Building Project Magnavox into a genuine all-in-one entertainment system is more than just being able to access all my videos, music, and streaming media on one device. To round-out the feature set, we need to take a page from Microsoft’s playbook and add videogames to the mix. Granted, I could install all my game consoles underneath the television, but that takes up more room than I actually have in my small apartment. Besides, outside the aesthetic benefits of having a veritable museum in my living room, it’s frankly more trouble than it’s worth to rig the wiring, route the cabling, and squint at a screen stretched beyond its original aspect ratio. As awesome as James Rolfe‘s basement is, until I have my own library, I’d like to keep my setup as space-efficient as possible.
This leaves me with one of the most polarizing concepts in classic gaming: emulation.
Now, I’m no stranger to the debate, and let me first say adamantly that it is the opinion of this reporter that, legally speaking, you may make backup copies of software that you have legitimately obtained for personal use [emphasis added]. This is the only application that we will be dealing with here. Secondly, I advocate for emulation in this sense because it does make playing the games much easier and convenient, contributing to my own enjoyment. Thirdly, the so-called “collector’s market” has driven the prices for games through an unsustainable ceiling, and because young millennials would like bragging rights by being able to “own” a copy of a particular game, all the carts and discs worth playing have been bought up only to appear on eBay at ten times or more their original price. Much like the market for vinyl has all-but ruined the casual collection of original-run albums, the market for cartridges and discs has similarly eroded the enjoyment from the hobby.
Enter Libretro, a handy piece of software that seeks to pull as many different emulator “cores” into one central application, running almost any classic game as close to original quality as possible in a convenient package. The Libretro API uses a custom front-end called RetroArch to set up and run the roms for each emulator core. The pair are installed simultaneously as a package, and each core is installed as an add-on from within RetroArch itself.
To install RetroArch in Windows, simply download the latest stable RetroArch build from the website, then unzip the downloaded file to the location of your choosing. If you’re still running Windows 7 (because fuck Windows 10), you may run into a missing file error. Specifically, you may be missing d3dx9_43.dll from the DirectX runtime, so you should follow my instructions for fixing that error here.
That’s it! RetroArch is completely self-contained and should run without incident. Use the arrow keys, Z, and X for most of the navigation (you’ll see a control map on first run), download an emulator core from the Online Updater menu, open your freshly-dumped roms, and get playing!