In the last edition of D.I.Y. (Daddy It Yourself) we talked about what a M.A.M.E. arcade cabinet was and why you’d want to add one to your gaming collection. On top of that, we got all the heavy lifting out of the way by purchasing our empty cabinet (suck it up) because we went over all the different options on acquiring that perfect cabinet. This time we’re talking good old fashioned hardware and software because once you start this portion you’ll keep working on it while you’re deciding, designing, purchasing and waiting on shipping of all the other parts we’ll be discussing.
A decade ago I upgraded my music recording PC from a Dell Dimension 2350 with a 1.8Ghz Intel Processor to a Mac. I’ve moved from Ohio to New York and back to Ohio again carrying that damn thing with me, never using it. Then when this project came up I saw that the Dell Dimension 2350 was a popular model for M.A.M.E. setups so I lucked out there. One thing I’m not too educated on, but it seems to be an option people are trying more and more these days, is using a board called Raspberry Pi in place of the computer. Google it for more info.
What you want to do is utilize the time to upgrade your PC and install all the software and programs while you’re researching all the other pieces and parts that’ll come later, because there’s a lot of trial and error and all this can be going on while you’re doing the other parts. If you don’t have the PC yet you can find a good one anywhere from $25 to $75 on eBay. Here are the things I had to do to get my PC to not only be able to run M.A.M.E. but also Future Pinball (which I talk about later):
- My computer was still at its original 512MB RAM, which would have probably been perfectly fine for M.A.M.E. but in order to get the physics to work well on Future Pinball I needed to upgrade to my maximum allotted amount of RAM which was 1GB. I was able to score two 512MB RAM boards for a total of $12 on Amazon.com here.
- Next thing I found out was that to get the physics to work correct on Future Pinball I needed to upgraded the video card. Here’s an important lesson learned. Figure out if your computer is a PCI, PCI-X, or AGP slot just by looking at it, otherwise you can get the correct card just not the correct slot type and it won’t work. I got the PNY GeForce FX5200 DDR 256MB PCI Video Card for cheap on Amazon (get used if it’s cheaper). Now future Pinball works great on my cab.
Game emulators are the core to the entire reason you’re doing this. Think of the emulator as the game system (like that of the Wii, Xbox, Playstation, etc.) that plays the games (referred to as ROMs) only these game systems are software that imitate a hardware system of some type. Most PCs are more than powerful enough to run the games from the 80’s and 90’s so you shouldn’t have too much of an issue unless you want to run more current system emulators like I am with Future Pinball. There are all kinds of emulators for all the different systems ever made (Atari, NES, SNES, Genesis, Dos, name it) but here’s a little bit about the two I’m running:
M.A.M.E. (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) is by far the most popular and best emulator to run all the classic arcade games of the past. However, there are different versions for different operating systems. For Windows XP I found that Mame32 ran best for me. ROMs are simple to find if you simply Google them however, they could be copyrighted so first find out if you’re legally allowed to download them in your area or over your ISP. After downloading many of them, and finding that they were hit and miss when it came to which ones worked, I did find an ISO (Disc Image) called ‘Mame32_Classic.iso’ (again, Google it) that not only gave me a working Mame32 but it also included something like 1,400 ROMs that ALL worked. There were a few games we wanted that weren’t in the pack but those were either obscure games that might not be needed in your particular collection or were ones that are so popular that they’re easy to find working versions of.
Future Pinball is a pinball emulator that is completely free and all the tables are made by pinball enthusiasts who offer all their creations for free as well. These developers either make original tables or unbelievable reproductions of famous, classic pinball tables with advanced physics that arguably provides the best simulation of a real life pinball table.
A front loader is a program that allows Windows to either boot directly into it, bypassing any evidence of Windows at all (but takes quite a bit of work if you follow these directions), or you can go the easier route and get it to start automatically once Windows boots up. Either way, it’s a great way to list out all the emulators and their ROMs in a very streamlined and efficient way (YouTube it). The one I settled on is Maximus Arcade because it was very clean and worked with Windows XP perfectly.
One front loader you’ll hear about a lot, if you research them, is Hyperspin. It’s a very cool program that shows videos instead of images of the games when you have them highlighted before choosing to play. The only problem I have with Hyperspin is that those sample videos use quite a bit of RAM and can slow down the system when you’re trying to cycle through the games list. Whereas with Maximus Arcade I can cycle through the games quick which is a huge advantage when you have over 1,400 games (and it has jpeg previews of the games instead of video). There is a favorites list but sometimes it’s nice to explore games you’ve never played and the last thing you want is for that searching process to take forever.
Now that you know the pieces and parts that are needed for the system to actually be playable, you’ll want to spend time experimenting with which emulators you want, which ROMs you’ll need, and how souped up you’ll need to make that PC so that it all runs smooth as a mother. Remember, start this process early so you can keep working on it while you’re doing all the other parts.