Modern-day emulators are packed full of features and options You can spend ages customizing your retro-gaming experience, but sometimes we have to admit all of this is overkill for the average gamer. When most people want to play a game, they prefer to just launch it and hop in without worrying about the details.

If you share your computer with your wife and kids, they probably don't care about using the best emulator, ROM variant, and customized settings. They'd only want to play a round of Tetris, to double-click an icon and, soon after, start gaming. Thankfully, that's doable with most modern emulators.

So, let's see how you can create shortcuts for your emulated games on your desktop, which will act like those of any "natively" installed games. Double-click them, and soon your favorite emulated game will be up and running on your screen.

How to Create a Shortcut for an Emulated Game on Windows 10

Start by creating a typical shortcut for the emulated game you want to run on your desktop. To do that, right-click on an empty spot on your desktop. Then, choose New > Shortcut from the menu that pops up.

Creating a new shortcut in Windows 10.

Follow the wizard's steps, but instead of choosing your game's ROM, point it to the emulator you prefer for the particular game.

Pointing a new shortcut to Dolphin emulator's executable file.

In our case, we created a shortcut for Metal Gear Solid: Twin Snakes, the updated remake of the classic PlayStation title released on Nintendo's GameCube console. One of the best emulators for that console is Dolphin, which we will use in this article.

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After a while, you will have a shortcut to the emulator on your desktop. However, it will not load your game automatically. Let's fix that.

How to Create the Launch Command

To create this shortcut, we need to skip the emulator's GUI and use its command-line arguments instead.

Unfortunately, we can't offer specific instructions for every emulator available. Each of them has different functionality and options. Thus, the arguments for one wouldn't work on every other emulator. Check your emulator's documentation to find out how you can open and run a ROM with it by using a command.

Dolphin emulator's helpful window showing the proper syntax for its command line options.

In our case, Dolphin helpfully popped up a window when we misused it, presenting us with the proper syntax we could use to craft a command. We could use:

PATH_TO_DOLPHIN /e PATH_TO_GAME

  • Since we had Dolphin installed in its default path, our PATH_TO_DOLPHIN was "C:\Program Files\Dolphin\Dolphin.exe".
  • The path to the ROM we wanted to run was "I:\emu\Gamecube ROMs\Metal Gear Solid - The Twin Snakes\Metal Gear Twin Snakes DVD1.iso".

So, we only had to state those two paths while adding an "/e" argument between them, like so:

"C:\Program Files\Dolphin\Dolphin.exe" /e "I:\emu\Gamecube ROMs\Metal Gear Solid - The Twin Snakes\Metal Gear Twin Snakes DVD1.iso"

Find and run Command Prompt or PowerShell, either from the Windows Start menu or by searching for them. Use them to test your command and ensure the emulator loads and runs your game without requiring further input.

Testing the command that launches the chosen game through an emulator.

When you've crafted your command and ensured it works as it should, it's time to add it to your shortcut.

Running an Emulator With a Shortcut

Copy your entire command to the clipboard. Then, right-click on your shortcut and choose Properties to edit it. Move to the Shortcut tab, and select everything next to the Target field. Note that you can left-click inside it and press CTRL+A on your keyboard to select everything. Delete the existing target and paste your command in its place.

Replacing the shortcut's target to the emulator with a command that also auto-loads the selected game.

Press OK to apply the changes to your shortcut. That was it! Now, by double-clicking on your shortcut, it will execute the command you crafted. This will run the emulator and auto-load and run your game.

Further Customization

We didn't want this article to be about a specific emulator or game. So, we won't go over the extra options we could use with Dolphin in our command. You might prefer playing PlayStation 2 games on your PC, as we saw some time ago.

Thankfully, most emulators let you tweak their most useful options through command line switches and arguments. Thus, your own emulator of choice probably offers similar functionality.

After finding out how to load a game with the emulator you chose, check out its documentation or other support channels (site, forums, Discord channels). Seek information on which switches and arguments you can use when launching it from the command line. Depending on the emulator, you might be able to load different configuration profiles or tweak how it works directly from your command.

For example, you might have noticed that our game appeared inside a window on our screen. Almost all emulators offer an option for launching games in full-screen mode. Including that in your commands can lead to a more seamless gaming experience, making your emulated games feel closer to the native ones.

In fact, if you aren't familiar with the platform, may we suggest you check out how to emulate a Commodore Amiga on your PC? Amiga's games usually had more straightforward action and "clean" 2D graphics. Thus, despite their age, they'll be quite an upgrade compared to the games that come with Windows. Especially when you can launch them from an easily accessible shortcut on the desktop.

Add more emulated games on your desktop, though, and you'll soon encounter a problem: they will all look identical. At least, those that launch from the same emulator.

How to Customize Your Emulator Shortcuts

Windows allows you to change the icon of any shortcut on your desktop. You can use this to make your emulated games recognizable. For more information, check our more extensive guide on how to customize any icon in Windows 10. However, we believe this guide would be incomplete if we didn't acknowledge the issue.

Start by searching for images of your emulated games with your favorite image search engine. Save locally the one you'd like to use as your game's icon.

Searching online for images of an emulated game.

Windows can use images in ICO and ICL formats or embedded in EXE and DLL files. The one you've downloaded will probably be in a web-friendly format, like JPG or PNG. Thus, you'll have to convert it to use it in your shortcut.

You can use specialized software for that, from Photoshop to GIMP. Most users, though, will probably find it more straightforward visiting an online service like the aptly named Online-Convert.com.

Choose that you want to convert an image to ICO format. Then, drag and drop your file to the area marked "Drop Files Here".

Using Online Converter to convert a downloaded JPG file to ICO format for use in the emulated game's shortcut.

Download the produced file locally, and then right-click on your emulated game's custom desktop icon once more, choosing Properties to edit it. Ensure once more you're at the Shortcut tab, but this time click on the Change Icon button.

Option to change a shortcut's icon in Windows 10.

Click on Browse on the new window that will show up, and point the requester towards the ICO file you've downloaded.

Browsing for a shortcut icon in Windows 10.

Press OK to choose the icon and apply the changes to your shortcut.

Shortcut for emulated game with correct, converted icon.

Your New Favorite Emulator Launcher: The Desktop

While it wasn't the most straightforward of processes, you'll have an icon on your desktop giving you instant access to an emulated game. It won't look any different from a "native" title to a casual user.

Repeat the process to add more shortcuts to your favorite titles on your desktop to turn it into the best multi-emulator launcher for all your retro gaming.

Remember not to go overboard. Add too many games on your desktop, and soon you'll have another problem on your hands, generally referred to as "icon hell". Still, we believe nothing beats the desktop as the quickest way to launch the few old favorites you return to again and again.

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