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An actual post for 2023! (It’s Christmas already!)

December 25, 2023 Haze Categories: General News. 3 Comments on An actual post for 2023! (It’s Christmas already!)

I suppose I should do a front of house update for 2023, given that you’d easily mistake this site for being dead otherwise.

Dead isn’t entirely true, there have been tweaks, amendments and additional content added to the various side pages, such as the yearly write-ups but typically only when I’ve giving something a test run.

Like every year since MAME first came to be in 1997, it has been a year of discovery for the project with many surprises. Hurdles have been overcome, new ones have been thrown in our path while our understanding of these old systems we emulate grows and the importance of the work done over the years starts to hit home as MAME becomes more and more an essential part of research work being done on the machines supported.

On a personal level, I’ve travelled around to talk about MAME a lot more, being invited to a number of events and gatherings; some light-hearted where I’ve looked at the fun side of MAME, and others being more serious discussions on topics such as “Game Preservation” which is starting to be seen for the important field it is, and one where there is much to be learned from our experiences.

In terms of emulation, the most significant discoveries of the year in my book were the advancements with Namco System 10 emulation. There aren’t many tough, but still possible, encryption schemes left to figure out, and that was one of the most significant that we had a feeling must be possible, but didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Later systems, with modern ARMs featuring built-it industry standard secure encryptions may simply be impossible; even the work done on System 10, an encryption with clear weaknesses took those involved down the path of current mathematical theory papers in order to find a solution. Of the few outstanding systems that might be possible, I do still wonder about the Y2 board, used by “The King of Fighters – Fuchou Zhi Lu/Road to Revenge” the encryption there seems to be one of the few remaining custom solutions that hasn’t been figured out yet, but it remains to be seen if it’s feasible or not.

I barely mention them here, but the work done on non-video systems, such as the chess machines and music keyboards / synthesizers has been wholly impressive too. MAME is finding its stride covering a wide range of those, including many electronic toys and other devices similar to Nintendo’s Game and Watch series.

The number of CPU architectures covered by MAME continues to increase as a result of all these findings too, I even found myself writing some CPU cores this year, and improving ones I’d worked on in the past. Sadly I was still unable to make the Leapfrog Leapster boot, despite significantly reworking the ArcCompact CPU, but being able to quickly throw together an execution core for the Xtensa based hardware found in the Konami Play-Poems devices was more rewarding, even if progress has stalled there for the time being.

Long term regressions were also fixed in the project, which I’d also take as a positive. Seeing the Microprose 3D games run with sound again puts to bed a rather embarrassing regression of over a decade. Likewise Taito’s Gladiator not booting with a coin automatically inserted might seem like a small thing, but it got frequently mentioned. MAME does still have a problem with some regressions that are starting to feel like they might be around for a long time, such as the NeoGeo issue causing Stakes Winner’s Z80 to crash and the game to eventually die, or Sega’s Power Drift no longer working reliably since the 68000 rewrite, both of which get mentioned with an unfortunate frequency, but hopefully those will be fixed before they end up having anniversaries the way the Microprose sound issues had! Data East’s Skull Fang being broken is a particular bugbear too as I’m not sure when that happened and wonder if it could be my fault somehow.

I definitely did a lot less streaming than I would have liked over the course of 2023, but finding that balance between developing, streaming, and living life is difficult. Both my YouTube and Twitch channels do still see content, but the loop of streaming random MAME titles, finding bugs, and getting those bugs fixed definitely hasn’t been as prominent this year.

I would also often use those streams to highlight progress that might not be entirely complete, investment that we hope will pay off in years to come. There’s been a lot of that this year; I’ve been witness to some impressive strides forward for the emulation of PC based platforms; things like Psychic Force 2012 reaching gameplay, however slow, are very impressive because those systems are complex, and were often hacked up in ugly ways to best hide their PC origins or to work with hardware not typically found on a PC.

It’s also been quite an expensive year in terms of buying up material for research, not only the costs of the products we want to study themselves, but also the shipping. Just this month I’ve spent almost £200 in just shipping costs from Japan and elsewhere for products most would consider nothing but tat. I think it’s often overlooked just how much the developers who are writing new drivers and improving the emulation of existing hardware have to spend these days!

I don’t really have anything more to write about at this time, so I wish you all a Happy Christmas, and hope that you get to see the results of all the hard work being put into the project in the year(s) to come.

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