This page contains information of emulation history.
Emulation in general gained popularity around 1995-1997, mostly due to increased CPU speed, increased usage of Internet, and increased number of decent emulators.
The early history of NES emulation is vague, but there are some early emulators known to public.
- Family Computer Emulator V0.35 for FM Towns, by "Haruhisa Udagawa", with file timestamps of December 12, 1990. It could run some simple NES games such as Donkey Kong.
- Pasofami for the FM Towns, with a release date of May 1, 1993 in its info file. It had very prelimilary sound emulation. Windows version was released on 1995.
- LandyNES by Alex Krasivsky, which seems became the base of iNES emulator. At least one beta version was released to the public, but discontinued after the release of NESticle. No release date known but likely mid to late 1990s.
- Marat Fayzullin's iNES (also known as interNES in early versions) is the first (or at least one of the first) emulator to use NES header format (also known as iNES format). The release date of first version is 1996 according to its site.
- NESA (Nintendo Entertainment System in Assembler) by British programmer Paul Robson was one of the first free NES emulator with source code available. metropal.com has an interview with the author.
- NESticle (first version known as v0.2) was released on April 3, 1997. It was one of the first freeware NES emulators.
- First Famicom/NES emulator? - Zophar's Domain
- Anyone remember the first NES emulator? - nesdev.com
- NES Emulation History - nesdev.com
- Old NES WORLD archive pages
- Page 1 - Unknown Year, but probably in 1996. Has information of Pasofami and interNES.
- Page 2 - Sometime around May 1996. Does not have much info of emulators (only lists variants of "Famicom (NES) emulator" which is likely Pasofami) instead forces on game screenshots taken from early NES emulators.
- Page 3 - Sometime around May 1997. Has information of various early NES emulators such as NESticle.
Just like NES, the SNES emulation history is quite fuzzy, but there is evidence that SNES emulators existed as early as 1994.
- VSMC was released in 1994 and could run select few Homebrew roms. Apparently it was updated a few times after its initial release, and later versions could run some commercial games including Final Fantasy 2. (Video of one early version. Please note the music is inserted by video editing, not from the emulator.)
- Super Pasofami or SPW (Super Pasofami for Windows?), developed by the author of Pasofami, was released sometime in 1996. Very little information is available about this emulator aside of the reports that version 1.4a deleted some people's Windows directories.
- ESNES was one of the first SNES emulator that could emulate sound. It later merged with NLKSNES to become NLKE.
- NLKSNES was one of the fastest SNES emulators, though it lacked sound emulation. It later merged with ESNES to become NLKE.
- NLKE is the successor of ESNES and NLKSNES and contained both speed and sound.
- Snes9x was a merged effort of Snes96 and Snes97, both released sometime in 1996-1997.
- ZSNES was first released on October 14, 1997.
- The Past of SNES '9x (archaic ruins) - Contain some history of SNES emulation scene.
- Download archive for old SNES Emulators
- Emulator archive. Includes VSMC prerelease and the 1996 release
Genesis emulation dates as early as 1994.
- An emulator simply called Megadrive released in 1994 could run Sonic the Hedgehog very slowly with no sound and many glitches. Quickly discontinued because the author lost its source code from a hard drive crash. It is currently the earliest known Genesis emulator.
- GenEm, first released in 1996, is the second Genesis emulator released. The DOS Version of it was the first emulator to feature (prelimilary) sound emulation.
- Genecyst, first released in 1997 was one of the first widely used Genesis emulators.
- KGen was the earliest predecessor of Kega Fusion, released around 1997-1998.
Earliest known attempt at N64 emulation is 1998.
- Project Unreality, released in May 1998, was the first Nintendo 64 emulator that could run several homebrew ROMs and could show the N64 logo screen of Mortal Kombat Trilogy and Wave Race 64. It was discontinued after the two main developers decided to join a game development company to create commercial N64 games.
- UltraHLE, released in January 26, 1999, was so good that it angered Nintendo. 
- Nemu64, probably released in 2000, was one of the first N64 emulator that used a plugin system that is still used by Project64 and was used in early versions of Mupen64Plus. It is also known for its extensive debug features which any of the newer emulators do not have.
Not much is known about GB emulation before 1995.
- Virtual GameBoy (VGB) was the first known GB emulator that could run commercial games. First released in 1995 for some unknown platform then ported to PC sometime in 1995 or 1996.
- No$GMB was released for DOS in 1997. GameBoy Color support was added in 1998.
Game Boy Advance
Unlike other consoles, the GBA emulation and Homebrew scene was started as early as 2000, a year before GBA's release.
- GBAEmu, released in September 2000, was the first known GBA emulator. It could run some Homebrew ROMs as well as Nintendo's "Yoshi's Story" tech demo.
- Virtual GameBoy Advance (VGBA), done by same author of iNES and VGB, was first released in 2000 according to its official site. In versions released in 2001, it could run a few commercial games.
- iGBA, which was available as early as February 2001 and last updated on March 25, 2001, could run a few commercial games with some graphical glitches and with no sound.
- Several GBA emulators with more accuracy were released in 2001, for example Boycott Advance, DreamGBA, No$GBA, and VisualBoy Advance.
Initial attempts to emulate Nintendo DS were made in 2004. With many emulators like iDeaS, and the leaked EnSata, it only got decent enough by 2007.
- DSEmu, first released in 2004, was the first "attempt" to emulate the Nintendo DS, although it only emulated GBA hardware.
- iDeaS, first released in 2004 or 2005, was the first DS emulator that could run commercial games. It also had a plugin system that was not widely used.
- Ensata: An NDS emulator made by Nintendo (and Intelligent Systems?) that was leaked to the emulation community in an unknown year. It could run select few commercial games, though compatibility was very low.
- DeSmuME: Developed by YopYop156 around 2005, first as "YopYop DS". Discontinued at version 0.3.3 in April 2006, citing a change of laws regarding emulation in France. Source code was then released. Many devs tried on their own to make their own follow-up (one such emulator includes NDesMume, of which only one version was ever released), before teaming up and merging their work, resulting in build 0.5.0 as the starting point for the new emulator.
- With partial Wi-Fi emulation enabling online MP (but not local MP) in 2010, Nintendo supposedly threatened the devs with legal action (though this is unconfirmed). This resulted in the online Wi-Fi functionality being removed from the main trunk, yet it still had its own active branch which didn't face any legal action whatsoever.
- The main trunk devs decided to drop all development of the Wi-Fi feature or anything related (online, local, download play, Wii/DS connectivity, DSiWare). This had the unfortunate side-effect of stalling efforts to preserve online content near the closure of the Nintendo's DS servers in 2014 as other parties were scrambling to get the emulation accurate enough to preserve packets from online play.
- Similarly, the high-resolution DS rendering feature appeared first in shikaver's port (X432R), which was also more optimized for speed and kept getting updated with features from the trunk, then in the closed-source commercial emulator DraStic, before making it to Desmume.
- NO$GBA: originally a GBA emulator, it received e-Reader and NDS emulation by its 2.4 version by 2006. It was for a long time THE emulator for DS games. It also had partial implementation for local multiplayer that went nowhere, and a very useful debugger for modding DS/GBA games. Development stalled for a long time with version 2.6a published in April 2008. While it's not nearly up-to-par with the more recent games due to graphical problems, the apparent crashes on boot could be solved with a separate tool to decrypt DS images.
- Came back after a long hiatus in 2014 with version 2.7 and is now more or less under development - 2.8a notably is the first emulator to include DSiWare emulation.
The earliest known attempt at PlayStation emulation is 1998. PlayStation emulation is notable for two controversial commercial emulators, both of which Sony sued.
- PSEmu/PSEmu Pro, first released in early 1998, was one of the earliest PS emulators that could run commercial games. It also created the plugin standard that is still used by ePSXe.
- Psyke, released around 1998-1999, was the first PS emulator that used Dynamic Recompilation to speed up the emulation. It could run a few games such as Metal Slug and Tekken 3. An interview with the author on September 13, 1998 is available on here.
- Bleem!, first released in March 1999 for Windows, was a commercial software that could run several commercial games in full speed with enhanced resolution and texture filtering. There were also three separate Dreamcast versions that could run Gran Turismo 2, Metal Gear Solid and Tekken 3.
- Virtual Game Station, another commercial emulator, was released in 1999 but for Macintosh. A Windows version was later released and allegedly had better compatibility than Bleem!, albeit without enhanced graphics.
- MyaMyaMya's post in "First Famicom/NES emulator?" - "I've tested both in an FM Towns emulator, and both do work with simple games like Donkey Kong, so they're not fakes."
- MyaMyaMya's post in "First Famicom/NES emulator?" - "Pasofami even has sound...awful ear-killing sound."
- EMULATION Issue #2 - 23/07/96 - VSMC's new Brain: "Whilst previous versions of VSMC were fast, some programs like Final Fantasy 2 were hideously slow."
- EMULATION Issue #4 - 28/08/96 - Revenge of Super Pasofami? (Windows 95): "SPW 1.4a has been released, and reportedly deleted some people's Windows directories. Whether this is a revenge plot by the author, or just some dodgy programming, remains to be seen. For this reason, most webpages do not carry 1.4a."
- Project Unreality in limbo (Slashdot)
- Nintendo Confirms It Will Sue UltraHLE Creators
- Old news archive - Zophar's Domain
- EMULATION: The ALL Format Newsletter - a series of emulation newsletters published in July to August 1996
- コンシューマエミュレータリスト (Consumer Emulator List) - A Japanese page that lists initial release year of various emulators