The product of a talented programmer who designed a hit shareware game while he was still in high school, NESticle was so good that everyone looked past the fact its name was basically a dick joke.
The second stage of the Nintendo Entertainment System’s long lifespan started in earnest on April 3, 1997.
By that time, Nintendo had already moved on to 3D gaming with Super Mario 64. But an army of game fans, largely teens and college students who had been young children when the NES first came out in the early 1980s, were setting the stage for its legacy.
One of those fans, a programmer from Kansas with an offbeat sense of humor and an unmissable skillset, released a PC emulator for the NES—a reverse-engineered software version of the hardware platform. Called “NESticle,” its Windows icon was, quite literally and indelicately, a pair of testicles.
NESticle, nonetheless, did something amazing: It allowed people to play old Nintendo games on cheap computers made by Packard Bell and other firms, and did so while introducing a number of fundamental new ways to appreciate those games. Divorced from Nintendo’s famously draconian licensing strategy, it introduced new ways of thinking about well-tread video games.
Would we have the retro-friendly gaming culture that we do today without its existence? Maybe, but it’s possible it might not be quite so vibrant.
This is the story of how NESticle helped turn retro gaming into a modern cultural force.
Icer Addis was named Wichita High School Southeast’s Class of 1994 most likely graduate to become a millionaire. He had shown some early signs of brilliance by making PC games with his friend Ethan Petty. By the time he graduated from high school, their company, Bloodlust Software, was riding a wave of success during the shareware era. Their first hit, Executioners, a crude-but-funny beat-’em-up game in the Final Fight mold, was full of visual jokes, some of them featuring Addis and Petty, the game’s visual artist.