Wednesday 22 September 2004

Desktop Arcade

The Atari® Flashback™ Classic Game Console has been announced for the holiday season. My earliest memory of owning a games console was the Atari VCS 2600 (introduced in 1977 and distributed in the UK by Ingersoll Electronics). It was an unwanted holiday gift for a cousin. So, my Uncle graciously gave it to me on my Birthday (mint in box)! This was alongside Darth Vader’s TIE Fighter, which has a connection other than purely nostalgia!

After only a few minutes playing Space Invaders, Frogger and The Empire Strikes Back (you see there was a connection) I was hooked! For the next two decades I owned a Spectrum 48K, Commodore 64, Sega Mega Drive (Genesis) and Dreamcast, Atari Lynx, SNES and N64, PSOne and PStwo, and XBOX.

The thread that binded these machines together was the relentless pursuit to acquire games that were arcade perfect. Sega's Mega Drive produced an excellent conversion of Michael Jackson's Moonwalker. Yet this was a flawed premise in that a conversion, by definition, is anything but (not to diminish the fun that was had). However, the Dreamcast console was based on the NAOMI (New Arcade Operation Machine Idea) PCB that powered Sega’s coin-ops, which culminated in near-definitive releases Crazy Taxi and Dead or Alive 2.

The first time I heard about MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) was from a former coworker (2001). MAME was started in 1996 by Nicola Salmoria as a means of archiving, and by extension preserving, arcade games that would otherwise disappear forever. For example Star Trek (1983), which is a very rare Sega vector game featuring the voices of the principal cast. Also it allows gamers to experience titles that they may never have otherwise played such as the Japanese-only Gaiapolis, replete with gorgeous graphics, and quirky horizontal shooter Parodius and its sequels, both from Konami.

Unlike music or film, arcade hardware is expensive and therefore it’s commercially prohibitive to continue production runs over an extended period of time. As a pleasant side effect, one can play game ROMs (dumped from arcade Printed Circuit Boards using an EPROM reader) under software emulation! The notion of playing the original Gauntlet, After Burner II, Out Run and many others was mouthwatering!

In what can only be described as an act of serendipity, earlier this year I wrote a review of Jedi Academy (for Inside Mac Games) and discovered that Aspyr programmer, and fellow Star Wars fan, Brad Oliver was the author of MacMAME! Subsequently, I downloaded 0.77u2a and my ROM searching odyssey began in earnest.

With the release of 0.87, MacMAME has been extensively rewritten and further optimized to be a better Mac OS X citizen. Sporting many enhancements including preliminary support for Sega's Model 1 PCB (i.e seminal releases Virtua Fighter and Star Wars Arcade) and the removal of legacy code. This release requires Mac OS X 10.2 (or higher).

It is worth noting that the legal ownership of ROM images (for the purpose of backup) may be contingent on possessing the original arcade game. However, it is not clear if it is legal for an individual to have ROM images (even if not for profit) for a game they don't own. Please read legal implications on MAME rom usage from Northwestern University Law School before downloading any roms to ensure legal compliance. Do not ask me how ROMs can be obtained. Some ROM images, such as Atari's, are available for legal purchase here.

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