precedents about it.

With all the systems Delta emulates, it does a great job with each one. There is no noticeable slow down or input lag, the emulator supports touch screen controls as well as bluetooth controllers, and the touch screen controls work mostly well, however, trying to press multiple buttons at once is a challenge.

Games like Mega Man X and Duck Tales are a joy to play on smartphones. Additionally, the power of emulation is that you can play games that were never released in your region with fan translations, or you can play ROM hacks that modify the game in fun ways.

Delta: Game Emulator is a must download for any emulation enthusiast or gamer.

All screenshots by: Joey Crossney, App by: Riley Testut


All screenshots by: Joey Crossney, App by: Riley Testut


All screenshots by: Joey Crossney, App by: Riley Testut


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About the Contributor
Joey Crossney, Design Editor