Signs throughout 2021 and the year prior point towards MAME maturing as a project; there were some important changes, big ones, and many quality of life improvements, but the majority of those changes represented a substantial time investment, even when sometimes the results weren’t immediately obvious. More than ever there were tweaks to emulation based on modern research to bring systems closer to perfect than ever before. I imagine we’ll see more of that during 2022, but the fun will be finding out. As always I’ll try to dump screenshots representing progress here, while finishing off the articles from previous years when there’s time.
One of the first additions of 2022 was SNK’s Mahjong Block Jongbou 2, a sequel to the unusual Arkanoid meets Mahjong style title, this one being designed for cocktail tables and turning the game in to a 2 player versus match, either against another human or the computer.
Micon-Kit Part II is a more traditional paddle and wall game, and doesn’t look too interesting on the surface, but is one of SNK’s earliest games, dating all the way back to 1978.
Another uncommon arcade game that saw support added in 2022 was Seibu’s Fail Gate. This appears to have been issued as a conversion kit for Air Raid boards by Seibu in 1991, with the game actually having been developed under the title “Final Gate” by Success in 1990. The Success version of the game remains unsupported.
From time to time bootlegs of games will show up where the original versions still aren’t supported, there are still a handful of cases of this across the MAME codebase, and 2022 would see another placed on that list. The Dice Game! is a bootleg of an IREM game called “Dice Dice Dice” running on the same M90 platform that powered the likes of Bomberman in the arcades.
Space Battle is a frantic Galaxian-era shooter from Hoei, and another very rare game. This is another of those with speech to give an extra layer to the usual Galaxian style sounds.
The palette decoding on the SunPlus SPG110 emulation was also significantly improved. This is a slightly earlier SunPlus tech than the one used on the majority of Plug and Play units, and it used non RGB video encoding. One of the most obvious beneficiaries of this improved emulation is the JAKKS Pacific “Classic Arcade Pinball” a great pinball game, with an awful name, because while every table plays well, not a single one is based on a real arcade pinball machine.
Going smaller, work was done on the Micro arcade units. These credit card sized handheld devices have a surprisingly powerful SunPlus / GeneralPlus CPU under the hood, but due to the inefficiently of the rest of the hardware design, and code in general are quite limited in their execution. Each one also has 64KBytes of ROM inside the CPU.
It’s always good to see uncommon machines dumped, especially when incomplete dumps have been lingering for years, and Football Crazy, a game put out by Bellfruit is an example of that. It runs on the same ‘Rasterspeed’ hardware as the Rise of the Robots prototype, but this one was actually released. It features a variety of mini games, all themed around football. Some of these include FMV footage due to the storage capacity available with this system.
Bowmen is a rare Spanish game running hardware that’s clearly a clone of the Buccaneers / Vigilante hardware type. It’s one of those ‘uncover the lady’ games, and not especially deep in terms of what it has to offer, but it’s a piece of history that would otherwise have likely been lost without emulation.
Support for Sega’s Time Traveller was added in 2022, this marks the first Laserdisc game to be added in many years, and the first time the results of the techniques developed by the Domesday 86 project for dumping Laserdiscs have been paired with emulation in MAME.
While it is inevitable that many will continue to question the value of video slots games, it can’t be denied that many would already be extinct without emulation as legislation changes often make it illegal to operate older machines, in many cases requiring them to be destroyed. Hot Chilli is a 1995 effort from Pacific Gaming Pty Ltd. which looks quite similar to the Aristocrat machines, but is on entirely different hardware.
Vortex was an early conversion running on Space Invaders hardware. It had been emulated in MAME for many years, but one known flaw of the emulation was that the PCB output colour graphics, while the emulation did not. These colours were never pretty, but the way they were generated, on an otherwise monochrome board, was not fully understood until 2022.
BMX Stunts, from Jetsoft, is a very janky Track and Field type game, but where every event sees you on a bike. It’s one of the only arcade games I can think of where the attract mode advertises the home version of the game, even giving you a phone number if you want to buy it. Unfortunately the qualitying times in each event are so tight there’s no fun to be had here, assuming that isn’t some odd emulation fault.
Megumi Rescue is the original, possibly unreleased, arcade game on which the better known Japanese exclusive Sega Master System version was based. It runs on the Sega System E hardware, which could be described as being ‘enhanced arcade Master System’ hardware. Unlike the home version, this is a vertical game, so no screen scrolling is required, and there are some gameplay differences too. Some music is more similar to the NES/Famicom release ‘Flying Hero’ rather than the version of Megumi Rescue the Master System would get.
Atari’s Marble Madness II was one of the bigger surprises of 2022; most people have written this off as one of those games that would never be supported in MAME. There was an earlier version of the game, known as Marble Man, which still isn’t supported, but the Marble Madness II build that MAME can now run is the final version of the game before it was cancelled.
Beyond Kung Fu is IREM’s unreleased follow-up to their classic Kung Fu Master, and is often just referred to as Kung Fu Master 2. Unfortunately it’s heavily protected, using some kind of MCU acting as an encrypted tile blitter, with the CPU sending commands, and the MCU, which clearly has an undumped internal ROM directly copying and decrypting data from a dedicated external data ROM into the tilemap RAM directly. This is more complex than any other IREM protection that has been seen to date so at the time of writing this game still doesn’t work properly.
Konami didn’t hit the ground running when it came to 3D titles, introducing their own 3D tech in 1993 for a pair of arena shooters. Japan got Poly-Net Warriors, with the US getting a significantly reworked and completely re-themed version of it, Polygonet Commanders. After seeing very little progress on these drivers over the years, everything ended up coming together very quickly in 2022 when a number of devs worked together.
Oddly the MAME source indicates that both Polygonet Commanders and Poly-Net Warriors share the same Konami game ID #, despite the graphics being almost entirely different, the stages being entirely different, the control scheme being entirely different, the sounds being mostly different, and even the mask ROMs being different; all things which would usually warrant a new ID being assigned (assuming MAME isn’t incorrect here)
2022 wasn’t such a big year for Plug and Play emulation, but one of the rarer units to show up was Radica’s Play TV Jr. Construction, a licensed and localized version of one of Takara’s Japanese Plug and Play games.
MAME’s ZX Spectrum emulation saw major improvements in 2022, with MAME now being able to correctly render the perfectly timed screen modes needed for the single line attribute tricks required by some modern software such as Old Tower. Compatibility was significantly improved for ‘back in the day’ software too, with many cases where MAME previously failed now working perfectly.
An alternate version of Semicom’s Cookie & Bibi 2 was found, this version has a Korean title screen option. Interestingly it appears to be an earlier set, sporting the older style Semicom logo, but the later versions don’t have any of the Korean graphics. The later versions also incorrectly still show the English / Korean language option in the dipswitch menu, when on those versions it instead controls the number of rounds in a vesus match. A number of backgrounds, including the title screen, are also different on this version.
IGS might be better known for the PGM system, but in reality the main industry IGS operated in was the gambling industry, with most of their titles featuring heavy copy protection and/or internal ROMs just like the PGM games. One protected game that reached working state in 2022 was Super Tarzan, an Italian version of it!
Moan On, It’s the Monon Color!
2022 saw a large amount of progress on emulating a Chinese region exclusive handheld console from 2014 called the Monon Color. This is a device makes use of an unusual architecture, the AX208 System on a Chip which was designed for Digital Picture Frames. The CPU inside the chip is based on the rather ancient 8-bit i8051, but significantly faster, running at a clock speed of 96mhz with no internal dividers and single cycle instructions. The games however run rather badly due to inefficiency of the rest of the system design.
The choice of the AX208 is an odd one, as most of the AX208 features, such as the built in JPEG decoder, and on-the-fly encrypion aren’t used at all, nor is the LCD output with the system choosing to have its own video controller, and unfortunately, a dedicated and currently undumpable music playback MCU specific to each game stored in the cartridge alongside the game ROM.
Many of the games did however become somewhat playable, aside from those requiring a card reader / badge reader.
A Unique Cabinet
While it was dumped a number of years ago, it had gone unnoticed that the prototype version of Super Pinball Action offered something a little different to the final version, an entire extra monitor used to display the a ‘backglass’ style image, mimicking what you might find on a real pinball table. This is because the early cabinet concepts for the game were closer to a real pinball table than the final game, which used a generic vertical cabinet. This prototype also predates the release by a whole 2 years, the same time that concept cabinet was seen at trade shows.
Gambling from Other Regions
Love it or hate it, gambling is one area of arcade gaming where every country had its own games, and a trio of Brazilian gambling games being dumped (albeit one without a proper sound ROM) reminds us of that.
The Impera gambling boards were common in Europe, and several games running on them were improved to working state.
One unusual find on the Impera board was ‘Puzzle Me’ which appears to be a simple, and very crude tile sliding puzzle game, with no gambling element. It is unclear if there is meant to be a hidden gambling game in this, or if this software was used in order to ship hardware without it being obvious the hardware would be used for gambling in areas where that was heavily restricted, or even banned.
In Japan a lot of gambling machines took the form of medal / ticket games, and Konami’s Ganbare Goemon is another example of that sub-genre.