Gear Reviews

Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator


OK, I’m sure half of you out there will say “Oh, I’ve known about that for years.” Fine, go play with your Zork. But the other half of you who spent most of the ’80s and all of your allowance in the arcade need to visit this site. You can now have ALL of those high school memories on your own desktop. Yes, some one has written a free Pac-Man emulator. And Zaxxon and Asteroids and Missile Command and literally thousands of other classic arcade games will now run on a free piece of code called MAME. That’s Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator, a highly successful piece of open source code begun by Nicola Salmoria back in 1996.

With time on his hands and a busted video console, Mr. S spent the time and effort to read the ROM firmware and emulate a 3 MHz 8080 microprocessor on a 300 MHz Pentium. Since many classic games ran on this or other early, well-documented microprocessors, the floodgates were open. Anyone with access to an old arcade video machine and some Electronics 101 skills can suck out the heart of these old machines, and buff it up to the point your 32 bit 16 gazillion color monitor can relive games originally written for 8 bit VGA displays. And it’s all free and largely legal.

Almost. While the code is free, and many games are available for free download, there is one important legal requirement you need to know. You may only posses ROM file with copyrighted code if you actually own the original circuit cards, or a game cartridge that plays the same version. All the copyrighted characters, games, and so forth still belong to the original owner, and will well past your life time. Ink 19 urges you to obey all copy write laws. Read the legal stuff on the MAME Web site, and respect it.


But, if you DO still have an old Tron game lying about, MAME provides an easy way to relive it on your laptop. Download a 3-meg zip file, expand it out, and put the ROM files where they tell you. The only hard part is now you must open a DOS prompt, and type in a command line. For the point and click since birth crowd, it’s all explained in a very thorough FAQ. Hit a few key, and voila! The game appears! Joysticks and mice are supported, along with multiplayer gaming and a few games even support networked multiplayer gaming. All you have to do is figure out how the game was played originally, and if that brain cell died there are other sites out there to help. This code will even remember your high score, and award bonus games.

This is really a fascinating site; whether you just want to show your children how hard things were when you were in high school, (“The snow was up to HERE when I had to walk to the mall!”) or if you’re a serious computer historian who want to help preserve a fading part of our digital heritage, MAME grabs the high ground of Fun Mountain. The MAME source code is freely available, has been ported to more operating systems than most people know about, and the MAME project is looking for skilled coders. And, unlike those of you who may be trying to crack FlexLM 7, no jail time is hanging over your head. Got another virtual quarter?

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