As a big retro gamer and emulation enthusiast, I often find myself searching the web for a ROM or ISO file of a title that I’d normally be unable to play due to costs or not owning the system. There are a ton of emulation and download sites out there, but one key site comes to mind that I come back to time and time again. We’re talking about the big one today, folks.

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Founded in 2000 back in the early days of the Internet, Emuparadise developed into a large and encompassing download database of retro video games. Thousands of downloads and a striving fan community, it’s still going strong to this very day. From ROMs, ISOs, emulators, soundtracks, guides, and more; it ranks among the largest gaming sites. Recently I was able to get into contact with the site’s founder, MasJ and organize a casual email interview dealing with the history of Emuparadise as well as some other interesting info. So without further delay, let’s begin!

First off, let me thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions. Tell us a bit about yourself, MasJ!
Hey, no problem 🙂 . Well, I’m in my late twenties (ugh! I feel so old!) and started Emuparadise back when I was 13. Living in my part of the world, I never got to play the classics with the NES, SNES, etc. (although a few friends had managed to import some Ataris). When I came across emulation (in the year 1999) – it blew my mind!

Nowadays, I work as a software engineer as my day job and Emuparadise is my hobby project!

How did you get involved with the world of video game emulation?
I first came across a small webpage that said you could play Game Boy games on your PC. I was so excited! I never had a Game Boy, since it was never released in my country. (Video games only became a ‘thing’ from the PS2 onwards…) I downloaded the emulator program and a few ROMs immediately… and stayed glued for hours!

Then I came upon this awesome website called plasticman.org that had games for NES, SNES, etc.. It had almost everything! Remember, this was 1999 and with 56k, even the smallest games took at least 10 minutes to download. Plasticman unfortunately disappeared shortly thereafter and there were no other good sites out there. So I decided to start EmuParadise in March 2000.

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How difficult was it to set up the site in the beginning? You’re collecting a database that contains a ROM and ISO image for nearly every retro game out there! It must have been a daunting undertaking.

It was fairly hard in the beginning. I was 13, I didn’t know HTML very well. I just threw together a page with some games uploaded. I had no money to setup a website, pay for hosting, or buy a domain, so I just uploaded it to my ISPs free hosting service. Well, we managed to get a decent community together and the library started growing bigger and better. After a few years some small ad banners paid enough to get a domain name, eventually we could even get hosting!

It’s been a pretty long journey since then but we keep adding more and more retro stuff together, I receive a lot of user contributions. For example, our entire PSX2PSP section (basically PSX eBoots) was created by one contributor.

Where do the downloads hosted on Emuparadise come from? Do you rip the games yourself, or are they submitted by site users?

Back in the old days I used to rip quite a few games myself (N64 and onwards..). But now, most of the contributions come from site users and the wider community.

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A Nintendo 64 ROM dumper.

Emulation and ROMs are a legally tricky subject for game companies, particularly with big ones like Nintendo. Have you ever received any notices from them?
This is a strange question to answer because most of the time, I rarely ever receive any direct notices. For some reason, the likes of Nintendo always like to get in touch with the server hosting company. There used to be an organization back in the early 00s called the IDSA (Interactive Digital Software Association) that contacted our host and got us shut down multiple times through several years. Then, it was replaced by the ESA. The ESA still sends the DMCA odd take-down notice and I comply with their notices in removing content. Sometimes they threaten our host and if the host gets scared… again we move. So basically there’s a cat and mouse game of moving the site from server to server to keep it up. Unfortunately, this still goes on and it’s quite a daunting task because of the amount of data and stuff that needs to keep moving.

What is your personal opinion on emulation, game piracy, and copyright law?

My personal opinion on emulation – it’s awesome and I am thankful to all the emulator authors out there who often release their work for free. It’s amazing what they do and I think they are amongst the most talented programmers in the world!

Game piracy – I know this is going to sound contradictory but I am against game piracy. But maybe my definition of game piracy differs. Let me explain. Emuparadise is an emulation website and aims to keep retrogames alive. But if game piracy rates increase then soon we will not have any video games to become ‘retro’. So basically I am against current-gen game piracy if it essentially robs a publisher from revenue. Of course, there are many places where you can’t really get games for reasonable prices (Latin America – Brazil, Chile, etc. I am looking at you!) so what are people supposed to do? Pay USD $120 for a copy of Madden 2071 (which is basically the same as Madden 1996)? No way!

Now, when it comes to retro games that are no longer available in the market first hand, I don’t see anything wrong with people downloading a copy and playing them. If you were to buy a cartridge of Earthbound for SNES, would you be giving Nintendo any revenue? Nu-uh! That cart has been around for ages and has been re-sold countless times. So the $200 you might end up paying for it – none of that goes to Nintendo. In that kind of situation I don’t see anything wrong with downloading a copy and enjoying it till the cows come home. (sometimes even with great improvements offered by emulation technology – video filters, audio enhancements, save states, etc.)

Is it illegal to do the above? Yes. Is it immoral or unethical? Not as far as I am concerned, but this is a personal decision for each person. Which brings me to copyright.

Copyright – It’s broken. The notion that someone can create something and can extract revenue from it in perpetuity or worse: Limit it’s distribution even in the case where it doesn’t extract revenue – that’s just crazy! Game studios come and go a lot. A lot of the game studios who own rights to games released on the NES, SNES, N64, etc. don’t even exist today. They aren’t going to be making or losing any money due to ‘illegal’ distribution. It’s nuts that sharing such games can be illegal. There need to be serious reforms in copyright law worldwide as it exists today. Unfortunately the US creates and almost dictates worldwide copyright law. The MAFIAA lobby is not going to let the laws change anytime soon.

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Does being based in the UAE have any effect on running your site? I imagine that copyright laws and the legality of hosting ROM downloads must be different than than those in places like America.

Yes, I imagine it gives me a little temporary safety and security. That doesn’t mean that I think ‘they won’t come for me’ – but I do think there are bigger fish to fry (current gen game piracy sites, etc.). I would imagine that a site that doesn’t ACTUALLY result in any calculable lost revenue is low on the priority list. I hope so! The laws are essentially the same, the enforcement differs, a little.

Some people have compared your site to being akin to that of torrent places like the Pirate Bay. Do you agree with that comparison?

It’s similar in certain ways but I don’t really think it’s an apt comparison. The internet archive even hosts full ROM sets these days. They seem to be pretty legit. Of course, they can tap into huge donations to fund their server costs, we can’t unfortunately and have to put some ads (which I work very hard to make sure are not shady or full of malware – advertisers get up to tricks a lot, unfortunately we don’t get to work with very good advertisers either due to the nature of the site). In this way we manage to cover costs and have the occasional give away.

What are some of your favorite systems and games?

My favorite system has to be the SNES by far. Super Metroid, Chrono Trigger, Earthbound, Secret of Mana, the early Final Fantasy’s all make the list. But I do love games from almost every console. Go to Hell for the ZX Spectrum used to be a favorite. Yoshi’s Island for SNES was awesome. I even liked Micro Machines for the NES. Katarmi Damacy is interesting, and in recent years I’ve been blown away by the Mass Effect series. This list is too long and I’m probably forgetting too many games I love 😉

What do you view as the best system for running emulators? Lots of folks have said that a PSP running on custom firmware is the best option. Others like the Wii’s homebrew, while some prefer Android smartphones.

Hands down, the PSP is the best emulation system money can buy today. It’s a game console but it can handle everything really well. Android phones are great too but you definitely need a gamepad to make things feel authentic. So I’d say PSP or Android+gamepad.

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What is your opinion on the modern game industry today?

Ugh! It’s terrible. My friend’s who are game developers at big names hate their jobs. The indie devs I know seem very happy though. Of course, the indie dev who went ‘to the moon’ was Notch. The modern game industry is so segmented. Somewhat like the modern music industry. There’s a huge ‘mainstream’ and then there’s a huge ‘indie segment’. Before, you were a nerd if you played video games. Now you can only be a nerd if you play some very specific video games.

That said, I’m happy to see the evolution and the strides that the gaming industry has made. No one can say you’re that weird kid who likes video games 😛 It’s totally awesome!

And finally, do you see the emulation scene changing in any way? How long do you think that sites like Emuparadise can stay around? What is your ultimate goal?

I think that Emuparadise can be around for a long time (depending on the legal environment) but it would need to make an evolution to support newer ways of playing (better support for iOS and Android and other mobile devices, that kind of stuff). It’s always challenging because the platforms are blocked/sandboxed and due to the illegality of emulation and it’s perception it’s always a ‘bad thing’. But I’m coming up with some new stuff to make it easier 🙂

I think a system like the OUYA was a step in the right direction. Bringing emulation to the center piece of the home entertainment system would be cool. I think there would be a pretty great market for a “GOOD ANDROID EMULATION MACHINE” with the right tools/emulators out of the box.

My ultimate goal is to introduce as many people to emulation as possible. Everyone loves the games they played while growing up. If only they knew, THEY CAN STILL PLAY THEM! I can tell you that EmuParadise has made a lot of people smile, and really, that’s what it’s all about.
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On behalf of the Punk Effect, I’d like to thank MasJ for agreeing to be interviewed. You can follow him on Twitter @emuparadise and of course visit the site www.emuparadise.me.

Check back to the Punk Effect regularly for all your latest news on retro games, movies, comics, and more!