Important Introductory note
As well as the very simple to use Console based systems the new MAME also emulates a number of home computers.
Before you start there is one very, very important thing to keep in mind when running a computer in MAME, the default state of emulation is to give the entire keyboard on the system to the emulated machine, meaning that none of the usual MAME keypresses will activate MAME functions, this even means that in this state ESC no longer exits MAME, F3 doesn’t reset the system, P won’t pause/unpause etc.
By default there is one key assigned to toggle this mode on and off and that key is SCRLOCK (Scroll Lock) However some laptops and other modern keyboards (including my wireless Logitech) don’t have this key, so you’ll need to assign something else.
If you’re in that situation then (assuming you have MAME already setup, including ROM paths etc.) you should launch MAME with no parameters and use the internal menu to do the following:
Scroll down to “Configure General Inputs” select “User Interface” select “UI Toggle” (it’s about 70% down the list) and assign a new key to it, one that is out the way and unlikely to be used by the emulated systems, personally I picked ‘END’
I will refer to this key as ‘UI TOGGLE’ for the rest of this document, please be aware that if the UI is in ‘active’ state and you press ESC then you WILL exit the emulation so it’s important to remember to toggle it back off after each time you need to use the UI.
King of Kong – Arcades
In the previous part of the article I looked at how the integration of MESS made it easier to explore the different platforms to which a game was officially ported, this time I’m going to look a bit at how you can see the influence of a game, including both official and unofficial ports.
Even with just the Arcade side of things Donkey Kong is a game with an undeniably huge influence. In MAME, for a long time, there have been a number of takes on Donkey Kong, the arcade original looked like this:
Even in the arcades there were a number of games that ripped off Donkey Kong. Crazy Kong is probably the best known variant of Donkey Kong and has a fair bit of history, and mystery behind it. While very similar in appearance it’s actually a very different piece of code to the original game. The Brazilian ‘Kong’ falls into the same category, it uses the Donkey Kong graphics, but the codebase is entirely different, resulting in a very stiff game with some redesigned levels; don’t be fooled by how similar it looks, there’s not a shred of the original Donkey Kong code in it!
The influence extended beyond games that were basically just creative bootlegs of Donkey Kong too, the CVS system game ‘Logger’ for example directly took the Donkey Kong concept but gave it a woodcutter theme.
Even years later the game, and it’s sequels ended up being copied, one example is the ‘Tong Boy’ game within YunSung’s ‘New Multi Game’
Let’s not also forget the unofficial sequel ‘Jump Man Returns’ which was made much more recently (2006) and plays out the idea of a sequel running on a modified version of the original game engine using the original hardware; quite a few PCBs actually ended up being converted to run it! Even more recently there were mods like the ‘Pauline edition’ where you play as the Heroine instead of Mario, although that one hasn’t yet made it to MAME (I’m hoping with the addition of the MESS stuff, and the more open / relaxed attitude towards after market developments it will)
Beyond that there were numerous games that were clearly influenced by the game mechanics of Donkey Kong without actually being the exact same idea as Donkey Kong, there’s little point in me covering all of them, but needless to say it was a very influential game.
King of Kong – At Home
So that’s all things that were available in MAME already, so you’re probably asking ‘where does the newly added MESS component come in?’
Donkey Kong is a much earlier game than the previous covered Raiden, so the systems it was ported to were quite different, this was the 80s when home computers were commonplace.
The first port of Donkey Kong I’m going to look at is one of the most recent additions to the emulator, added in 0.161 it’s the Coleco Handheld which looked something like this
A little background information is possible required here. This was 1982. While today you have machines in your pocket that are often more powerful than the PC sitting on your desk, in 1982 we didn’t, even the original GameBoy was not released until 1989, and the only real handhelds with a video display to speak of were things like the Microvision with a 16×16 pixel display.
In order to make something with reasonable art a different approach was taken, instead of trying to make up a screen of pixels VFD based displays were used, this allowed the manufacturers to use actual art to make up the game graphics by turning on / off various playfield elements. You can see one of the actual units here . Obviously this technique means animation is non-existent and what could be done with the games was strictly limited, but the Donkey Kong handheld made a brave attempt at simulating both the barrel and rivet levels and has been quite fondly remembered.
I’ve uploaded a YouTube video of this below to better demonstrate it. To run this in MAME you use ‘mame cdkong’ be sure to have the ARTWORK FILE in your artwork folder too because it’s not really playable otherwise.
If you didn’t read the important note at the top of the article now is a good time to read it because we’re going to look at some of the home computer versions of Donkey Kong, there were many of them, I can’t possibly cover them all, but to help people understand the functionality it’s worth looking at a couple.
One of the most critically acclaimed ports of Donkey Kong was the one to the Amstrad CPC, and I’m not surprised, for a system that received, for the most part, shoddy reworkings of Spectrum ports that were unflappably slow this is an absolute gem.
Now, for some reason running the cassette version of the game in the base Amstrad CPC464 driver results in raster timing glitches, I’m not sure why, it just does, I guess it might be because the CPC has the disk rom hooked up by default when really it should only be available if you plug the expansion in, but then I’ve noticed it works fine on some of the other models with a disk drive.
Either way, there is an Amstrad clone, the KC Compact, and we’ll be using that for our first example.
Launch MAME with ‘mame kccomp -cass1 dkong” this will launch MAME with the KC Compact drive running, and the Donkey Kong cassette (from the Software List) inserted into the cassette deck. Without loading the game however it will just sit there.
To get us moving type
and press enter, this will prompt you press PLAY then any key. The order you do this doesn’t matter here, so hit a key.
In order to start the tape playing you must enable the MAME interface keys, this is where the text at the top is important. Hit ‘UI Toggle’ (SCRLOCK by default) to enable the MAME keys.
Press F2, this is the keyboard shortcut to start a tape. A timer (3 minutes 36 seconds) appears in the top corner and the game begins to load. Hit the ‘UI Toggle’ key once more to disable the MAME keys again and hand the keyboard back over to the emulated system.
Wait. Eventually the game will load.
The graphics are fairly low resolution, but the look and feel of the game is spot on. Remember, if you want to exit the emulator hit the ‘UI Toggle’ key (SCRLOCK) before pressing ESC.
So far everything that has been covered in this articles has been loaded from the Software Lists. For ROM based games that is absolutely the correct way to go about things as the Software Lists often contain information about what was inside the cartridges, so some features like backup RAM might not end up being emulated properly if the Software Lists aren’t used, however for software that was on Cassette, Disk, or even CD Rom it is useful to know that unlisted software can also be loaded.
For the next example I’m going to look at one of the other 8-bit systems, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum.
Donkey Kong isn’t in the ZX Spectrum Software List (yet) so head over to the World of Spectrum and grab a loose copy. DonkeyKong.tzx.zip should do the trick, unzip it into your MAME folder so you have DonkeyKong.tzx sitting in the same location as your MAME.exe.
Launch MAME with ‘mame spectrum -cass1 “Donkey Kong.tzx”
this causes MAME to launch with the loose cassette image of Donkey Kong mounted in the cassette deck.
Now unlike the Amstrad, the Spectrum can be a bit of a pain when trying to load something because the build in BASIC uses a Macro system, meaning instead of typing words you must press keys that correspond to keywords. Luckily for loading a game you only have to know how to enter the command LOAD “”, which is ‘J’ (for load) then ‘Shift+P’ twice, for the “” part. After typing that, hit enter. The later Spectrum models have other easier ways of loading games, but not all software is compatible.
The procedure to start the tape is exactly the same as the CPC, hit the ‘UI Toggle’ (SCRLOCK), hit F2, tape starts playing, hit ‘UI Toggle’ again.
Not the best version of Donkey Kong, you can tell it’s meant to be Donkey Kong from the basic level structure but the graphics are dull and flickery and the controls / movement doesn’t really feel correct either.
With some of the systems now supported you’ll need to configure slots before launching the driver (unfortunately MAME still doesn’t support changing many of these at runtime which causes a problem with some games) To play the Commodore 64 (c64) version of Donkey Kong for example you’ll have to tell MAME that you want a C64 joystick inserted into one of the control ports. The launch syntax to do this is
“mame64 c64 -cart1 dkong -joy1 joy”
The Donkey Kong game in question is loaded from a cartridge, so the actual loading part is easy (loading a C64 game from Tape / Disk requires more effort) but without the -joy1 joy part, telling MAME that you want a joystick inserted into the first Joystick port it is impossible to control. With that added the game boots, can be started, and plays a reasonably good game of Donkey Kong.
One issue that was touched upon with the mention of the Spectrum is how some systems can be rather difficult to operate simply because the original keyboard layouts were so different to PC layout we have today. While the Macro based inputs of the Spectrum couldn’t really be made any easier there are cases where MAME can assist a little, by attempting to remap keypresses transparently. The option to enable this is ‘-natural’
A good example of where this is useful is the MSX. By default the ” symbol is very difficult to find when running the MSX driver (in all honesty I don’t know where it maps) but if using the ‘-natural’ option it maps to the same place it does on a PC keyboard, Shift + 2.
Let’s launch the MSX driver with that option for an example. MAME doesn’t have a generic MSX driver as the MSX was just a rough specification for a machine rather than an actual machine. One machine based on that specification is the Canon V-20E (canonv20). The following commandline is used to launch “mame canonv20 -cass1 dkong -natural”
This starts up the MSX driver with the Donkey Kong cassette in the cassette desk.
To start the tape loading you must type
In the case of the MSX driver the tape then automatically plays.
For the game in this driver I’ve found that once the game has loaded you must select ‘4’ (Joystick) in order for the controls to work well, I’m not sure if this is a conflict with the ‘-natural’ option or something else.
It’s an Ocean Software port, so very similar to the Spectrum version but with more colours, less flicker and generally improvements all round.
If you’re feeling lazy and pick an MSX model with a floppy drive then there’s actually a version of Donkey Kong available on Floppy Disk too.
The Expert DDPlus (Brazil) is one such MSX model, so using the launch syntax “mame expertdp -flop1 dkong” will load the floppy version from the Software List, exact same game tho.
One thing I mentioned is influence, and an influential game leads to people still giving it care and attention many years later. Back in 2007 ‘Sock Master’ decided to do a port of the Arcade version of Donkey Kong to the CoCo 3 computer, with the goal of creating something as close to the arcade experience as possible.
In the end he succeeded in creating this port, although admitted that it performed better on a modified machine, one with the CPU upgraded. MESS was generally open to supporting unofficial modified hardware configurations (as long as they actually existed) so has a machine with precisely the recommended upgrades available by default. MESS was also open to some ‘homebrew’ software being documented, so this port made it’s way into the Software Lists.
To launch we use the simple syntax
“mame coco3h dkong”
Before going anywhere else it’s wise to hit the ‘UI Toggle’ key (SCRLOCK) bring up the TAB menu, scroll down to Analog Controls, and adjust the AD stick X and Y Digital Speeds and Auto Center speeds up to 50, why? because the system used Analog Joysticks, and the default mapping of ’10’ for the speeds makes the game very sticky. With the settings adjusted close the TAB menu (press TAB again) and hit the ‘UI Toggle’ key once again to give the system full keyboard access.
The game is on a floppy disk, to see the content of the floppy disk type DIR and press return. You can see see several files listed, the one with the .BAS extension (BASIC) is the game loader and the one we’re interested in, it’s called DONKEY.BAS. To run it just type
and hit enter
once the game has loaded you’ll want to hit ‘P’ to change the Palette Type to CMP (Composite) or the colours will be ugly ingame. By default the controls map to the numpad, NUMPAD0 is credit/start, and the 8/4/6/2 directions move your character.
Sound is a bit crackly (possibly our emulation, or a filter on hardware makes it sound better) and the game skips a few frames (the original machine isn’t quite powerful enough) but it’s a very solid effort and looks+plays great due to being a direct translation of the original arcade code.
Some ports are really easy to get going, the Apple II port for example
“mame apple2p dkong”
With that, the game auto loads and can be played using the Numpad, not a great port, but still recognizable as Donkey Kong.
So far all the versions that need to be loaded via BASIC have been fairly straight forward, and have auto-ran after the initial load sequence. That isn’t always the case however, some need a little more attention, and a little more knowledge of exactly what’s on the tape you’re trying to run. Another thing that you get with certain systems is the ability to configure different RAM sizes as many of these computers came in different models with different amounts of RAM depending on how much you were willing to pay, or modify your machine.
One example that ends up incorporating both of these elements is the Colour Genie EG2000. There was an unofficial port of Donkey Kong to the machine known as “Colour Kong” It was available in 2 versions, a 16K version and a 32K version, we’re going to look at the 32K version.
The launch syntax we will be using is “mame cgenie -cass1 colkong32 -ramsize 32K” The -ramsize 32K option configures the machine as a 32K machine, it’s 16 by default, the valid options here are defined in the driver.
The built in BASIC for the machine is incredibly unintuitive. The first thing I’d recommend is hitting the ‘UI Toggle’ key (SCRLOCK) to enable the MAME controls, we’ll need them in a bit to start the tape.
Upon booting you get a MEM SIZE prompt from the machine, just hit enter, at that point it will say COLOUR BASIC and READY.
The first command you need to enter into the emulated machine is
entering this, and pressing return gives you a *? prompt
This prompt is expecting you to enter a filename, to operate this system it appears you actually have to know the name of the file on the cassette, which is inconvenient to say the least. In this instance the filename is KONG32, so type KONG32 and hit return.
The system won’t prompt you to press play on the tape, but that’s exactly what it wants you to do right now, so hit F2 to start playing the tape. It takes about a minute and a half to load the game, during that time you’ll see some * symbols in the corner. After loading it returns you to the *? prompt
Again at this point it isn’t obvious what you must do, the game doesn’t auto-start (some games on the system do, but this isn’t one of them) to boot the game you must type a / symbol and press enter.
‘S’ starts the game, arrow keys move, Z is jump. It’s an unofficial port to an obscure system, and the barrel level is really tricky, but it does look like all the levels are implemented!
Nintendo released versions of Donkey Kong on their own platforms too, one many people encountered is the NES version, it’s a decent port of the game. “mame nes dkong”
That’s an easy one out of the way, now let’s look at something a bit more complex again.
For some systems you have to attach additional hardware before slots become available. One such system is the Famicom, aka the Japanese version of the NES. The Famicom had a ‘Disk System’ addon which allowed for games to be distributed on Floppy Disk. To use the Disk System add-on, and thus play games on Floppy you had to first plug it into your main system. In MAME you have to do the same.
There are two ways of doing things from here, option 1 is that we launch the Famicom with
“mame famicom -cart1 disksys”
this boots to the disk system bios.
from there you can press TAB to bring up the MAME tab menu, scroll down to ‘File Manager’, select it, scroll down to ‘floppydisk (flop)’, select it, scroll up to ‘[software list]’ select it, then ‘Nintendo Famicom Disk Images’, select that, then just type dkong to scroll the list to Donkey Kong and hit return. Assuming you have the ROMs available and where MAME can find them that will work. While for the purpose of this example I’m just loading Donkey Kong, which is identical to the NES version, there are a number of unique titles for the Disk System too.
The other way to do the same thing (without having to navigate all the menus) is to simply launch with
“mame famicom -cart1 disksys -flop1 dkong”
however navigating the menus is good practice for some more complex cases you might encounter later, where you have to change disks at runtime.
The majority of the rest of the Donkey Kong versions I managed to launch were easy cases, there are 3 of them for Atari Systems
The Atari 2600 had a very basic looking version of the game, with minimal presentation
“mame a2600 dkong”
There was an Atari 800 version..
“mame a800 dkong”
and an Atari 7800 version
“mame a7800 dkong”
The interesting thing with the Atari 7800 version is that back in 2012 a new version was released to make use of the XM expansion card for the A7800, this expansion card added High Score Save support as well as additional sound chips. The original A7800 version of Donkey Kong has rather awful sound, so ‘TEP392′ decided to reprogram the game, improving it in significant ways. He released demo versions of this to the public to show off the improvements. The Demo version is softlisted, and our emulation does support the XM unit, unfortunately support seems to have broken at some point causing the Pokey to output static instead of the new music meaning I can’t really add that one to the ‘Things to try’ list for now.
The Gameboy got a port of Donkey Kong too, however it’s not really faithful to the original game logic, you can do some back-flip type jump instead of using the ladders at times!
“mame gbcolor dkong”
The Gameboy version was also special in another way, it was one of a handful of Gameboy games to have ‘Super Gameboy’ support. The Super Gameboy was an underutilized expansion device for the SNES which allowed Gameboy games to be played on the big screen with extra content (typically more colours, and a bezel) Most SNES add-ons are supported in MAME via the slot device system, however the Super Gameboy hasn’t been fully converted yet and is treated as a standalone system. For the purpose of running Donkey Kong this is good enough.
“mame supergb dkong”
The Intellivison got a basic, slow and ugly port of the game, remember to use the numpad to select difficulty etc. or it looks broken.
“mame intv dkong”
The Colecovision port plays well, but has minimal presentation
There was also a TI99-4a port
“mame ti99_4a donkeykg” (really this should be renamed to dkong to be consistent with the rest)
This one also plays a good game.
Venturing well into obscure territory is a port that was done for the BeLogic Uzebox. The Uzebox driver is marked as NOT Working in MAME, and lacks sound, but the actual gameplay of the Donkey Kong port runs fine, it’s not a great port, and the emulation does struggle to maintain 100% even on my 4Ghz i7, but it’s an interesting one because it shows how we’re interested in emulating these ‘Open Source’ games consoles and the homebrew software developed for them.
“mame uzebox dkong”
Not All Working
That concludes all the versions of Donkey Kong I could get working, there were a couple of others I couldn’t, the Vic20 version for example hangs on the title.
The GBA version which is a ‘NES Classics’ release doesn’t work because those have some kind of anti-emulator protection on them that our ARM core fails, the IBM PC version is out of the scope of this article to run (if I do a Part 3 I might cover it) and a number of the other cases where there is a Donkey Kong port the drivers are just skeleton drivers or don’t seem to have the tape / floppy hooked up to a point where it can be loaded. There are one or two others that are just direct ports of existing versions too. There are a couple more fan remakes that aren’t in the Softlists yet that I haven’t covered, and countless commercial rip-offs that wanted a chunk of the action from back in the day, but I feel I’ve covered enough here to demonstrate the features of the emulator I wanted to demonstrate. One significant thing I haven’t covered here at all are the Donkey Kong licensed Fruit Machines, those were rather interesting too, but as our drivers in MAME don’t yet work there’s nothing to show yet.
It should be noted that for a lot of the systems covered here MAME isn’t the absolute best emulator available, however, it’s certainly good enough for many use cases, as hopefully all these different versions of Donkey Kong running demonstrate. Knowing which machine to use, or how to configure the machine you want to use can be a challenge, and in some cases you’ll need to do a bit of research (I had to myself here for loading an MSX game from cassette) but don’t let that put you off, plenty really are just as easy to use as any arcade game.
What’s interesting with Donkey Kong is that while it was ported extensively outside of Japan there don’t seem to be that many cases where it was released on home systems in Japan, this contrasts greatly with the output of Namco where their most popular games were ported to a wide range of Japanese systems. Covering some of the Japanese systems is definitely an area I should consider for a follow-up article too because the obscure Japanese systems have some good ports and in many cases are an area in which the MESS code we’ve imported really excels.
I hope some of the things covered in this little write-up have been useful and again help show exactly what new abilities having the MESS code integrated has opened up to people. I think it’s fair to say that MAME is now the King of Kong, you can trace the game right from it’s arcade origins down to the best and worst of ports
*If* I do a Part 3 it will likely cover some even more advanced use cases for the emulator, such as using the PC emulation where you need to install the operating system first. I was going to do that using Raiden as an example (like Part 1), but have since discovered it suffers from an emulation glitch meaning I need to rethink my plan there.