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Without going into details about my life's story, here's the basic facts:

  • I grew up with 386 and 486 and Pentium PCs running MS-DOS 5 (I believe), Windows 3.1 and Windows 95, a well as various game consoles from the 8-bit, 16-bit and 32-bit eras.
  • I have almost none of them left, and what's more, most game cartridges are long sold off, and I no longer have a working CRT TV.
  • I have regularly and extensively tested just about every emulator in existence since the late 1990s, on both x86, Xbox, ARM (RPI) and other platforms. To me, they are all useless, even after heavy configuration/fine-tuning. I will have to accept your opinion if you disagree, but please don't try to convince me that it's like running the real thing. (The RetroArch filters/shaders look nothing like a CRT, BTW.)
  • All of those cheap "NES Mini"-like re-release consoles preloaded with games are nothing like the real thing. Useless.
  • All of those expensive third-party retro multi-consoles, whether they use FPGA or emulation, are also useless.
  • Everdrives are really cool in theory, but I recently found out that they do use emulation/approximation after all, for the hardware chips found in numerous/most game cartridges. This means that it won't be quite the same as running it on the real hardware, even if it's probably extremely difficult to tell any difference in this case.
  • Buying actual old hardware now is impossibly expensive unless you get very lucky offline.
  • Finding a new/non-junk CRT TV is impossible for me. (May not be for you, depending on your context.)
  • VMware, Virtualbox, Virtual PC, DOSBox all don't work anywhere near a real IBM PC.

Barring me suddenly striking gold and becoming rich enough to actually buy real "new old stock" copies of all the games and computers and consoles and things I ever wanted, and decorate a dedicated "Angry Video Game Nerd" room, is there any hope to getting this in virtual form within a few years or so? Or will this take so long that, by the time we do get it, the only ones who were actually there are 90+ and senile anyway? And the ones who are young then won't know the difference either way?

From past discussions, I've learned just how computationally expensive and difficult it is to actually simulate a machine, even a relatively simple one, properly. It seems like almost infinitely more powerful computers than those we have today would be necessary for this to ever become reality.

In my dream scenario, I launch a program on my desktop called Nostalgia.exe. This brings up a fullscreen 3D room which looks just like my old boy room in the house, long ago in a different era. There, I can virtually walk up to my 486 PC in a first person view (my avatar has the exact same height as I had when I was nine years old), virtually press the power button, hear the loud fans spin up and seeing the BIOS screen with the big "IBM" logo show on the 14" virtual CRT monitor, and then it loads into Windows 3.1 and I'm able to use it as if I were back there again, exactly like the real computer.

No "VMware tools". No weird error messages or glitches that didn't happen on the real hardware. No incorrect speed-ups or slow-downs. Exactly like it was back then, or would be now if I had the real hardware still around and in working condition.

And when I get bored of that, I walk over to the virtual SNES, put in my Top Gear cartridge, flick on the power, pick up the virtual SNES controller and rock away to the amazing soundtrack as the sprites fly past me on both sides on the virtual 14" PAL CRT TV with the RF connector between it and the console.

And then a virtual Mother tells me that the food is done, and that the new Donald Duck cartoon has arrived in the mail... Alright, that's perhaps going a bit too far, but you get the idea... Of course, since this is a virtual world, I have a secret door in the wall which opens up straight into a massive virtual arcade, with all the games powered on at once and in attract mode, with me walking around in the darkness and putting virtual coins (yes, my specific currency) into the slots.

I know that "similar" things have been done in a very lame manner, typically for VR, using normal emulators inside 3D environments. This is not what I'm talking about, and I have no requirement whatsoever that it needs to be VR. I don't even have a VR headset anymore.

To make it clear, I'm not saying that I think that this exists. I'm wondering when, if ever, I can expect it to become reality. Because the current options to re-experience our childhoods just don't cut it.

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  • $\begingroup$ You missed Retrocomputing@SE. $\endgroup$
    – greybeard
    Nov 19 '20 at 9:29
  • $\begingroup$ @greybeard: Nope, they didn't. They have posted this question in various forms under various different accounts several times already. $\endgroup$ Nov 22 '20 at 20:31
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The problem with retro machines is that their abstractions are not isolated from the underlying physical phenomena very well. What you describe requires faithful physics simulation, which would also require quantum mechanics simulation, and we don’t know yet whether it is possible to simulate QFT fully even if we had large-scale quantum computers.

So, currently the only way is faking all noticable effects, and this way may never end.

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  • $\begingroup$ The "their abstractions are not isolated from the underlying physical phenomena very well" part confuses me. Are you referring to how they were much more "analogue" somehow and less "digitally refined"? $\endgroup$ Nov 19 '20 at 6:46
  • $\begingroup$ @V.Arquines I was referring to CRTs. $\endgroup$ Nov 19 '20 at 6:51
  • $\begingroup$ Oh. Well, you said "retro machines", but I guess a CRT is machine and it's retro... $\endgroup$ Nov 19 '20 at 6:54

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