Well, as promised to Ulysses, here it is. For the techno-unsavvy people in the world, and for those yearning for a return to yesteryear, I proudly present Uber’s Guide to Emulation.
First of all, let’s cover what emulation is. In the context of this article, emulation is Video Game System emulation. It is using software to mimic the hardware of yesteryear, so that you can run the original software distributed for that system. Typically, when you talk about playing games on an emulator, you need two things: the emulator program, and the original software (usually called ROMS since they were originally distributed in Read Only Memory chips). Typically an emulator for a old system will require high-end modern software to run. For example, to emulate the hardware found in a Pac-Man, I believe the minimum requirements were originally a 486-DX2 66MHz machine. That’s a big jump from the original 2.5MHz Z80 processor that the PacMan machine originally ran on. So why the big jump? Well, think about it this way. You’re not only emulating that processor, but the system board, all the support chips, the display, the audio chips, running the program AND you can’t exactly unload your operating system while doing this all. So you have the slowdown factor. For games that are hardwired and have no real software, such as Pong, there are typically simulators available. I started looking at emulators in late 1995, starting with an Atari 2600 emulator and Sparcade (an arcade game emulator). Here, I hope to give you a few ideas on where to go for the games of yesteryear.
First, let’s start with the granddaddy of them all: the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator (MAME). MAME first arrived on the scene in early 1997 when Nicola Salmoria combined the code from a few small emulators and produced a larger program that emulated a selection of classic arcade games. MAME is an open source program, and is run similar to Linux with a core developer deciding what major additions go into each release, and many other programmers working on those additions. Getting MAME to work can be no small feat. Typically, you need to download the emulator, the ROMS and then a Frontend program that makes launching the emulator easier. However, with the release of Mame32, a user can now download a combination of emulator/frontend program designed to work with Windows 95 and up. The Mame32 version of the emulator is typically a little bit slower than the original version, but unless you’re running a high-end 2GHz machine, you’re not going to be playing games past 1993-1994 anyway. Now, to get the ROMs for MAME, there are several locations. I typically share mine on Kazaa, but that’s inconsistant at best. The best bet for getting a full set of ROMs is to use the Tombstones service. This is a group of individuals who keep a full set of ROMs and a list of members. The way it works is you contact a member, telling them you’re interested in getting a set of ROMs. Then you send them a certain number of blank CDs and a self-addressed stamped envelope, and in a little while, they send back the CDs with the ROMs burned on them. Once you get the CDs, just drop the contents into the ROMs folder of your MAME director, start up Mame32, hit F5 (to refresh your game list), and you should be happy as a clam.