Well, unless you’ve been living under a rock you probably noticed the calendar switched over to 2018 a few days ago and might be wondering what this year has in store.
Skipping that for now, 2017 was actually a very busy year for MAME and over the past 5-6 months I’ve been periodically adding updates to the 2017 Write-up article that is linked over on the left. In the past week or two I put some extra effort into that because we were approaching the end of 2017 so it had reached the point where things were unlikely to change dramatically before the end of the year.
The article is still actually significantly lacking, such was the amount of progress made, but for now it covers most of the major announcements and some of the smaller bits of progress I found interesting too. Further content will be added over the course of the next couple of months, digging a bit deeper into the changes made over the year. The non-arcade parts of the article are still very much lacking, and as that’s one of my favourite areas of MAME (just one of the more difficult to always demonstrate) it is something I need to address.
Such was the level of progress in 2017 it’s actually quite difficult to know what 2018 will bring. There are definitely some things that were started in 2017, and have been highlighted in the article, that could be continued this year but it’s certainly going to be interesting to see what breakthroughs are ahead, I certainly couldn’t have predicted the Gaelco progress we saw over the course of 2017 for example.
My own plans, at the moment, aren’t actually that ambitious for 2018, I do want to improve the status of the GameKing (handheld) driver, even if it’s a terrible system, because at the moment a lot of the software list entries are marked as BAD_DUMP and it would be good if I can work with the people who dumped them to figure out the problems and maybe get better dumps. I’m also planning on revisiting the CPU core for the Hyper NeoGeo 64 I/O MCU, although it’s unlikely to improve the emulation of the system at this point (probably only make it slower) I’ve also purchased an LCD handheld from my childhood that I’m crossing my fingers is one that can be dumped and read out, although it’s unlikely I’ll be the one to work on that if it is because there’s already a very efficient and effective workflow in place for all of that.
I’m hoping somebody picks up the SH3/4 recompiler work I did earlier and figures out why Naomi has so many issues with it, I expect it’s something stupid I did because I really don’t have much experience of the recompiler framework, but it had reached the state where it was of huge benefit to the Cave SH3 titles so I felt it worth submitting anyway. Sometimes a bit of teamwork is needed to take things further in cases like this (much of the best progress in 2017 was the result of teamwork, including the aforementioned Gaelco and PGM2 work) so I’ll keep my fingers crossed that there is somebody willing to take what I’ve done and improve on it.
I might see if I can work with Peter to extract the uncompressed graphics from Decathlete so the protection/compression scheme on that can be studied because it bugs me that we have what looks like it should be a relatively simple Sega protection scheme not figured out. We might also end up studying the ‘Taito Nostaliga’ and ‘Namco Nostalgia’ units, because TV games like that are likely to be a big part of MAME’s future (as they typically represent things that MAME is capable of emulating well) As licensed (home use) products based on old arcade games they’re also kinda interesting from a MAME point of view as they follow a similar path to that MAME has taken in moving from being primarily an arcade emulator, to covering home systems.
The truth is most of the things people probably want me to look at aren’t going to get looked, although a lot of my recent work does depend on who comes forward to run hardware tests etc. to help with the process. A lot of the things that still need figuring out can’t be figured out without somebody else working with the actual hardware, again, teamwork. People simply telling me that I should be working on x, y or z doesn’t work because most of what’s left these days isn’t that simple.
I think 2018 is likely to be one of those years where there are more internal changes in MAME than ones that end-users will immediately notice. That said, with the way the project is organized these days, and the way it’s open for anybody to contribute, we might just see some complete surprises, especially when it comes to improvements for the non-arcade platforms because it seems the tickle-down effect is in full-swing now and more people than ever are seeing the potential MAME has. Even if that doesn’t happen, internal changes are never a bad thing as when they’re happening it often means people involved with the project are reflecting on how limitations of the current system are hindering our ability to emulate trickier edge cases etc. and looking for ways to tackle such things to make it easier in the future.
It would surprise me if we don’t see more Decap work over the course of 2018, and so depending on what does / doesn’t happen there (which is almost entirely beyond my control) I might find myself involved in working with their results (especially if we see movement on something like the Taito C-Chip, because I’ve already done plenty of research into that)
It has been good to see more people becoming involved with MAME, going against the recent disturbing trend of people keeping all the code locked away in closed source emulators and trying to charge for them. If anything I do expect some of the more significant pieces of progress next year to come out of the blue from surprise sources, people who have become involved with MAME / attracted to MAME due to the expanded scope of the project. There is always work to be done in MAME if you have the skills / knowledge, and MAME presents the opportunity to put a lot of different skills to good use.
The only real negative I can take from the last year is how the likes of Retroarch seem to be gaining popularity while offering a really bad MAME experience due to the rather unfortunate lowest-common denominator user-base target it has. I still struggle to find any positives in that model, it’s like having a really invasive front-end that ends up causing various features of the emulator to not even work properly, and even then the front-end isn’t even good if there’s a large amount of content or for any kind of special cases. I guess I hope that people start to realise that, and see that the emulators as the original authors present them usually offer a better experience, at least for anything that’s still being actively developed. It might be a ‘quick’ way to get started, but with emulation you get what you put in, and it’s also starting to become an annoying source of false bug reports. I also still think it’s damaging model in terms of emulation development, because people forget how important it is to develop high quality emulation cores that work for all cases because instead they’ve got something that just glues partial per-case implementations together, none of which are actually 100% correct. For the long term future of this hobby it’s important to develop high quality code that can be reused with ease, and such a model discourages that, it’s the opposite of MAME. I’d also say that a lot of the recent (and very impressive) work in MAME has been on areas that just seem to get stripped away, or become non-functional when you use such software, and I think a large part of the future of MAME is the software we have that surrounds the core emulation. Anyway, that’s enough of a rant about that, let’s look forward to what 2018 brings.