With our first Talk Mobile discussions surrounding mobile gaming and whether or not it can kill off the console, I began feeling a little nostalgic for some of the old console games I used to play as a kid. Being born in 1981, the first console I really remember sitting down and playing was the Nintendo Entertainment System. Man, I begged my parents so much for that thing, and eventually they gave in and bought me one. Consoles through the ages didn't really require much computing power by today's standards. The Nintendo Entertainment System's processor for example ran at a maximum of 1.79MHz, which, realistically, likely isn't even enough power to get your smartphone to boot these days.
If you're like me and enjoy playing older, retro console games then your smartphone is more than powerful enough to run them by way of emulators. An emulator, if you're not familiar with the term, offers up the ability to run older games as if they were running in their intended environment. In short, you can play older games on modern systems. Every platform out there these days has them available, often built using open source resources. iOS has mame along with a huge catalog of classic games companies have officially ported to the iOS platform, Android has a slew of emulators available in Google Play, Windows Phone 8 has a few emulators and yes, BlackBerry has plenty of emulators available for both the BlackBerry PlayBook and BlackBerry 10.
In fact, a new all encompassing emulator that offers most older console systems has recently been released for BlackBerry 10 called RetroArch. It's capable of playing NES, GameBoy, Sega, PlayStation and other ROM's but therein lies the problem: ROM's. Aside from Google Play, which doesn't seem to care all that much, the apps for mobile devices I mentioned are apps you'll rarely find available in the various app stores.The emulators assist in running ROM's and ROM's by most standards are considered illegal. They are, essentially, copies of the games put out by publishers in a format that is easily shareable.
There are certainly arguments to be made there about how a game from 1985 that's no longer available for purchase should be an exception but that's not for me to decide. Personally, I have no problem with digging up those classics and loading them onto my device for my own personal use. If you feel the same way, then let's have a look at what is available for BlackBerry 10 and the BlackBerry PlayBook to help you complete that mission. Keep in mind, these are some of my favorites though a full list can be found in the CrackBerry forums:
Installing the emulators
Having tested a lot of them, my new personal favorite has to be RetroArch. It has a Cascades frontend and folks like Catalystg and many others are working on getting the rest ported over to Cascades as well. Plus, as noted above, it's an all encompassing emulator covering Nintendo, Sega, PlayStation gaming engines and more. To put it plainly, it's one of the best emulators I've used in terms of ease of use and compatibility.
Unfortunately, it'll likely never get accepted into BlackBerry World and just like all the others listed, in order to make use of it, you'll need to sideload the .bar files in order to get them on your device. The way I suggest and have found to be the easiest, if you're not tech savvy, is to use the Google Chrome extension, though some recent OS leaks appear to of have broken it. I've written out the steps below, but you can also find a visual guide here and a video here.
Download and install Google Chrome if you don't already have it.
Download and install from the Google Web Store "PlayBook App Manager".
Put your BlackBerry into development mode (Settings > Security and Privacy > Development Mode). Be sure to create a password, if it asks.
Note the IP of your device from this screen as well. It should default to 169.254.0.1 but just in case it doesn't, make note.
Plug your device into your PC/Mac until it says it's been connected and then visit the IP address be it 169.254.0.1 or the one you noted.
You may get a warning about SSL certificates, this is normal, just go ahead and click "Proceed Anyway". It does no harm.
From there, you can log in to your device. Make sure you enter the password you set up when asked.
Once logged in, you'll see a screen with all the apps installed currently on your device.
You can then simply drag and drop any .bar file into the browser to begin the install process.
You'll see the progress as it goes and once complete, you can then disconnect your device.
If you find this method of sideloading just isn't happening for you, there are several other ways to get the apps installed. There are solutions for both Windows and Mac available but to be perfectly honest, there is no "easy" method of doing it. Each person has to find out what way works best for them in order to get it working. Remember, this stuff is really intended for developers to be able to test their apps with. The ability to sideload for "average" users is just a side effect of being helpful to BlackBerry developers.
Obtaining the ROM's
Finding ROM's to play isn't all that difficult. There are literally thousands of sites out there that offer downloads, but some of them are, shall we say, a little shady or often times spammy leading you to click forever just to find a download link. Most of the files you come across are going to be in zip files or rar files and for that, you'll need to ensure you have something that is capable of opening those files. Once you obtain the files, extract them. Once extracted they can be placed onto your device. Keep in mind some emulators require them to be in a specific location such as Documents/ROMS in order to work but for the most part, the emulators will allow you to browse directly to the file through the UI. I have most of mine stored on my SD Card just simply titled ROM's.
I'm giving away my secrets here but it's really in your best interest to find a site that offers a mobile version. That way, you can download the ROM's directly to your device without needing to involve your PC or Mac to get things running. The only issue with that is that sometimes the files will come packed in a format your BlackBerry device may not recognize, in which case there may be an app to help you, or you simply just have to look for a different version or wait until you get near a computer. One site I particularly favor offers up some Cool ROM's, always has working files, and has a sweet mobile version.
Being able to play all the games you grew up with is awesome. Being able to play them on your BlackBerry device is even sweeter. But not all is fun and games when it comes to ROM's. Obviously, there is a bit of effort involved with getting things up and running and even if you do manage to get the apps installed and the ROM's downloaded, there is still a chance they may not work to your expectations. Often times they won't run, the controls are wonky, the sound is off, the graphics are glitchy and whatever else you can possibly think of. But, when you find that classic game that you love and it just so happens to work properly, it's awesome and makes the time you spend messing about well worth it.
To close this one out, this is also one of the reasons I believe mobile gaming will never fully kill off the console. The console makers have thus far been reluctant to bring some of their most beloved games to the mobile platforms and because of that, people keep returning to the console. It's become a "thing' now for publishers to release the old classics on the console and while emulators are really cool, there's still that nostalgia of playing an old classic with a controller in hand. Granted, it's a small reason but it's the sole reason I still pick up my PS3 controller and I'm sure I'm not the only one. Want to talk more gaming? Stick around all this week for Talk Mobile, we've got plenty more content lined up for you all.