Relive arcade nostalgia with Mac OS

In January 2000 and briefly again this year, Scott Mendham discussed MAME, the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator project, in his alt.net column. The project was founded in late 1996 and first released in February 1997 by Nicola Salmoria. MAME allows PC users to play classic arcade game titles, even those games from consoles including Atari, Amiga and NeoGeo. LinuxWorld.com.au reviewed the MAME derivative, XMAME, on Linux/UNIX machines. Now it's the Macintosh's turn! This month we look at the Mac OS X-compatible MacMAME, including a guide on how to use the software.

As an emulator, MacMAME interprets code originally designed to run on various platforms, such as those mentioned above, and allows a Mac to run the game as it was originally designed. Today's Macs boast fast processors and RAM, only dreamed of when the now-classic games were originally released, hence most Macs (especially recent models) are amply equipped to run MacMAME. As an open source project, MacMAME is free and is available as a download from Apple at www.apple.com/downloads/macosx/games/macmame.html or from the MacMAME site at www.macmame.org.

The games for MacMAME are known as ‘ROMs' (Read Only Memory), due to the fact that the games originally came on ROM chips. MAME programmers extract and convert the games and make them available for download, with the file sizes varying depending on the complexity of the game. Most games are fairly small and usually only take a few minutes to download over a modem connection to the Internet.

So, what's the catch? Although a lot of classic game hardware is no longer available and the original game developers may not be making the games available any more, the majority of MAME ROMs (games) either are themselves copyrighted or emulate copyrighted material.

Most of the games for MacMAME emulate copyrighted material. Searching the Internet for MAME ROMs will reveal Web sites that make ROMs freely available for download. This does not mean it is legal for you to use them, even if you own the original game.

The January 2002 Australian PC World cover CD included a game from former Midway developer and PC World contributor Jamie Fenton. The game, a 1980s' title called Robby Roto, was supplied to PC World to distribute to its readers.

Loading games

Once you've downloaded and installed MacMAME, you should find a MacMAME folder icon on your desktop. Double-click it and you will be inside the MacMAME folder. One of the sub-directories you should be able to see is called Roms - this is where you need to place any ROMs that you download - complete as a zip file. If the ROM doesn't work using this method, you can try uncompressing the zip into a directory and placing that directory in the Roms folder. Don't forget to check that the ROM you download has been updated to work with the version of MacMAME you are using. To confirm this, read the supplied text information with each ROM.

Double-click the MacMAME icon to start the program and you should see a list of your ROMs on the left-hand side. Before you begin, you may want to click on the Video tab, which will let you choose the size at which the game will run, for example Full Screen. Begin loading a game by clicking its name and then the Play button.

As the game loads, you may need to type in the word OK to continue past the initial disclaimer. You can change the volume while in a game by pressing the tilda key (the key to the left of number 1) and using the left and right arrow keys for adjustment.

Once the game has loaded, pressing the number one <1> key usually starts a single player game and pressing the key brings up the menu. This is where you can change the MacMAME input controls as well as specific controls for the current game you are playing. Pressing will take you back a level in the menu. When playing a game, the key allows you to pause it.

If the thought of playing classic arcade titles on your Mac sounds appealing, then you may also want to check out http://mac.emuscene.com for further information about the Macintosh emulation scene. Another of its sites, http://psx.emuscene.com discusses running PlayStation titles on your Mac through the use of emulation software such as the new FlareStorm and the controversial Virtual Game Station originally developed by Connectix but later sold to Sony. Just don't blame me if you find yourself getting carried away on a wave of nostalgia.

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