Once again I’m going to take an experimental approach to the yearly write-up, this time, keeping the page open all year and adding bits I’ve found interesting to it throughout the year.
The upside of this is that it might be easier to cover some stuff while it’s still fresh, and I can remember it. The downside is that MAME development can happen quickly at times, and the page might end up without outdated screenshots / information and require more revisions.
Loose Ends of 2017
As with most years some of the early 2018 work was tidying up work done at the end of 2017, and further progress on things that had been worked around around that period which just happened to cross over into the new year. Some of the bits towards the end of the year wouldn’t see a public release until the end of January 2018 anyway due to how the release schedule and freeze periods work.
Digging up obscure pieces of history is one thing MAME has a good reputation for, and by emulating Hammer Boy MAME once again fulfilled that role in 2018. The Arcade release of Hammer Boy probably never left a handful of arcades in Spain. It runs on the same board as the previously emulated Mega Phoenix, which too was a very rare title.
Another rare Spanish game, again with ‘Boy’ in the title, found in 2018 was the original release of Gaelco’s Master Boy. The previously emulated game was a 1991 sequel of the same name, while this 1987 version is actually the first game Gaelco produced back in 1986/87.
The Cedar Magnet System is another piece of Spanish hardware. Previously the only dumped games for it were unofficial bootleg remakes of better known arcade titles, with little hope being held for any of the original software for the platform being discovered. Amazingly a disc for one of the original games, War Mission was found in 2018. The disc didn’t give a perfect read first time, and even when using the original game drive it was problematic, but with the original drive only the later tracks on the disc were reading inconsistently, and while they did contain data, it does not appear to be data for this game so the actual dump can be considered OK.
The game also is less original than it would seem, while it uses original code and art assets etc. the actual gameplay concepts borrow heavily from UPL’s XX Mission which might suggest it started out as a remake of that instead; maybe EFO realised it made more sense to try and sell their games as original titles, rather than seeming like badly executed bootlegs.
A slightly more original Magnet System game was The Burning Cavern, which is a step up from the others in terms of presentation, although very frustrating to actually play
A Day In Space also appears to be an original game which combines 3 shooter levels with a small arena run & gun style section that would actually fit better in The Burning Cavern above.
Night Mare is an earlier game by the same developer, EFO, on very different hardware. It’s definitely a better playing game than any of the Magnet System ones too. The Spanish version was found and dumped as one of the highlights of 2018, although the sound ROM was missing from the PCB, so the speech, which is one thing people remembered about the game, is entirely missing, along with the rest of the sound. There should also be an English version, called Clean Octopus, that was exported from Spain.
Documenting arcade games developed in Korea is one of the more interesting sides of MAME, because in most cases the games are nowhere near as well known as their Japanese, European and American counterparts, even if some of them flooded the market in large numbers back in the day.
F2 System (not to be confused with the Taito F2 platform) developed a number of games, mostly running on hardware using the Hyperstone CPU. New Cross Pang is one such title, which was originally thought to be a minor upgrade of the Cross Pang game, but actually turned out to be more of a sequel running on the newer Hyperstone based hardware rather than the older 68000 based hardware that powered the original Cross Pang. Inputs seem to often get missed tho, which might be an emulation issue if it isn’t poor game design / programming.
World Adventure is another one running on F2 System hardware. It’s an interesting take on the tile matching / sliding genre, giving you more control over the actual character, albeit still indirectly with a cursor. The game is quite buggy, not always marking tiles that can’t be pushed, and a random pixel showing up on the screen every now and again, both these issues occur on hardware tho making me wonder if this is an unfinished revision of the game. There are also emulation issues with the Hyperstone recompiler, which at the time of writing haven’t been fixed.
Still with F2 System related material, but this time running on the older 68000 based board is Pitapat Puzzle, a surprisingly well executed take on Konami’s Taisen Tokkae-dama
One of the more interesting discoveries of 2018 was Tom Tom Magic, a Korean Video Pinball game which surprisingly has a number of tables and seems competently executed. It runs on cloned NMK hardware (possibly even with an orignal NMK video chip, although the surface details were removed) and is from a company we’d never heard of before. Strangely the ROM is full of strings related to video gambling, so I don’t know if this company also made a number of video gamblers which were used as the base for this, or if there’s another version with actual gambling elements that isn’t dumped yet.
Gaelco’s library of 16-bit games was comprehensively covered by MAME by the close of 2017, but that didn’t prevent 2018 from having a new Gaelco related surprised. Last KM is a game based on piece of software originally developed by Zeus for Gaelco that wasn’t really designed for use in arcades, but in gyms, using an exercise bike as a controller. The original version of that software, which was used on Salter exercise bikes is not yet dumped, but a prototype arcade game based on it was.
The dumped version functions like an arcade game, you insert a coin and you race to the finish line, although without the original bike controls there’s no real challenge to it, but like most Gaelco products it was a well presented piece of software and in this case certainly something a little bit different. It was also one of the rare cases where one of the original developers played a part in the contribution. It will be interesting to see if the version for the Salter bikes actually ends up being dumped and emulated in MAME eventually too.
Banpresto’s Gunpey is definitely a case of unusual hardware. The game had been *almost* emulated for many years, but the video chip used by the game utilizes special compression modes, and until 2018 no way of getting the decompressed data, or emulating the actual decompression had been figured out. An initial workaround for this problem, using decrypted data extracted from a running board, allowed for the game to run correctly while the real scheme was studied.
Handhelds, more Handhelds
One other thing that certainly didn’t stop with the turn of the year is the number of Handheld devices, especially those from Tiger Electronics, that were being emulated.
Golden Axe, Crash Test Dummies, Super Double Dragon + more saw the MAME treatment.
X-Men Project X (Tiger)
The Flash (Tiger)
Jurassic Park (Tiger)
Nintendo handhelds continued to be processed too, with Super Mario Bros. being one of the first of the new year to see enough progress made for the game to be playable, although some sound related parts are still not emulated.
Sega’s Model 1 and Model 2 hardware are some of the most historically significant 3D platforms that could be found in arcades with some to be found still in operation today.
For Model 1, a decap of the Virtua Racing TGP Co-processor and a rewrite of the TGP emulation core allowed for the correct emulation of the Co-processor rather than relying on a hacked copy of the Daytona code. There are unlikely to be differences in the final emulation as a result of that, but it paves the way for correct emulation of other Model 1 games once their Co-processors are decapped and dumped (TODO: if this happens in 2018 add it here)
Model 2, which in reality can be considered as 4 different platforms due to the hardware evolution, also saw emulation improvements especially to the 2 / 2A / 2B variants. Games like Daytona, Virtua Fighter 2, Motor Raid and others became playable, although not quite on par graphically with the standalone Model 2 emulator at the time of writing. (TODO: as this might change significantly over the year don’t spend too much time on this yet)
Other 3D Platforms
2017 ended with a large number of improvements to the emulation of other 3D platforms, of note many of the Atari / Midway ones.
Most of the glitches in War Final Assault were fixed, meaning that was promoted to playable status.
Road Burners also got promoted.
Outside of the Atari / Midway systems the original version of Big Buck Hunter (without a subtitle) was located and added in working state.
Every year sees some new interesting clones dumped. 2018 saw a version of Cookie & Bibi 2 that’s clearly an earlier build, using the Semicom logo found in older releases, rather than the one that was introduced later, presumably first appearing in the version of Cookie & Bibi 2 that we previously had dumped. It also has different backgrounds and overall less polish, for most manufacturers you might say it could be a prototype due to the little things that hadn’t been tweaked yet, but in the case of Korean developers, it’s more likely just an early build.
Licensed TV Games
The handheld games are a good example of where smaller manufacturers obtained licenses for well known IP and made their own games from it, but that was far from the only time such things happened. Producing something that ties in to a popular piece of IP is a good way to guarantee sales, and in the mid 2000s “TV Games” weren’t an uncommon thing to see. These TV Games were low cost battery operated mini consoles that plugged into your TV and ran a single piece of software.
One manufacturer of such TV games was Radica. MAME already supported a few Radica published titles prior to 2018, of note, 2 Genesis / Megadrive based products, although instead of MAME recognizing them as individual machines they had been placed in the Megadrive Software List.
Not all Radica software was Megadrive based tho, we found one of their platforms to be using a 6502 type CPU to offer more basic games, something closer to the enhanced NES units you often saw but with entirely different sound / video hardware in these cases (the NES was also a 6502 derived CPU) A ‘5-in-1’ Space Invaders ‘Arcade Legends’ unit represented a cheap and easy way to play recreations of 5 classic Taito games on your TV.
Tetris needs no introduction, and Radica produced their own licensed take on Tetris, again advertising it a a ‘5-in-1’ due to having 5 different play modes, although in all honesty that is stretching things a little.
Original TV Games
Radica, mentioned above, didn’t only license out IP however, they also contracted out work on various original titles, all with custom controllers. A variety of different hardware types were used for this.
(TODO: Xavix stuff, which might change over the course of the year as currently preliminary)
Play TV Skateboarder was developed by Farsight studios for Radica and runs on the same SunPlus basic hardware that powered the ‘Vii’ console. It’s interesting to see how the same hardware was used by different developers, with many of the Chinese manufacturers trying to put out consoles loaded with as many games as possible while outside of China you saw more of these products with a single game and controller designed specifically for that game.
More Protection Devices
Another landmark in Taito emulation was achieved in 2018 when the C-Chips for a number of the Taito games were finally dumped. The C-Chip was an especially annoying protection device because rather than being an off-the-shelf chip it was a custom package containing the individual dies from several more common components meaning there was not only an MCU and it’s internal ROM to deal with, but a separate ROM die area inside the module for each game too.
The most significant improvements are a result of this could be seen in Bonze Adventure, which would previously error out under certain conditions when you died due to the restart points not being correct. With the real MCU emulated this doesn’t happen.
Fixes in things like Superman were smaller, with the Demo Sounds dipswitch now working as it should, and possibly a few other things that went unnoticed.
Rainbow Islands gained correct random number generation for the ‘Goal In’ sequence. While the emulation here was already solid for the majority of game functions, the simulation code was huge, and being able to clean up the MAME source by using real emulation instead of simulation was a big win for the project.
Volfied cleaned up some unknowns with the previous simulation, although how they impact gameplay has not been researched.
Operation Wolf’s C-chip also plays an important role in the game protection, and while the protection had been extensively researched a few years ago, and the simulation improved dramatically at that point, users were still able to find errors in the simulation. With the proper C-Chip code running we can be confident that the protection is now 100% correctly handled and all protection related game behaviors are correct.
The C-Chip for MegaBlast was dumped, but as we already suspected it actually performs no real game functions, and was something of an afterthought on the PCB so while it was good to know the content for completeness sake, it changes nothing in the emulation.
At the time of writing Rainbow Islands Extra C-Chips has not been dumped, but instead has been set to use a hacked version of the Rainbow Islands code rather than the old simulation. Hopefully I can remove this note before the year is out :-)
The NES VT series started out as mostly plain NES multi-game consoles with direct NES bootleg games, but also evolved over time with extended colour modes and ‘original’ Chinese developed software (even if most of them borrow themes etc. heavily from more popular games)
The Samuri 60-in-1 from Hummer is one of the VT based games that makes heavy use of the extended colour modes that weren’t present on a plain NES while still basically being NES architecture. Not all games in the collection are functional in MAME, but enough were to deem it possible to mark as working. Some of the problems might come down to problems with the base NES emulation in MAME>
Hummer also put out Z-Dog, which has a similar selection of games, but a dog themed interface.
Not all the NES rip-offs were quite so evolved. The FC Pocket 600 in 1 is one such example. While the front-end menu uses the higher colour mode the majority of the games are using plain NES modes, and are either straight hacked up bootlegs, or quickly put together rip-offs.
Gambling and Other Redemption Games
Machines with betting elements were always a big part of the arcade scene, and some of them are quite rare now. Excellent System for example produced a fair few games, but their early ones aren’t exactly common. Keirin Ou, aka Bicycle Race, appears to be a prequel to their later game Last Bank and features the usual ‘bet on winner of a race’ game mechanic often found in horse racing games, be they mechanical, video (or the actual sport)
There had been speculation for a while that a Capcom redemption game, based on the Super Gem Fighter / Puzzle Fighter characters would be running on either a CPS1 or CPS2 based board. In 2018 this game was found, and identifies itself as ‘Super Medal Fighters’ The surprise was it and actually turned out to be running on a PCB based on the PC-Engine hardware (more or less a single board SuperGrafix) It doesn’t yet ‘work’ due to a hopper hookup error, but you can coin it up with the service key at least.
As gambling was quite often a shady business and subject to stronger legislation than other titles some of the gambling and gambling themed games were rather anonymous and often found in less reputable places. This one, running on a Sidam PCB and presumably developed by Sidam has no title at all, it also doesn’t actually seem to be a real gambling game at all, paying you back in credits, the same card sequence from initial boot and no title. Maybe it’s a modded version of an actual gambling title, who knows. It seems to be an earlier version of the “unknown Italian poker game” that was added in 2017, that one had been modified to remove the card graphics (which were made illegal to display in Italy) and had the win table strings hacked to a law conformity string.
Improvements to Existing Emulation
There were a lot of improvements to long-time emulated games in 2018 too, some of them very significant, some of them things so tiny you’re not likely to notice unless you’re trying to catch out people cheating using emulators instead of real hardware.
One of the most beneficial visual improvements was with Jaleco’s Big Run, where the road vs scenery priorities are now correct meaning you can no longer see things that should be hidden behind hills over the road. This makes the game a lot more playable, as being able to see the road is essential in a driving game.
Bad Dump replacement
Sometimes the only known dumps of a game turn out to be bad, and the emulation starts working as soon as that is discovered. Such was the case for Psychic Force EX
Game hacks have existed for as long as games have, and keeping track of all of them is a near impossibility. MAME tends to rule that for arcade games they can be included if they were sold commercially, or used in arcades, although with the merging of the projects those rules are sometimes applied more lightly than they have been in years prior, with the project being more open to interesting submissions.
One hack that was added in 2018 is an unlicensed version of the Cave game Pink Sweets which dubs itself as a Suicide Club version. It attempts to improve on what the developers clearly felt were shortcomings of the original game, but non-intuitive wall of text instructions, and a weird decision to move the fire button away from button A just mean, like most hacks, you can easily tell it’s not an official product as it simply lacks polish.
Sound emulation improvements are difficult to visualize in a post like this, but they can also be some of the more important ones, especially as many will tell you sound is an area in which MAME seems to have become worse over the years.
The biggest improvements to sound emulation in 2018 were to the Taito ‘Zoom’ Sound system, which makes use of the ZOOM ZSG-2 and is used on the FX1-B and G-Net titles. This change took the music in the likes of G-Darius and Raystorm from sounding downright awful to sounding almost identical to the OSTs.
The Q-Sound emulation used for many Capcom titles also saw big improvements in 2018, with the previously unemulated spatial effects being fully supported, basically taking it to being a panned stereo approximation of QSound to actually sounding like QSound should sound.