We all love to think back on the good ole days of gaming. Not to date myself, but I am sure most of us remember Pong on that old Atari. My next home gaming system, like so many others, was the ColecoVision and many Donkey Kong addicts where born (not to mention the ability to play Atari 2600 games with an adapter).
There were also the arcades, and as the 70s went by, the arcade games got better and better. Only god knows how many quarters Williams got of mine, the maker of my addiction, Defender. There was also Asteroids, Pac-Man, Tron, Dig Dug and Centipede to name just a few. I am sure there are many of us that bought quarters by the roll to feed our addiction.
Eventually, the 25-cent games went away and out came the $0.50, $1.00 and even $2.00 arcade machines. Many of us have wondered where those old games of the 70s and early 80s went to?
I present to you (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator). MAME is an arcade emulator that gives you that feel as though you are back at your favorite arcade playing your nemesis once again (those damn mutants). So I went searching around to find out what this MAME was about, and to get a feel for the emulation capability. During my search I found there is a MAME32 for windows NT based machines (MAME is a DOS program at heart). I promptly installed it and went to work looking for the Defender ROM.
You might be asking yourself "What is the ROM for?"
The ROM is an actual downloaded image of the program that was used to power your favorite arcade game. You will need to be careful of the size of these, as most of them are in the sub 256k range :p. Finding the ROMs, legally, is a little harder than expected. You would think that these companies would like nothing more than to make money from an otherwise nonprofit making entity in their portfolio. There are a few sites that do sell them; I am listing the sites exactly as they appear in the FAQ for MAME:
You have five legal options:
(1) Search for auctions (on eBay for example) of the actual arcade circuit boards, and buy a ROM reader device to copy the ROM chips' contents into files.
(2) Buy the HotRod Joystick control panel. It is bundled with a CD that includes MAME and a few 100% legal Capcom ROMs. Hanaho also sells the ArcadePC cabinet with a different selection of legal Capcom ROMs.
(3) Buy legal Atari arcade game ROMs from StarROMs for prices varying between $2.00 and $6.00. You can even get one free game for signing up!
(4) There are also three free ROM sets available right on the official MAME site, in the miscellaneous downloads page.
(5) The X-Arcade site has links where you can access ROMs.
The illegal options are to search the net with Google, Altavista, Yahoo, Webcrawler or other search engine, for the ROM files. You can also try other methods such as IRC, newsgroups, P2P software etc. Be aware that this is breaking the laws of almost every country. Before you consider doing this, see if the particular arcade games' copyright-owner has the ROMs available (as with Capcom and Atari). That way you will support the companies that support emulation.
Now that you have MAME installed and you have managed to retrieve a few ROMs, you might wonder how you get that true arcade feel with a mouse and keyboard? Even the standard joysticks offered in the PC industry won't allow you to play Joust or Defender as it looked and felt at the old arcade. There are just to many buttons needed and the mouse is not supported in all but a few of the ROMs that I have seen to date.
X-Arcade Dual Controller
Along comes . They built a controller (and dual controller) that duplicates most of the old arcade control panels (or joysticks). Today I am blessed with the opportunity to test one such unit, the although they did not send the cabinet to mount it in. :)
Upon unpacking, the first thing you will notice is that this is one heavy controller. They even reference it (the weight) in their manual; nice to see they have a sense of humor over at X-Arcade.
My review controller included the ; it comes standard with the PS/2 connector that your keyboard would plug into (pass-through). Notice the USB cable is a little short from the connection end to the X-Arcade junction box? This was not an issue in my connection scenario, but I could see how it might be in some situations.
Connecting the USB version to my machine made Windows XP pop up saying it found a new device, then correctly identified it with "X-Arcade Controller" and then telling me all was ready to go. You can also select, when ordering, if you want it to connect to your X-Box, PS-1/2, Dreamcast, Gamecube and the USB for PC or MAC. This can be in addition to the PC connection or standalone, depending on your needs. X-Arcade also gives you the option to purchase a controller with a trackball instead of the joystick, you will notice there are not as many buttons in this version and it is a smaller profile. This would be a good fit if you are in need of retaining space.
Setting it up
Once the controller was installed I launched MAME32 and went to the Options menu, selected Default Game Options and then Controllers. Once there I chose X-Arcade from the drop-down list, I was now ready to play some classics. I attempted to play some of the ROMs using just a keyboard (KB) and mouse, but this was not an easy task.
Using the X-Arcade made playing the old arcade games a trip down memory lane. Not that the X-Arcade can emulate every controller or button arrangement that we were used to in the old days, but they do a better than average job at emulating them as closely as possible, considering there are over 4000 ROMs out there. Qix was especially hard with just the KB and mouse. X-Arcade handled Qix nicely, as the joystick operated smoothly and the game cursor followed appropriately. I could not find any dead zones in the joystick and was not able to catch the X-Arcade miss a button push. Now if I could only stand up while playing, I would be back at my old Arcade where I grew up.
The wife and I sat down to play a little 2-Player Joust, and just like the arcades of old, we got to rub elbows as we fought for position. Once again, standing up would have been nice so I could have given her a little hip check to win a couple more games :p. You can accomplish the stand up part by purchasing the X-Arcade Cabinet, maybe when I finish that house addition, I can include that in the costs. :)
The button layout on the X-Arcade is programmable. There is a 4 position switch on the back of the unit that allows you to program 3 different button layouts; position 1 is hard coded specifically for MAME. The X-Arcade plays more than just MAME mind you, I can see many advantages to this type of controller for several game types on your console machines as well. The X-Arcade does work well in several PC games including Tiger Woods PGA Golf and NHL 2004, to name a few. With the inability to turn, however, the X-Arcade is not meant to be a first person shooter (FPS) controller. I tried a little Quake 3 and Painkiller with it, and it is clearly evident these are best done with the KB and mouse combination.
As I stated, the X-Arcade is heavy, the material used is a throwback to the same look and feel as the standup Arcade machines had. The buttons and joysticks are of very high quality, you get the feeling that you can pound on this thing as you did when you visited the arcade (c'mon, you know you did it too).
The added extra here is the X-Arcade expects you to do just that, and they still include a lifetime warranty with their controllers. This helped to alleviate most of my fears about failure of a button or joystick, as I am sure you recall that happened from time to time on those old arcade machines. If the X-Arcade is too heavy for your lap, it can be placed on top of your desk, they have included rubber feet to protect said desk. The size and spacing of the Dual player is, in my opinion, just right for 2-player action. You are close enough to the other player so that you can affect them outside of the game, but far enough apart where you have easy access to your joystick and buttons.
has done a great job at delivering a high quality controller that performs well. It is not a controller that can play every game you have on your PC or gaming console, but it does a superb job at what X-Arcade has intended it to do. The arcade style joysticks and buttons make the experience that much more satisfying, the lifetime warranty, makes it that much more of a must have.
Pros: Quality build, good response on joystick / buttons, no dead zones, lifetime warranty.
Cons: A little cumbersome to move around, USB extension cable is a little short (not an issue in my instance but could see it being an issue for some), not meant for FPS / Racing games.
Bottom Line: To put it bluntly, I am now an X-Arcade bigot, I am in heaven playing some of my old arcade games as they were presented to me when I was a mere teenager. The X-Arcade greatly enhances my ability to enjoy the experience.
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