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Old 12-31-2008, 12:59 PM   #1
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Default phamicom - How to not write an emulator

This is fairly random, but looking at FakeNES got me thinking about another NES emulator that died several years ago: phamicom. This was supposed to be continuation of FCE Ultra, using SDL, adding an in-game GUI, and generally fixing things up. It appeared, implemented some changes related to SDL, then promptly died. The last news update was over five years ago now. So what happened?

Well the thing I most remember was a post I made on a related forum, I can't find the post now, so I'll just summarize it as I remember.

Originally Posted by Random poster
I've just heard about phamicom, and I've come to ask whether it will implement [Insert obscure mapper FCE Ultra didn't support at the time]?
Originally Posted by Me
Well, I don't know. These guys are making big promises, but they just look like another bunch of unproven programmers to me. I've seen my fair share of projects make a few news posts then die, and I don't have a good feeling about this one.
Originally Posted by phamicom developer
I'll have you know we're not 'unproven', we've each produced multiple software projects and all have great experience in this field. As for the mapper, our aims are not currently aimed at improving the emulation accuracy, we're focusing on implementing the in-game GUI at this time.
That was pretty much the topic. I probably wasn't as nice as I should've been, but when am I ever? I sometimes like to think I am the person that killed phamicom, though my comments may simply have been prophetic. I think I can draw one reason why phamicom didn't do well from this though.

#1: It didn't focus on accuracy.

As far as I'm concerned, accuracy takes centre stage with emulators. Emulators allow you to operate software on the platform they emulation, more accurate emulation means you can operate more software. On the NES, this means more accuracy means you can play more games. The opening poster in this topic was clearly looking for that, and I think any project that doesn't focus on accuracy is missing the point.

Thus phamicom failed because it was an emulator project that didn't really have any focus on emulation. This may have been because the developers came from outside the emulation community and wanted to focus on the 'general experience' rather than doing what we actually care about, and making more games work. This fact made it hard for anyone to get excited about the project, and so it almost immediately faded out of view as other emulator advances captured more interest.

Still, that's not the whole story. Some programmers can go for ages without anyone noticing what they're doing, so what else was going on? Well the first news post for the project states: "Currently, phamicom is being spearheaded by Deraj, Dangalak, and Flea.", which is central to my second point.

#2: Too many cooks spoil the broth.

Most great projects start with one talented programmer. Others then join, but the initial programmer takes a leading role. Others start with a conglomerate, but one person gets the final say about where the project goes. Either way, the key is leadership.

I can't say for certain, but I think phamicom didn't really have a 'lead' programmer, it just had three highly experienced programmers who all knew where the wanted the project to go. Trouble was, there was no agreement where to focus on first, so they didn't. Their efforts got spread, enthusiasm quickly waned, the project stagnated, and the initial programmers went back to their own projects.

So, my thoughts are that phamicom likely died because it was unpopular and directionless. The two fed into each other. The lack of direction meant it never built up any sort of community, and the lack of a community meant the programmers didn't have anyone suggesting what was most important to focus on. Thinking about this gives me more of an insight into byuu's seemingly strange licensing, the community is of great importance when coding emulators, and the phamicom developers never had one.

The lessons to be learned are that you should figure out what the community actually wants to see, make that you first area to focus on, and make sure you have a leader that can keep programmers focused on that.

That is all. Good night, and good luck.
Amelia Explains It All - Eventually. Probably.
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