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MAME: arcade games on your desktop  

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Ever wanted to play the classic version of Space Invaders just like the one in old pinball arcades? Well, it is now possible with MAME - a project responsible for bringing back 80's arcade video games on the desktop. This is not cloning - a process where the game is recreated from scratch, following the basic gameplay and style of the original. Cloning is OK, but playing a clone is a bit like the differences between artificial strawberry flavoring and real strawberries - it's just not the same. A group of programmers felt the same way and have created MAME - this allows you to play the original arcade games on your desktop.


MAME stands for Multiple Arcade Machine Emulation. It's a bit of a mouthful but this is how it works. The software is captured from the chip of the original arcade machine. This is not a simple process, nor is the second part - making it run on a PC, Mac, Unix or various other types of computer. An arcade game has just a few inputs such as left, right and fire. But a PC has a whole keyboard, far more sophisticated sound and video, plus a lot more grunt. The average desktop PC is over 100 times faster than the CPUs in early arcade games. So the next step is to build an emulator that sits between the computer and the original program. In essence, the emulator will translate commands between the arcade game's software and your operating system. For example, press "Space Bar" on the keyboard and the emulator tells the original software that the fire button was pressed.
The next trick is that MAME can be used to run a whole range of games (hence the first 'M' in MAME stands for multiple). Once all the inputs and outputs are worked out for a game, it is simple a manner of adding this information to the emulator.

So that's the emulator: now you need a copy of captured software. These are called ROMs (this is because the programs are originally captured from the ROM chip on the arcade game's circuit board). Each game has its own ROM and they are quite small - under 20KB for Space Invaders and most early 80's games. The latest versions of MAME support over 2000 games (ie 2000 ROMs), and most computer platforms. If your machine is fast enough, MAME will play more recent releases too.

The MAME Console
Pick a game and you are back to the 80's

If you download MAME and install it on your computer - then you will have an emulator ready to run the original arcade games. However, ROMs are software protected by copyright, so you must be a legal owner in order to use most of them (there is one exception, Robby Roto, see below).

Some freaks even go so far as to buy old arcade cabinets and drop in a monitor and PC, while others go the other way and install emulation software on their Palm Pilots or even digital cameras.

You can download MAME for all platforms at www.mame.net. this will also give you the latest news and an update on the various legal issues facing MAME. ROMs are available to download at www.mame.dk, but your should get familiar with the legal issues first.

After you have downloaded MAME, you will be able to play a free game called Robby. The owner of this software has allowed non-commercial redistribution of the ROM. To view his permission and view his reasons, click here. It also has a download link for the ROM (robby.zip 27KB). Make sure you copy it into MAME's ROM folder.
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