If your new to retro gaming then you are probably not aware that there two ways of retro gaming. One way is the traditional way and what is considered the most lagitimate way, that is getting an old counsel of your choice, the games you want, and playing them as they where originally meant to be played. Like getting an NES, getting Super Mario Bros 3, hooking it up to your tv and just having fun.
The other way is emulation. From NESticle in the mid-90's to the new Ouya game emulation has been around for a while, comes in a lot of varieties, and more of it is to come. Essentially emulation is using some other system by which to play games of another. I know that sounds vague but emulation opens to door to vague. For instance if you own a Wii, WiiU, or 3DS then you know about virtual counsel through the Nintendo store. Here you can buy titles from the NES, to NeoGeo, to N64 and then play them right there on your modern Nintendo system. This is emulation but this is also just one example.
Here's how emulation works essentially it takes the ROMs (Read Only Memory) from games and saves them online. ROMs are the game programs as they are designed, the heart of the game. If it's a catridge based game it's everything on the chip inside the plastic case. ROM's by design aren't meant to be changed, meaning your not suppose to add or take anything away from the game let alone copy it, but ROM hacking of games is relatively simple. Also the ROMs of most old games occupy very little space 2KB for some old Atari games and up to 64MB for some N64 games. Meaning a simple at home PC with a 500GB hard drive can literally hold thousands of games and send them online easily.
All of this does not come without controversy. In many instances these ROM hacks are no different then any other kind of hacking, and copying them online is considered piracy. In other instances game designers are ok with the hacks, and sometimes are even the ones to hack and place games online they designed. So in some respects there is a whole late 90's Napster feel to the ROM thing but since retro gaming is not as big as the music industry your not going to know about it outside the retro-gaming community.
Keep in mind though that there are also legal emulations. For instance I mentioned Nintendo Virtual Consel before, here you can buy games to play on your system. The benefit is that the games are legal, and supported by the seller. The downside is that a game you bought for one systems virtual counsel may not transfer to another. In Nintendos case some gamers are complaining that games bought on Wii are not transfering over to WiiU.
Besides Nintendo though there are other systems out there with legally bought emulations, mostly with top notch quality. The Playstation Network, XBox Live, Windows 8, iOS, Andriod, Steam, Gog, and Ouya all offer retro emulation experiences. Of course at a price but the high quality experience is worth it.
In additional parts of this series I will cover various emulators and let you know my experiences. There are a lot of good ones out there I would like to talk about. Just keep watching.