By the mid-1990s personal computers had progressed to the point where it was technically feasible to replicate the behavior of some of the earliest consoles entirely through software, and the first unauthorized, non-commercial console emulators began to appear. These early programs were often incomplete, only partially emulating a given system, and often riddled with defects. Few manufacturers had ever published technical specifications for their hardware, leaving it up to amateur programmers and developers to deduce the exact workings of a console through reverse engineering. Nintendo’s consoles tended to be the most commonly studied, for example the most advanced early emulators reproduced the workings of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), and the Game Boy (GB). Programs like Marat Fayzullin’s iNES (which emulated the NES), VirtualGameBoy (GB), Pasofami (NES), Super Pasofami (SNES), and VSMC (SNES) were the most popular console emulators of this era. A curiosity was also Yuji Naka’s unreleased NES emulator for the Mega Drive, probably the first software emulator running on a console.
Bloodlust Software’s NESticle, version x.xxIn April 1997, Bloodlust Software unexpectedly released version 0.2 of NESticle. NESticle shocked the nascent console emulation community with its ease of use and unrivaled compatibility with NES ROM images. NESticle arguably provided the catalyst with which console emulation took off. More and more users started experimenting with console emulation and a new generation of emulators appeared following NESticle’s lead. Bloodlust Software soon returned with Genecyst (emulating the Sega Genesis) and others began releasing emulators such as Snes9x and ZSNES (SNES). The rise of the console emulation community also opened the door to foreign video games and exposed North American gamers to Nintendo’s censorship policies. This rapid growth in the development of emulators in turn fed the growth of the ROM hacking and fan-translation community. The release of projects such as RPG’s English language translation of Final Fantasy V drew even more users into the emulation scene.