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OpenEmu won’t be new to emulation enthusiasts—the OS X-only software has been in development for several years, and gamers have been welcome to download and compile its work-in-progress source code for quite some time. This week’s release marks the first time that a ready-for-prime-time binary version has been available for download, so we’re taking it for a spin using some homebrew games (available free of cost from the OpenEmu site) and a few game backups, which you can grab from your own cartridges with a gadget like the Retrode.

OpenEmu is a game console emulator, but it's perhaps more accurately described as a frontend for a whole bunch of different emulators. When you install and run the application, you'll also need to download the "cores" of a number of different open-source emulation projects in order to actually play games.

The 1.0 release of OpenEmu offers up 13 cores that support a total of 12 systems (there are several duplicates, which should ensure that emulation enthusiasts can get a good experience no matter what they're currently using). The following systems are supported out of the box as of this release and are almost universally Nintendo or Sega systems (with a couple of exceptions): NES, SNES, Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, Virtual Boy, Sega Master System, Sega Genesis, Sega Game Gear, Sega's 32X, the TurboGrafx-16, and the NeoGeo Pocket Color.

OpenEmu's modular nature means that more cores can easily be added as development continues—the project's wishlist indicates that support for several of Atari's consoles, MAME, and newer consoles like the Nintendo 64 and original PlayStation are all on the docket. The tendency of emulation projects to be free and open source works in OpenEmu's favor here. If your favorite classic console isn't supported yet, chances are it will be eventually, as long as there's a mature, open-source OS X emulator around already.

OpenEmu requires OS X 10.7 or higher, which means it should run on any Intel Mac but the very earliest 32-bit models. As newer emulators are added, you may need to worry a little more about your CPU and GPU specs, but the age of the currently supported consoles means that you won't need to sweat the system requirements most of the time.

After going through the brief first-time setup process and downloading the cores you want, the first thing you'll want to do is get some games installed. The wizard will offer to scan your system for ROMs, but we'll be adding some manually just to see how it works.

OpenEmu is pretty iTunes-like in operation—just drag your ROM files to the window and drop them, and, with the default settings enabled, the app will create copies of them in your game library folder (at ~/Library/Application Support/OpenEmu/Game Library/roms by default), organize them by system, and automatically download box art for the game (if OpenEmu can't find your box art, you can add your own manually later if you'd like). Most of these defaults can be changed if, for example, you've already got your games organized the way you like them or if you don't care about box art.

By default, your games will be organized by system, but new "playlists" of ROMs can be added under the Collections section that can combine games from different systems.

After pulling some games in and organizing them to your liking, you'll want to configure a gamepad (the emulators will all work with a keyboard, but console games are all best suited to console controllers). Any USB/bluetooth gamepad should work with OpenEmu once you've mapped the buttons, including controllers for modern consoles like the Wii U, Xbox 360, PS3, and PS4. OpenEmu includes a built-in "Add a Wiimote" function that makes pairing a Wii Remote to your Mac just as easy as pairing it to your Wii. We'll be using a Wii Remote with the Classic Controller Pro attached.

OpenEmu's controller configuration interface is both snazzy-looking and functional, and it gives you a nice, high-resolution visual representation of the controller you're configuring. As you map your buttons, OpenEmu highlights each button on the controller to make it easier to match your button configuration to the one on the original controller. The wood texture (and OpenEmu's liberal use of glassy, reflective effects) is a little cheesy, though to be fair to the developers, these sorts of things matched most other OS X and iOS apps up until theGreat Skeumorphic Purge of 2013.

You've got your cores. You've imported your ROMs. You've configured a controller or two. Let's actually sit down and play some games now.


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