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Arcade Nostalgia

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This weekend was one of extended frustration, in part because I went down a rabbit hole that I still have yet to surface from.  One of these days I will go into my sordid past as it regards to console piracy, because there is a story in that worth telling.  However prior to that I was hooked on the concept of emulating all of these machines that I loved playing in the arcade on my PC and was involved with a good number of the early sites giving access to both emulators and roms.  It was a heady time where we had to play SNES titles with a significant frame skip to get them playable…  but it didn’t matter because we were playing Nintendo games on a PC.  I nearly lost my shit when I first encountered MAME, or the Multi Arcade Machine Emulator…  a project designed to emulate the specific chipsets of various arcade machines and make them similarly playable on the PC.

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The problem with MAME however is that there is a lot of development churn on the project and in its constant seeking for perfect emulation…  the game “ROMs” themselves are often changing formats as folks re-dump the EPROMs trying to get a slightly better copy than the one that existed before.  When I started messing with this back in the 90s the dumps we had access to were pretty much set in stone, and what changed from release to release as adding new supported titles.  Now however the packages fundamentally change functionally obsoleting the games you had previously “acquired”.  This sets up the reality that now the 0.209 ROM set is made up of 36,713 files taking up 555 gb of disk space…  and as such taking forever to download that is if you can even find a place to download.

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This madness I speak of…  I did this thing this weekend.  I found a location to grab the entire 0.209 ROM and CHD set…  and over the course of a night the roms trickled down as they account for only 66 gb of the total size.  The bulk of the space requirement are the CHD images or actual copies of the hard drives that were installed in the machines and used to pull audio and video from as the game played.  These were widely used in pretty much any cabinet newer than say Killer Instinct.  All of this was to be played with GameEx Evolution which is a slick looking front end for a bunch of different emulators.  The goal being able to create an experience that I could navigate with my fight stick and maybe eventually an in home custom arcade cabinet as that has been a long time dream of mine.  However like may technology projects… I spent the bulk of the weekend tracing down issues and didn’t actually spend much time playing anything.

The first major issue I encountered was the fact that after going through the hassle of acquiring the latest ROMs for MAME…  I find out that GameEx only seems to support an older version…   0.197 to be specific.  Which lead to a whole lot of scrambling to find another place that I could acquire that ROM set from.  While dealing with that I began setting up various other emulators and managed to get Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, Gameboy, Color Gameboy, Gameboy Advance and with some fiddling Turbografx-16 all working.  For whatever reason nothing that I did seemed to get Sega Genesis to the point of actually launching a game in spite of using RetroArch just like I was using with the other working titles.  There was some discussion on the GameEx forums of having to configure a second version of RetroArch to make it work…  but I didn’t dive into that abyss.  Saturn I could not get running at all, and I have not gotten around to trying to configure Sony Playstation 1 or 2.

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To add insult to injury…  when I finally got the correct rom set…  for whatever reason I still could not get MAME working through GameEx.  This lead me down a completely different rabbit hole last night of trying to just say screw it to GameEx Evolution entirely and use RetroArch as a front end given most of the sub emulators I am using are just libretro cores.  This is the point where I decided to let it scan my harddrive looking for roms…  and it legitimately took all night as it scanned some 260,000 files. I am guessing there is a bug in its recursion loop because there are no way that many files in my ROMs directory?  For at least one game I noticed it added some 30 copies of it, so I have no clue what is going on.  The other method would be setting up custom playlists which is way more time consuming…  but I feel like that might be the best option.  If I went down that route I would narrow things down to only the games I am actually interested in playing…  because of the 35,000 roms in the MAME library there are probably only a hundred that I am actually interested in.

This was my weekend… and I feel like I have very little to show for it.  I went down the rabbit hole of emulation and now also remember what ultimately gets me to stop messing with it.  It is exhausting trying to keep up with the latest advances in all of the emulators and the latest copies of the games that are designed to work with them.  The fact that this is of negligible legality ends up making the entire experience way more complicated than it probably could be.  I remember once upon a time that there was a German site that kept a running archive of every game in the MAME library, and back in those days I would just grab the single title that I wanted to emulate because it was so much easier to do so.  Now I feel like the only viable option is to grab entire sets, just in case there is a title that I forgot that I might want to use later.  The result ends up being a situation where I have so much file bloat that I am effectively moving everything off of my G drive so that it ends up being a dedicated emulation repository.

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Now any time emulation is mentioned…  I feel like I have to place a disclaimer.  This is only legal if you own a copy of the game in question…  and even then it is a grey area depending upon the laws in your specific region.  With arcade games…  that whole thing is a legal quagmire as few people actually have JAMMA boards laying around their house to be able to claim they own the original that they are now emulating.  I also cannot help you on this journey apart from saying that I got to where I ended up this weekend with a lot of careful googling and with the assistance of a french site that I won’t link here.  In the case of the MAME 0.197 the Internet Archive seems to have a copy of those and it is a 61 gb download so that is at least a starting point.  I will say that a MEGA account comes in really handy when it comes to downloading this sort of thing, because inevitably the link you are looking for is encrypted and stored somewhere out there.

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So this was my weekend.  I feel like a failure for not getting it all sorted out.  How was your weekend?

2 thoughts on “Arcade Nostalgia

  1. If it meets your requirements, I can recommend batocera linux, a fork of recalbox. I installed it on an old thinkpad a couple of months ago. The emulator bios and the roms were not included, but I got both in two or three decent-sized downloads from a kid on YouTube. You can’t miss him, he’s like ten years old. The roms might have been labeled for recalbox at the time, but they worked in batocera.

    • I appreciate the info greatly. I’ve been trying to find something to run on my Windows box for the moment, however if I do go about building a custom cabinet I would likely be going with a linux distro, and this one sounds promising.

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