Installing Game Emulators on Linux

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  • DevynCJohnson
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    Linux supports a variety of game emulators that allow users to play games that were originally intended for hardware like the Gameboy, arcade games, Atari, and many others. The emulators are relatively easy to setup as readers will see.

    NOTE: In this article, "apt-get" is used to installed many of these emulators. To do so on RPM systems, replace "apt-get" with "yum". On Slackware systems with "slapt-get", type "slapt-get --install PACKAGES" to install software. Alternately, you can use a graphical package manager like Synaptic, RpmDrake, Gslapt, Muon, or others.


    For those of you that enjoy arcade style games, MAME ( is an application you may love. Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator (MAME) acts like various arcade hardware for the ROMs that are loaded. A ROM is a file containing the contents of the ROM-chips that are used to store the data/game. In other words, the ROM chips (hardware) contains the game in real arcades and a ROM (file) acts like this chip for emulators. To install MAME, type "apt-get install mame" and allow the dependencies to install.


    This emulator can run GameCube, Triforce, and Wii games. Dolphin May not be in your repositories, but can easily be obtained from the Dolphin website. The main page is and the downloads page is Currently, this page only offers a Debian file (as far as Linux is concerned). The source code is obtained via Git - git clone


    The Atari emulator for Linux is called Stella and can be installed like this - apt-get install stella.


    Mednafen ( supports a variety of game systems like Gameboy, Neo Geo, Sega Genesis, SNES, Playstation, and others. This emulator supports the use of optical discs, so your "real" games can be played rather than ROM files. Mednafen also supports images of discs like ISO files. Mednafen can be installed using this command apt-get install mednafen.


    These two are NES emulators, and FCEUX ( also runs Famicom Disk System (FDS) games. FCEUX forked from FCE-Ultra. FCEUX and FCE-Ultra can be downloaded via apt-get install fceux fceu. The two do not depend on each other.


    ZSNES ( is a popular SNES emulator. The emulator itself is a 32-bit application that still functions well on 64-bit hardware. ZSNES also supports netplay which is an online-multiplayer mode. ZSNES can be installed via apt-get install zsnes:i386.


    Higan ( is an emulator for Gameboy, NES, and SNES. The older Higan emulators are under the name "bsnes". Most repositories contain bsnes rather than Higan. apt-get install bsnes


    SNES9x is another SNES emulator, and it is newer than ZSNES.


    Mupen64Plus ( is an N64 emulator. The installation process is easy - apt-get install mupen64plus.

    VisualBoyAdvance (VBA)

    Gameboy games can be played on Linux systems using the VBA emulator. There are two kinds - VBA and VBA-M. The development of VBA is inactive while VBA-M is an active fork of VBA. VBA can be install using this command - apt-get install visualboyadvance visualboyadvance-gtk. An alternate GUI front-end can be installed via apt-get install vbaexpress. VBA-M must be downloaded from its web-site.


    A Nintendo DS emulator is available for Linux and can be installed via apt-get install desmume. The emulated touch screen is "touched" with the mouse cursor.


    The Saturn emulator is called Yabause ( and is installed via apt-get install yabause. Yabause can load Saturn games off of optical discs and ISO files in addition to ROM files.

    Multi-Emulator Super System (MESS)

    MESS ( is an emulator that supports a large variety of systems like Apple II, Lynx, Vectrex, Gameboy, NES/SNES, Commodore, Colecovision, and many others. MESS can be installed in a command-line by typing apt-get install mess.

    General Notes

    On some websites, you may see files ending with "W32", "L64", "S", etc. These represent the system that supports the emulator or ROM file.

    • L = Linux
    • M = OS X
    • W = Windows
    • S = Source
    • 32 = 32-bit
    • 64 = 64-bit

    Installing software on Linux via the repositories requires Root privileges.

    Expand Your Repositories

    For those of you that use Debian-based systems, there is a PPA that can be added to your system to have a repository for Higan, VBA-M, and other game emulators. In a command-line, type add-apt-repository ppa:hunter-kaller/ppa. Now, you can install more emulators via a repository. Here is the developers project/PPA page - ( If you find an equivalent repo for RPM systems, please share the link with us on this site. Once such a repo is found/made, use this command to add it to your RPM system - yum-config-manager --add-repo=URL_HERE.

    Obtaining ROMs

    Numerous places on the Internet offer ROMs. Search Google for a game like "super metroid rom download" or "super metroid zsnes rom download". Be sure you use the ROMs and emulators legally (no pirating). Also, make sure to get a ROM for your emulator. For example, downloading a MAME (arcade) ROM for an Atari emulator (like Stella) will not work. Arcade games work with Arcade emulators and Gameboy ROMs with Gameboy emulators. Remember, ROMs are not specific to a particular emulator. For example, a Gameboy ROM will work on any Gameboy emulator.

    Install the Ultimate Game System

    Here is a copy-paste command that will add the PPA and install the emulators for Debian-based system users.

    add-apt-repository ppa:hunter-kaller/ppa && sudo apt-get -y update && sudo add-apt -y install mame mess zsnes:i386 dolphin-emu visualboyadvance visualboyadvance-gtk vbaexpress stella mednafen higan bsnes fceux fceu desmume mupen64plus yabause

    Many other emulators exist, but these are the most popular/recommended for GNU/Linux. Others are being developed like the up-coming PS3 emulator called RPCS3 (

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