In the early days of April, 1997, I saw something that made me think completely differently about technology than I had previously, and in many ways, has put me on the writerly path I’ve spent much of my adult life working up to.
The thing I saw was NESticle, a Nintendo Entertainment System emulator that, while not first out of the gate, came to define this era of video games for me. Already a bit turned off by the push to 3D graphics, this felt like a more interesting path to me. It made me think about the mechanics of the games I played a little bit more, how they were built, and what they represented for technology. What the MP3 did for music, the emulator did for video games. It was a way to make an object digital, but also to keep it alive for generations to come.
Around this time about five years ago, I had the idea to try to capture everything I could about this time, this scene, these people, into a piece on NESticle
, a tool that, when I was 16 years old, blew my mind. I wanted to understand why it came to life, the drama that slowed its growth, and the way that it changed video games and computing going forward.
So I wrote the story and talked to everyone I could from that period … except the man who made the emulator, who proved challenging to reach. (I had to make up for the gap with a ton of research.) But the story of what happened and how it changed video games nonetheless took on a life of its own. And the lore around this period continued to grow.
This week, it culminated.
The spark occurred as a result of a reverse-engineering effort
involving a programmer who was just as inspired by this emulator as I was—and who wanted to see its barely released sibling emulator, SNESticle, live a second life. (In my original piece, I pointed out that it did, quietly, see a commercial release within a GameCube game.)