Archive for the ‘Video Games’ Category

How to play old arcade games with a MAME machine

Posted by matt on February 21, 2009

Ahh, arcade games.  Last summer, I posted my “What’s your top 1% video game“, and it got me thinking that I haven’t played too many games lately…

Over 6 years ago, I decided that I wanted to build an arcade cabinet that would play all the old-school arcade games.  While my MAME (Multi-Arcade-Machine-Emulator) machine has gone through at least 3 rounds of iterations, it has been out of commission for over a year (after some hard use at my last Karaoke party… kind of a long story).  Until last week…  I finally got around to putting in an old workstation that would update the CPU hardware for the first time in about 4 years and get everything else back working.

It’s hard to believe, but I’ve been messing around with MAME for over 10 years.   Growing up in a 12-machine video game arcade at my parents campground in the 80s was a dream come true.  Today, it would be too hard to figure out which specific arcade game to buy, so in the 90’s when MAME came out, having the ability to play many games on the same machine had huge appeal.  How many is many?  As of early 2009, how about over 6500 working games!!

While there are many paths to going and getting one of these machines running, I’ll tell you what I did:

tankstick_sm2.jpg1) Controls ($200 or less) – Back in 2002, I purchased an X-arcade Joystick.  This is arcade quality, and if you just want to use MAME with a normal computer it works well.  If you plan on having a cabinet, a better way to go would be to simply buy the controllers and build your own board.  I ended up ripping up my X-arcade and put it in a custom board.  I’m lucky that my good friend Cory was able to make me a board and layout.  Check his modern arcades site for more of the cabinets he has built!

2) Computer – (cheap/free?) Many people have an old computer lying around.  The one that is usually in my MAME cabinet is what typically becomes of my primary workstation after I upgrade (typically every 2-3 years).  While some games don’t even work with the newest hardware, you can easily play over 4000 of these games with almost any machine.  Remember, these games are from the 80’s, so emulation of them isn’t that intensive.  The first computer I used was a 486 running Windows 95 and it easily played all the early 80’s classics like Galaga, Pacman, etc.  Today I’m using a middle-of-the-line Athlon 3800+ with 1GB of RAM and a 256MB Radeon HD 3450 video card which also works quite well.

lowerhell-MAME-Custom-Arcade-cabinet-by-Matt-Apps3) Cabinet – ($varies, mine was $175 delivered) The biggest commitment is the cabinet.  Rather than try to build my own, I went to a local games distributor and asked if they had an old cabinet.  They did, and I ended up with an old Zenophobe cabinet (it had been later turned into Combattribes).  If you know of a game vendor in your area, chances are they have old stuff around in a warehouse that can be had for cheap.  Check craigslist too.  You might find a working machine that you could convert fairly easily.

4) Monitor ($varies) – I used a computer monitor that doesn’t look the best in my cabinet, but there are a lot of options.  With LCD’s so cheap, taking one out of the case and mounting in a cabinet may work well for you.   You can probably get a CRT almost free these days.

5) MAME Emulator – It’s free, just download it.  This is the program that acts as the hardware for all the different games by using your computer.  It’s been in active development for over 10 years and continues to improve.   I use the MAMEUIFX32 as it has some features over the official builds (like high-score saving).

6) ROMS and CHD’s –  These are the actual games and use use the MAME emulator to play them.  While the copyright on many of these games has expired or the potential interested parties are no longer interested, you will officially be entering a grey area playing any of these games.  There are groups of individuals that have been around for years that will get the roms to you for cost of the media.  Doug Burton is one of these guys.  You also may also consider bittorrent. Please don’t ask me–I’ll just direct you to this post.

Recently, the size of all the games has grown astronomically with the addition of CHD (compressed hard drive) files.  I mentioned before there are 6500 working games (about 7500 total that don’t all work).  If you sort by size, the first 3000 games only add up to 90MB!  But they go up from there…  To get to 5000 games, you need 611MB of disk space, and to get to 7400 you need 17GB!  Finally, if you include a couple of hundred games with the CHD files, the archive grows to almost 150GB!!  Drive space is cheap these days though, so even at that size it shouldn’t be an issue.

Check this Youtube video of me playing M.A.C.H 3, an old laser disk came from 1983.  While emulating Galaga and Pacman isn’t that hard, MAME has come a long way to be able to emulate old laser disk games too.

Posted under tech gadgets, Video Games

What’s your top 1% video game?

Posted by matt on May 20, 2008

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)After watching the excellent documentary King of Kong, a Fistful of Quarters (which details the world’s top players of the video game Donkey Kong), it got me thinking…is there a video game that I can dominate 99% of the people that have played that game? Remember, that even George Costanza had a 1% game (FROGGER!). So what’s mine? Before I get to that question, some background is in order…

From 1982-1994 I grew up on a campground during some of the best years arcade gaming had to offer (1979-1982 was really good too). During this time, I had the privilege of sleeping less than 100 feet from a rec. room with a dozen or so arcade games that differed every year. With a solid 6 months and countless quarters later, I had a few games mastered by the end of each camping season.

MAME LogoIn 1997, something really cool happened. The MAME (multiple arcade machine emulator) project launched, providing a way to re-play all those old games in a near identical experience without having to leave your computer. I was instantly hooked, and worked to collect and play all of the games (ROMs).

lowerhell-MAME-Custom-Arcade-cabinet-by-Matt-AppsIn 2002, I built a MAME machine. This allowed me to get as close to the actual experience to having the real deal, all in one cabinet. While my MAME machine is in need of a revamp, it is still amazing what it can do. Imagine if I could take it back in time to 1985 with the few thousand games on it…

So what does it even mean to be 1%? I’m going to define it as being able to beat 99% people at the game who have at least played the game a few times. Obviously, for many games it would be easy to find 99% of people to beat if they’ve never heard of a game, so they must have some playing time under their belt. While it is probably impossible to prove, I’ll leave it at if you are the best at the game out of everyone you know, you are probably 1% at that game.

Rules established–what is my 1% game? A few candidates:

GORFGorf – This was my initial game I dominated, when I was 10. At the time, I could play this game almost continuously, getting to stupid-hard boards that were almost unfair. I haven’t played this game forever, but would be curious to see what kind of score I could put up.

Shanghai Kid – A fairly obscure one, this is another game that I had the high score on for 2 entire summers. It was a Karate Champ type clone but with better moves. I’d be surprised if you’d played or even heard of this game.

Double Dragon – Utilizing the elbow punch, this game was pretty easy to solve with a quarter. I’m assuming others could do this too, so hard to decide who would be better if you could solve the game without dying…

Pyros (Wardner’s Castle) – Back in the day, I can’t believe I solved this game with only 2 quarters. I played this on MAME a few years ago and after $2 worth, I was only half-way through. It’s tough!

indiana jones and the temple of doomIndiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – If I could pick only one, this would have to be my best 1% game. I had very a Seinfeld / Frogger-like moment when I ran into the same actual machine that we had at our campground at Beaver Dam mall about 50 miles away, years later. It was even for sale! I wish I had bought it… when I looked at the high scores, I couldn’t believe my 700,000+ high score was still intact! I played this game on the hardest level and had a pretty good pattern to snake my way through. It’s a fairly difficult game, but I can still consistently get 300k+ on it. I looked on Twin Galaxies site, and it looks like if back in the day (like 20 years ago…) if I had a referee, I would have been in the been in the top 3 worldwide.

My top 10% games:

Because I play a lot of games, I have tons of these, but some of the more popular:

Pengo – This game is fun, and I was pretty good at it. We only had it one summer, but it was a favorite of mine. For some reason there are quite a few penguin arcade games, probably more than any other animal. With MAME, the excellent and engrish ridden Penguin-Kun Wars was a lot of fun that a bunch of us played. My friend Wendy has the highest score I’ve seen on that one.

Galaga – I know people who are crazy-good at Galaga, so I would never assume I’m any better than the top 10%. I could get to the 25th or so level, but then saw my buddy Apollo roll the score over, so I’m nowhere near that elite status (totally geeky note, if you play on player 2, it actually has a 7-digit score rather than a 6-digit one!).

Commando – Good lord this game was hard. I could get to like the 3rd board and I’m sure that would put me in the top 10%. I watched people play this game and a quarter would last less than 30 seconds (the intro is like 10 of that).

Elevator Action – Simple yet fun, this game got pretty difficult later stages. Neat spy shoot-em-up.

Track & Field – I thought I was pretty good at this game, but then would see these speed freaks come in and play this game. This was a pure-skill button smashing game. My friend Cory has since become a master at this game, almost killing my MAME machine playing this.

Useful info from this post:

  • King of Kong – great documentary on the best video game players. Must-see if you like classic video games.
  • Twin Galaxies – From the movie, this site attempts to maintain all the high-scores, regardless of game, platform, etc. Maybe you could be on here?!
  • MAMEUI – this is the version of MAME I use, and is quite easy to set up. You need this play the games.
  • MAME ROMs – Doug Burton has them, and he only charges cost of the media. I get mine from him now, rather than scouring the Interwebs for them.
  • How to build a MAME Machine – This was a useful book when I was working on my cabinet. Check it out!
  • Matt’s MAME machine – My cabinet. I have a new computer that is waiting to put in, just need the time! I haven’t updated this site in years.

So what’s YOUR 1% game(s)? I don’t care if it’s an arcade game, Nintendo, Sega, or a PS3. Do you have a game that you may be even better than 1%, like a true Billy Mitchell? Add some comments below and let the world know!

Posted under tech gadgets, Video Games