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The Past of SNES '9x
Luke Sneeringer - November 1, 1997

A few months back, when no SNES emulator yet had sound and SNES '9x did not yet exist, there were two main emulators that were rivals for the gold medal; the first place trophy as the greatest of the SNES emulators.

The first was ESNES, written by Lord ESNES. This emulator was created as a college project, and Lord ESNES learned C++ and ASM while he wrote it. He continued it for no reason besides fun, and it still holds a place in the emulation community.

The other was SNES '96, written originally by Jerremy Koot and then discontinued (somewhat), and later handed to Gary Henderson. This emulator was a good deal slower than ESNES, but as it got faster it progressively became more popular. It's best point, however, was its excellent ROM support.

Lord ESNES and Gary Henderson/Jerremy Koot were in good standing with each other; they weren't quarrelling, they weren't having difficulty. Each emulator was increadibly popular, and the two authors helped each other progress their emulators. I really couldn't say that either emulator was "better" than the other at that time, all I can say is they both worked very well, and they were both too slow on my 486/66. =)

That changed when Nerlaska released the first version of their SNES Emulator, NLKSNES (Nerlaska SNES). Although this emulator was not as advanced as SNES '96 or ESNES, it was fast enough to be enjoyed by those users with high-end 486s. Its main flaw was its low ROM support.

Nonetheless, NLKSNES shot to the top of the popularity list with 486 users, and even users with Pentium-class machines found the emulator fast and enjoyable. Although it may not have been a worthy rival to SNES '96, it was popular for its speed.

And that's where the trouble started. SNES '96 (currently on v0.71) began flaming the emulator and the authors of the emulator. They didn't accuse Nerlaska of any wrongdoings, but they did try to shame NLKSNES to the best of their ability.

"And for those of you who think Bloodlust should design an SNES emulator, well, you'll have a long wait! For those that think NLKSNES is best because it's fastest, well, good luck finding a ROM for it!"

This was an approximate quote (I no longer have the SNES '96 v0.71 readme, but it went something like that). I remember the last phrase distinctly. Now, this could be taken completely at face value, i.e. "I hope you can find a ROM that works with this emulator. I'm sure it'll get better soon." In reality, however, this was probably more of a sarcastic comment: "You'll never find a ROM for that stupid emulator, it's ROM support stinks so bad!" Granted, you can't tell tone of voice exactly within typing, but in this case you can make a pretty good guess.

What was Nerlaska's reply? They weren't too thrilled, and they did insult SNES '96 in return: "We are not like Gary Henderson who can't take an ounce of competition!" Nonetheless, I remember exiting the readme thinking that what they said was indeed true, although it was editorialized. =) What really got me was what they put in their readme for the next version. After a five-line apology to SNES '96, they simply stated: "STOP THE WAR!" This quote was later noted by Y0SHi in a letter to Gary (CC'd to Chris and myself, among others) on October 23, 1997, which has been posted on Archaic Ruins (click here to read it).

The NLKSNES/SNES '96 war did stop. I honestly don't remember if it stopped peacefully or if it came to an abrupt halt when the next war began. Vertigo 2099, a ROM releasing group, accidentally got a private beta of SNES '96 v0.73 and released it publicly on their webpage (not linked here because it is down). The SNES '96 team was on them in an instant. Vertigo 2099 was flamed for a million different atrocities, including theft. Vertigo 2099 quickly took the beta of SNES '96 off their webpage and explained (and apoligized for) their mistake. They had been given the beta, told they could release it. The public didn't go for that. Vertigo continued to be flamed, and its members were banned from the #emu IRC channel for a time. Even Archaic Ruins carried a slanderous article against them, which was later deleted. Vertigo was unable to calm the public down, and it wasn't until the first release of SNES '9x that things did begin to return to a civil state.

"I hope we both learned something from this."

This quote was maid by Chris Hickman, senior manager of Archaic Ruins, after SNES '9x v0.10 was released. Vertigo appreciated the slight supported and posted the quote on their webpage, along with a link to Archaic Ruins.

Some did learn from the experience. Vertigo certainly did; they have been very careful about what they post. Archaic Ruins did; we have been more careful about highly slanderous articles. But the SNES '9x team did not. SNES '96 v0.73 was renamed to SNES '9x most likely to avoid confusion and to merge SNES '96 and SNES '97 (another SNES emulator by Jerremy Koot) together. It was the first emulator to support sound, and has been the most popular emulator ever since.

That lasted until just over a week ago when zsKnight and _Demo_ released ZSNES, an emulator that rivals NLKSNES for speed, SNES '9x for ROM support, and ESNES for both sound (which Lord ESNES had, by now, added) and options. The only thing strange was that one person who had contributed to ZSNES was MrGrim, former author of GrimSNES and former member of the SNES '9x team. Gary Henderson was on the situation instantly. He sent an assumptive, slanderous letter to Jim Pragit of EMU News Service, claming (as 100% fact) that

  • MrGrim had joined SNES '9x only to get the source and leave, claming "personality differences".
  • That MrGrim had handed over the source to the ZSNES team, and that it was used for ZSNES.
  • That the ZSNES team had worked underhandedly to get the source code when "all they had to do was ask" (Exact Quote)
As it turned out, the only information MrGrim had provided were TCALL and PCALL, two (rather minor) items which he had information on. This fact was later stated by both MrGrim and _Demo_ in reply e-mails, also featured exclusively on EMUnews.

In the next version of ZSNES, the authors went as far as to remove the TCALL and PCALL parts of ZSNES because MrGrim had been their only source. ZSNES, in my opinion, has since proven to be better than SNES '9x, and rivals NLKSNES and ESNES to be the best.

The evidence against the ZSNES team was simply that MrGrim had been a provider of information, and that alone is nowhere near sufficient to even begin to justify an accusation that the ZSNES team wronged SNES '9x in any way. The SNES '9x team seems to have incredible paranoia.

However, fair is fair. To the credit of Gary Henderson and SNES '9x, he did go back and allow the ZSNES team to add TCALL and PCALL again, as well as supplying the information they needed about it. Once he had realized his error, he did take steps to fix it. His honesty, if not anything else, is something to appreciate.

When he discontinued SNES '9x, Jerremy Koot said that they had gotten hateful and harrassing e-mails. Well, why do you think that could be? You slandered four seperate groups, and three of your accusations were false (the fourth was SNESme, which was actually a hacked copy of SNES '9x v0.13). That's a really good way to get people mad at you.

Furthermore, organizations which a high level of influence on the emulation scene should be much more careful. Jim Pragit, maintainer of EmuNEWS, did not check with either of the ZSNES authors, or with MrGrim. Instead, he posted it hastily assuming it was fact. Due to the influence and high number of hits that EmuNEWS gets, the public believed MrGrim. News sites need to be extremely wary of e-mails that may be unfounded.

But the underlying point here is that the SNES '9x team forgot something very important; they forgot the very purpose of emulation: to have fun. They are spending so much time trying to slander any competition that they are forgetting that their deeds go against everything the emulation community stands for... fun.

And where is Lord ESNES through all this? Why, he's working on his emulator, not bothering any others. And most of all, he's having fun. That's my purpose in emulation too.

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