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What To Do In One Six Two (Part 2)

June 2, 2015 Haze Categories: General News. 39 Comments on What To Do In One Six Two (Part 2)

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:


Donkey Kong Donkey Kong

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!


Crazy Kong Crazy Kong
Kong Kong

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.


Logger Logger

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’


New Multi Game - Tong Boy New Multi Game - Tong Boy

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)


Donkey Kong 2 : Jumpman Returns Donkey Kong 2 : Jumpman Returns

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


Coleco Donkey Kong Handheld Coleco Donkey Kong Handheld

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
run”
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.


Donkey Kong CPC Donkey Kong CPC
Donkey Kong CPC Donkey Kong CPC

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.


Spectrum Donkey Kong Spectrum Donkey Kong
Spectrum Donkey Kong Spectrum Donkey Kong

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.


C64 Donkey Kong C64 Donkey Kong
C64 Donkey Kong C64 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
RUN”CAS:”
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.


MSX Donkey Kong MSX Donkey Kong
MSX Donkey Kong MSX Donkey Kong

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.


MSX Floppy Donkey Kong MSX Floppy Donkey Kong

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
RUN “DONKEY”
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.


CoCo3 Donkey Kong CoCo3 Donkey Kong
CoCo3 Donkey Kong CoCo3 Donkey Kong

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.


Apple 2 Donkey Kong Apple 2 Donkey Kong
Apple 2 Donkey Kong Apple 2 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
SYSTEM
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!


Colour Genie - Colour Kong Colour Genie - Colour Kong
Colour Genie - Colour Kong Colour Genie - Colour Kong
Colour Genie - Colour Kong Colour Genie - Colour Kong

Another unofficial one I’ve since been made aware of in the comments below is the BBC Micro game ‘Killer Gorilla’ The BBC was another popular UK system, so it doesn’t surprise me to see somebody wrote a DK clone for it.

Launch the emulation with “mame bbcb -cass killergo”

I don’t recommending using the -natural option here because it does interfere with the keyboard controls of the game, so when typing the following commands into the emulation you’ll have to be careful because the keymapping isn’t entirely obvious.

To load the game you must type
*TAPE
CHAIN””
pressing return after each line. The tape will auto play and the game will load.

As I mentioned the key mapping isn’t obvious but on my keyboard the * symbol maps to the @ key, just up and left from the right shift key, this is also one of the game controls (climb up ladder)


BBC Micro Killer Gorilla BBC Micro Killer Gorilla
BBC Micro Killer Gorilla BBC Micro Killer Gorilla
BBC Micro Killer Gorilla BBC Micro Killer Gorilla

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”

NES Donkey Kong NES Donkey Kong

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.


Famicom Disk System Donkey Kong Famicom Disk System Donkey Kong
Famicom Disk System Donkey Kong Famicom Disk System Donkey Kong

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”


Atari 2600 Donkey Kong Atari 2600 Donkey Kong

There was an Atari 800 version..

“mame a800 dkong”


Atari 800 Donkey Kong Atari 800 Donkey Kong
Atari 2600 Donkey Kong Atari 800 Donkey Kong

and an Atari 7800 version

“mame a7800 dkong”


Atari 7800 Donkey Kong Atari 7800 Donkey Kong

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.

****edit****

It would appear that the Software Listed version of the XM Enhanced Donkey Kong does NOT work, however the one that is listed as MESS compatible (dkxm_demo_v12_ntsc.a78) does – for some reason none of the files on that page are recognized, I guess they’ve been updated since it was originally added to the list. The version that is listed as for the real hardware works the same as the one in MAME, ie the Pokey doesn’t work, according to etabeta it did work at one point(?) but I don’t know.

Either way, with that loose file you can launch the enhanced version.

“mame a7800 -cart1 xm -cart2 dkxm_demo_v12_ntsc.a78”


Donkey Kong Enhanced XM A7800 Donkey Kong Enhanced XM A7800
Donkey Kong Enhanced XM A7800 Donkey Kong Enhanced XM A7800

If you set the Level order to Japan and start level to 2/3 then you get to see the newly added Pie Factory level too, something which was absent from the original A7800 release.

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”


Donkey Kong Gameboy Donkey Kong Gameboy
Donkey Kong Gameboy Donkey Kong Gameboy

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”


Super Gameboy Donkey Kong Super Gameboy Donkey Kong
Super Gameboy Donkey Kong Super Gameboy Donkey Kong

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”


Intellivision Donkey Kong AIntellivision Donkey Kong

The Colecovision port plays well, but has minimal presentation


Intellivision Donkey Kong Intellivision Donkey Kong
Intellivision Donkey Kong Intellivision Donkey Kong

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.


TI99-4A Donkey Kong TI99-4A Donkey Kong
TI99-4A Donkey Kong TI99-4A Donkey Kong

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”


Uzebox Donkey Kong Uzebox Donkey Kong
Uzebox Donkey Kong Uzebox Donkey Kong

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.


VIc20 Donkey Kong

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.

Wrapping Up

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.

Go to article.. »

2013 – Another Year In MAME

**Note: 25th Feb 2014 – First Public version – this still needs proof reading, some of it was written in a rush and could be improved, hopefully nothing major is actually missing tho**

I think it’s fair to say even before embarking on this article that I have a gut feeling 2013 has been a slower year than 2012 was when it comes to MAME progress.

You only have to look at the lower levels of activity from some of the key driver developers like Luca Elia, Phil Bennett, Ville Linde, and Roberto Fresca to get an idea of why I feel there is going to be less to write about this year.

That’s not to say there hasn’t been groundbreaking work done this year, plenty comes to mind immediately so trying to make such a claim would be a lie; the people who have been involved have contributed a tremendous amount to the project and when the aforementioned developers have found time to make contributions they have been as significant as ever.

When I asked for comments to help build this article it was suggested that 2013 was ‘Year of Haze’ and if anything I’d like to disprove that with the actual article here; there has been plenty done outside of my realm of work, and plenty I have done simply wouldn’t have been possible without work (past or present) from others. While this article doesn’t exist to mention names, but instead focus on the actual changes made this is something I will be keeping in mind while writing it, and something I will revisit in the conclusion.

Like last year I’m covering the MAME project as a whole with this article, that includes all the work done on home systems that we currently release as MESS but in reality is still part of the same overall project. If you prefer to think of it as ‘A Year in UME’ then feel free to do so. I feel this approach also gives the best chance of being able to highlight areas I haven’t been involved in.

Anyway that’s enough introduction, to start this write-up I’m going to look first at a couple of the things that will likely be of most interest to the people reading this, a selection of the new additions from the year, things that were previously not even known about, or had not yet been emulated.


New Additions – Old and/or Rare


Old and rare is a combination that often sends PCB prices through the roof, especially for Japanese PCBs, but outside of Japan that isn’t always the case, PCBs often end up being found, dumped and repaired by enthusiastic collectors who are more than happy to help MAME.


Early Period games

Italy, as is so often the case, proved to be the source of two of the most significant finds made this year in ‘Attack Force’ and ‘Long Beach’ Both of these games are Italian products, and it is likely neither saw high levels of distribution either within Italy, or as exports to other regions.

These games both help to show that the prevalence of arcades in Italy even in the early days was significant enough that local developers thought it a worthwhile investment to create their own CPU based games to compete in the marketplace.


Attack Force Attack Force Attack Force
(Attack Force is a very rare game with unique gameplay, it was developed in Italy)
Long Beach Long Beach Long Beach
(Long Beach is another very rare Italian game)

Even better known Italian manufacturers had rare games too, another one that surfaced this year was ‘Sea Battle’ by Zaccaraia. This fits neatly with the two games previously mentioned hailing from a similar era.

Sea Battle Sea Battle Sea Battle
(Sea Battle challenges you to shoot as many targets as you can within the allotted time, it is one of the earlier original Zaccaraia titles)

Jumping to 1982 a game called ‘Desert Dan’ was released, this runs on the same hardware as ‘The Pit’ but comes from the previously unknown ‘Video Optics’. Very little is known about the history of this game, until it was discovered it was completely unknown.

Desert Dan Desert Dan Desert Dan
(Nobody even remembered Desert Dan until a PCB turned up)

Fast forward another year to 1983 and you have Stunt Air, another all but forgotten classic era game from Italy. This one, while clearly influenced by Sega’s Star Jacker is an original production.

Stunt Air Stunt Air Stunt Air
(Stunt Air was also all but forgotten, the gameplay mimics that of Sega’s Star Jacker)

Compared to 2012 there wasn’t really much activity with things like the Deco Cassette system, 2012 was a fruitful year when it came to new dumps on that platform but 2013 saw just one new addition, the ’18 Hole’ version of Pro Golf. Technically this was already supported in MAME due to it being the same version that exists on the ROM boards, but it gets a mention up here because these Deco Cassettes are important and do need dumping while they’re still in good enough condition to dump them.


18 Hole Pro Golf 18 Hole Pro Golf
(The DECO Cassette version of 18 Hole Pro Golf was the only DECO Cassette dumped in 2013)

Other than those it has been a quiet year when it comes to discovery of rare games from the late 70s / early 80s, not entirely unexpected, there are only a finite number of them and inevitably we’re never going to find them all and the number of people searching or with something to offer drops all the time.


Arcadia

There are titles we have a pretty good idea exist either due to flyers existing, people reporting that they played them, or actual reports of them still being on location somewhere obscure and a number of Arcadia Systems titles fell into this bracket. While these aren’t as old as the titles mentioned above they are still rare and interesting to see supported.

Luckily along with the Unigame prototype stash which will be mentioned later were a number of these titles. Delta Command, Blastaball, and Pharaoh’s Match. Rockford is still missing, but almost certainly exists due to the Amiga release, but it was good to have 2 known games, and one previously unknown one confirmed and now supported. Our Amiga emulation could be a lot better, but having these discovered and documented also means that WinUAE can now emulate them if you want a higher quality of emulation.


Blastaball Blastaball
Pharaohs Match Pharaohs Match
Delta Command Delta Command
(From top to bottom, Blastaball, Pharaohs Match and Delta Command, all previously undumped Arcadia titles)

A board for Aaargh! was also located, but this wasn’t actually dumped until 2014 so will feature in the next write-up instead.


More ‘NEW WORKING’ titles


Not everything is as rare or old as the above, although some of the things I’ll cover in this section could easily be move to the above section. Keep in mind that this section and the one above don’t cover all the ‘NEW WORKING’ drivers either, there are important additions mentioned in other sections like ‘Driver Maturity’ later in this write-up, I’ve tried to keep things spread out to keep it interesting!


PGM developments

As one of the more often name-checked arcade systems PGM is one of interest to a large demographic of MAME users. Consider it if you will a bit of an underdog, a late arriving system designed to compete with the 1997+ era SNK from a Taiwanese company far better known for their video-based gambling & mahjong games as well as the odd obscure puzzle game.

For the final few original games on the platform IGS really upped the quality of the games being put out, but also repeatedly evolved the protection schemes they used throughout the life of the system, creating custom per-game systems which did a formidable job of slowing down (and for many games, outright preventing) bootlegs at the time.

The Gladiator (known as Road of the Sword in Japan) is considered the pinnacle of their output on the system, and like so many IGS games it didn’t see any kind of release outside of the arcades. Getting it working was definitely one of the highlights of the year.


The Gladiator The Gladiator
The Gladiator The Gladiator
(The Gladiator was the PGM title the most people have been requesting we emulate for a long time)

The PCB version of Spectral vs. Generation also gained working status in the later weeks of the year, this was one of the few PGM games that was actually ported (in this case to the PS2 and PSP) but it’s good to see the arcade version running in MAME.

Spectral Vs. Generation (Japan, PCB) Spectral Vs. Generation (Japan, PCB)
(Spectral vs. Generation was made by Idea Factory, a company founded by former Data East staff)

The Killing Blade Ex / Plus was another of the later PGM titles to be promoted to working, and is worth mentioning because it’s actually a more significant evolution of the game than the name would suggest coming across as a much more polished product than the original release, it’s a shame it appears to have only been released in China (like many of the later re-releases were)

The Killing Blade Ex The Killing Blade Ex
(The Killing Blade Ex played an important role in getting the above titles emulated)

While these games weren’t easy to emulate and for a long time I did wonder if it would even be possible I have to say that comparatively the work required to get PGM title ‘Puzzli 2’ working was actually much more involved than The Gladiator, because instead of being able to emulate the ARM CPU using the ROM it was necessary to study and simulate it’s every feature. This meant studying all the command sequences, and even ended up with reverse engineering a small encryption table from the game data. In terms of memorable personal achievements for the year that one sits high in the list. Emulating this also allowed us to discover the differences between Puzzli 2 and the later released ‘Super’ verison, with the main addition being the Vs. CPU mode.

Puzzli 2 Puzzli 2
Puzzli 2 Super Puzzli 2 Super
(Out of all the PGM titles Puzzli 2 required the most hard work to emulate)

The emulation of other PGM titles also quietly improved in the background, Oriental Legend Super has a much more complete protection simulation now and is actually playable to the end, although there’s definitely some room for better understanding / improvement left. The Dragon World 2 clones are now more stable, Dragon World 3 and Dragon World 3 Ex can be booted and coined up (although fails after a few rounds and on a continue) For the record, a number of people have suggested that there is also an undumped ‘Dragon World 3 Special’ I think this is just the Japanese name for the same game however, as when running as the Japanese version it uses an extra subtitle. Maybe there was an earlier non-special Japan release without the subtitle? There’s little evidence to suggest a later (c)2000 release at least.

Dragon World 3 Dragon World 3
Dragon World 3 EX Dragon World 3 EX
Oriental Legend Super Oriental Legend Super
(Emulation of a number of other PGM titles improved to varying degrees too, although there are still significant issues)

Less noticeable was games like Knights of Valor 2 Plus / Nine Dragons being moved to use a proper internal ROM from that game rather than a hacked copy of one from the regular Knights of Valor 2, if it makes an actual difference is debatable, but the emulation is cleaner that way.

Knights of Valor 2 Plus Knights of Valor 2 Plus
(Knights of Valor 2 Nine Dragons now uses the proper internal ROM making emulation more reliable)

Groundwork was also done for the emulation of Happy 6-in-1, which would be made playable in early 2014 along with the cartridge release of Spectral Vs. Generation. These followed the pattern of The Gladiator and the PCB version of Spectral Vs. Generation and the test code required to help complete the data was actually finished in 2013, although the actual tests and working emulation was delayed by the Christmas and New Year period, so they’ll end up getting a mention next year too.

Happy 6-in-1 Spectral Vs. Generation (CART version)
(Happy 6-in-1 and the Cartridge version of SVG were made to boot, but emulation still wasn’t working by the end of the year)

Some non-PGM IGS games also saw code improvement, for example cleaned up protection implementations in Alien Challenge and Lord of Gun, but these should have no visible impact.


Bigger Names

While IGS and their PGM system became one of the bigger arcade names fairly late on they were never one of the big players in the early days, here I’m going to look at cases where drivers for games from some of the better known manufacturers have ended up being promoted to working state.

It’s fair to say that at this point MAME covers the majority of the pre-3D era games from the main manufacturers comprehensively, not always with high quality emulation just yet but the number of games and pieces of hardware that aren’t understood at all sit in the minority.

For that reason one of the bits of work done in 2013 that gathered a large amount of attention was the work done on Sega’s Cool Riders. It was the only release on an ill-fated platform, yet at the same time the culmination of their famous ‘Sprite Scaler’ engine before such techniques were all but abandoned in favour of 3D platforms due to Daytona taking centre stage 2 years earlier.


Cool Riders
(Medium Resolution screens, Big news, emulation of this unique Sega platform was a major acomplishment)

As far as emulation goes it was one of the bigger challenges, that shouldn’t be surprising, the driver has been sitting in a non-working state for a long time. Many aspects of the hardware are unique and it was necessary to figure out a lot of unknowns, during what was easily the most involved piece of work I was involved in over the course of the year.

There were multiple factors that made this work interesting, not only figuring out the hardware, but optimizing it to a point where it runs at an acceptable speed on current hardware, despite the simple appearance the game is driving 2 medium resolution screens with a very high fillrate sprite chip from a compressed data source with borderline 3d capabilities so getting it as good as it is was a challenge.

We never did fix the sound in the end but maybe that’s one for next year.

Coverage of some of the big names in the MESS side of the project is weaker, there are still entire systems from known manufacturers not emulated at all, often due to a complete lack of dumps. Nichibutsu were a big player in the early arcades, with unforgettable offerings like Moon Cresta and Crazy Climber in addition to countless Mahjong titles for the Japanese market the majority of which have been well represented in MAME for many years.

What was less clear from the MAME / MESS projects is that Nichibutsu were also active in the early Japanese computer / console market, and 2013 provided some insight into that through the emulation of the previously unemlated ‘My Vision’ console. Like most early systems that didn’t really succeed it’s a bit slow, klunky and lacks a decent software library but having it emulated is an important piece of the ‘documentation’ puzzle and shows how Nichibutsu were involved not only in producing a number of iconic 80s titles, but also ventured into markets where they were mostly forgotten.


My Vision My Vision
My Vision My Vision
My Vision My Vision
My Vision My Vision
(The Nichibutsu My Vision was an early home system from the arcade mahjong specialists)

Taito are another big name and one of thing they were famous for were the arcade ‘simulation’ games they produced. Many of these are not yet emulated properly because the hardware is not easy to understand with additional DSPs and the like bolted on to base systems to make up for the lack of base CPU power.

If you look at Midnight Landing you probably wouldn’t have guessed this. In all honesty this early Taito effort looks barely above what you’d see on some 8-bit home systems, presenting you with a landscape of sparse dots against a black backdrop with a framerate that can’t really be described as spectacular. Emulation of this did however present a challenge for the developers involved, looks turned out to be very deceptive with a number of the hardware features proving to be obtuse.

2013 did however see the game emulated to a degree where it can now be considered working, prior to this it would pop up sound errors and the controls were mostly non-functional. The later Air System releases by Taito still need significant work, but at least we can say this earlier effort now works.


Midnight Landing Midnight Landing
(Midnight Landing has deceptively complex hardware considering how simple it looks)

Seibu is a name on the lips of many when it comes to emulation, mainly because they’re one of the few manufacturers where key parts of their library are simply unplayable and when it comes to the often name-checked titles nothing has really changed in 2013. Progress was however made on one of the lesser known Seibu titles, a game utilizing pinball mechanics released under the title ‘Panic Road’ and distributed mainly by Taito.

Panic Road Panic Road Panic Road
(Panic Road was the only Seibu game to gain ‘working’ state in 2013)

I’ve got a whole section on improvements to Data East drivers later in the article where I talk about improvements to the protection emulation, however one Data East game required a different kind of work, actual video emulation improvements (including bits of the video code being significantly rewritten) That game is Stadium Hero ’96, which runs on the MLC system but abuses ‘raster effects’ to give the pseudo 3D look.


Stadium Hero '96 Stadium Hero '96
(Getting Stadium Hero ’96 working required rewriting large parts of the Deco MLC video code)

Various improvements in MAME saw Konami’s Five-A-Side Soccer improve to the point where it can now be considered properly ‘playable’ This one is rather interesting because the majority of systems using a PowerPC processor are 3D capable systems, and thus the emulation core doesn’t really get tested that often due to the system requirements for running such games. Five-A-Side soccer instead has a PowerPC chip, but the video hardware is pure 2D hardware.


Five A Side Soccer Five A Side Soccer
(Five-A-Side Soccer isn’t the most well known game from Konami, and is an odd case of an entirely 2D platform being driven by a PowerPC chip)


Not so exciting.. but still significant

Brixian, as a game is nothing more than a simple copy of Taito’s Puzznic. It’s an original piece of code, but unless you really love Puzznic it’s not something overly exciting. It is significant however because it’s the earliest known development by what would later become ‘Semicom’ (Cheil at the time)

Brixian Brixian Brixian
(Brixian is an early effort from the developer later known as Semicom)

Dolmen fills a similar position in the history of Afega; the earliest supported Afega game was Twin Action which was simply a graphic / sound hack of USAAF Mustang but Dolmen uses the same board to present an ‘original’ game (if you can call a game that simply takes the Puzzle Bobble mechanics and fails to really innovate on it original) It’s a significant part of Afega’s history because it spawned the ‘Bubble 2000’ and ‘Hot Bubble’ games which were surprisingly popular in Europe after being licensed by Tuning and Pandora.

Dolmen Dolmen Dolmen
(Dolmen, an early AFEGA game, really wants to be Puzzle Bobble!)

Both games mentioned also show just what a heavy influence Taito had on the industry, and how many Korean manufacturers saw the games Taito made as a perfect model for how to create a popular game on a tight budget.


One-off titles

Some names are far less common in the arcades but at the same time it’s not unheard of for those manufacturers / developers to put out interesting and unique hardware, that is often a challenge to emulate. Progress on systems like this is an important part of MAME because often it takes a lot of work to make just the one title run, and when it’s not from a big name developer it’s very easy to overlook that progress and the sheer amount of hard work that was required to understand the hardware.

Turret Tower, made by ‘Dell Electronics’ (not THAT Dell) was a game licensed by Namco. From a hardware perspective this is one of the more unique pieces of hardware to be emulated during the year with a complex custom blitter driving the graphics, most of which are streamed from a Hard Disk.


Turret Tower Turret Tower
(Turret Tower is very interesting from a hardware point of view, and also a polished and rather manic game)

Tap-A-Tune was a music game released in 1994, before music games really became popular. CES went on to be involved with Midway’s Touchmaster games, as well as their own ‘Galaxy Games’ creation.


Tap-A-Tune Tap-A-Tune
(Tap-a-Tune is a music game from before music games were popular…)

Touchscreens are all the rage these days, with some people even thinking they’re new technology, but you can rewind a long way and still find games based on Touchscreen technology. Touchstar Bonanza is one such game, from 1994. Merit were making Touchscreen titles around the same period so it wasn’t a completely original concept, but it does show that even 20 years ago people were experimenting with touchscreen technology and it never really caught on outside of a handful of genres and use cases compared to the vast number of games that still used regular controls. The hardware is basically a PC, but that doesn’t make it any easier to emulate!

Touchstar Bonanza Touchstar Bonanza
(…and Touchstar Bonanza is a touchscreen game from before touchscreen games were popular!)


Not So Interesting?..

Casanova is the prime example of a game that really shouldn’t exist. The market was not short of basic tile matching games and it adds nothing to the table at all. Interesting only because it turned out to be running on the same hardware as the equally uninspired 3×3 Puzzle with some really nasty looking manual modifications to the PCB. It’s an example of a company trying to cash in on the market after the market was almost dead, it serves as a lesson in what NOT to do.


Casanova Casanova
(Casanova has no redeeming features)

A number of ‘bad’ games were just fronts for gambling games, to hide the fact that a gambling game was being operated. Even larger manufacturers like Subsino employed this practice with games like X-Plan where they even boasted the ‘feature’ on their advertising flyers. With games like this it isn’t always clear how to switch them from ‘regular’ game mode to ‘gambling’ mode and in several cases as a result it isn’t clear if a game is just bad, or actually contains a ‘stealth’ gambling game. I’d say that Casanova mentioned above was just a bad game, but for another one of the additions from last year it is less obvious.

Fruit Land is an arcade conversion of the freeware PC game of the same name, which in turn is based off an MSX game. It has been sold as a ‘gambling’ title on eBay before, but it isn’t clear if this is true, or if it is true what kind of key combination or dipswitch setting is needed to boot it in gambling mode. Truth be told it isn’t a terrible game, but there’s no real reason you’d want to operate it in an arcade so with that in mind it’s easy to believe it could be harbouring a different payload just we haven’t found it yet.. There is the 2nd possibility, that the dump we have contains nothing awry and was simply sold this way so that the supplier could then also sell media cards containing gambling games as some way to bypass laws / checks.


Fruit Land Fruit Land
(Fruit Land might be hiding a gambling game, but if it is we haven’t found it)

Super Game Mega Type 1 is yet another NES based multi-game of the type that was produced before MAME and MAME boxes became the common way for unscrupulous operators to try and operate multiple games in a cabinet. It contains a decent selection of 7 NES games, but the selection menu is unintuitive and looks like it was written in the space of an hour at most. (at least one of the games also seems to highlight timing issues in our NES emulation)

Super Game Mega Type 1 Super Game Mega Type 1
Super Game Mega Type 1 Super Game Mega Type 1 Super Game Mega Type 1
Super Game Mega Type 1 Super Game Mega Type 1 Super Game Mega Type 1 Super Game Mega Type 1
(The Super Game series was one of several ways NES games appeared in arcades without a license from Nintendo)

Hidden Catch 2000 doesn’t really fit anywhere else, so I’m mentioning it here. Until it surfaced it we didn’t know about it. It’s very similar to the other Hidden Catch games and even shares the introduction sequence with one of the earlier titles, so it’s a bit of a strange release.


Hidden Catch 2000 Hidden Catch 2000
(Hidden Catch 2000 seems like a minor update to the Hidden Catch ’98 codebase)

Popo Bear is another odd case. BMC are better known for gambling / redemption games created for the Asian market so the game is unusual in the sense that it isn’t, it’s actually a real game, simplistic given the release date, but still a real game, and not even a bad one at that. Popo Bear is also a game I highlighted in the 2012 write-up as ‘potential’ because the driver just needed a little more attention and work to bring it into the realm of ‘working’ so I’m glad to see that happened

Popo Bear Popo Bear
(Popo Bear is the only game we’ve seen from BMC where there is real gameplay rather than it being a gambling game)


New and Taboo

The final change of 2013, or first change of 2014 depending on your time zone was the reintroduction of support for the SH3 based games produced by CAVE. While this isn’t really new progress and most of the unofficial MAME builds have been carrying these for years (so re-adding them makes little difference to the end user) it does mean we can start to better document the hardware, and hopefully make strides in improving the driver.

Right now you probably won’t want to run any of the shooters using the driver as it is, while the games are considered working the delays caused by the video hardware drawing the graphics aren’t emulated, this results in the games having very little slowdown where slowdown would be present on the real PCB and thus makes many of the later patterns in the game (or the GOD modes) much more difficult than they could be because the games would be running in slow motion on the real PCB at points where the screen was full of bullets, but in MAME the action still flies by at 60fps (assuming you have a good enough system anyway)

So yes, don’t actually expect to be playing these games in MAME, the ports are cheap and will give you a far better experience at a far lower cost!

What this does mean is we can start to tidy things up, it has been observed that many of the games were programmed onto defective flash roms, which have further decayed, it is important for the sake of documentation to establish what actually represents a good dump for each of these games *before* the situation gets any worse. Unfortunately for some of the flash based media out there the expected life seems no better than games with mechanical HDDs but doesn’t raise the same level of suspicions, nor really give any warning signs of failure.

Puzzle! Mushihime-Tama is interesting because it’s the only one that runs well (where lack of slowdowns and accurate blitter timing don’t matter) I’m not sure it was ever ported either strangely enough. The parent set in the new driver is actually a newer revision than the previous driver as well.


Puzzle Mushitama Puzzle Mushitama
Puzzle Mushitama Puzzle Mushitama
(Puzzle! Mushihime-Tama is the most accurately emulated game in the Cave driver because it doesn’t rely on slowdowns)

The game is the sequel to the popular Puzzle Uopoko for those not in the know. (nothing new with Uopoko emulation, just thought I’d picture it here for easy comparison!)

Uopoko Uopoko
(Uopoko was the prequel to Puzzle! Mushihime-Tama, surprisingly few people realise unless they’re already familiar with both titles)

I say these are ‘new’ but the actual platform is 10 years old now, and the first ports of the games were on home systems 2 generations old, so in reality the system isn’t really that new, even if it has the odd more recent release, but then again so does the NeoGeo (NGDevTeam have a commercial game out this year) and we’ve been supporting that platform for years, just not the newer games, so the same logic will be applied here.

DoDonPachi DaiFukkatsu was added when the driver was restored; this is the first DoDOnPachi game to be released since DoDonPachi Dai-Ou-Jou on the single board PGM hardware. The new purpose built hardware offers significantly more CPU power, and a higher fill rate with more flashy blending effects but oddly runs at a significantly lower resolution than the PGM board resulting in less detailed graphics, the sound hardware is also quite limited so most music sounds like low bitrate MP3s (because it essentially isn’t far off that) rather than the carefully sequenced music present on the PGM platform.


DoDonPachi DaiFukkatsu Ver 1.5 DoDonPachi DaiFukkatsu Ver 1.5 DoDonPachi DaiFukkatsu Ver 1.5
DoDonPachi DaiFukkatsu DoDonPachi DaiFukkatsu DoDonPachi DaiFukkatsu
(first there was DonPachi, then DoDonPachi, then DoDonPachi II Bee Storm, then DoDonPachi Dai-Ou-Jou, and now DoDonPachi DaiFukkatsu has been emulated)

All the stuff from the old driver is there too, there have been sound fixes and the like applied to the sound cores since it was last officially in the source, so there are definitely some improvements to be heard.

Futari 1.0 Futari 1.5 Futari Black ESP2 Sama
Futari 1.0 Futari 1.5 Futari Black ESP2 Sama
(Mushihime-Sama Futari Ver 1.0,Ver 1.5, Black Label, Espgaluda II, Mushihime-Sama)
Death Death Death
(Deathsmiles, a more accessible horizontal effort)
IB IB PS MMP
IB IB PS MMP
(Ibara, Ibara Kuro Black Label, Pink Sweets: Ibara Sorekara, Muchi Muchi Pork!)


Diversity


Last year I highlighted the diversity we were seeing as one of the big positives, showing how the mindset of the team was becoming more open, and how our code and cores were applicable to many more areas than the original MAME vision.

While I can’t say this year has seen quite the same level of breaking into new territory it has seen continued improvements on some of the periphery areas of MAME, the Pinball drivers have seen a steady flow of work for example with many more now booting and responding to inputs.


Guns n Roses Pinball Guns n Roses Pinball Guns n Roses Pinball Guns n Roses Pinball
Guns n Roses Pinball Guns n Roses Pinball Guns n Roses Pinball Guns n Roses Pinball
Batman Pinball Batman Pinball Batman Pinball Batman Pinball
Batman Pinball Batman Pinball Batman Pinball Batman Pinball
(Some pinball displays were emulated)
Simpsons Pinball
Simpsons Pinball
Simpsons Pinball
Simpsons Pinball
(Some of the older ones didn’t use Dot Matrix displays)
Maverick Pinball Maverick Pinball Maverick Pinball Maverick Pinball
Maverick Pinball Maverick Pinball Maverick Pinball Maverick Pinball
Baywatch Baywatch Baywatch Baywatch
Baywatch Baywatch Baywatch Baywatch
(even more Pinball Displays)
Harley Pinball
Harley Pinball
Harley Pinball
Harley Pinball
Popeye Pinball Popeye Pinball Popeye Pinball Popeye Pinball
Popeye Pinball Popeye Pinball Popeye Pinball Popeye Pinball
Fish Tales Pinball Fish Tales Pinball Fish Tales Pinball Fish Tales Pinball
Fish Tales Pinball Fish Tales Pinball Fish Tales Pinball Fish Tales Pinball
Doctor Who Pinball Doctor Who Pinball Doctor Who Pinball Doctor Who Pinball
Doctor Who Pinball Doctor Who Pinball Doctor Who Pinball Doctor Who Pinball
(This sure is a lot of pinball displays..)
Addams Family Pinball Addams Family Pinball Addams Family Pinball Addams Family Pinball
Addams Family Pinball Addams Family Pinball Addams Family Pinball Addams Family Pinball
Hot Shot Basketball Hot Shot Basketball Hot Shot Basketball Hot Shot Basketball
Hot Shot Basketball Hot Shot Basketball Hot Shot Basketball Hot Shot Basketball
Terminator 2 Pinball Terminator 2 Pinball Terminator 2 Pinball Terminator 2 Pinball
Terminator 2 Pinball Terminator 2 Pinball Terminator 2 Pinball Terminator 2 Pinball
Party Zone Pinball Party Zone Pinball Party Zone Pinball Party Zone Pinball
Party Zone Pinball Party Zone Pinball Party Zone Pinball Party Zone Pinball

South Park Pinball South Park Pinball South Park Pinball South Park Pinball
South Park Pinball South Park Pinball South Park Pinball South Park Pinball

ID4 Pinball ID4 Pinball ID4 Pinball ID4 Pinball
ID4 Pinball ID4 Pinball ID4 Pinball ID4 Pinball
Rollercoaster Tycoon Pinball Rollercoaster Tycoon Pinball Rollercoaster Tycoon Pinball Rollercoaster Tycoon Pinball
Rollercoaster Tycoon Pinball Rollercoaster Tycoon Pinball Rollercoaster Tycoon Pinball Rollercoaster Tycoon Pinball
Playboy Pinball Playboy Pinball Playboy Pinball Playboy Pinball
Playboy Pinball Playboy Pinball Playboy Pinball Playboy Pinball
Batman Forever Pinball Batman Forever Pinball Batman Forever Pinball Batman Forever Pinball
Batman Forever Pinball Batman Forever Pinball Batman Forever Pinball Batman Forever Pinball
Frankenstein Pinball Frankenstein Pinball Frankenstein Pinball Frankenstein Pinball
Frankenstein Pinball Frankenstein Pinball Frankenstein Pinball Frankenstein Pinball
Turtles Pinball Turtles Pinball Turtles Pinball Turtles Pinball
Turtles Pinball Turtles Pinball Turtles Pinball Turtles Pinball
Checkpoint Checkpoint Checkpoint Checkpoint
Checkpoint Checkpoint Checkpoint Checkpoint
(I think that will do…as you can see, lots of Pinball displays were improved, even if they can’t hook up to anything yet)

Preliminary emulation of other coin operated arcade devices was also added, the CPU code for a 24 CD Jukebox happily runs, showing the manufacturer information (MIDCOIN) between flashing ‘Insert Coin’ at you should you choose to run that set and towards the close of the year we also saw preliminary emulation of the video section of a coin operated electronic darts board.


24 CD Jukebox
24 CD Jukebox
24 CD Jukebox
(Midcoin of Italy made this Jukebox for Arcade use)

Maybe this doesn’t belong here, but one system on which there was progress over the course of the year was the Microvision. In reality it’s just another handheld system but it is rather unique in that it used a display of only 16×16 pixels, that’s a similar size to the ‘favicon.ico’ some websites use although in this case there wasn’t even any colour. It’s a very early system as you might guess and all the cartridges use MCUs rather than traditional ROMs so getting dumps of any of them has been a huge challenge. The system is still considered non-working (progress at the start of 2014 has since improved things further) but you can boot them up, and get them to do a couple of things. Just make to use -video ddraw and a high level of prescale! These shots have all been zoomed from 16×16 to 128×128


Microvision Microvision Microvision Microvision Microvision

Microvision Microvision Microvision Microvision Microvision Microvision
(At 16×16 pixels the Microvision display could certainly be classed as low resolution, the games don’t quite work properly yet tho)

Again I’m not sure the following really counts as diversity, but it does demonstrate emulation of a system just as primitive as the Microvision. The RCA Studio 2 (made in 1977) has been in MESS for a while now, but last year saw a number of fresh dumps for the system including ‘Star Wars’, ‘Concentration Match’, ‘Bingo’ and ‘Pinball’ This isn’t the most obvious to use system, at first it looks broken but if you hit F3 then ‘Q’ the games start. The controls are a little weird too and it takes some imagination to work out what is going on!


Studio 2 - Star Wars Studio 2 - Star Wars Studio 2 - Star Wars Studio 2 - Star Wars
Studio 2 - Bingo Studio 2 - Bingo Studio 2 - Concentration Match Studio 2 - Concentration Match
Studio 2 - Pinball Studio 2 - Pinball
(Back when the Studio 2 was released in the late 1970s games required a lot more imagination)

The Visicom is a very similar system, but in the case of the Visicom we saw actual emulation improvements during the year (corrected colours) as well as the addition of a Software List containing a single dumped game called ‘Sports Fan’ which appears to be a Baseball game (and possibly more, but I haven’t figured out how to use it fully) Without a cartridge the system acts as a (very) basic paint package.

Visicom Visicom
(The Visicom is very similar to the Studio 2)

The Sega Visual Memory Unit (part of a Dreamcast Controller) is another system that shows how we can emulate some rather difference pieces of hardware within the project, and also shows how at times we can be open minded about what ends up in a software list in cases where it can be used to test the emulation. In the case of the SVMU all the game data is actually uploaded by the Dreamcast so if we were to enforce a ‘pure’ set of rules you’d have to create it yourself in the Dreamcast driver before trying it. Instead we’ve allowed the Software list to contain the ram dumps for a number of known games in order to facilitate easy testing. This means to run them you simply need to go through the VMU time/date setup then hit ‘M’ to change to game mode.

Sega Visual Memory
Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory
Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory
Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory
Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory
Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory
Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory
Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory
Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory Sega Visual Memory
(The Sega Visual Memory was a memory card that plugged into the Dreamcast controllers and allowed games to be uploaded for standalone play)

We also saw the computer part of an electronic dart board emulated, in this case the Arachnid 6000 – Super Six Plus II English Mark Darts system. I believe this marks a first. Emulating the rest of it should be possible in theory with the artwork system, although aiming will be a lot easier than the real thing! There are many other versions of this type of thing out there yet to be dumped at all.


Super Six Plus Super Six Plus
(The computer part of an electronic darts board dictates the gameplay and keeps score)

Educational systems also show a different side to the project, there are a number supported now and 2013 saw the addition of an English language one known as IT Unlimited.


IT Unlimited IT Unlimited
(These small learning computers teach people basic computer skills, including some programming)

The little work that did get done on Fruit Machines this year included hooking the Scorpion 5 platform up so that error messages can be seen, no real attempts were made to emulate it any further tho. These have definitely ended up on the backburner. There’s a lot of rewarding progress to be made should somebody pick them tho, it does however remain a monumental task due to the vast number of configurations, although I’m sure somebody armed with the CPU manuals could do a good job of implementing all the on board peripherals for the CPUs commonly used which would help get things moving again.


Scorpion 5
(We didn’t really see much progress on Fruit Machines, a few were made to boot a bit further tho)


Netlists

The vast majority of what MAME emulates is traditional driven by a CPU running code from ROMs. This however means it can’t easily cover a whole generation of games where the actual game logic was coded directly into the circuit design. The only exception to this in MAME for a while now has been Pong but until recently progress on that area, and associated areas like discrete sound emulation had stalled. The later part of 2013 saw significant efforts being made to get things moving again with such drivers, improving the framework used to support discrete systems with a goal of also allowing the discrete sound system emulations we have to make use of the same framework rather than their own one.

While MAME does still only support Pong (unlike other emulators such as Dice which support a number of other titles at this point) the actual framework and support code has improved significantly and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the list of non-CPU games supported by MAME extend beyond the simple ‘Pong’ case at some point in the new year, again showing how diverse MAME can be and how it’s starting to support things that weren’t even dreamed of when the project was started.


Pong Pong
(Pong remains the only example of netlist use in MAME, it saw several improvements over the year)


More things I don’t understand..


This follows on from the topic of diversity very well. One of the ‘issues’ with having such a diverse library of supported platforms is that many of them are really difficult to figure out, or can’t really be used for anything interesting at all in an emulated environment (consider the possibility that we might one day emulate the firmware of a Microwave, MAME is never actually going to cook your food!).

One thing that has been evident throughout the year is that there is a lot of progress going on where it’s really difficult to know the scope and meaning of the changes being made unless you’re familiar with the systems in question. This is especially true when it comes to systems in MESS.

There has been a phenomenal amount of work done in the MESS part of our code over the past 12 months in addition to many changes made to our CPU and device emulations with specific systems in mind.

While sorting out things to definitely mention in this write-up and things that need more investigation to figure out if they’re going to spark the interest of the general readership here I found the latter pile growing very quickly.

Unfortunately if I was to actually go through each of those systems and changes, learning about each and every addition and what that meant then I’d never end up finishing this article, there has simply been so much work done. For this reason I’m sure there are many important, maybe even critical improvements to systems or add-on devices over the year that haven’t made it into this article, that’s not to say I don’t value them, they’re vital to the project and driving it forward, that’s why I’ve added this section, to acknowledge my coverage is going to have holes in it.

I will take this opportunity to look briefly at some of the changes that did end up on this list, this section is essentially a reflection of my attempts to make sense of some of them, but I give absolutely no guarantee I’ve picked good examples to demonstrate any of it!

This is also why if you really have an avid interest in a system, or emulation in general you should also check all the SVN logs from the year for yourself, or at the very least all the whatsnew and messnew files to see if something you care about has been improved, or fixed because I’m only scratching the surface here.

One family of systems that I’d put into this class are the ‘Apollo’ ones. From a changelog point of view they look very interesting, abusing a number of 68K CPU features nothing else really requires, but running one of them (for example the Apollo DN3000) merely results in an uninteresting command prompt. There’s no software list attached to the system, so while it has drives I don’t really know what I should even be trying to run. I get the feeling it’s an important system to emulate, and certainly one where emulating it proves that our project has a great amount of scope, but I simply don’t know what I should be doing with it to best demonstrate the progress here!


Apollo DN3000
(The Apollo has a beefy display and seems to abuse the M68000 more than any arcade game, but I can’t find anything fun way to demonstrate it to you)

The Casio FP-200 is an early Japanese home computer system with built in display..


FP-200 FP-200
(The FP-200 on the other hand had a tiny display)

The Softbox is one of many systems that can boot CP/M, but again beyond that I’m not sure what you can really do with it..


Softbox
(The Softbox can boot CP/M, but CP/M doesn’t make for interesting screenshots)

The Olivetti L1 M20 is a unique system using a Z8000 series CPU (a Z8001) Improvements to that driver (still considered non-working) also allow it to boot the CP/M image contained in the software list.


Olivetti M20
(The Olivetti L1 M20 is interesting and unique hardware, but CP/M still isn’t that interesting to demonstrate!)

The Attache will boot disks and has a Software List hooked up, but doesn’t seem too interesting otherwise, on of the listed disks is CP/M, so I can also boot CP/M here like with the above systems.

Attache Software List Attache Software List
(The Attache can also boot CP/M)

While the Chunichi ND-80Z is an early ‘computer’ with only 8 segment display parts, you can apparently enter simple programs and run them by programming memory addresses directly, but again learning how to use it for the purpose of this article is a bit beyond the scope of what I’m trying to do here. I couldn’t even write ‘Boobies’ on it like a calculator!


ND-80Z ND-80Z
(The Chunichi ND-80Z is some kind of machine / CPU trainer system with not much in the way of a display)

The Canon ‘Cat’ also saw a bunch of work done to the driver. This actually boots and seems to be some kind of Word Processor, I’m not really sure it belongs in this section, but I’m not sure where else to put it either :-)


Canon Cat
Canon Cat
(The Canon Cat is some kind of Word Processor)

The SVN logs from the year seem to indicate that the MTX driver was improved and should now be capable of loading .MTX snapshot files, however after multiple attempts with various different games I was unable to get anything to load, so I’m not sure the fix was complete / working. The MTX looks like an interesting system with a decent software library but the scene surrounding it appears to want to support snapshot images ahead of real media images. Needless to say this is worrying. Apparently MESS used to be able to load proper Cassette images for the system but the code was an ugly hack and ended up being removed so I was unable to test with those either. I hope support improves again in the new year because I feel it is important to start documenting the software for this system properly.


MTX512 MTX512
(The MTX is meant to be able to load snapshot files now, but I couldn’t figure it out)

The Lola8A also ended up with a preliminary driver. Like many systems there is no software listed so my only tests have been with the built in BASIC.


Lola 8A Lola 8A
(The Lola8A is one of several drivers with no listed Software, BASIC works quite wll tho)

The QX11 is a non-working system (inputs don’t respond) but it did gain a Software List at least making it obvious what Software you need to run to get it past the ‘insert disk’ prompt. Hopefully by having things like this listed it will be easier for somebody to fix / improve it later, as well as ensure it doesn’t regress.


QX11
QX11
(The QX11 driver doesn’t yet work, but does have floppies and Software List hooked up allowing it to boot to this)

I’ve been unable to get the BINBUG system to do anything except display an extra * each time I reset it, I might be missing something but it does not seem to want to respond to inputs


Binbug
(The Bin Bug lived up to it’s name)

Likewise I couldn’t really work out what to press to make the Ravensburger Selbstbaucomputer do anything interesting, although the initial screen is welcoming ;-)

Ravensburger Selbstbaucomputer
(Hallo, but what next?)

The Cromemco CB-308 Single Card Computer on the other hand just seemed to want to respond erratically to inputs with the Cromemco MCB-216 Single Card Computer being similar.

Cromemco CB-308 Single Card Computer
(The Cromemco CB-308 Single Card Computer drver does not appear to behave well)

Then there’s the TK85, some kind of ZX-80 / ZX-81 clone, although from my brief testing of the ZX-81 driver in the past I’d be pushed to say anything in that driver really works, I get the feeling it needs a much more accurate Z80 for any level of serious software compatibility.

TK85 TK85
(the TK85, no listed software to test it with)


.. and some I just haven’t had time to test or learn

Systems like the Apple II have had various additional peripherals emulated, but many of these are things like SCSI controllers, other storage devices like Zip Drives, or Sound boards. These are all definitely important improvements, but it’s incredibly difficult to show them in action without ‘goto’ example cases, and possibly some kind of automated scripting / setup so that everything gets correctly configured. If you’re making serious use of these platforms in the emulator you’ll no doubt appreciate some of these changes, but demonstrating them is a little outside the context of this write-up.

Many of the Commodore systems fall into a similar category, they’ve seen a lot of work done to them but I’ve found my efforts to make use of the changes fruitless, either because things have regressed (there are definitely some regressions with cassettes at the time of writing) or because I’m too unfamiliar with the systems to know what I should be showing.

I’ve tried my best to make sure all the screenshots used in this article have been created fresh, for this article, but then we’ve seen significant bug-fixes to things like the M68k FPU where the only real demonstrable case is Sim City 2000 for the Mac series of computers and I have no idea where to start with running that (which model to use, if it needs installing etc.) so all I can present is the same screenshot I presented at the time, taken from the official progress announcement. Rest assured however that every other screenshot you see on this page was made specifically for this article, that’s half the point, to show that I was able to use the things and they all worked as expected!


Sim City 2000 Mac
(The only screenshot in this article I didn’t capture while writing it!)


Year of the Clones?


This year has seen a large number of clone sets turn up, and while I don’t have statistics to back me up here it certainly feels like more than your average year, or at the very least it feels like the ones that have shown up are of more significance than usual. Thinking about it statistics would probably disagree due to the vast number of Fruit Machine clones last year, but those weren’t new findings, just documenting what was already out there.


Same Game.. Different Name

Clones can be interesting for a variety of reasons, one of those is challenging what we believe the correct ‘original’ title for a game is. That might sound like a strange concept, but often game titles get changed when they’re exported, and in some cases the export versions are much more common than the original releases, so a game ends up being better known by a different title than the one it was originally released under. Obviously this happens all the time when the original titles are in Japanese because most of the original Japanese titles have little meaning to an audience outside of Japan, but it does also happen sometimes when the original title were in English.

Take Arcadia as an example. Arcadia is best known in MAME as ‘Rapid Hero’ but the version we know as ‘Rapid Hero’ actually appears to be a licensed version of the original NMK game. You could argue that ‘Rapid Hero’ is a better title, with Arcadia being far too generic. You have the Bandai / Emerson Arcadia system (the actual ‘arcadia’ set in MAME/MESS/UME) as well as ‘Waga Seishun no Arcadia’ (a clone of New York New York) also commonly known as ‘Arcadia’ and the ‘Arcadia Systems’ machines based on the Amiga (already mentioned earlier in this very writeup) In addition to this there are also various Fruit Machines known as ‘Arcadia’ as well, so while it’s an ‘obvious’ choice for an arcade game, it’s also not a very good one and in that sense it’s unsurprising that the game ended up being better known by the Rapid Hero title. It’s worth a mention that in addition to this clone being added the sound emulation in both sets was also improved significantly.


Arcadia (NMK) Arcadia (NMK)
(The original title of Rapid Hero was Arcadia, but Rapid Hero is more unique / memorable)

Semicom’s Wivern Wings is another example of this. In the case of Wivern Wings the name was changed to Wyvern Wings when Gamevision licensed it for distribution outside of Korea. The reason for this change is less clear, the original logo looks better than the revised one, and the title change is so minor you have to wonder why they bothered. I can only assume there was some legal issue with ‘Wivern’ in the title?


Wivern Wings Wivern Wings
(I don’t understand why the name was changed for the GameVision release)

Ball Boy fits with the rest of the titles here too although the story is more complex. We know that Ball Boy is hacked from the original Snow Bros. game, we know that it was released in Mexico as Snow Brothers 3 by Syrmex, we also knew that the title Snow Brothers 3 was a bit strange when all the Snowballs had been replaced with Footballs. The game had clearly been developed for the 2002 World Cup in Korea (as were a number of other games apparently, few of which have surfaced!) but none of the versions we had were the original version that was released in Korea. Unfortunately I don’t think the ‘Ball Boy’ that showed up last year is either, is has a 2003 copyright (too late) and the title screen differs from other ‘Ball Boy’ screens we’ve seen online. It looks like the Syrmex ‘Snow Brothers 3’ was actually hacked back into a ‘Ball Boy’ rather than this being the first version of the hack. I guess there is still a mystery to solve and further evidence to uncover with this one!


Ball Boy Ball Boy
(Ball Boy is a more appropriate title than Snow Brothers 3 considering the content of the game, even if it is a hack of Snow Bros)>


Different Hardware / Different Protection

Sometimes the most interesting difference with a clone is when the new set uses a different hardware configuration, or different protection. We found that with a clone of Night Slashers. All the already supported sets used a Z80 sound CPU, but interestingly the USA set that was dumped last year instead used a HuC6280 setup. Maybe this isn’t too surprising because we’d seen the same with Lock ‘n’ Loaded, where the USA version uses a HuC6280 and the others use a Z80, but it makes you wonder what the reasons for the change were.

Finding a version of Sega Tetris on Taito’s H-System was also a nice turn-up, this one being a conversion of a ‘Go For The Gold (Record Breaker)’ PCB to add to the already known versions B-System conversions for ‘Nastar’ and ‘Master of Weapon’ and the versions on Sega’s own System 16 A and B platforms. It’s exactly the same game of course, because it’s a fairly undemanding title that could easily have been converted the the vast majority of 68k based platforms of the period, but from a historical and completeness point of view it’s good to have it supported.

Different hardware can make things tricky however, one thing that turned up during the year was a ‘Rev 3.00’ of the 25th Pacman Anniversary, running on a different board to the Rev 2.00 (which ran on the same board as the 20th Anniversary sets). The new board uses a Flash rom (and saves settings directly to that) instead of an EEPROM, but also has different palette hardware (the look-up ROM is gone) and different sound hardware. For original Pacman hardware colours and some sound related bits are stored in PROMS, for the Rev 2.00 sets of the Anniversary it was easy enough to see how writes corresponded to these, with the 3.00 set it seems a lot less obvious, to get any colours at all we’re having to cheat and load the lookup ROM from the 2.00 set, while sound and sprites remain a mystery. The 3.00 set (being newer) is now the parent which has mistakenly led some people to think the driver has regressed, the 2.00 clone still works fine, as it always does.


Pacman 25th Anniversary (v300) Pacman 25th Anniversary (v300)
Pacman 25th Anniversary (v300) Pacman 25th Anniversary (v300)
(Rev 3.00 of Pacman 25th Anniversary runs on significantly changed hardware compared to Rev 2.00)

The seemingly endless number of different variations of the Afega shooters is another where more work than you’d expect is required for each new clone. On the surface they mostly look the same, but each one has a different lineswapping encryption to figure out; nothing too complex, but enough to make them too difficult for the people dumping them to add without assistance. The clones are also quite odd, for example in most sets the title logo is drawn with sprites, in the middle one shown here it’s done with the text tilemap (hence the different colours) The games were also released in both horizontal and vertical configurations, although all the new sets were Vertical. The Yona Tech ‘Spectrum 2000’ which is clearly based on these was also released as a vertical game, a copy did show up during the year but the seller wanted about $300 for the PCB when these are $30 games at most.


Guardian Storm Guardian Storm Guardian Storm
Guardian Storm Guardian Storm Guardian Storm
Guardian Storm Guardian Storm Guardian Storm
(The Guardian Storm clones might look like simple additions but each one had a different ROM scrambling, used as protection, to figure out)


The Timeline

Another thing that can distinguish new clones and make them significantly more interesting is where they fit in terms of game revision. Discovering that a game had a much newer release than anything we were previously aware of, or even a much older release before various bugs had been fixed is always interesting.

Street Fighter II is one of the most famous and influential arcade games of all time, what we didn’t know until last year is that there was one final Japanese release of the game put out just one day before the earliest known release of the ‘Champion Edition’. Interestingly we’ve only seen World and USA releases of the earliest Champion Edition, but I suspect the Japanese one is just yet to show up. You can see the date screens below. This is significant because it shows that the original Street Fighter 2 was still being improved even at the point where the Champion Edition was being worked on.


Final Street Fighter II revision Final Street Fighter II revision
First Street Fighter II Champion Edition revision First Street Fighter II Champion Edition revision
(The new Street Fighter II World Warrior set was released the day before the first Champion Edition revision)

Not all games give clear indication of the actual date of a revision, but instead provide a version number. Mission Craft is one such example, support for a newer ‘2.7’ version was added.


Mission Craft Mission Craft
(Even some Korean manufacturers clearly marked the version number on the title screen!)

Of course there are hundreds of games that give no indication of revision number at all, so we have no idea if they’re newer or older, sometimes the ROM stickers can give some indication, but even those aren’t foolproof. For cases like that it requires somebody to analyze the changes made in the ROM in order to establish what fixes have been made, and nobody has really spent any time doing that recently.

It’s always worth checking older / less known boards if you own the PCBs too, the recent dump of Who Dunit is ‘version 9’ when the only previously supported version was ‘version 8’


Who Dunit Who Dunit
Who Dunit Who Dunit
(Newer versions of less popular games turn up and get supported too)

Cave use an odd way to mark revisions, usually not changing the date at all but adding additional periods to the date string, for this reason we knew a new DOJ Black revision that was discovered last year was newer than the existing parent set.


DOJ Black DOJ Black DOJ Black
(Cave used subtle ways to mark their revisions, not usually changing the date but adding punctuation)

The Taito Side By Side set that was added was a new revision of the game too! It’s hard to say what’s new, but with games of this era Taito clearly list the build dates in the service mode.


Side By Side (Japan) Side By Side (Japan) Side By Side (Japan)
(The new Side-by-side set is a more recent build)

As already noted, the Cave driver was restored on the turn of the year, and with it there were one or two clones worth mentioning. The Pink Sweets 2006/xx/xx release is interesting, there are various rumours that it’s an unfinished version of the game, hence not having a date string at all, it also lacks the polish of the final versions, and boots straight to Free Play mode (with continues disabled) and contains a whole bunch of additional debug code and debug menus to support this theory. It’s quite a well known revision, but at the same time it isn’t really clear where it fits in! You can change this one to accept coins, so unlike the dedicated ‘Collector’ release of one of Cave’s later games this one does belong in MAME (rather than the MESS side) but it’s definitely an odd one.


Pink Sweets Pink Sweets Pink Sweets
(There is a lot of mystery surrounding the ‘2006/xx/xx’ version of Pink Sweets)

Sometimes clones aren’t really clones at all, but later re-releases of games with significantly modified gameplay. Death Smiles Megablack label is such a release, and isn’t really a clone at all despite initially looking like one. These days MAME tends to treat these as unique releases, with things like Street Fighter 2 Champion Edition and Street Fighter 2 Hyper Fighting being a good examples (they aren’t set as a clone of Street Fighter II World Warrior on purpose, they’re unique games despite sharing most of the assets) Anyway, Megablack label adds the much harder ‘Level 999’ difficult in addition to extra characters and an extra stage.


Megablack Megablack Megablack
(Deathsmiles Megablack Label isn’t really a clone at all, but a re-released version of the game with extra content and modes)

As already mentioned the Puzzle! Mushihime-Tama set that’s now the parent is a newer revision too, with the old set becoming a clone.

The new clone of Konami’s Martial Champion sports a version string of UAE, Konami use the last letter to indicate the game revision so that makes it the newest set there too. (The first letter is the region, and the 2nd I believe is the game type in cases where there were versions for different cabinet types)


Martial Champion Martial Champion
(Version UAE of Martial Champion is newer than any other set we support)

Naturally plenty of clones have turned up that are right in the middle of the existing revisions rather than being newer or older, this doesn’t make them less important, although they’re less likely to have any real surprises. There are also plenty that LOOK the same, but we only know are older or newer than existing sets because the dumper took care to note the ROM labels in both places – something else we’ve spent a lot of time fixing over the years in cases where they didn’t, or the labels on the boards they used were unreadable. An example of where the ROM labels we had helped is the Arcadia title “Magic Johnson’s Fast Break” where there doesn’t appear to be any indication in the ROM or on the screen, but the labels told us the new clone was from a version 2.7 set while the current parent is a 2.8. An example of where the labels are having to be corrected comes in the form of many of the Nintendo Vs. System games. There’s nothing really to show here in either case tho. MAME is a documentation project, so getting these things right is very important.

I’ve covered a lot of cases here where the newly found sets are more recent builds than the old ones, this is what causes a lot of the romset changes people often complain about. When a new set is found that is more recent than the existing ones things tend to get shuffled around because MAME likes to make the most recent builds the parent roms and the older sets the clone roms. This helps keep things organized, even if it might just seem annoying to end users.


Just … different

Some clones are actually just plain different. 2013 saw a ‘Ride on’ version of the original Hang On dumped, this version has 2 footpedals in addition to the usual controls, but maybe more importantly has a completely different track layout, one that we didn’t previously even know existed. For such a classic game and important piece of Sega history this was an outstanding discovery!


Hang On Hang On
Hang On Hang On
(The Ride On version of Hang On uses different tracks, we didn’t know that before it was dumped)

By pure coincidence another game where we found an interesting alt. version was the similarly titles Head On. In this case the new clone is most likely only a bootleg, but the new version uses a completely different maze compared to the regular versions of the game.


Head On (bootleg, alt mazes) Head On (bootleg, alt mazes)
(This bootleg of Head On also has a different maze compared to the original)


Just … the same

Sometimes clones show up where there’s no real difference except the ROM configuration on the real hardware. In the past MAME tended to ignore alt board configurations, for example cases where sub-boards full of ROMs had been used before the MASK Roms were ready, but where the actual data was the same. These days, at least for original cases, we do try to document these alt configurations, doing so is useful to people with the hardware, and useful if people are looking at buying something because it documents that the same game existed with different sets of PCBs etc.

One example of this is the Zombie Raid prototype ROMs that turned up. The actual game data from the prototype is 100% identical to that used in the final game, but the prototype data is split across more roms. There was a small benefit in this case however, the set of prototype chips had ROMs for both the US and Japan versions so a new and different set also came out of it.

Another example of this is Back Street Soccer, we found a version, probably from a later production batch, using higher capacity ROMs but definitely also an original SunA board.

Having identical data doesn’t always make these straightforward additions tho, MAME’s Rom Loading gives for a number of possible ways to load and decode ROMs, sometimes when you find a board using higher capacity ROMs it’s necessary to rework the driver a bit so that the smaller ROMs load into memory the same way as the larger ones and a single decode function can be used.


On the edge..

One thing that is noticeable this year is the absolute flood of new Players Edge poker sets. I’m not sure how many of these are unique games and how many are clones because they all look practically the same, just with small adjustments to the game rules and different features. In all honesty I’m not sure exactly what’s new here myself, I think the alt cardsets are, so here are some pictures to demonstrate ‘The Oreleans’ card set vs. the other ones.


Players Edge Poker Players Edge Poker Players Edge Poker
Players Edge Poker Players Edge Poker
(Hundreds of new Players Edge Poker sets and games were added, I don’t know what differs between them)

I gave this it’s own subsection because it is without a doubt an important development, so I have to apologize for not knowing more about it. The init procedure for the games is listed in the driver if you want to do more research, needless to say it’s good to see MAME acting as a comprehensive reference for these things because it looks like they’d be an absolute nightmare to sort out without the dedication being shown!


Prototypes

Some of the most significant clones of the year have been prototypes, coming from various sources including the large ‘Unigame’ stash that I’ve covered a number of times here, but also other places, with both arcade and home titles showing up.

One of the interesting ones was the ‘Virus’ clone of Dr. Mario for the Playchoice 10 unit. This is an interesting clone because it shows that Nintendo used the Playchoice units to playtest games that were destined for the NES, there’s no other explaination for why Virus would exist on the Playchoice, the game had been completely reworked and rebranded as Dr. Mario by the time it hit retail shelves for the NES. Disappointingly the game doesn’t have instructions and simply gets identified by the Playchoice unit as ‘New Game 2’, the ‘Bases Loaded’ prototype that showed up at the same time likewise simply gets identified as ‘New Game 1’ without any instructions. I guess there’s a small chance these Playchoice versions were not created by Nintendo, but I don’t know why anybody would go to such an effort if they already had valuable prototypes on their hand. Technically Bases Loaded isn’t a ‘clone’ of anything in MAME, but it is just a clone of the NES game (it’s the same game code) if there was such a concept of cross-project, cross-platform clones.


Playchoice 10 - Virus Playchoice 10 - Virus
(Virus, a prototype of Dr. Mario was one of two Playchoice 10 prototypes added)
Playchoice 10 - Bases Loaded Playchoice 10 - Bases Loaded
(Bases loaded was the other Playchoice prototype)

The most significant of the prototype finds does however remain the Bubble Bobble 2 one discovered at Unigame. Bubble Bobble is an iconic game and the prototype that was discovered gives a unique insight into the development of the sequel to it and feels a lot closer to actually being a direct sequel of Bubble Bobble than the game that was eventually released. A prototype of the (buggy) unreleased Playstation port of the same game surfaced a couple of years ago (and oddly isn’t in the MESS Software List) but that was merely an unfinished and horrifically broken port of the final arcade game to the Playstation, the prototype that discovered here was instead a peek at the arcade game in an unfinished state with many gameplay features and design aspects not yet in their final form at all.

Bubble Bobble 2 prototype Bubble Bobble 2 prototype
Bubble Bobble 2 prototype Bubble Bobble 2 prototype
(The Bubble Bobble 2 prototype was one of the most amazing finds of the year, it differs in so many ways and has gameplay a lot closer to the original Bubble Bobble)

There were also prototypes for two of Taito’s 68020 based driving games, Super Chase & Chase Bombers. These prototypes differ in nature significantly. While I’ve never found Super Chase to be an especially polished game, or worthy sequel to the original Chase H.Q. games this prototype shows that it could have looked a lot worse. While the prototype does resemble a playable game many aspects were polished up before release, and for things like the introduction / attract sequel a large amount was redrawn / improved significantly. For some reason this prototype also has really dark Colours, but I think that is correct.


Super Chase Prototype Super Chase Prototype
(The Super Chase prototype captures an earlier, but still mostly playable stage of development)

The Chase Bombers prototype is something different altogether, it feels like a much earlier version of the game at a point where the code was undergoing a major overhaul. There are debug readings all over the screen, the sprite roms don’t seem to fully match up with what the game references and there are major visible differences in the presentation such as half the screen being used for a rear view mirror.

Chase Bombers Prototype Chase Bombers Prototype
(The Chase Bombers prototype feels more like it’s still a proof of concept than a game)

A Growl prototype also showed up, this also has a lot of small changes compared to the final version, the most striking being the font used, but there are a number of other significant presentation tweaks at the very least. The gameplay appears to be generally unchanged, although I haven’t tested to see if it has all the levels complete.

Growl Prorotype Growl Prorotype
(The Growl prototype appears to be closer to release, but things like the fonts changed significantly, and it lacks some polish of the final game)

The Cadash prototype is also fascinating, while the graphics and sound roms couldn’t be read from the board due to being under a heavy layer of epoxy it appears to function correctly with the same roms as the final game, however the English translation is completely different in places, and many game elements aren’t properly refined yet or are buggy. Even without being familiar with the game I was able to find countless differences in a 15 minute playthrough of each set so for anybody with a real passion for the game this prototype is a must-see.


Cadash Original Cadash Prototype
(The Cadash prototype has a much rougher English translation and a number of unrefined / buggy gameplay elements)

It’s harder to write much about the Syvalion prototype, but at the same time it has the potential to be just as interesting. The main difference between this and the version that was already supported is that this is an English language prototype, actually all the Unigame prototypes appear to have the region bytes set to English, which is understandable because they showed up outside of Japan, but also a little odd because they’re in-development versions of Japanese games being developed in Japan so it’s surprising to see that localization work actually took place at the same time as development, not after the games were finished. The problem with comparing Syvalion apart from the obvious language differences exist for a number of reasons, first of all the game randomizes the tilesets used for each level, so the same levels look different for each playthrough despite having the same layouts, this makes direct comparisons more difficult. Secondly compared to Cadash it’s a very simple game and the gameplay does feel close to the final version. Most of the ROMs did differ tho, and the final version uses the proper ‘Taito ‘logo, so tweaks were definitely made between the two versions, but I can’t give a comprehensive list, definitely not as many as some of the prototypes!


Syvalion prototype Syvalion prototype
Syvalion prototype Syvalion prototype
(The Syvalion is in English, and has a different Taito logo, but I’m not sure it differs otherwise)

Sometimes it isn’t even clear if a clone is a prototype of a bootleg, this is the case with the Spy Hunter clone that turned up with the other prototypes (and has also been found in Spain). The PCB is produced by Recreativos Franco of Spain and has bold markings indicating that it is licensed, but the PCB is dated 1985 when the original release of the game was 1983. Furthermore the actual code is clearly hacked from a released version, and the hardware capabilities significantly reduced. The original game ran at an interlaced resolution with high resolution sprites, this PCB runs at a standard resolution instead, the sound system has also been replaced with a much cheaper one. It’s possible it’s a prototype of an approved ‘low cost’ board design, or just a very ambitious bootleg. The emulation isn’t quite complete yet (inputs aren’t working) but it definitely stands as one of the stranger discoveries of the year.


Spy Hunter Spy Hunter
Spy Hunter
Spy Hunter

Spy Hunter
Spy Hunter
(If you compare similar scenes between the new set and the original you can see the lower resolution sprites and inferior palette)

Amazingly we discovered a VERY similar 1942 board with the Spy Hunter, which again appears to be an attempt to make a low cost version of the game, maybe they’re prototypes of bootlegs. This one is even stranger however, because it has gameplay bugs not presents in the original game and not ones you’d expect to be introduced based on the changes being made. The 1942 looks mostly the same from the outside (aside different colours) but the underlying hardware and code changes are significant and ugly!

There were a number of other boards dumped around the same time, and from the same source as many of these prototypes, it isn’t clear if they’re all prototypes, things like the new Earth Joker set have different code, but could just be an early production revision and games like Suna’s Brick Zone have earlier version strings but don’t work yet due to using different protection.

From other sources there was possibly prototype of Namco’s Knuckleheads but apart from the missing RAM checks at start up I can’t really observe any differences between it and what is considered the release version of the game. It would need more investigation from a dedicated fan of the game for me to have something to write about.


All Around The World.. Again!

Something I covered last year was how far reaching the project was, showing additions from many different corners of the globe. I already opened this article by mentioning a number of rare Italian games that showed up over the course of the year but we’ve also seen an incredible number of regional clones (some official, some bootleg) dumped and supported too.

The Korean clone of Gals Panic III is an interesting one because unlike the other sets it contains less explicit images, with the theme being ‘sexy’ rather than ‘adult’


Gals Panic 3 (Korea) Gals Panic 3 (Korea) Gals Panic 3 (Korea)
Gals Panic 3 (World) Gals Panic 3 (World) Gals Panic 3 (World)
(The Korean version of Gals Panic III, shown at the top has a less adult theme)

Time Fighter is a Brazilian ‘clone’ fitting with the ones added last year in the sense that it’s actually a completely rewritten game rather than a hack of the existing code. Unfortunately it still needs work because the hardware isn’t quite 100% Galaxian, I can only assume they had to extend the capabilities slightly to handle the game.


Time Fighter Time Fighter
(Time Fighter is a rewritten version of Time Pilot on Galaxian hardware, released in Brazil)

We’ve known about the connection between Namco and Sidam of Italy for a while and seen a number of boards manufactured by Sidam with slightly different versions of regular Namco games. Most of the time you wouldn’t however know they were Italian releases unless you already know they came from the Sidam boards, so it was quite surprising to see the Sidam release of Phozon actually have complete Italian text.


Phozons Phozons
(It was surprising to see the Sidam version of Phozon actually contain Italian strings)

A German version of Afterburner II instead only provides a minimal translation, you’d easily be excused for thinking it was just a bootleg, but the Test Mode version number is higher than the regular English release so maybe it has some hidden secrets in the form of bug fixes if somebody decides to pull the code apart?


Afterburner II German Afterburner II German
(The German Afterburner II has a minimal amount of text translated)

Also possibly relating to the German market (despite being a Japan set) is the dump of P47 Freedom Fighter, the original game features a number of Nazi symbols on the aircraft, the new clone has them removed, possibly because Jaleco realized some markets would be sensitive to such things or flat out ban the product.


P47 The Freedom Fighter P47 The Freedom Fighter
(The new P47 Freedom Fighter clone still claims it’s for use in Japan, but has Nazi symbols censored)

When dealing with the smaller markets it can be difficult to know if games are legitimate releases, or cheap hacks, especially in areas where bootlegging was prolific. Take for example the ‘Taiwan’ Pipe Dream clone that showed up, it looks legitimate enough, but none of the actual ingame text beyond the warning screen has been changed from the Japanese version we have supported. Was it actually released like this?

Pipe Dream (Taiwan?) Pipe Dream (Taiwan?)
(Why does a Taiwan version of Pipe Dream have the same text as a Japan version?)

The Korean market is an especially difficult one to judge, we know a lot of PCBs were produced there, but it’s never clear if some of the Korean translations were real licensed releases, or ones done locally without a license but in order to better appeal to the customer base. We saw that happen a lot in Europe (and I’ll talk about some Spanish sets shortly) but it’s not easy to know for sure with these either. Many of these games change graphic roms in addition to the programs (in order to add the Korean characters) and in some cases (as with Prehistoric Isle added a previous year) it seems like either some bits got missed (corrupt characters) or the rom dumps were incomplete. Anyway, one such addition from last year was Ikari III,


Ikari III - Korea Ikari III - Korea
Ikari III - Korea Ikari III - Korea
(The Korean Ikari III provides a complete translation)

Staying with Korea there was a Korean version of WWF Wrestlefest located, with very similar attract screens as the Japanese version (including the Tecmo copyright) but showing a small ‘Korea Only’ text.


WWF Wrestlefest (Korea) WWF Wrestlefest (Korea)
(Minimal changes indicate this Wrestlefest set was for the Korean market)

One thing we do know for sure from previous years (see the 2012 write-up) is that ‘Taito do Brasil’ operated far outside of what any kind of license agreements would have permitted, acting more like a bootlegger than any kind of official part of Taito. Old Space Invaders and Galaxian style boards were common in Brazil at the time but it was still surprising to see a Brazilian release of Taito’s Indian Battle show up. This game was incredibly rare, even in Japan and was one of the first really expensive PCBs that was purchased by people supporting the project so to find out a version, with fully translated text, was released in Brazil was definitely unexpected. The copyright date shown is 3 years later, which shows you that arcade technology in Brazil was lagging behind the rest of the world, the original game is from 1980.


Indian Battle (Brazil) Indian Battle (Brazil)
Indian Battle (Brazil) Indian Battle (Brazil)
(Indian Battle was a VERY rare Taito game, so seeing a version by Taito do Brasil was surprising)

Back to Taiwan, and we’ve got “Cheng Ba Shi Jie – Chao Shi Kong Guan Jun” which oddly displays a for use in Hong Kong only warning. Another hack? I don’t know.


Ultra Champ (Taiwan) (Hong Kong??) Ultra Champ (Taiwan) (Hong Kong??)
Ultra Champ (Taiwan) (Hong Kong??) Ultra Champ (Taiwan) (Hong Kong??)
(Cheng Ba Shi Jie – Chao Shi Kong Guan Jun, is this for Taiwan of Hong Kong??)

Some clones we find end up making situations even more confusing, rather than clearing things up, we see that in full effect with the IGS PGM Knights of Valor Superheroes clones. The original Knights of Valor Superheroes saw an English language release, we know that, but after that what is official and what is not becomes very unclear.

A new clone “Sangoku Senki: Yi Tong Zhong Yuan” showed up last year (Sangoku Senki being the Chinese name for Knights of Valor) what is interesting is that it appears to be a version of Knights of Valor Superheroes PLUS, but was released before the known sets, and uses protection a lot closer to the regular Knights of Valor Superheroes. Let’s have a look at the mostly working versions and the header strings they contain.

Sangoku Senki Super Heroes kovsh SANGO EX V104 03/24/00 11:15:25 Superheroes
Sangoku Senki: Yi Tong Zhong Yuan kovytzy SANGO EX+ V201 03/05/04 15:16:08  Yi Tong Zhong Yuan
Sangoku Senki Super Heroes Plus kovshp HERO V101 12/02/05 11:12:38 Superheroes Plus
Sangoku Senki Super Heroes Plus kovshpa HERO V100 09/13/04 16:20:36
Sangoku Senki: Aoshi Sanguo kovshxas AOSHISANGUO V202CN 25/08/08 09:59:26 Superheros
Sangoku Senki: Quan Huang San Guo Special kovqhsgs QHSGP EX V303CN 08/08/08 19:03:25 Superheros

(Trying to establish where the new Knights of Valor set fits in)


Note, there are several obvious bootlegs too which don’t currently work because they have their own protection, I haven’t included them. The Quan Huang San Guo Special is also a bootleg, it has characters ripped from SNK’s King of Fighters series so is rather obvious. The Aoshi Sanguo set is almost certainly a bootleg too, the logo looks hacked in. The non-working bootlegs have WDF text in the headers, as can be seen on the title screen of other bootleg. Some of them might be the versions with Street Fighter characters that are known to exist.

What’s interesting here is where the new clone fits in, and the header it has been given. It has a string of “SANGO EX+” (which would be Superheroes Plus) whereas the actual Super Heroes Plus sets we recognize as Super Heroes Plus have a string of “HERO”.

Furthermore the new set retains the original copyright details (including the original 1999 year) on the title screen, whereas the ‘kovshp’ HERO set does away with them. However there are other significant changes to the presentation and the codebase + date codes suggest strongly that one isn’t a simple hack of the other. There’s a further problem however, the obvious bootlegs (such as the one with the King of Fighters characters) with their 2008 build dates also look like different code bases, rather than being hacked from any existing set, compounding the issue is that they have their own protection too, as if they’re based on something newer or were somehow actually made by somebody working at IGS with access to the original code. Needless to say this is a messy situation and there must be something going on that we don’t yet understand.

For certain types of games, usually Gambling, but sometimes just Gambling themed games you end up with an interesting legal situations meaning that you not only require versions for different countries, but also versions for different regions within those countries, or in the case of America, different states. We see this with some of the Touchmaster clones that were added during the year, with versions specific to Minnesota and New Jersey added, with clear legal exemptions to state laws shown on the boot screen. Maybe not fascinating if all you want to do is run them in MAME, but interesting because it helps provide evidence for how certain arcade games were regulated. I’m not sure it applies to these sets, but in some cases we even see specific games excluded from the collections in some regions because they simply can’t conform to legal requirements.


Touchmaster 7000 Touchmaster 7000
Touchmaster 7000 Touchmaster 7000
(Touchmaster even had different clones for different states in the US)

While on the subject of local laws, Subsino were one company who exported a large number of their titles to Italy, often under different localized names. Super Treasure Island is one such game, it was released in Italy as Tesorone Dell’Isola with the usual legal disclaimers you find on Italian gambling games.


Super Treasure Island (Italy) Super Treasure Island (Italy)
Super Treasure Island (Italy) Super Treasure Island (Italy)
(Subsino exported many games to Italy with modifications needed for the Italian market, this is Super Treasure Island)


Communities supporting MAME – The Spanish Sets

A big positive for the year was seeing the Spanish emulation community come together to provide dumps of many of the regional clones and bootlegs that populated the Spanish arcades back in the day. This was important for a number of reasons, firstly because it helps document their arcades, shows which games were popular enough there to be cloned and bootlegged many times over, but also because it shows that we do care about documenting these things, many people seem to be under the impression that we don’t! Names like Recreativos Franco (who made the Spy Hunter board) pop up frequently here and a number of their offerings are just as interesting as that Spy Hunter board because they use clearly different base code revisions, but others seem like nothing but cheap hacks!

Unsurprisingly Scramble was a popular game in Spain with many versions of it on the market. The Recreativos Franco version is the most clean looking version, while the Reben S.A. one has slightly modified graphics and new music.


Scramble bootlegs Scramble bootlegs Scramble bootlegs
Scramble bootlegs Scramble bootlegs Scramble bootlegs
(Scramble was a popular game to bootleg, the Spanish market was no exception to this)

Moon Cresta was also a popular game, much as it was elsewhere. I’m actually going to cheat and include a ‘Star Fighter’ bootleg here as well, it wasn’t sourced in Spain, but is clearly another interesting version, they redrew a lot of the graphics on that one.


Moon Cresta bootlegs Moon Cresta bootlegs Moon Cresta bootlegs
Moon Cresta bootlegs Moon Cresta bootlegs Moon Cresta bootlegs
(Moon Cresta also had countless bootlegs!)

Also no surprise is that there were regional versions of Pacman. Both of these are quite interesting, the Recreativos Franco version because all the code is shifted around a bit and the coinage is different so it could be based on a different original build (or be an actual licensed version) and the ‘Video Game’ bootleg because it has a high score name feature added. The Recreativos Franco version had full cabinet art with the title ‘Pacuman’. In addition to the ones mentioend here there was a regular MS Pacman bootleg running on the same board as the ‘Video Game’ bootleg of Pacman (the board has ‘Made in Greece’ markings and is a more modern looking production than official boards) I think the board was originally made to run that bootleg rather than this Pacman version, but the actual game looks identical to the regular MS Pacman so is less interesting.


Pacuman Puckman (Video Game bootleg)
Pacuman Puckman (Video Game bootleg)
(and naturally a game as Iconic as Pacman had local versions too, although I still wonder if Pacuman was actually a real license)

Phoenix also stands as one of the most bootlegged games of all time and there was no exception to that for the Spanish market with 2 versions showing up, and others rumored. We’ve already had a Spanish bootleg called ‘Next Fase’ supported for several years, so these are in addition to that.


Ave Fenix Phoenix (Sonic bootleg)
Ave Fenix Phoenix (Sonic bootleg)
(Phoenix, another popular target for bootleggers again saw Spain get several translated versions)

Uni War S couldn’t escape the bootleggers either, 2 very similar versions of that turned up as well, one is probably a bootleg of the bootleg.


Uni War S bootlegs Uni War S bootlegs
Uni War S bootlegs Uni War S bootlegs
(The number of bootlegs of Uni War S continues to be surprising because it’s a much lesser known game)

Those are all ‘expected’ bootlegs, so you might wonder why I’ve bothered to cover them, especially when I haven’t mentioned quite a lot of original clones that were dumped over the years. I guess in part it’s because I want to highlight the message that we do care about such things (as I already mentioned) and also because they were of interest to me, and unlike a lot of bootlegs you can see a significant amount of effort went into them. There were some more unusual Spanish clones / bootlegs too, for games you might not expect.

Battle Zone stands as one of the more interesting bootlegs, mainly because it’s a bootleg of ‘May Day’ but May Day itself is clearly derived from some kind of version of Defender, but doesn’t play like Defender at all; you have to wonder if they’re originally bootlegged from some unreleased prototype. This bootleg gives the ‘Video Game’ copyright, and like a number of the Spanish ones has a screen telling you that you’re on your last life. May Day itself lacks any kind of copyright message. It’s strange to see such an obscure title get this level of treatment hence why I class it as one of the more memorable bootlegs discovered. It could also have easily been overlooked due to sharing it’s name with the much more popular Atari vector game, a fate which has no doubt seen a number of other rare games either lost or not recognized as something that is needed.


Battle Zone Battle Zone
Battle Zone Battle Zone
(Battle Zone is a bootleg of May Day which is probably a bootleg of something else or derived from Defender)

Another bootleg that could easily have fallen victim to this, especially with both originating in Spain is ‘Speed Up’, a bootleg of Pole Position. Gaelco later used the very same name for a 3D Racing Game, often confusing people who grew up knowing ‘Pole Position’ by that name. It’s not the most interesting of bootlegs, some replaced billboards like the Italian bootlegs, but no real localization beyond that.


Speed Up (Pole Position bootleg) Speed Up (Pole Position bootleg)
(This bootleg of Pole Position shares it’s name with a later release from Gaelco)

Cosmic Guerilla is an old, and apparently quite rare game so it was more surprising to see a bootleg of that. The bootleg also raises some important questions about the quality of the dump of the original set that MAME recognizes. Currently if you run the original set in MAME it get stuck during the attract mode, apparently there used to be a hack (ROM patch) to avoid this, but it was removed. The new bootleg set doesn’t do this, but does however have an issue of it’s own; the player ship (and a few other objects) leave unsightly trails. I have a feeling both sets could actually have bad roms, not due to a dumping error but simply due to the deterioration of the chips with old (the trails are confirmed to happen on the board the new bootleg set was dumped from) We could definitely do with the ROMs for the original version verifying against another original board.

Cosmic Guerilla (Inder bootleg) Cosmic Guerilla (Inder bootleg)
(A Spanish bootleg of Cosmic Guerilla makes me question the integrity of the ROM dumps we’re using for the original)

In addition to Cosmic Guerilla Inder SA also put out a version of Satan of Saturn, it isn’t translated but does contain an extra ROM with additional code in it. I don’t know if the bootleg is based on an undumped original version or if the extra code is something specific to modifications made by Inder, it could do with some analysis!

Not all the Spanish sets found were bootlegs however. While it appears to have been popular to bootleg games imported from the US and Japan it also appears to have been popular for European manufacturers to actually work together on both production of the PCBs, distribution and development. A connection between Itisa of Spain and Valadon of France was already known about so it was good to see the version of Le Bagnard (Bagman) that was sold in Spain by Itisa dumped and added. We’re actually still missing the original version of ‘Botanic’ which was made by Itisa and sold in France by Valadon, hopefully one day it will show up.


Bagman Itisa Bagman Itisa
(Itisa and Valadon worked closely together, licensing each others games)

Tecfri managed to license Bomb Jack from Tehkan for the Spanish market. There’s nothing especially interesting about the set but it’s worth mentioning because Tecfri did produce a few games of their own too.


Bomb Jack Tecfri Bomb Jack Tecfri
(Bomb Jack was sold in Spain by Tecfri, Tecfri were responsible for a number of original Spanish games)


Home Sweet Home!

The Japanese versions of games originally developed in Japan are usually the most important versions, in many senses those are the games in the form they were originally designed. When the games are exported difficulty levels often get changed without any extensive testing to make sure things are still balanced, story gets cut because it wasn’t translated, excess blood and violence is censored, and countless other minor changes are made, rarely for the better.

If you want a true reference for how a game was meant to be it’s vital that you look at the Japanese releases, or, for the case of games that weren’t developed in Japan, the release corresponding to where the game was developed because the same applies!

The newest Japan version of Street Fighter II was already highlighted in a previous part of this section, but we’ve seen support added for Japanese versions for a number of other titles too. SNK’s Mechanized Attack was one such title.


Mechanized Attack Japan Mechanized Attack Japan Mechanized Attack Japan Mechanized Attack Japan
(There was previously no Japanese version of Mechanized Attack supported)

Sega’s Dynamite Dux got a Japanese set supported for the first time, as did Turbo Outrun. Further Japanese clones of Cotton, Eswat, D.D Crew were also added, often with unique encrypted CPUs that needed dumping too so always good to see those done, even if there’s nothing to really show here.

Turbo Outrun Japan Turbo Outrun Japan Turbo Outrun Japan
Dynamite Dux Japan Dynamite Dux Japan Dynamite Dux Japan
(Japanese versions of 2 Sega titles)

Looking at Taito instead a Japanese Chase Bombers is now supported, that makes it 2 additional variations of Chase Bombers supported because we also saw the prototype version dumped as I’ve already covered.

The Japanese release of Continental Circus was added too, although this appears to ONLY work with the deluxe ‘3D’ cabinet, and therefore flickers wildly under MAME. A Japanese release of Enforce also designed for the 3D cabinet (and more complex analog controls) as also added, although the controls haven’t yet been hooked up properly! While it’s a non-working game a fresh dump of Air Inferno coming from a Japanese board allowed an error to be corrected in the source (it was thought a ROM was missing from the other set, but that was an incorrect assumption)


Continental Circus Japan Continental Circus Japan Continental Circus Japan
Enforce  Japan Enforce  Japan Enforce Japan
Air Inferno Japan Air Inferno Japan Air Inferno Japan
Chase Bombers Japan Chase Bombers Japan Chase Bombers Japan
(Lots of Japanese clones of Taito games, not all working drivers tho)

The Japanese version of Grand Striker contains the original team lineup, all the other versions use extra ROMs to replace the final 2 teams with different ones, the driver as a whole still needs work tho, the rotation layer used for the ground still makes as little sense as ever.


Grand Striker Japan Grand Striker Japan Grand Striker Japan
(The Japanese release of Grand Striker uses different teams, including, unsurprisingly Japan, this is the original lineup)

Sometimes Japanese versions can look strange tho, even if the games are developed in Japan they’re sometimes based heavily on American IP, as is the case for the WWF wrestling games. A proper complete dump of the Japanese WWF Superstars allowed that to run with full Japanese text.


WWF Superstars (Japan) WWF Superstars (Japan)
WWF Superstars (Japan) WWF Superstars (Japan)
(You associate the WWF more with America than Japan, but the games were developed in Japan)

An unusual one is ‘T.T. Fitter’ which turned up on what appeared to be a bootleg board, however Taito were known the use ‘T.T’ to describe some of their games (Table Top? Cocktail versions?) so it might actually be an original release of the game. The parent in MAME at the moment is Round Up, which seems wrong to me because that’s a licensed version.

I’ve already mentioned the Japanese Zombie Raid and Dragon Gun sets so no pictures of those here. Other Japanese releases like Punch Out!! and Suzuka 8 Hours 2 were added, but it’s hard to see any real difference.


I can understand that now!

I’ve talked about clones from all around the World, highlighted where we’ve found Japanese language sets, Korean language sets, as well as ones from a variety of European countries, but sometimes what interests people the most is when an English language version of a game is discovered when that game was previously only known to exist in Japanese.

Sometimes those English language versions are actually Asian releases, Korean releases were often released in English, and that might well be the case with Gallop Racer, a new set was added with full English texts, but the version number on startup has a ‘K’ appended to it, possibly indicating it was for the Korean market.


Gallop Racer Gallop Racer
Gallop Racer Gallop Racer
(An English version of Gallop Racer, possibly for the Korean market)

Shanghai III is another where an English language set (this time for the US market) was uncovered.


Shanghai III Shanghai III
(We didn’t know there was a Shanghai III in English until it showed up)

Sega’s Strike Fighter was another

Sega Strike Fighter Sega Strike Fighter
(There really isn’t much different with Strike Fighter, just a few bits of text on the how to play screens)

Even a world version of Namco’s Star Blade was added, although there really is no visible difference apart from the startup warning being absent.

One recent source of bootlegs has been official online services offering games for playing on current day consoles, for example the Virtual Console service and official re-releases of games using emulators for ‘classic’ modes and such. Sometimes unreleased games, or at least unreleased versions of games end up on such services and are promptly ripped and used on bootleg boards. One such example of this is Wonder Boy in Monster Land. For a long time the only known arcade versions of the game with the text in English were bootlegs with questionable translations done by the bootleggers. What’s odd is the home versions were all said to be based on an official English translation, a translation that had actually been done by Sega, for the arcade version, but there was no trace of that arcade version at all. That version did end up being released on Nintendo’s Virtual Console platform, confirming it existed, at least in some form, and PCBs that ran the existing bootleg versions ended up being converted to this new version and sold.

Unfortunately these versions have a few bugs, for example trying to use your magic weapon will cause the game to pause and consume your entire stock, I suspect this is due to changes made to the game before it was released on Virtual Console in order to work around bugs in their emulator, but with the side-effect of introducing new bugs when running on real hardware or in an emulator doing a proper job. It is still unknown if a REAL, non-bootleg English language version will turn up, but for now it’s quite interesting to see how ‘modern bootleggers’ (eBay sellers etc.) made use of this version we were gifted in order to try and get better prices for their junk. Below are some screenshots of the various versions, this new version is shown in the middle.


Wonderboy Monster Land old bootleg Wonderboy Monster Land modern bootleg Wonderboy Monster Land old bootleg
Wonderboy Monster Land old bootleg Wonderboy Monster Land modern bootleg Wonderboy Monster Land old bootleg
(Current day bootleggers have seized upon Virtual Console releases to make new bootlegs, this one, center, has an interesting backstory)


All the other clones…

If you’ve contributed a clone to MAME and I’ve not mentioned it, don’t worry, there are many clones I haven’t mentioned but every single one that was included is worthwhile to our documentation efforts. The ones I’ve mentioned are typically the ones with more of a story behind them, or where I feel people are likely to want to investigate things a bit more. Random clones, even ones without a version numbers are important to support, as are alt. regions because they all help build up a more complete picture. This applies to both Arcade games and Home systems, although obviously it’s easier to tell if a ROM is the same as another ROM as opposed to dumps form CDs and cassette tapes where other factors come into play.

One thing I have continued to notice, especially with the home systems is the sheer number of missing originals. A lot of the collections like TOSEC only have trained, or hacked images, or worse, memory dump / snapshot files of certain games. It seems for a lot of original cassette and disk based systems no real effort is being put into dumping them. While as an end user you might also consider such things to be ‘clones’ I continue to feel it is important that original versions of games, as well as the pirate versions get documented.

So please, if I haven’t mentioned a clone here don’t be put off, it’s simply that I could write an article the size of this one on the clones alone so have to be selective in my coverage!


Console Improvements (where Arcade platforms have also improved)


There was a period earlier in the year when progress was being made blow for blow on improving the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation emulation. I think it’s fair to say the Playstation won out in the end because it’s a system much more amicable to the way MAME / MESS works than the multi-core beast that is the Saturn but it did lead to some worthwhile improvements both to the emulation of the consoles and emulation of arcade games using the hardware, although especially with the Saturn there is now a lot of room for optimization.


Part 1 : Sega Saturn

Specific fixes were mentioned for a number of Saturn titles, including ‘Heisei Tensai Bakabon Susume! Bakabons’ allowing the inputs to work.


Heisei Tensai Bakabon Susume! Bakabons Heisei Tensai Bakabon Susume! Bakabons
(A fix made to the Saturn emulation allowed for functioning controls in Heisei Tensai Bakabon Susume! Bakabons)

and improvements to the Saturn DSP emulation (a criminally underused sub-CPU) allowing Magical Hoppers to run, although emulation of this is VERY slow, and a number of other titles using it appear to have regressed when it was converted to a real CPU core.


Magical Hoppers Magical Hoppers
Magical Hoppers Magical Hoppers
(Magical Hoppers makes use of the Saturn DSP, although it runs slowly as a result)

Fixes to the disc reading improved things like Zero Divide, although also started to reveal issues with the actual CHD images being used, and flaws in the conversion process from the original .cue / .bin files due to vagueness in the specification and a number of images breaking the rules and ending up being incorrectly converted (the whole Software List for this and the Playstation as well as any other CD systems really needs revisiting as a result)


Zero Divide Zero Divide
Zero Divide Zero Divide
(Other Saturn improvements saw Zero Divide start working)

Some VDP emulation fixes helped the Saturn version of Virtual On..


Virtual On Virtual On
(Improvements to the Saturn video emulation helped the Saturn version of Virtual On)

One of the less common Sega Saturn setups was games utilizing a ROM cartridge in addition to the CD. Until last year the cartridge for “Ultraman – Hikari no Kyojin Densetsu” was not dumped and the game wasn’t playable. Once this situation was resolved the game started to run in our driver, although does still have stability problems due to emulation issues. Having a documented and verified ROM dump does of course help with running it in other Saturn emulators tho.


Ultraman - Hikari no Kyojin Densetsu Ultraman - Hikari no Kyojin Densetsu
Ultraman - Hikari no Kyojin Densetsu Ultraman - Hikari no Kyojin Densetsu
(The support cartridge for the Saturn game Ultraman was dumped and added to the Softare List making it clearer how to get the game to boot)/

Just for good measure I tried a bunch of other Saturn titles and made screenshots of them. Performance is also very poor on many of these tho, some of them definitely ran better around the time the fixes were made than they do now, especially things like PD Ultraman Link.


Keio Flying Squadron 2 Keio Flying Squadron 2

Amok Amok
Amok Amok

GT24 GT24

Magic Carpet Magic Carpet

Fighters Megamix Fighters Megamix

Steam Heart's Steam Heart's

Powerslave Powerslave
Powerslave Powerslave

High Velocity Mountain Racing Challenge High Velocity Mountain Racing Challeng

Ninja Jajamaru-kun - Onigiri Ninpouchou Gold Ninja Jajamaru-kun - Onigiri Ninpouchou Gold
Ninja Jajamaru-kun - Onigiri Ninpouchou Gold Ninja Jajamaru-kun - Onigiri Ninpouchou Gold

Ninpen Manmaru Ninpen Manmaru
Ninpen Manmaru Ninpen Manmaru

PD Ultraman Link PD Ultraman Link
(A selection of Saturn games)

The Saturn improvements also fixed long-standing issues with the ST-V driver, most notably from my point of view the irritating issue that was causing a number of games to boot up with 2 credits already inserted. Some unique games also improved to the point of being playable “Zenkoku Seifuku Bishoujo Grand Prix Find Love” being one of them.


Find Love Find Love
Find Love Find Love
(Arcade title Zenkoku Seifuku Bishoujo Grand Prix Find Love was fixed by the Saturn improvements)

Video rendering for the modes used in Virtual Mahjong II – My Fair Lady was another fix made over the course of the year. The Saturn is a very flexible system, so a lot of screen modes and effect combinations are only used in a handful of places, this one was rather uncommon.


My Fair Lady My Fair Lady
My Fair Lady My Fair Lady
(Visuals in arcade title Virtual Mahjong II – My Fair Lady were also improved as a result of the Saturn console fixes)

Unrelated to the console improvements was a fix for the game logic in Tecmo World Cup ’98. Unfortunately it’s more of a workaround than a fix, the game checks some values in the data it passes through the protection device when decrypting the title screen logos etc. so while the correct values to pass the protection check have been found the title logos are still corrupt because the encryption hasn’t been figured out.

Tecmo World Cup '98 Tecmo World Cup '98
(Protection was bypassed in Tecmo World Cup ’98, fixing the gameplay rules)

As you can gather from my constant mentions of performance issues and regressions throughout this section the driver(s) for the Saturn based platforms still need a lot of work, hopefully we’ll see more improvements in the coming year to address both compatibility and performance issues. There are games I wanted to include screenshots of in this writeup that definitely worked earlier in the year, but don’t work at the moment, so it’s worth trying earlier builds.


Part 2 : Sony Playstation

We entered the year with the Playstation driver not in the best of shape, but with people showing an interest in improving it. The biggest step towards this was getting the actual Playstation driver to boot CDs, this opened up many new test cases for the emulation, highlighting countless defects and providing the opportunity to fix many bugs. Things like Dual Shock controllers and Memory Cards are now supported, the video emulation has seen countless fixes and much more.

As mentioned above, improvements to the Saturn driver were going head to head with improvements to the Playstation driver at one point so I ended up doing quite a lot of testing of the Playstation driver around that point. Let’s have a look at a random selection of games that now run in the Playstation driver starting with Woody Woodpecker Racing, a relatively unknown title, but one for which a game specific fix was made.


Woody Woodpecker Racing Woody Woodpecker Racing
(One of many fixes made to the Playstation emulation was to fix Woody Woodpecker Racing)

There are countless other Playstation based titles that are also now perfectly playable in the driver. All the games shown below appeared to perform well with minimal glitches.

X2 X2
Tall Twins Tower Tall Twins Tower
X-Bladez X-Bladez
Shake Kids Shake Kids
Playstation Playstation
Playstation Playstation
Playstation Playstation
Playstation Playstation
Playstation Playstation
(A random selection of Playstation games I tried, most seemed to work very well!)

Just for laughs I tried running the NES emulator for the Playstation, it also works well.

NES emulator for PSX NES emulator for PSX
(Is it an Amstrad CPC? Is it a NES? no, it’s a NES emulator for the Playstation)

Finally, just because I was curious I tried running the Playstation Bubble Bobble II prototype, it works fine. I found out about the existence of this prototype when searching for any possible information about the Arcade version prototype that was dumped last year. This prototype is of course a prototype of a port of the final game to the Playstation rather than a prototype of the actual game, it was apparently set for release but is so full of stupid bugs and incorrect game logic it’s probably a good job it wasn’t! One of the most famous examples of a bug in this is the way the ‘PRESS START’ icon for the 2nd player still has collisions enabled and causes bubbles to pop even during a one player game!

Bubble Bobble II (playstation prototype) Bubble Bobble II (playstation prototype)
(The Bubble Bobble 2 Playstation prototype is completely unrelated to the arcade one that was dumped)

While compatibility and performance of the Playstation driver is very good (with the majority of titles staying above 100%) it does still have limitations. Games protected using the libcrypt system don’t work due to limitations of our CD code, and an inability to convert the various simulation files that exist into real CHD sub-data, or convert clone CD images. Likewise many games have issues with black screens during FMV sequences. Some also have obvious visual glitches like Worms Pinball (shown below). Overall the progress is impressive however, and in my opinion one of the most significant improvements made in the past year.


Worms Pinball Worms Pinball
(Not everything in the PSX driver worked as well as I had hoped however, it still has limitations..)

If we look at the arcade side of things and the various hardware platforms based on the Playstation that were used there then the year just gone saw long standing glitches in a number of games fixed in addition to a couple of titles being improved to the point where they could be marked as working.

One such game was Night Raid, there is a Playstation version of this too but the arcade version is the one I’m looking at here, it runs on the Taito G-Net platform which is essentially a much higher clocked Playstation. Previously it had lots of missing graphics but those are now fixed. Interestingly I’m told the Playstation version suffers from the same issue in some of the popular Playstation emulators, I didn’t try it in ours tho.


Night Raid Night Raid
Night Raid Night Raid
(Taito G-Net game Night Raid improved and became playable as a result of the Playstation console fixes)

Aother G-Net game to gain playable status was Zooo. Previously only half the graphics would draw rendering the game unplayable.

Zooo Zooo
(Zooo now correctly displays all the playfield graphics so is properly playable)

One example of where an already playable game ended up being improved was pointed out too. Prior to the Playstation improvements the moon was missing in the Street Fighter EX intro sequence, it’s there now.


Street Fighter EX Street Fighter EX
(Other emulation fixes made the moon visible in the Street Fighter EX attract mode)

The drivers for the Playstation based dance titles also saw some new dumps supported and general cleanups applied. The ‘Digital’ ones are still non-functional, but things like Dancing Stage ‘Internet Ranking Version’ are amongst the titles now promoted to Working state.

Dancing Stage - Internet Ranking ver. Dancing Stage - Internet Ranking ver.
Dancing Stage - Internet Ranking ver. Dancing Stage - Internet Ranking ver.
(The Internet Ranking version of Dancing Stage now works)


Part 3 : Sega Dreamcast

First of all, don’t expect any Dreamcast or Naomi stuff to be running at playable speeds in MAME just yet.. This section is merely to highlight some progress that has been made on the driver. One feature of the Dreamcast a lot of the console titles used was the YUV encoding, typically used for video sequences. For GD-ROM based games on the console this made a lot of sense as the way things were setup meant such data could be streamed from the GD-ROM where they had plenty of space to waste on such things. Until the actual Dreamcast was emulated this feature wasn’t really high in the list of priorities because very few arcade titles used it (Space is at a premium for Naomi games because everything is loaded into RAM once at startup) At least one arcade game did however use the feature for movies, and that game is Lupin The Shooting.


Lupin The Shooting Lupin The Shooting Lupin The Shooting
Lupin The Shooting Lupin The Shooting Lupin The Shooting
(YUV decoder improvements allow the video sequences to play in Naomi title Lupin the Shooting)

Like I mentioned tho, this all came about due to work on the actual Dreamcast emulation, which amongst other things is now capable of actually booting some GD-ROM Images. A variety of changes were also made to the PowerVR emulation allowing for the semi-transparent solid colour shapes used in the system menus to be drawn etc.


Dreamcast (Japan) Dreamcast (Japan)
(The system menus on the actual Dreamcast were improved too)

Not many games boot, and most of the ones that do hang after a few screens or don’t respond to any inputs, but you can get Chu Chu Rocket to progress to gameplay at least. In all honesty I didn’t spend long testing this because it all takes too long to do anything.


Chu Chu Rocket (Dreamcast) Chu
Chu Chu Rocket (Dreamcast) Chu
(Not many Dreamcast games run, but Chu Chu Rocket can get to gameplay)

While it’s nothing to do with the actual Dreamcast emulation improvements a number of Naomi games were added during the year, as you’d expect the emulation is preliminary, but Mars Tv. and Shakatto Tambourine 2K1 SPR do boot. Crackin’ DJ Part 2 complains about the JVS board, while Touch de Uno! appears to crash the CPU while lodaing.


Mars TV Mars TV Mars TV
Shakatto Tambourine 2k1 SPR Shakatto Tambourine 2k1 SPR Shakatto Tambourine 2k1 SPR
(A selection of Naomi additions)
Crackin' DJ 2
(Not all of them boot tho, Crackin’ DJ 2 wants a custom IO board emulated)


Other Console Improvements


While it might have gone mostly unnoticed it’s been a year of significant changes for other big name Console systems in the project too, although often in low-key areas.

Drivers like the Sega Master System have continued to mature and advance thanks to a steady flow of submissions, with attention being given to a number of peripherals and the specific behavior of various clone models which many unofficial converted games released to the Asian markets rely upon to function correctly.


SNES

Old design warts have also been ironed out for things like the SNES, with add-on chips now correctly installed at runtime rather than having to be designated as separate systems. This provides a boost for usability, although performance for many of the add-on chips is still lacking and has dropped over the course of the changes. This applies feature applies to all the add-on chips, both first-party Nintendo, and others created by the likes of Seta. This is a very important improvement as previously you had to know exactly what was in the cartridge and run it on the correct (fake) machine type, now you don’t have to worry about that, only the performance issues some of the chips bring!


Exhaust Heat 2 Exhaust Heat 2
Super Mario Kart Super Mario Kart
Stunt Race FX Stunt Race FX
(SNES games using special chips can be launched from the Software List without requiring special machine types now)

The new slot system allows addons which had their own slots like the Sufami Turbo to actually act more like the original hardware and present additional slots to the user when mounted, again rather than having to be treated as a separate system.

Sufami Turbo Sufami Turbo
Sufami Turbo Sufami Turbo
(The slot system improvements allow easier use of the Sufami Turbo too)

The BS Card support works in a similar way, adding an extra slot. Below is Same Game both with and without a memory pack.

Same Game Same Game
(Preliminary support for the BS unit allows us to see the different title screens in Same Game)

There are of course some SNES add-on chips that MESS doesn’t emulate yet, the knowledge is out there, but either the underlying emulation isn’t good enough, or simply nobody has applied that knowledge to the project yet. Work is being done to change that however and some of the more specific changes and improvements to the SNES emulation came in the form of improvements to the emulation of the SA-1 add-on chip and identification of a few games that use it but weren’t being marked as such, Super Shougi 3 for example.


Super Shougi 3 Super Shougi 3
(Some games had previously not been correctly identified in terms of the extra chips they use)

Other games already known to use the chip saw significant improvements due to more complete emulation of the chip, the Mario RPG being a well known one.

Mario RPG Mario RPG
(SA-1 improvements made Super Mario RPG look better)

With the new functionality it was also possible to emulate things like the Powerfest ’94 competition cartridge.


Powerfest '94 Powerfest '94
(The Powerfest ’94 Competition cart runs too)

The SNES, like so many systems had a collection of unlicensed games, usually tied to other popular IP. While on systems like the Mega Drive / Genesis some of this material wasn’t too bad the quality of the SNES releases appears to be diabolical, with games barely playable at all. We now emulate the protection on a number of them avoiding the need for patched dumps at least. The unlicensed version of Aladdin is amusing because the SNES did actually get an Aladdin release, but it was a completely different game made by Capcom, instead of using that as a base the people making this unlicensed version ripped all the graphics from the Mega Drive version and attempt to make a ‘game’ around them. The fighting games suffer from barely any animation and nearly entirely unresponsive controls, by design.


Aladdin 2000 SNES Aladdin 2000 SNES Aladdin 2000 SNES
Tekken 2 SNES Tekken 2 SNES Tekken 2 SNES
X-Men Vs Street Fighter SNES X-Men Vs Street Fighter SNES X-Men Vs Street Fighter SNES
Pokemon Stadium SNES Pokemon Stadium2 SNES Pokemon Stadium SNES
(The SNES had a number of unlicensed games, despite Nintendo not wanting any on the platform)

There was also an interesting multi-game bootleg full of NES games, 20 of them, this is one of the few multi-game cartridges where the dump is complete, most have the banks missing due to being dumped with tools that fail to recognize the banking. The actual games currently lack sound and some hang however, this is likely due to flaws in our SNES emulation.

SNES NES Multigame SNES NES Multigame SNES NES Multigame
SNES NES Multigame SNES NES Multigame SNES NES Multigame
(A NES multigame for the SNES, I’m surprised these weren’t more popular!)


Genesis

The Sega MegaDrive / Genesis also benefited from the improved slot system, and while there are less games with additional CPUs in the cartridge (really only the one, Virtua Racing) that can also now be launched using the Software List without having to use a special fake machine type to do so.


Virtua Racing Genesis Virtua Racing Genesis
(The Genesis version of Virtua Racing can now be launched without a special machine type, the extra CPU is automatically added)

The added flexibility also allows cartridges to define their own additional slots leading to the possibility of emulating the Sonic & Knuckles lock-on technology, meaning you can mount the Sonic & Knuckles cart either alone or with any other cartridge plugged in allowing the feature to be used as intended rather than requiring hacked / pre-combined ROM images. This also means you can lock it onto any MD cart and play the randomly generated ‘sphere’ bonus game associated with it.

Sonic + Knuckes lock on tech Sonic + Knuckes lock on tech
Sonic + Knuckes lock on tech Sonic + Knuckes lock on tech
Sonic + Knuckes lock on tech Sonic + Knuckes lock on tech
(The more flexible slot system allows the proper Sonic + Knuckles lock-on mechanism to be emulated)

The way our code is structured also made it easy to add support for the extra hardware found in a number of 3rd party releases, such as Super Fighter Team games ‘Beggar Prince’ and ‘Legend of Wukong’


Beggar Prince Beggar Prince

Legend of Wukong Legend of Wukong
Legend of Wukong Legend of Wukong
(Some unlicensed games with custom SRAM / banking setups can now run)

Some less well known unlicensed games also work without patches, Thunderbolt II for example.


Thunderbolt II Thunderbolt II
Tekken Special Tekken Special Tekken Special
16 Tiles Mahjong 2 16 Tiles Mahjong 2
Chao Ji Da Fu Weng Chao Ji Da Fu Weng Chao Ji Da Fu Weng
Magic Bubble Magic Bubble
Ya Se Chuan Shuo Ya Se Chuan Shuo Ya Se Chuan Shuo
(Other unlicensed games can run without any need to patch the protection as long as you run from the Software List)

and pirate games intended to cash in on popular games for other platforms


Super Mario World 64 Super Mario World 64
(Super Mario World 64 was another pirate game, the protection was emulated rather than patched)/


NES / Famicom

The NES has also seen improvements throughout the year, additional ‘mappers’ supported, corrections to information in the softlists, extra peripherals supported, not to mention the numerous improvements to the original Japanese Famicom.

Games like Impossible Mission II, Klax, Napoleon Senki, and Mei Shao Nv Meng Gong Chang are amongst those to benefit from the improved mapper emulation, in reality many, many games improved due to additional mappers being supported, too many to list here!


Impossible Mission II Impossible Mission II
Impossible Mission II Impossible Mission II
Impossible Mission 2 was one of several games to benefit from improved Mapper support)
c Mei Shao Nv Meng Gong Chang
(Mei Shao Nv Meng Gong Chang was another)
Napoleon Napoleon
(as was Napoleon)
Klax Klax
(.. and Klax)

In some cases the main thing required was to identify the correct mapper a game should be using, in the case of ‘Wei Lai Xiao Zi’ it started working after being set to the correct ‘Sachen TCU-02’ mapper in the Software List.


NES pirate game NES pirate game
(for some games like Wei Lai Xiao Zi we just needed to identify the correct mapper to use)

Mappers like the ones used by the Lagrange Point gained the ability to install the additional sound chips used on those cartridges allowing for proper sound emulation (although the game still has single line raster glitches, a not insignificant problem that still remains in the NES driver)

The Japanese version of Gimmick is another to benefit from an addition sound chip in the cartridge too providing a fuller soundtrack than the non Japanese releases. I’m not sure about the sound balance in these tho, seems wrong to me.


Lanrage Point Lanrage Point
Gimmick (Japan) Gimmick (Japan)
(You can’t *see* the improvements here, but these games now have an extra sound chip hooked up, giving more complete music)

The slot system in MESS also means you can make use of the NES Game Genie (although in reality the MAME cheat system is far more capable). Here we see the Game Genie with Tiny Toons Adventures plugged in, the first screenshot showing a ‘9 lives’ cheat, the 2nd one showing a cheat to start at a later level.

NES Game Genie + Tiny Toons NES Game Genie + Tiny Toons
NES Game Genie + Tiny Toons NES Game Genie + Tiny Toons
(The slot system allows for emulation of a real Game Genie, although the built in cheat system is better)

Nantettatte!! Baseball also gained the ability to have sub-cartridges plugged in for different team lists.


Nantettatte!! Baseball Nantettatte!! Baseball
Nantettatte!! Baseball Nantettatte!! Baseball
(The Nantettatte!! Baseball sub-cartridges allowed the game roster to be updated)

The Japanese version of Arkanoid can be played with the paddle controller now too, assuming you run it on a Japanese NES (Famicom), enable it in the menu and map the buttons correctly. This gives a much more natural experience feeling closer to the arcade version due to the greater freedom of movement (technically this was possible before, but it looks to have been broken for at least 6 years) I believe the USA version already worked with the paddle, but the hardware connects to the regular controller port there instead of the expansion port.


Famicom Arkanoid - with Paddle
Famicom Arkanoid - with Paddle Famicom Arkanoid - with Paddle
(The Famicom version of Arkanoid can now be played with a Paddle)

One of the most interesting NES / Famicom related developments was support for the tape cassettes used by Famicom Basic. This isn’t the most straightforward system to use, different BASIC programs are only compatible with certain versions of BASIC and several games require special loading techniques, and in addition you MUST make sure you have the Famicom keyboard attached in the emulation for anything to work at all. Once you figure all that out tho it can be an interesting experience, you can load several of the games from the cassette tapes listed in the software list (it would probably help if the BASIC ver. / loading type they required was listed) and even LIST the BASIC source of the program after loading them. It’s fair to say none of them are amazingly good games, but it gives insight into a different side of the Famicom.

Famicom Basic - Hero Famicom Basic - Hero
Famicom Basic - Hero Famicom Basic - Hero
Famicom Basic - Hero Famicom Basic - Hero
(Famicom BASIC games can be loaded from Cassette, you can even see the BASIC listing)

Actual Famicom emulation was improved too, it now correctly recognizes the ‘no disk inserted’ condition and does some cute animations with Mario and Luigi..


Missing Floppy Missing Floppy
(The Famicom ‘No Disk’ animation now plays correctly)

I mentioned the Virus (Dr. Mario) prototype for Playchoice 10, well different versions of the same game also turned up for the NES, these were added to the Software List.


Virus (Dr. Mario prototype) Virus (Dr. Mario prototype)
(A version of the ‘Virus’ Dr. Mario prototype was also found for the NES, it differs to the Playchoice version)


NeoGeo Pocket

The NeoGeo Pocket received a number of fixes targeted at fixing problems with specific games. Of note Pocket Tennis for the original monochrome system, and Gals Fighter for the newer colour units both now work.


Pocket Tennis Pocket Tennis Pocket Tennis Pocket Tennis
SNK Gals Fighters SNK Gals Fighters SNK Gals Fighters SNK Gals Fighters SNK Gals Fighters SNK Gals Fighters
Quiz Quiz Quiz Quiz
(NeoGeo Pocket compatibility was already good, but fixes for certain games made it even better)


Other Systems

Some older console / computer systems saw improvements too, for example the Atari 7800 gained support for the ‘XM’ board, a modern expansion unit that gives the system additional RAM (including battery backed RAM for high score saving) and a POKEY chip for improved sound. There was no listed software using this, although the readily available Donkey Kong XM Demo (single loop only) makes use of it, I’ve since added that to the Softlist for easier testing (in 2014). The way this expansion has been hooked up isn’t really in line with current MESS standards as the additional chips have been added to the base model, but I’m sure this can be improved. It was specifically noted with the change to add support for Donkey Kong XM that care was taken not to break Ball Blazer or Commando, although I suspect handling this properly (and only adding the extra chips if the XM unit is attached) would avoid that problem by default.


Donkey Kong XM Donkey Kong XM Donkey Kong XM Donkey Kong XM
Donkey Kong XM Donkey Kong XM Donkey Kong XM Donkey Kong XM
(The XM expansion board for the Atari 7800 was emulated, allowing the modern Donkey Kong XM to play the additional POKEY sounds)

Cartridge support was added to the Acorn Electron driver, but the games I tried (Hopper, a Frogger clone, and Snapper, a Pacman clone) run at a ludicrously fast speed leaving them basically unplayable, it seems like some timers, flags or interrupt generation is very wrong. The educational software ‘Logo’ on the other hand performed well. Useful progress for testing, but hard to really recommend anything here due to the aforementioned driver issue.


Acornsoft Electron Snapper Acornsoft Electron Snapper
Acornsoft Electron Snapper Acornsoft Electron Snapper
(Snapper is a Pacman clone, but runs FAR too fast)

Acornsoft Electron Hopper Acornsoft Electron Hopper
Acornsoft Electron Hopper Acornsoft Electron Hopper
(Hopper is a Frogger clone, but also runs FAR too fast, especially the timer!)

Acorn Electron Logo Acorn Electron Logo
(Logo is a lot more usable)

I talked about Virtual Boy a fair bit in the 2012 write-up, but actually a lot of the important optimizations, and some regression fixes, for that system fell this side of the year. You can for example boot Space Invaders once again, although currently only the ‘2D Classic’ mode is really playable due to some missing graphics in the other mode. It feels a little weird running Space Invaders on this kind of hardware!


Space Invaders Virtual Boy
(The Virtual Boy saw performance improvements, and some small regression fixes during the year, still has a long way to go tho)

It’s not all been good news tho, a number of people are unhappy with changes made to the PC Engine / TG16 driver which have dragged compatibility, performance and usability down compared to last year. Some of these are unavoidable due to the perverse nature of the video system and way in which games do mid-screen resolution changes, with the new code handling them much better and avoiding a lot of ugly scrolling artefacts that were previously present, but a number of the other problems appear to be genuine regressions and the slot system updates also took a toll on the performance compounding the issue.

One of the biggest things with Console emulation in MESS for 2013 was the improvements made to the Save State support. People using MESS for the first time after using other emulators expect things they take for granted like Save States to work fine, but until recently that really wasn’t the case for a large number of the drivers in MESS. We leave 2013 with that situation greatly improved and all the major systems now having reliable saving.


Under The Surface


A lot of work goes into MAME all the time to prepare it for the greater demands of the home systems emulated in the MESS side so it is unsurprising when some of the major changes made throughout the year are to this effect. The 6809 / 6309 / Konami CPU series cores for example were rewritten from scratch with the aim of being much more accurate. The Konami CPU is of course only used by arcade titles, and little accurate timing information is available on it, but the timing of the CPUs on which it is based are now significantly better.

The DSP16 core has also seen improvements, eventually this will be used to properly emulate the Qsound chip found on many Capcom games (with a performance cost of course) but right now it still has too many bugs to run the code properly. There’s also a chance there are still issues with the dump of the internal Qsound rom, although confidence was high enough to make MAME require it as a device ROM for all systems using the Qsound chip. That’s actually another area in which we’ve seen some significant changes under the surface, more and more bits of the emulation are being converted to proper devices, and thus expecting their internal ROMs to be present in the device sets rather than the ROM sets. This model, originating in MESS is also why we can now store the Yamaha sample data in a proper ROM file too.

Sometimes changes have unexpected benefits, one thing we saw rewritten in 2013 was the EEPROM handling code. Many arcade games (and home systems) used EEPROMs to save settings etc. so this was potentially a risky change. While in the end the change did cause some temporary disruption, and didn’t fix a number of issues (for example Kick Goal not saving settings – something that we really need to verify on a PCB) it did have the unexpected benefit of apparently preventing Semicom’s Mr. Kicker from crashing when you reload after getting a high score. The game still requires a valid default EEPROM to boot the first time, so it’s hard to know if the problem is 100% fixed, and the NOT WORKING tag wasn’t actually dropped during 2013, but after testing it while doing this write-up I’ve decided to remove the flag due to the fixes made during the year.


Mr Kicker Mr Kicker
(While no specific work was targeted at making it work the Eeprom rewrite does appear to have fixed Mr. Kicker)

Lots of general code reorganization took place too, we saw generic Tilemap ‘device’ objects too for example, allowing really simple games to define their tilemaps in less code. There’s no real end user visibility of this type of change tho, so it’s hard to really promote it in a write-up like this one.


Small but Still Important


This section is in a similar vein to the above, but more focused on where changes have been made with improving a specific game, or user-visible feature in mind, as opposed to ones where that has happened unintentionally as part of other progress.


New Features / Feature Improvements

It would be easy for some of the changes made this past year to slip under the radar but to specific audiences they’re very important ones. The way MAME handles gear shifters was improved, previously MAME only really supported them in a way that made using them on a regular PC easy, with automatic toggle logic for the shifter rather than requiring a button to be held down. When interfacing with real shifter controls this wasn’t ideal, and was long the bugbear for a number of MAME users with such setups.

While the option still isn’t very visible in MAME it is now possible for a user to modify their game config files to turn off this automatic toggling behaviour allowing users with actual gear shifters to make use of their controls with MAME.

One thing that we often overlook with MAME is presentation, how things look to people who aren’t familiar with the project. That’s why I’m going to mention the new icons in the Windows builds as a worthwhile improvement. With high resolution displays becoming commonplace it was a little strange to see MAME ship with low-resolution icons that seemed more like a throwback to the 90s and Win9x era. UME has had a higher resolution icon since it was first added, but it took until last year for the others to catch up.


Windows Icons
(Better looking Windows Icons help improve the image of the project)

The ability to turn on / off the recompilers for various CPUs, or to force the C backend instead of the native ones is another important improvement in MAME when it comes to debugging things. It’s not a feature most users are going to make use of, but if you’re trying to track down a bug and you suspect the recompiler then it’s a very useful feature to have.

Lots of work was also done on the ‘QT’ debugger, this makes debugging easier on non-Windows platforms, and should hopefully encourage others to contribute.

A hack was also added so that an environmental variable can disable the threading behavior of CHDMAN, this allows a long standing hang bug with MAME’s threaded I/O to be bypassed; it causes frequent hangs when converting large HDD images on multi-core machines. A real fix is desperately needed however.

I like to record videos for progress updates on my site, so one of the most important ‘small’ fixes made to MAME over the course of the year was the one that fixed video corruption that occurred on 2GB boundaries in the output file, you can see the problem in many of my older videos, sometimes several times per video because the raw output tends to be quite large so I’m happy to have it fixed. There are still limits / problems with recording videos for systems with multiple screens or where the resolution / frame-rate changes mid-steam but those are problems inherent to almost every video format out there!


Small but Significant Driver Improvements

Some drivers have seen small improvements that aren’t really major progress, and in some cases might even be considered temporary hacks until a better solution can be found, but have certainly helped to improve the outward impression.

Koi Koi Part 2 had the colours ‘fixed’ manually, not an ideal situation, but as a temporary solution it makes things less abrasive to the eyes.


Koi Koi Part 2 Koi Koi Part 2
(The Koi Koi Part 2 colours were improved by hand, a real PROM dump would be better tho)

Sound is sometimes an overlooked aspect in drivers, 2013 saw sound emulation added to Heaven’s Gate


Heavens Gate Heavens Gate
(Heaven’s Gate was one of a number of drivers where sound emulation was improved)

Cool Boarders Arcade Jam also saw similar sound improvements at around the same time, like Heaven’s Gate it uses a YMZ280B in addition to the regular Playstation sound hardware.

Still on the subject of sound, the sound banking in Logic Pro 2 was fixed, again a very small change, but the wrong samples were playing in some places before.

It might sound like a minor piece of progress, but ‘small’ changes like the changing Namco’s Steel Gunner II to use the correct internal MCU rom actually required significant amounts of work because the CPU core (a M37450) was actually lacking quite a few features that revision of the MCU code needed. As an end user you won’t notice but obviously the project strives to use the correct ROMs at all times!

Tweaks were made to the timing of the Williams blitter emulation, bringing things like Robotron even closer to having perfect slowdown emulation.

A video bug affecting Hard Times (since the game was added) also got fixed, although we still have no sound emulation because the PIC is read protected.

We’ve also seen small cleanups take place in some early Toaplan drivers, for example better video mixing for Wardner allowed for removal of an ugly conditional hack that was invading far too much of the driver code.

Work was done to start hooking up the additional sound CPU on the ST-V version of Batman Forever, although there is still work to be done before it plays sound.

The OPL key scale level order was fixed for the YMF262 improving the playback of the Doom music if the MAME cores are used to play it.

In other cases bad ROMs were identified, and support replaced with that for good ones instead, one of the main examples coming to mind being the stray pixels in Twin Cobra 2 which were being caused by the most commonly available ROM for the game being incorrect.

Various drivers saw the removal / reduction in use of anonymous timers, this makes Save States more reliable for them (drivers using anonymous timers typically refuse to save the state at all)


Performance

Over the course of the project development some useful features have been added, but sometimes misused. One of these was the ability to look up devices etc. by a name string. While this is definitely a useful feature string lookups (which get converted into hash lookups) are actually very slow. A number of drivers in MAME (& MESS) had adopted this either via automatic bulk conversions, or a lack of understanding of the performance cost of using such techniques. A significant amount of work was done in cleaning these up over the course of the year, resulting in small (or in cases where the feature was really abused, large) performance gains across the project. Real-time installing / uninstalling of read / write handlers has also become much slower in recent years, so likewise some work was done there to refactor drivers in a way that avoids it.


Ideas, Direction, Experiments


It is fair to say I’m a little disappointed not to see more movement towards a single unified project as our main offering this year, however that does not mean we’ve not seen other interesting ideas being developed within the project, ones that have the potential to change the ways in which people can use MAME / MESS.


Internal Web Server

One of these developments was the inclusion of a built in web-server, allowing for some basic management of a running instance of MAME via a web interface. If all you want to do is play games then something like that isn’t really going to mean a thing to you, but it does open the way for a number of useful features if it gets further developed.


Mame Web Browser
(MAME now has an internal web server which can provide information about the current running game)

People building MAME cabinets might look forward to this feature as it would reduce the need for unnecessary extra hardware in the unit, for keyboards and buttons to bring up the MAME menus, because the new features open the possibility to handle a number of those tasks via a remote device such as a phone or another computer. On a more serious front it could result in remote debugging interfaces and the like (being able to monitor a running MAME instance + logs from outside of MAME)

Expanding the idea further maybe it could also be used as a ‘MAWS’ replacement, offering up information from the internal database directly in a user-friendly format, possibly not optimal for use on an actual web-server but certainly something that might be interesting to have locally.


‘Lua’ and Autoboot scripts

A similar under the surface change was the introduction of some basic ‘lua’ scripting within MAME. This has implications for automating and thus simplifying some complex loading / initialization routines in both projects which will could make things easier to use and easier when it comes to performing regression testing.

Being able to call scripts from within MAME / MESS also has potential later down the line. We see a lot of original home software with manual based copy protections, having a set of scripts that know where to look in memory for the correct result, and automatically enter it is essential if we’re to allow for easy testing of such software (and thus testing the quality of our emulation) without having to rely on users running cracked copies, or waste time looking things up in manuals every time they simply want to boot / test something.

The autoboot logic is also especially convenient for home systems, as you can specify the loading instructions for a game from the commandline, in it the simplest form this looks something like the following screen shows (assuming you’re using a 64-bit build of UME)


Boulderdash loading commandline
(an example commandline for using the autoboot command)

that will boot up the C64 driver, and automatically enter the command needed to load the game (don’t touch anything during this process!) The -joy1 joy part is just to ensure a joystick is plugged into the correct port so the game can be controlled. Loading does take a while because the C64 driver is very slow (it runs at about 50% speed here for most of the loading process) but this is just an example, the same can be used for several other systems!

Autoboot loading Autoboot loading
Autoboot loading Autoboot loading
(Boulderdash loading with the above autoboot script)

Maybe one day this could be expanded so that loading instructions could be automatically used from the software list, although a number of cases are too complex for that!


The Modern Scene / Homebrew

One area MAME traditionally fails to cover is the more modern arcade scene. I’m not strictly talking about newer games, but instead the scene that has built up around arcades in more recent times, the bootlegs created to aid in hardware repairs, or just because some unscrupulous individuals / groups have seen it as a good money making opportunity.

The MESS side of the code has always been more embracing of the current culture, supporting many add-on boards and a large amount of software that has been made freely available by the authors.

For this reasons I was glad to see the recent CPS3 multi-game bootlegs supported, these are hacked versions of the games designed to run on either standard SH2 processors, or using dead cartridges. While this is obviously a last-resort measure if your hardware dies and you’re effectively forced to run bootleg code it is useful to have these things documented and they also make it much clearer how we could run test code on CPS3 units even if we’re faced with dead cartridges. There are actually newer versions of the multi-game CDs available with bugs fixed, however some people have decided they want to make money out of their bootlegs, so they’ve been made available only to people who donate.


CPS3 bootlegs CPS3 bootlegs
CPS3 bootlegs CPS3 bootlegs
(Some CPS3 bootlegs were created to allow the games to run on dead CPUs, or regular SH2s)

Support for the CPS3 bootlegs isn’t pushing the envelope too much of course, the CPS2 ‘Phoenix’ sets were already supported, and allow for similar and they were also widely used as the source of various bootlegs (an unfortunate side-effect of them existing) It isn’t clear if the Cyberbots bootleg that turned up is yet another bootleg derived from a Phoenix set (it contains none of the Phoenix code) or just another conversion made using the same process that is used to make the actual Phoenix sets. It does however show that you need to be on your guard when buying any CPS2 boards these days, because a lot of people have killed them in order to get rid of the battery, effectively turning them into bootleg boards because they no longer run original code. Unfortunately this isn’t always disclosed on the auctions (or is used as a positive advertising point when really it shouldn’t be!)

In MESS we’ve seen things like the Genesis remake of Oh Mummy! added to the Software List after the developers made it available for free.


Oh Mummy! Oh Mummy!
Oh Mummy! Oh Mummy!
(1985 Alternativo made their Oh Mummy! remake for the Genesis freely available after selling out of cartridges)

Homebrew demos also provide a good test of our emulation because they often exploit features of the hardware that regular retail games didn’t. An example of this is a Genesis / Mega Drive demo that has no issue with telling us our emulator sucks (we should probably look into that!) While it might sound odd, things like this are greatly appreciated because they provide test cases we KNOW should work on real hardware but fail in our emulation and by fixing such issues we end up with a better emulator and test cases to ensure they don’t regress again.

Titan Overdrive demo Titan Overdrive demo
Titan Overdrive demo Titan Overdrive demo
(Homebrew software that has been tested on real hardware is good for pointing out flaws in our emulation)

The Williams Multi-game made it to MAME, this ended up being installed in some arcades, it currently relies on some hacks to work tho, and they could be causing reliability issues.

Williams Multi Game Williams Multi Game
Williams Multi Game Williams Multi Game
(The Williams multi-game was used by some arcades)


Other MAME Builds

While having a section talking about other MAME builds might seem a bit out of place in an article about progress in the official project they do remain an important part of the ecosystem. I’ve mentioned above that the arcade part of our project fails to catch a lot of the homebrew / modern developments that are going on even when the MESS part of the very same project makes an active effort to cover them. For that reason builds like HBMAME are very important because until there is a change of policy they give a place for such things to go. Obviously not everything supported by HBMAME is worth mentioning (there are a lot of cheap / uninteresting hacks) but the legitimate developments that have been tested on real hardware such as the new 1.2 release of ‘Bubble Bobble Lost Cave’ current end up there so it acts as a nice supplement to the official builds and helps ensure that these things (especially older releases that are no longer hosted) aren’t simply lost to time. I hope to see the more important homebrew developments included in MAME eventually because they represent the ‘today’ part of arcade development and can also provide invaluable testing material in the cases where people have developed test software to run on the original hardware, but until then projects like HBMAME remain very important.

Bubble Bobble Lost Cave Bubble Bobble Lost Cave
Bubble Bobble Lost Cave Bubble Bobble Lost Cave
(Bubble Bobble – Lost Cave is not in the mainline MAME builds, but is in many of the derivatives, for example, HBMAME)

I should also mention MAME Plus here. While I’ve tried to promote the idea of MAME and MESS being a single project under the UME ‘brand’ name and also in articles like this one, the MAME Plus project takes things one step further and simply presents the extra content under the regular MAME branding. This has been influential in the use of the MESS drivers by people who might not otherwise have used them; I’ve actually looked at several non-English sites and MAME (in the form of MAME Plus) is actually starting to become the first choice emulator for a number of 8-bit and 16-bit console platforms as a result of this. While I still find it a shame that the official project hasn’t yet taken this direction it is good to see others taking it, and people appreciating it and using code that would otherwise simply be ignored due to it being in the less popular ‘MESS’ project.


Glowing Vectors

AAE ‘Another Arcade Emulator’ was for a long time the home of vector emulation if you wanted to try and recreate the ‘glow’ an authentic vector monitor would produce when drawing the lines.

2013 saw MAME gain a similar technology via extension of the HLSL system that has been in development for a while. I’m grouping this in with the ‘project direction’ changes because a couple of years ago features like this, which some might consider gimmicky, would have been rejected, but I’m glad to see this has changed because while it might still not look 100% authentic when compared to a real vector monitor (such levels of brightness etc. simply can’t be reached on a regular monitor) it does come a lot closer to presenting the images as intended.

Below you can see a comparison shot using Sega’s Tac Scan, on the left is a screenshot without the HLSL effects, on the right is one with them applied. Values are exaggerated slightly for the purposes of these screenshots, but you can see the general effect it produces.


Tac Scan - NO HLSL Tac Scan - NO HLSL
(Tac Scan in MAME, with and without HLSL effects)

One of the big advantages of MAME and MESS in reality being the same project is that features added to either part are automatically available in the other, meaning that the Vector HLSL features also apply to the Vectrex. This does highlight how dated the actual Vectrex artwork we have is, and I’m not entirely convinced the vector/artwork alignment is correct on Spinball!


Vectrex - Rip Off Vectrex - Scramble

Vectrex - Amor Attack Vectrex - Spinball
(The HLSL effects also apply to our home system emulation, for example the Vectrex)


Driver Maturity


It is rare that any driver in MAME or MESS can be considered ‘complete’ In the majority of cases there is still work to do, still improvements that can be made, work done to bring our actual emulation closer to the real hardware than ever. This is one reason I find it difficult to ever recommend older versions of MAME, sure, if you stare blankly at the ‘working game’ list you might be able to pick out a 10 year old build and on the surface it might run all the game you care about but that doesn’t tell you the full story.


Important Data East Protection Work

For the reason stated in the previous paragraph the work done on the Data East protection devices this year ranks amongst the most satisfying work to have seen and been involved in. For the majority of MAME’s life the protection schemes for the 16-bit Data East games were handled in MAME with a series of per-game kludges and half complete protection simulations that gave the illusion things worked when in reality there were some serious shortcomings and glitches in the games because of this.

Gameplay breaking bugs in Rohga and Fighters History were closed, bugs people hadn’t even noticed / reported in Funky Jet and Edward Randy were fixed with confidence; the new working status of games like Super Shanghai and Double Wings was really just a footnote to the real achievements and newfound confidence we can now have in the emulation of the protection devices being used across a significant part of the Data East library. The work was a beautiful example of where once things started to make sense everything fell together in a way that just worked because the new emulation was simply correct and we’d done hardware stress tests to prove it.


Rohga Rohga
Fighters History Fighters History
(Protection emulation improvements correct critical bugs in Rohga and Fighter’s History that have been there since they were added)

When I say that Super Shanghai and Double Wings are just footnotes it isn’t really meant in a negative way, Double Wings is, after all one of the things that has been mentioned / requested time and time again, and while you could previously play the game it was a lot easier to trigger incorrect behavior due to the protection than in some of the other games, so it remained market as NOT WORKING rather than being prematurely promoted as I feel was the case for the two games mentioned above. Super Shanghai was only playable before in bootleg form, although interestingly the bootleg was in English and the newly working original is Japanese. I don’t know if there was an English original, or if the bootleggers translated it when making the bootleg, they certainly made enough other changes. There still seem to be a couple of video priority bugs with Shanghai to sort out, mainly because the video system was changed in a number of subtle ways for the bootleg and it needs a bit of extra studying.


Super Shanghai Super Shanghai
Double Wings Double Wings
(The protection improvements allowed us to promote Double Wings and Super Shanghai to WORKING state)

I’ve said Edward Randy and Funky Jet benefited too. In Edward Randy handling of a protection read was missing during the car sequences, it seems to change the flow slightly in the attract mode, allowing the ground to scroll more to the side, although the exact influence isn’t 100% clear to me, all I know is the new implementation is verified against how the hardware would work. For Funky Jet the real difference you notice doesn’t kick on until you’ve completed the last level of the normal worlds; previously you’d be taken back to a glitchy ‘Select World’ screen, instead the last few levels follow directly on from where you were.

Edward Randy Edward Randy
Funky Jet Funky Jet
(Edward Randy and Funky Jet saw small improvements from the protection emulation improvements too)

The list of Data East hardware titles affected by these changes is as follows:

Edward Randy, Mutant Fighter, Captain America, Lemmings, Robocop 2, Super Shanghai Dragon’s Eye, Funky Jet, Sotsugyo Shousho, Nitro Ball, Fighters History, Stadium Hero 96, Dragon Gun, Lock ‘n’ Loaded, Caveman Ninja, Wizard Fire, Pocket Gal DX, Boogie Wings, Rohga, Diet GoGo, Tattoo Assassins, Dream Ball, Night Slashers, Double Wings, Schmeiser Robo

Many of these don’t use any of the protection functions, but simply use the protection device to scramble I/O offsets a little, but the key words here are trust and confidence in our emulation. The fact that all these games can now go through a common set of functions for common chips rather than having to rely on their own game specific ones is exactly the kind of progress that increases confidence in our code, testing methods, and completeness of emulation.


Maturity elsewhere

Other drivers have matured too without hardware testing, Taito’s Birdie King has suffered from collision issues in MAME for as long as it has been emulated, but a fix made during the course of the year should hopefully have improved things there.


Birdie King Birdie King 2 Birdie King 3
Birdie King Birdie King 2 Birdie King 3
(Improvements to the collision emulation make Taito’s Birdie King games work a lot better than they did before)

The NMK16 driver has also matured over the year, bringing for the first time proper sprite priorities in Thunder Dragon 2, improved sound banking in Rapid Hero and a number of other video fixes that mean you really don’t want to be using older builds if you’re running the titles in that driver. Unfortunately progress made on replacing the sound simulation on the earlier titles with actual emulation didn’t come to fruition, but I’ll mention that more later.

Thunder Dragon 2 Thunder Dragon 2
(Thunder Dragon 2 should have accurate graphics for the first time)

Another worth mentioning is Double Dragon. For years there has been debate over the gameplay speed, with many claiming it to be too slow in MAME compared to the real boards and others still reporting bugs with the game hanging sometimes despite there being a hack that was meant to avoid that issue. Progress this year significantly improves the emulation in that driver, especially for Double Dragon 2 with speeds hopefully much closer to original PCBs now.

Double Dragon Double Dragon 2
Double Dragon Double Dragon 2
(Slowdowns in Double Dragon and Double Dragon 2 now match real hardware a lot more closely, they were too extreme before)

Off Road Challenge also saw improvements, you might consider them minor, but having correct colours for the terrain makes a world of difference to the visuals in the game, previously there were whole stretches of road with very obviously incorrect textures.

Off Road Challenge Off Road Challenge
(Badly coloured textures were fixed in Off Road Challenge)

Some drivers mature without any real visible results, this year also saw significant work in the Seibu SPI driver, removing a number of hacks in favour of more correct emulation, but at the same time failing to identify how some of the more mysterious video features work (blending enable) which would have made a more visible different (although Mahjong title E-Jan High School is the only one where you really notice it’s wrong right now) Emulation of the sound chip used by the system was however improved at the same time so while the games look the same as they did before they are starting to sound better.

While it’s unlikely many people will care about the games it was good to see Sang Ho Soft – Puzzle Star / Sexy Boom improved. Previously these games rendered all the images with incorrect colours, but improvements to the emulation of the VDP chip fixed this. While the screenmodes used for these images aren’t much good for a fast paced action game they are good for this type of title, as well as static screens such as cutscenes or title pages. The hardware is an MSX clone, so naturally some MSX2+ titles also benefit from this, although compatibility in that driver is still low.


Puzzle Star Puzzle Star
Sexy Boom Sexy Boom
(Proper support for the MSX screenmodes used by Puzzle Star and Sexy Boom correct the colours of the images)

Speed Ball, one of the older drivers in MAME, saw a number of improvements too with the additional non-video score displays hooked up, something which simply wouldn’t have been possible at the time the driver was written and until last year nobody had even mentioned was missing. They don’t really add anything to the game (all the information is already on the screen) but in terms of making the emulation complete and understanding all the outputs etc. it’s good to see it all properly hooked up.

Speed Ball Speed Ball
(The Speed Ball cabinet looked like a fake Pinball table, complete with LCD scoring panels, these are now emulated)

Important work was also done on the Konami drivers over the course of the year. Large monolithic files were split up into multiple files, one for each device family to help give a clearer understanding of the purpose of each chips and make it easier to locate the relevant code. Duplicate implementations were also merged down where possible (there is still a lot of work to do there tho) and things like emulation of the timers was also improved leading to better music in things like Winning Spike. Many, many hacks were also removed from the Konami GX driver leading to cleaner code, although a couple of games have temporarily regressed as a result.

The 2D Konami drivers aren’t the only ones to have benefited from this, we’ve also seen the GTI Club driver improved with video fixes for GTI Club and improved controls in Jet Wave / Wave Shark. Visuals on Thunder Hurricane also improved at some point.


GTI Club GTI Club
Jet Wave Jet Wave
Thunder Hurricane Thunder Hurricanee
(A Number of Konami’s 3D games were improved over the course of the year)

Other old drivers like Taito’s Top Speed also had fresh eyes look at them resulting again in the removal of a number of hacks and significant improvements to the sound emulation.


Top Speed Top Speed
(The Top Speed driver also received significant polish)


Dedication to Systems

One way in which drivers mature is when developers show a high level of dedication in an attempt to make them the best in the field. The PGM work in MAME that was mentioned earlier was the result of such dedication being shown to improving the emulation of that system, even when at one point things looked impossible. I could have easily included that here instead. These levels of dedication are more often seen with home systems tho, where people know the platforms inside out after owning them and developing on them for years, so it is more in the MESS side of the project you see such levels of dedication, although we could definitely do with additional dedicated developers for a number of popular systems!

Concentrating on the positives, the Texas Instruments ‘TI99’ series and associated TMS9900 CPU have seen an incredible number of improvements over the year with changes bringing timing in the driver and core very close to perfect. It’s not a family of systems I’m intimately familiar with myself so I’m not sure of the real-world benefits to a lot of the changes made, but it does mean you can be confident of a high quality of emulation when using the system in MESS.

In terms of software the TI99/4A is an interesting little system compared to many of the others too, it has a library consisting of a number of arcade ports, including Data East titles that weren’t really ported to a great number of other systems. As well as the large number of emulation improvements over the year the driver was also hooked up to a Software List making it a lot clearer what software was available for the system as well as making it possible to document the content of the cartridges properly.

In writing this article I’ve tried a number of them and 99% performed well and were easy to get running without any noticeable problems, which a good sign of a mature and easy to use system in MESS. The only game on the system to actually fail on me was Robotron 2084 which crashes entering gameplay 99% of the time, or shortly after if you do manage to start a game.


Angler Danger (TI99-4A) Angler Danger (TI99-4A) Astro Fighter (TI99-4A) Astro Fighter (TI99-4A)
Burger Time (TI99-4A) Burger Time (TI99-4A) Treasure Island (TI99-4A) Treasure Island (TI99-4A)
Mission X (TI99-4A) Mission X (TI99-4A) Moon Patrol (TI99-4A) Moon Patrol (TI99-4A)
Defender (TI99-4A) Defender (TI99-4A) Centipede (TI99-4A) Centipede (TI99-4A)
E.T. (TI99-4A) E.T. (TI99-4A) Pole Position (TI99-4A) Pole Position (TI99-4A)
Jumpy (TI99-4A) Jumpy  (TI99-4A) Pacman  (TI99-4A) Pacman (TI99-4A)
(The TI99-4a emulation was being refined throughout the year, the majority of games now run, only Robotron failed on me)

The Commodore machines have seen a similar level of dedication continue throughout the year with more obscure cards emulated, unfortunately basic performance and compatibility still leave a lot to be desired from what I can tell despite the attempted level of accuracy.

One addition I can write about is support in the C64 driver for the Partner 64 cartridge. This unit turned your C64 into something of a personal organizer.


Partner 64 Partner 64
Partner 64 Partner 64
(The Partner 64 is an add-on device for the Commodore 64)

Another C64 addon where we saw development was the Vizastar, which seems to be some kind of office package consisting of a cartridge and floppy.

Vizastar C64 Vizastar C64
(The Vizastar 64 is another C64 expansion device)

The Videopac G7000 / G7400 saw a fair bit of attention early in the year too, especially the G7400 side. Many games, when used on a G7400 have enhanced backdrops, the emulation of these was improved significantly. Also when running on a G7000 ‘Killer Bees’ now has the Speech emulated (not when running on the G7400 tho).

Videopac G7000 G7400
Videopac G7000 G7400
Videopac G7000 G7400
Videopac G7000 G7400
Videopac G7000 G7400
(Emulation of the enhanced background graphics when running Videopac games on the G7400 was improved)

One area in which the project has always been keen to impress is in the support for more obscure systems, including many of the Japanese ones. While it’s certainly been a quieter year this year we’ve still seen small improvements / fixes, including ones to the Sharp X1 emulation benefiting (for example) Silver Ghost. I’ve no idea how to play it tho. The actual change causes it to show the full border area, although I do wonder if it isn’t showing too much now? (Note, to see the title sequence you must force it to boot from disk 3)


X1 Silver Ghost X1 Silver Ghost
(Japanese systems like the X1 saw improvements too, this is Silver Ghost on the X1 Turbo)


Regression Fixes


There are going to be regressions with any project, and keeping them under control is important especially when dealing with something the size of MAME.

MESS systems are often the worst for regressing, mainly because of the lower user base, but also because they’re more demanding, harder to use, and much harder to apply any kind of automated testing methodology to.

This year has seen improvements to the BBC series drivers, adding, or possible ‘fixing’ tape loading (I’m not sure if it ever worked before, although I guess it must have done in some capacity) This doesn’t seem 100% stable, many games fail to load unless you overclock the CPUs or rewind the tape to try again several times (it feels like the system probably misses some interrupts at times) and furthermore the base systems boot into what I assume is an odd interlace mode (@~25hz) due to the default dipswitch setup which seems to cause further problems but aside from that clearly the state of that driver is clearly starting to recover. I suspect it will need heavy analysis of the system code, MAME core code, MESS code in addition to somebody familiar with the original systems to improve it further, the current success / failure on loading appears semi-random but it’s progress, and definitely does more now than it did this time last year.


BBC Micro - Loading BBC Micro - Loading BBC Micro - Loading
BBC Micro - Loading BBC Micro - Loading BBC Micro - Loading
(BBC Micro Tape loading has improved, but is still randomly unreliable, you’ll see ‘Rewind Tape’ far too often, but they load eventually)

Amstrad CPC disk support is also getting better after the floppy rewrites killed it last year. Many protected disks don’t yet run but the basics once again function which is enough to load significant parts of the disk library.


Amstrad CPC floppy Amstrad CPC floppy Amstrad CPC floppy
Amstrad CPC floppy Amstrad CPC floppy Amstrad CPC floppy
(The Amstrad CPC driver can once again read from .dsk images, at least the ones without copy protection)

The Sharp X68000 driver has also seen improvements, and likewise is once again actually capable of booting disks. It’s also not perfect, but again showing signs of recovery, for example you can now run the game ‘Direct-X’ from the Software List although it hangs after the Game Over screen for some reason.


Sharp X68000
Sharp X68000 Sharp X68000
Sharp X68000 Sharp X68000
(The Sharp X68000 driver can boot floppies again, although the game pictured hangs after game over)

For the arcade side we’ve seen things like the Unico games ‘Zero Point’ and ‘Burglar X’ fixed, these had regressed for over a year without it being noticed, highlighting exactly why it’s important we have users on the latest versions testing things, it’s very easy for easy-fix regressions to slip in and not even be reported if nobody is actually testing.

Other small regressions were fixed, some of them more short term, I was surprised to see Cyber Tank broken because it hadn’t even been added long (it was covered in the 2012 article) so it can only have actually been functional for a version or two before a global change broke it. Games like Daraku Tenshi also saw fixes for regressions after core changes.

I was also glad to see the service mode access fixed for the ‘Hoops’ games in the Data East MLC driver, it also revealed to me that the MLC unit is meant to be capable of driving 2 screens, these games have an option for it in the service, but all it does right now is cause some minor graphical corruption. Looking at this is definitely now on my todo list thanks!


Hoops '95 Hoops '95
(Hoops ’95 service mode works again)

A regression with the Omega Race sound also got fixed, as did a display timing bug with the Genesis / Megadrive that crept in during a refactor. The Amstrad GX4000 driver also saw a regression with the controllers fixed, and proper support for 2 players added.


Solving Mysteries…


The ‘4 player special’ version of Kizuna Encounter on the NeoGeo has been a puzzle for as long as NeoGeo emulation has been around and a screenshot of it surfaced. For many years people thought it was a special very rare, very expensive cartridge but slowly evidence mounted to suggest otherwise. Attention then turned to it maybe being a special bios revision but people had dumped bios ROMs claiming to be from such versions and they matched what MAME already supported.

In the end it turned out to be something much more mundane, the game code was designed to detect the 4 player adapter cable and automatically switch to 4 player mode if that hardware was present. This is now handled in MAME as a ‘fake’ clone with the hardware already set up for you, so for the first time the 4 player Kizuna Encounter is actually visible and easily accessible under emulation even if it was right under our noses the whole time.


Kizuna Encounter 4 Way Battle Kizuna Encounter 4 Way Battle
(Kizuna Encountered needed to be able to detect the 4-way adapter in order to boot at the special version)

Another mystery at least partially solved was that of the English version of Crazy Cross. The Japanese version, Taisen Puzzle-dama was often mis-sold as Crazy Cross and it was starting to seem like there was no real Crazy Cross arcade game, with people simply using the Crazy Cross title to refer to the game because they were familiar with it from the Playstation port released in English under that name.

I say the mystery was only partially solved, because what turned up over the course of the year was a game called ‘Let’s Attack Crazy Cross’ but to the surprise of everybody involved it wasn’t on GX hardware at all, and wasn’t really a direct clone of Taisen Puzzle-dama but instead clearly a port of the game that was being converted to the Playstation running on Playstation based arcade platform. It is still therefore unclear if there was actually a plain ‘Crazy Cross’ release in English on the same platform as Taisen Puzzle-dama, or if this is the only time that name was used in the context of an arcade game.


Let's Attack Crazy Cross Let's Attack Crazy Cross
(An actual English language arcade game with the ‘Crazy Cross’ name was found)

One ‘MAME’ mystery was the problem of Data East title Dragon Gun hanging after defeating the first form of the final boss. For a long time it was thought it could have something to do with the protection, or an ARM CPU bug, but over the course of the year it was discovered that neither of those was the actual cause of the hang. It’s well known that we don’t emulate the video backgrounds in Dragon Gun, however, what wasn’t known until recently is that the ROMs for the video data actually map into CPU space, hooking these up so that reading them returned valid data instead of unmapped reads actually ended up fixing the hang at the end by pure-coincidence, it also made some other work on studying the video data file structure redundant as it appears it is the responsibility of the game CPU to parse the data and send it to the chip (unfortunately that part is still not understood) Either way, the result of this is the game can now be completed. A new Japanese clone of the game was also dumped during the year, these pictures are taken from that.


Dragon Gun Dragon Gun Dragon Gun
Dragon Gun Dragon Gun Dragon Gun
(The bug causing Dragon Gun to hang on the last boss was fixed)

Sometimes we have bootlegs with alternate control methods, usually inferior ones, for example games with Rotary sticks, or 49-way sticks hacked to work with regular 8-way Joysticks, however the case for Jackal was the other way around. The only set we had where the game used a rotary stick was the ‘Top Gunner’ set taken from a bootleg board. It seemed quite likely therefore that an original using a Rotary stick must exist as making the controls more complex isn’t something bootleggers usually did! That clone finally turned up, an original set of Jackal using a Rotary stick instead of the 8-way Joystick.


Jackal Jackal
(Previously the only version of Jackal using a Rotary stick was a bootleg, now there is an original supported too)


Discovery..(mostly Software List additions / hookups)


I did a discovery section last year because I think it is an important part of the MAME / MESS project. This year is no different, a number of systems have seen improvements to the softlists (or brand new softlists) which in turn allows for a clearer understanding of the systems, and improved knowledge of the software available for them.

The Exidy Sorcerer is one system where a simple Software List was added at the start of the year and with a little detective work I was able to get the software to load. The hardware is primitive (it’s from 1979 and I doubt it was designed with games in mind) but the Galaxian game is at least quite playable. The ‘Eliza’ title is written in basic and therefore needs the BASIC cartridge mounted in order to load.


Exidy Sorcerer Exidy Sorcerer Exidy Sorcerer
Exidy Sorcerer Exidy Sorcerer
Exidy Sorcerer Exidy Sorcerer Exidy Sorcerer
(Some fast paced action games belie the limitations of old systems like the Exidy Sorcerer)

The ZX Spectrum floppy list was also improved, adding the Software Preservation Society images to the known images list.

The MSX cartridge lists were expanded, although no disk list has been added yet (I’ve finally figured out how to get some disks to load, but the required material wasn’t in the Software List in 2013, so I’m not going to cover it here)

The MSX is actually quite an interesting system when it comes to cartridges, several Konami games have cheats involving plugging 2 carts in at once (one into each slot) MESS of course handles this just fine, and the Software Lists make it even easier to use.


Mopiranger Mopiranger
MSX MSX
MSX MSX
MSX MSX
MSX MSX
MSX MSX
MSX MSX
MSX MSX
MSX MSX
MSX MSX
MSX MSX
(A random selection of the MSX titles that are now documented in the Software List)

One interesting addition to the MSX list was a set of tapes for the Golf game ‘Albatross’ This means that in addition to the regular set of courses in ROM there are 2 additional sets of courses on each of the cassette tapes. Loading them isn’t always obvious, make sure to press the ENTER key at the ‘ready’ prompt if you want the cassette to load, also fast forward a bit first if you want to load the 2nd set from each tape!

Albatross Albatross
Albatross Albatross
Albatross Albatross
Albatross Albatross
(Albatross is an interesting one because it allows you to load extra courses from Tape)

As I mentioned, a number of the Konami games have secrets if you have a 2nd cart plugged in, for example launching the emulators with “ume64 msx -cart1 gradius -cart2 twinbee” gives the Twinbee ship in Gradius / Nemesis, obviously this is much easier when you know the referenced images are good and so get detected correctly so having them all referenced in the Software Lists certainly comes in handy here!

Gradius without Twinbee Gradius with Twinbee
(Some Konami games have special cheats if you insert 2 cartridges, having them in the Software List makes this easier)

The Sega PICO softlists have also been expanding, although support for the system doesn’t work yet. Some ‘Copera’ images that were incorrectly placed in that list also ended up split out into their own list because it’s a different system with different hardware despite the similarities.
(note the Copera doesn’t actually work yet, I needed to use the debugger to bypass some loops to get these screenshots)

Copera
Copera Copera
Copera Copera
Copera Copera
Copera Copera
(The Yamaha Copera Software List was split from the Sega Pico one)

I mentioned the Copera Software List being split from the Pico one but it’s also worth further highlighting that the actual Pico list has seen vast numbers of additional dumps added over the year. The Pico is likely the final / longest running official use of ‘Genesis’-like hardware, although I doubt any of the software pushes it in interesting ways (the games are all fairly straightforward educational titles with minimal gameplay). Currently the emulation needs a lot of work, for example, the correct interrupt / status hookups for the sound chip are needed (either it’s not the chip we think it is, or there is a lot of extra glue logic in the way it hooks up). Furthermore the system needs to be implemented properly using an image of the system and book rendered with the artwork system rather than trying to act like a fake touchscreen which will never work. Some screenshots can be seen below, this is definitely a system somebody could pick up and make a really good driver for but right now it isn’t really usable beyond booting the titles and some still don’t boot at all due to the problems mentioned.


Sega Pico Sega Pico
Sega Pico Sega Pico
Sega Pico Sega Pico
Sega Pico Sega Pico
Sega Pico Sega Pico
Sega Pico Sega Pico
Sega Pico Sega Pico
(Many Sega Pico titles were added to the Sega Pico Software List although emulation remains incomplete)

For the Gameboy Colour a number of Sintax pirate games were dumped and added to the Software Lists, these are mostly low quality attempts to cash in on other popular games or movies, but they’re still interesting to see, even if not to play.


Sintax Mapper

Sintax Metal Slug 3 Sintax Metal Slug 3 Sintax Metal Slug 3 Sintax Metal Slug 3

Sintax Harry Potter Sintax Harry Potter Sintax Harry Potter Sintax Harry Potter

Sintax RPG Sintax RPG Sintax RPG Sintax RPG
(A selection of Sintax games for the Gameboy Colour, you can see unlicensed use of Metal Slug 3 and Harry Potter material)

The Sintax Gameboy games weren’t the only ones improved, in addition to allowing custom cartridge types to be defined by the Software List support for a number of other custom cartridge types was added. The pirate game Rockman 8 is an example of a pirate game that is now emulated. Beast Fighter is said to be another, using a unique mapper, however the status bar appears to be missing so I’m not sure I’d consider it working properly yet.


Rockman 8 Rockman 8 Beast Fighter Beast Fighter
(Some other Gameboy pirate games were added to the Software Lists and hooked up to the appropriate mappers)

The Gameboy Advance list also had some unlicensed games added, possibly also by Sintax, although they’re significantly less interesting and don’t require special mapper support.


Gameboy Advange Pirate games Gameboy Advange Pirate games
Gameboy Advange Pirate games Gameboy Advange Pirate games
(The Gameboy Advance also saw a number of unlicensed games, these have been listed too)

The interesting thing about the Socrates / Professor Weis system is that the games are multi-language, and will adapt depending on the system they’re plugged into.
Controls however don’t currently work properly, this is especially noticeable on the Game Wizard where you can’t press the same key twice in a row, you have to press another key before it will register again.


Game Wizard Game Wizard
Game Wizard Game Wizard
(The Socrates / Professor Weis system run the same cartridges but in different languages, inputs don’t quite work properly yet tho)

The CAD package is more of a glorified paint program with clipart than anything serious.

Socrates CAD Socrates CAD
Prof Weis CAD Prof Weis CAD
(The same system has other ‘educational’ software like this ‘CAD’ package)

A change was put in to allow the CoCo 2 game ‘Dragon Fire’ to do proper mid-scanline effects. A further requisite of this was apparently a cycle exact 6809 core. In theory we should have both of those things now, and while the game does run it appears to be rather glitchy still so I’m guessing there’s still something missing / wrong somewhere in the emulation. It does look good in still shots (I can’t say if it looks correct) but there is a bad frame every couple of seconds. Still, an enjoyable discovery, although I was hoping it would be perfect based on the changelogs.


Dragon Fire Dragon Fire
Dragon Fire Dragon Fire
(Some changes seemed to indicate that the Coco 2 game ‘Dragon Fire’ would be correct now, it’s better but still needs work)

Another system with a number of significant Software List additions was the Megaduck with 5 games previously listed as being ‘undumped’ added to the known dumped list. The Megaduck is basically a Gameboy clone and some of the games are quite clearly influenced by Nintendo titles.


Megaduck Megaduck Megaduck Megaduck
Megaduck Megaduck Megaduck Megaduck
Megaduck Megaduck Megaduck Megaduck
Megaduck Megaduck Megaduck Megaduck
Megaduck Megaduck Megaduck Megaduck
(The Megaduck was a Gameboy clone with a number of original titles, several new dumps showed up, many are just rip-offs of more popular GameBoy games tho)

The Thomson MO5 and T07 were machines primarily marketed in France. They also gained Software List support early in the year showing that a handful of popular titles were ported to the platforms (the T07 at least) of note Choplifter and Miner 2049er.

With this in mind I gave the TO7 Choplifter a spin, although encountered some issues, it seems any presses to the keyboard stop the game or at least drastically slow it down, joystick inputs are fine but by default MESS maps the joystick and keyboard to the same keys, by removing the keyboard mappings the game appeared to be playable, although this did serve to highly how disorganized the internal interface is for dealing with such situations.


TO7 Choplifter TO7 Choplifter
(Choplifter for the T07 was difficult to make run properly, I had to unmap keyboard keys)

Miner 2049er performed well too, at least once I figured out you need to press the ‘END’ key to select a 1 player game, not knowing what key you should be pressing is common with home platform games of this era however, usually the cassette inlay / manual would tell you.

Miner 2049er Miner 2049er
(Miner 2049er ran well once I found the key to start the game)

There was another game called Threshold which appears to be a simple shooter.

TO7 Threshold TO7 Threshold
(Threshold is a fairly dull shooter for the same platform)

The MO5 seems to have less interesting software listed, but was the interior machine. There is also a port of Miner 2049er and it looks identical to the TO7 version but beyond that it seems to be mostly applications and very basic logic games. I also found compatibility didn’t seem quite as good.


MO5 Color Paint MO5 Color Paint
(A Paint package running on the MO5)

The Japanese PC98 family gained a Software List too, cross comparisons with some Japanese fan-sites seem to suggest a lot of the more interesting titles are missing from it still, but it’s enough to do some testing of the system with. The emulation of the system also saw numerous fixes over the year, allowing some games like Quarth to boot, although it still has other issues (the split screen effect is wrong ) The art style used on these games is interesting, making heavy use of dithering etc. to compensate for a lack of colours.


Quarth PC9801 Quarth PC9801
(Fixes were made so that Quarth booted on the PC9801, but it still has visual issues)

The list is good for scoping out the general compatibility of the driver, some software runs fairly well, but there is clearly room for improvement still. Unfortunately the majority of the library is ‘adult’ titles or obscure Japanese RPGs, so I don’t really have much to show here.

Flappy PC9801 Flappy PC9801
Burning Dragon Plus PC9801 Burning Dragon Plus PC9801
Carax 92 PC9801 Carax 92 PC9801
(A PC9801 Software List was also added, I tested some of the software)

The RM Nimbus also gained a software list, the only software present in it is a collection of welcome disks however, but it does allow for easy testing of the driver, and playing of the ‘worm’ game found on said disks.


RM Nimbus RM Nimbus
RM Nimbus RM Nimbus
(A Software List was added to the RM Nimbus, it contains the Welcome disk where there is a snake clone called Worm)

Towards the end of the year we saw some additions made to the GamePark 32 Software List. Performance on these isn’t very good (we desperately need an ARM recompiler for these high clock ARM systems) but it’s still good to see the emulation holding up pretty well.


Gamepark 32 Gamepark 32 Gamepark 32

Gamepark 32 Gamepark 32 Gamepark 32

Gamepark 32 Gamepark 32 Gamepark 32

Gamepark 32 Gamepark 32 Gamepark 32
(The GamePark 32 Software List was expanded with a number of new additions, they all run rather slowly tho)

The Sharp X68000 got a brief mention in the ‘regression fixes’ section, but it also had a large Software List update during the year as well. Compatibility seems a bit hit and miss (mostly miss when it comes to better known commercial titles such as Fantasy Zone and The New Zealand Story, both of which failed to load for me) but a number of the shooters run, as long as you remember to map the Joystick! The aspect ratio seems a bit strange on some by default, but maybe you were expected to adjust the controls on your TV. This is an interesting Software List because the Sharp X68000 had many near arcade perfect ports and a large library of original and exclusive software much like a number of home systems did in the rest of the world.


X68000 games X68000 games
X68000 games
X68000 games
X68000 games X68000 games
X68000 games
X68000 games
(The Sharp X68000 Software List was expanded significantly, a number of ‘shmup’ games are shown above)


Poker Face


The rush of redemption games we saw in 2012 slowed significantly in 2013, I don’t think that’s because there are none left to emulate, there are literally hundreds, you’ve only got to check eBay to see gambling and redemption games we don’t support (especially coming from Italy and Asia) however many of them are too well protected (entire game code in MCUs) and the others the market in which they’re sold too highly regulated for the games to ever be dumped.

Many of the new gambling games that show up often seem closely related, if not derived from existing codebases, a couple of unique / interesting ones did show up however. New York Joker, Good Luck II, Crystal Colours, Top XXI and a game called ‘Number One’ by San Remo were all original titles.


New York Joker New York Joker
Crystal Colours Crystal Colours
Top 21 Top 21
Number 1 Number 1
Good Luck 2 Good Luck 2
(Some of the new poker additions have attractive graphics and are different to anything already supported)

Dream Ball fits in with the rest of these but stands out for another reason. The game uses the same title screen as Pocket Gal Deluxe, and has a 1993 NDK copyright; you could easily be excused for thinking it was a cheap bootleg of Pocket Gal Deluxe if you didn’t look beyond that screen. What it was however is a unique and official Data East board. The board has no room for a sprite chip, it’s a minimal design and clearly designed to be low cost. In the end this was one of the two boards we used for testing the Data East protection chips (see the Driver Maturity section) and sow while the game isn’t memorable the role the board played should not be forgotten.


Dream Ball Dream Ball
(Dream Ball ended up being one of the boards used to figure out the Data East protection)

Some of the less noteworthy ones included the likes of Bonne Chance / Good Luck, Royale, Mun Dial and Soccer New. Many of these were designed for European markets (for example Italy) where the display of actual card graphics was outlawed. Most of them are more interesting due to the actual code, hardware modifications and protection schemes rather than what you see on the surface, which is strikingly similar between games in some cases.


Bonne Chance / Good Luck Bonne Chance / Good Luck
Videotron Poker Videotron Poker
Royale Royale
Mun Dial Mun Dial
Soccer New Soccer New
Mong New Mong New
(Other Poker games reuse graphics and/or code from ones we already emulate, and aren’t as interesting from an end user perspective)


Other Redemption…

It has been a quiet year on the gambling / redemption front. I think some of it is still burnout from the initial additions, and knowing the sheer amount of work that still needs doing (each and every one of the non-video games will require per-game attention) There’s also an element of waiting for other areas of MAME to catch up because they’re a real stress test for many of the I/O devices in MAME.

That said we’ve seen things like Spooky Night moved to working status with new graphic dumps, we’ve seen the final game Igrosoft released on their Z80 based platform, Crazy Monkey 2, added as well, albeit in non-working state due to graphic and palette encryption.


Spooky Night Spooky Night
(Spooky Night is an Amcoe title on a Z80 based platform)

I mentioned Crazy Monkey 2, if you compare it with the original Crazy Monkey you can see that most of the sequences behind the scrambled graphics are the same, however it isn’t going to look correct until somebody descrambles the graphics. The palette encryption also doesn’t seem as trivial as some of the other games in the driver, and is not obvious because the palettes are only ever uploaded once and there isn’t much data to work with.


Crazy Monkey 2 Crazy Monkey 2
Crazy Monkey Crazy Monkey
(You can compare Crazy Monkey with the sequel Crazy Monkey II, almost the same game runs behind the encrypted graphics)

Poka Poka Satan is a redemption / novelty game with ridiculously large setup, as is often the case with more recent ones, triple screen, two of them being touch-sensitive, and plastic hammers..


Poka Poka Satan
(Poka Poka Satan is a 3 screen touchscreen game with plastic hammers and whack-a-mole style gameplay)

Power Kick was an interesting one because it connected the Sunwise games to the Toaplan 2 video chip, a link we’d missed before. This allowed the Othello Derby driver to be merged in to the Toaplan 2 driver.


Power Kick Power Kick
(Power Kick was mostly interesting due to using the same VDP as Toaplan’s shooters)


Frustratingly Close


Gunpey occupied a significant amount of developer time earlier in the year and is a good example of a long-standing non-working driver getting fresh eyes applied to it. Unfortunately for all the progress that was made the emulation stalled on figuring of the graphic compression scheme being used. We ended up with something that was playable, but has too many missing / incorrect graphics to actually considered as working.


Gunpey Gunpey
(Good progress was made on the game, but the compression used for the Gunpey graphics continues to confound us)

Other discoveries along the same lines ultimately stalled too, it is speculated (and strongly believed) that there are links between the encryption / compression used Sega’s Naomi and the earlier platforms, with games on ST-V (Final Fight Revenge) and Model 2 / 3 using similar techniques, although as is typical for Sega in most cases the actual protection was criminally underused and for most games makes such light use of it that it was bypassed without even considering that what was going on was an encryption scheme on par with CPS2. A level of infighting and a lack of time sadly put off a number of people who were going to look at this. Maybe next year?


..but Inching Forward

Some drivers have been in a non-working state for so long it’s no longer common knowledge as to why they’re broken. Usually it’s because they use some kind of unique hardware setup making them difficult to emulate, other times it’s because nobody has twigged that there is a bad rom. Progress on such systems is important, and we’ve seen a bit of it this year, although not an incredible amount.

One driver that saw some work along these lines was the Stern Great Guns / Mazer Blazer driver. Progress has been slow because the video chip they use is unusual and quite complex, in addition to this the boards aren’t exactly common so it’s not always clear how things should behave because running tests is impossible, the only references are low quality video clips that don’t tell us much. The games are still a long way from being properly playable, but the improvements, especially in Great Guns, are noticeable.


Great Guns Great Guns
(The VDP used by Mazer Blazer and Great Guns has held back the emulation for many years, progress is slow)

SNK’s Hyper NeoGeo 64 is another system that continues to throw hurdles at us so it was good to see progress there too, with kludges to allow Buriki One to be coined up.


Buriki One Buriki One
(A hack allows Buriki One to coin up, but the ingame graphics are still a mess)

Other improvements were made to show significantly more of the geometry in the driving games and Beast Busters 2nd Nightmare although the driving games still can’t be coined up however, and Beast Busters eventually hangs.


Xtreme Rally Xtreme Rally
Roads Edge Roads Edge
Beast Busters 2 Beast Busters 2
(Most of the Hyper Neogeo 64 games now show more geometry, although flicker badly at times)

The flickering graphics in Fatal Fury Wild Ambition were also fixed by these improvements, and several additional decal graphics now display too.


Fatal Fury Wild Ambition Fatal Fury Wild Ambition
(Wild Ambition is the least demanding of the Hyper NeoGeo 64 games in terms of 3D use, but also improved)

Work was also done to improve the Atari Jaguar in MESS, although it’s still a long way from being a ‘working’ system. These changes haven’t really helped with any of the CoJag titles in MAME otherwise I would have included it in the ‘Console improvements helping arcades’ sections, but the CoJag games make very limited use of the system hence working in the first place! I think eventually the drivers will have to be replaced / completely rewritten and while Virtual Jaguar (which would be ideal for re-integration, aside from the code being a little ugly) claims to be derived from MAME sources they’ve released it under an incompatible license so that issue would need resolving first.

One of the most significant parts of the Jaguar changes were the CPU core fixes allowing the cartridge checksum tests done by the BIOS to pass allowing for the removal of a very ugly hack!

Either way titles like Tempest 2000 and Rayman were greatly improved (although Tempest 2000 seems to have since regressed and is rather unstable now – if it doesn’t crash when starting a game you’re usually fine, if it does then you’re out of luck)


Jaguar Rayman Jaguar Rayman


Tempest 2000 Tempest 2000
(Rayman and Tempest 2000 were both on the end of targeted fixes in the Jaguar emulation)

The likes of Checkered Flag also improved (you can now see colours) but clearly there are so obvious bugs in the video emulation (or CPU emulation) that need fixing before it can be playable.

Checkered Flag Checkered Flag
(Other Jaguar based software improved too, but not enough!)

Additions were also made to the Jaguar software list, which is important too, a bad dump of Air Cars was replaced with a good one (the new one at least boots) and some less common titles were added like Breakout 2000 (which boots, but is glitchy and has no sound)

Air Cars Air Cars
Breakout 2000 Breakout 2000
(Improved Software Lists show more possible test cases, although most of the additions don’t run well)

Changes were also made so that the Jaguar CD shows something, but with the baseline Jaguar emulation in such bad state, and the Jaguar CDs requiring features our CHD format doesn’t support that one is a little hopeless for now. Unfortunately there’s a long way to go with this driver, inching forward is very much the correct expression here.

Jaguar CD
(The Jaguar CD now shows something, but is still a pipe dream at this point)

Also in MESS we saw tiny improvements on drivers like the Tiger Game.com with sound being hooked up, there is a long way to go with the rest of the driver tho, although I am a little surprised more work hasn’t been done on it, it seems like an ideal target.


Tiger game.com Tiger game.com Tiger game.com Tiger game.com
(Tiger’s Game.com plays some sounds, but appears to have problems with interrupt generation in games or something similar)

Some work was done to make the Vsmile boot a couple of cartridges. The majority of games display nothing of any meaning, but the ones that do boot seem to share a common boot sequence…


Vtech - Vsmile Vtech - Vsmile
Vtech - Vsmile Vtech - Vsmile
(Some VSmile games boot with this common sequence)

After that point they display a title screen, and an option menu, but don’t appear to accept any further inputs. Again this might not be the most interesting of systems being an educational one / and basically nothing more than a toy for kids, but it uses an uncommon CPU and would be a good target for somebody to work on improving. I could easily move this to the ‘potential’ section.

Vtech - Winnie The Pooh Vtech - Winnie The Pooh
Vtech - Cinderalla Vtech - Cinderalla
(A handful get to screens like this, menus, but no further progress is possible)

Back to MAME we saw progress on Air Raid / Cross Shooter, with the hardware being identified as being very close to Empire City. Sound was hooked up and a previously missing Colour lookup PROM was dumped, but that’s as far as the driver can really go until somebody figures out a way to extract the graphics (including the tilemap layouts, which are hardcoded) from the custom ROM modules on the PCB.


Air Raid Cross Shooter
Air Raid Air Raid
(The palettes were fixed in Air Raid, Sound was also added, the game can be ‘played’, but the graphics need extracting from custom modules still)


Disappointments


Due to various fallings out, and disagreements MAME did lose out on a few things over the year, I was looking forward to seeing the proper NMK004 work done by trap15, but it was never submitted due to tensions and desires within the team to change the license to one that would permit the selling of MAME. It’s a loss because now what was apparently a painstaking hardware hacking process will have to be repeated entirely by somebody else, there are no winners from such progress being withheld even if I understand the reasoning.


Broken Classics

Some drivers have also regressed, or remained in a regressed state. For all the promise of the vector HLSL that was introduced we’ve still got games like Tempest in a semi-broken state, resetting after a certain point due to protection failures. Likewise Star Wars has noticeably wrong sound effects in places. Both of these should be showcase titles, highlighting how important the HLSL work is when it comes to actually making an attempt at simulating the glow of vector monitors properly, however due to the aforementioned issues older versions still give a better experience.

The problem with Tempest appears to have started last year, when a fix for Atari’s Liberator went in. Both games use the Random Number Generator features of the Pokey chip as protection at late stages in the game. For Liberator this is easy to test, ‘set 2’ of the game (which is very different to set 1 in terms of presentation!) allows you to select a later level, resulting in an almost immediate crash if it isn’t happy with the protection values. Tempest on the other hand is more subtle and requires you to reach a certain score before doing the protection checks making it much harder to notice / debug unless you’re a good player. Unfortunately it appears they disagree on what data sequences should be returned, or at least that’s the point at which I think Tempest broke, when Liberator was fixed.


Tempest - Not as good as it should be Liberator - the fix broke Tempest?
Liberator - the fix broke Tempest? Tempest - Not as good as it should be
(A fix for Liberator put in last year appears to have regressed Tempest)

Other long standing regressions like the sound in Mario and the complete non-functionality of Ninja Kazan have persisted over the year without being fixed too. Apparently the last time Ninja Kazan worked was 127u1, back in 2008! These are things that get reported often and make it hard to recommend recent builds without having to mention them. People are very sensitive to issues with sound, so when Mario’s walking sound is very loud while all other sound effects are quiet and muffled it is seen as a serious failure, likewise with the TIE fighters in Star Wars sounding more like they’re making death sounds from Gauntlet or Golden Axe than any kind of ‘Woosh’. The calibration on several Atari titles like Star Wars and Red Baron seems off too, while the display is fine in Test Mode, Star Wars insists on the controls needing re-calibrating ingame after each coin just to remain centered!

Star Wars Mario Bros
Mario BrosStar Wars
(Star Wars and Mario Bros. are both long term victims of sound regressions, not yet fixed unfortunately!)

Games like Tempest, Star Wars and Mario are the classic era games people *expect* MAME to have perfected by now, so when there are imperfections, or, in the case of Tempest, worse, it does not reflect well on the project and they remain a key reason a lot of people simply use old builds because they appear to be better and more trustworthy despite the thousands of fixes we’ve made elsewhere. This is a problem, so the fact they remain broken disappoints me and in the case of the vector games I’ve mentioned means there are no builds that offer both a solid game experience, and the new visual effects.


Oversold and not quite there..

It’s also been disappointing to find out that some advertised progress does not live up to expectations when tested. This might be because things have regressed since then, the additions were never fully tested from a clean state, or they simply never actually worked. I’ve mentioned some of these during the article here but there are more. For example, the changelogs for the year list Aristocrat MK4 games ‘Fortune Hunter’ and ‘Caribbean Gold II’ as now working, but for all my attempts to follow the initialization instructions in the source they still appear unresponsive and impossible to initialize. Other games in the driver work with the procedures listed, so I’m not convinced it’s a user error!

*edit* I’m told turning on dipswitch ‘5201-5’ allows the sequence to be performed, but this isn’t the default, and wasn’t documented


Fortune Hunter Caribbean Gold IIr
(These Aristocrat MK4 games are marked as working, but the INIT procedure listed in the source doesn’t appear to work?)

While we do want to be promoting our progress both on arcade drivers and home systems it is vital that we don’t oversell what we’ve done. If we say a system works then people have a level of expectation, and if we fail to match that because vital things broken / missing, the driver is unstable, or usability isn’t clear then people are going to go away disappointed. I’ve noticed a situation, especially in MESS, where some drivers get promoted to working without much software being tested at all (when in reality a lot doesn’t work) while other drivers where a lot of software does work take a more conservative approach and are still marked as not working. I feel honesty is the best policy here, let people be pleasantly surprised rather than disappointed.


Incomplete dumps

Having to work with incomplete dumps can be disappointing too, sometimes this is because the ROM types are weird / unknown (as was the case with Print Club 2 ’97 Winter Ver), sometimes it’s because the chips have gone bad, or are missing (we found this with the sound ROM on the 1941 prototype / bootleg and are having to use the original ROM instead which may not be a 100% match). Other times it’s because the people dumping things inexplicably think it will be easier for us if files that already match known ROMs are stripped out (it never is). The worst case scenario is when people have just been lazy / made bad assumptions that things will be the same when they really shouldn’t be. On occasion it’s nobody’s fault, just the original board contains a mismatch of roms either from a failed repair job, factory error, or because it’s some kind of unfinished test board.

Print Club 2 '97 Print Club 2 '97
(We can’t get Print Club 2 ’97 Winter ver. to a title screen without the missing ROMs)

We’ve been hit by problems caused by several of the cases just mentioned over the course of the year, especially when drivers have been revisited. Toaplan’s Outzone is one example, it turns out that the entire reason the ‘oldest’ set has different sound effects / music in MAME is because the Z80 program ROM isn’t for that version, it was just assumed to be when the set was dumped many, many years ago. One of the other sets also had a mismatched sound rom because when it was dumped the person dumping it simply stated that the sound ROM matched one already in MAME without realizing there were multiple revisions of it so knowing which one to use was much harder with the file stripped from what we were meant to work with.

While working on the Data East improvements I was hoping to fix a bug with Dark Seal II, but that turns out to be a similar case, the Japanese version should use a different sample rom, and that sample ROM was never dumped, only the main program roms. The recently dumped (in 2012) Biomechanical Toy (Ver. 1.0.1884) set has a similar problem, the sample roms from the parent set are clearly NOT meant for that version, it plays garbage but when it was dumped somebody thought they could save time by not dumping them so we’re left with an incomplete and buggy set.


Other disappointments

Performance is another area we’ve seen not insignificant regressions in some drivers, I’ve noted a few during the course of the article, but there are others. Some are understandable if we want to offer good quality emulation, but others we should really be avoiding if possible. I think some of the widespread changes that get made are made without really testing their impact while increases in real world CPU speeds continue to be slow meaning that such changes don’t end up being swallowed by improving host machines as quickly. We have, as I mentioned earlier, offset some of these over the course of the year, but it does still concern me.


Looking to the Future..


Some development over the year points more at things to come rather than anything immediately useful, let’s take a look at some of that as well as looking at where the project could possibly go in the future.


Ambition

The Chihiro arcade platform is an X-Box, and while there is currently no support in the driver to boot the X-Box bios, and no support in MESS for the X-Box platform I feel it appropriate to mention it near the console work.

It’s currently a bag of hacks to get what we see at the moment, but the year has seen noteworthy progress on making the Chihro title OutRun 2 boot and display scenes from the attract mode of the game. As a fast and relatively modern x86 based platform, newer than the x86 based ones we’re seeing running in MESS this progress represents a great deal of ambition. It’s currently dog-slow, and unlikely to get any faster in the short term, but simply knowing that underneath what you see at the moment the game code is running is really quite amazing.

I doubt we’ll see this develop into anything actually properly playable in the next few years because it is so far out of the comfort zone of the project it’s not even funny (and yes, it’s sad to have to say that about an original X-Box when we know there are far more powerful platforms we’ll need to emulate) but it is still very good to see the progress we have seen over the past year.


Outrun 2 - Chihiro Outrun 2 - Chihiro
Outrun 2 - Chihiro Outrun 2 - Chihiro
(Chihiro is an arcade X-box based platform, any progress on it shows great ambition)

While less ambitious than Chihiro the work done on systems like Taito Type-Zero System still represent a step above what people really expect from MAME. While there hasn’t been a huge amount of progress over the year on the driver in question the game ‘Stunt Typhoon Plus’ was added to it. The game can be booted but runs very slowly (11% speed) and doesn’t seem to respond to inputs, also I wonder if a topmost layer isn’t missing. You can watch the attract mode and it actually looks very impressive, although there is a lot of flickering, the screenshots below don’t tell the whole story!


Stunt Typhoon Plus Stunt Typhoon Plus
Stunt Typhoon Plus Stunt Typhoon Plus
(Taito’s Type-Zero platform is also significantly more powerful than a lot of ones we traditionally consider emulation targets)


Potential

Potential can be split into two main fields. Probably of most interest to the average reader here are the things I think have a realistic chance of improving in the next year or two, however, it is also important to look at the things which lay the groundwork for much longer term work in the project so I’m going to start by looking at some of those.


PC based platforms?

I’ve already mentioned that I consider the Chihiro emulation in MAME to be ambitious, so what of some of the skeleton drivers that have been added over the year? We’ve seen drivers for a number of PC systems added in non-working states, PC systems that in many cases exceed the specifications of the very machines many people are running MAME on. We can’t emulate those can we?

My gut feeling is no, we probably can’t, as much as the MESS PC drivers are advancing they still struggle to give any kind of reasonable performance when emulating a lowly 486 with a barebones SVGA card and the games we’re talking about in MAME are in some cases running on 64-bit CPUs with dedicated modern GPUs, they’re a world apart from the kind of thing we’ve successfully emulated in the past.


Taito Type X driver code
(Some Game definitions for Taito Type-X games from the source, this is modern PC hardware)>

People are already playing some of these games on their PCs through ‘loader’ applications that simply load the games as PC games, patching / hacking the code as appropriate and simulating any additional devices, these works fine for basic cases but throws away important information about protection schemes etc. in favor of easier to use hacked up ‘bootleg’ dumps. They’re also only a temporary solution, they depend entirely on running an OS close to the original games on hardware that is also close to the original games and such requirements already cause their own issues with certain configurations / driver revisions and thus doesn’t really represent a long term solution either because you don’t really want to be having to depend on such things.

It would be better to see some of the ‘loader’ authors embrace the MAME images, and mount the original dumped HDDs we use rather than folders full of hacked files, although that still doesn’t solve the aforementioned problem.

I’m mentioning this because in many ways how MAME eventually deals with this kind of problem will define the future of the project. Practically all arcade hardware these days is PC based, it can’t be ignored, it’s also incredibly fragile hardware from the actual components used all the way to the operating system installs, and fact that these days many of the games do live updates from the internet, or depend on online servers to function, many of which won’t be available in a couple of years from now.

It also has a significant role in the future of MESS because again it must remain competitive, many of the most lucrative use cases and demonstrations of how capable our emulation is are going to come through the emulation of older PC based platforms and custom add-on cards, with such emulation technology providing a significant boon to the legal use cases and the like for the project which in turn benefits MAME (or at least benefits MAME if we do see the projects finally become one)

How best to deal with it, without encountering the hardware / OS dependency issues already mentioned? I don’t know, that’s why I put it under potential, sure there are PC emulators out there, but very few of those actually have to deal with the problems MAME will face in having to emulate very specific models of CPUs and specific architectures while maintaining the timings of the original machine as closely as possible to ensure the actual emulation results are the same regardless of host system.

Maybe MAME / MESS will never achieve this, and their role simply becomes to document without running in those cases, allowing others to make use of the information by providing more temporary solutions like the ones we see today based on our documentation, however that isn’t really the future I hope for.


Other Skeletons!

Moving on from the discussion of PC based platforms to more realistic potential for the year to come leads me on to talking about the sheer number of new skeletons added in MESS over the course of the year. The majority of these are terminals and other devices that would probably have ended up in the ‘things I don’t understand’ section if more work had been done on them but for now they exist as potential.

Examples of skeleton drivers added over the year include the following, none of which I’m really sure what do or how far have developed nor what they’re actually meant to be in many cases!.

Genrad Futuredata 2301 Network Control Processor, Control Data Corporation CDC721 Terminal, Sharp Zaurus, Seattle Computer SCP-300F, Onyx C8002, Intertec SuperBrain, IBM6580 DisplayWriter, Telcon Zorba, Microtek Mice, ICS8080 Trainer, Millennium Systems 9540, Wicat, Callan PM68K, LFT 1230, LFT 1510, Televideo TS816, Televideo TV950, Imsai MPU-B, Jade JGZ80, Jonos Escort, Quadtel Harriet, Hilger Analytical AB6089 Mk. 1 (LSI Octopus), Commodore PC 10 III, Atari PC-3, Ithaca InterSystems DPS-1, EVMBUG (Texas Instruments TMS9995 Trainer), Sharp MZ-3500, RCA COSMAC Microkit, Dragon 200-E, Scientific Micro Systems SMS-1000, SH4 Robot, Forward Technology FT-68M and the MOLECULAR Computer

A number of Ensoniq systems (synths I’m guessing) includes the EPS-16 Plus, MR-61 Workstation, ASR-10 and ASR-X

There were also device skeletons, some of which saw further work over the year. These skeletons included various Keyboards where the MCU / ROM has been dumped, in addition to several Hard disk controllers including the IMI 5000H, the Mator SHARK (a 22 MB Winchester hard disk for the Commodore PET), and the WD1002A-WX1.

There was also a dump dump of a Taito Nostalgia TV game, although the entire hardware setup was a ROM and epoxy blob, so it is unclear what type of CPU it should be using (it appears to be SNES-like) and also unclear if the dump is complete (custom ROM type) or if there is internal ROM data in the epoxy block. It would be nice to see some progress on it, or at least the ROM dump tested on the real hardware with an adapter so we know it’s usable! The games are fairly interesting remakes of arcade titles in a similar way to the Namco Classics arcade games, but for a home audience.


Taito Nostalgia Vol 1.
(We’re not 100% sure what CPU Taito Nostalgia Vol.1 uses nor if the dump is good, or if there is an internal ROM)


More realistic Short Term targets

There have been a number of MAME additions over the year that I’d count as potential for next year too, Music Ball springs to mind, when it was dumped I expected it to be a nice simple addition, despite the encrypted CPU block I’d placed my bets on it being a simple 20 minute decryption job, however, I was quickly proved wrong with the encryption proving to be a lot more annoying than I hoped it would be. There doesn’t actually seem to be anything too complex about it, but figuring it out without knowing for sure what the data underneath should be has turned out to be very annoying.


Music Ball
(The Music Ball encryption halted us in our tracks)

Back to MESS and we’ve seen progress on the Casio Loopy, resulting in what I feel is enough information being known about the system to attempt extraction of what is thought to be the internal BIOS rom. Without the BIOS rom it is unlikely emulation can be completed because the games make numerous calls to the internal area but now we have a situation whereby we know a certain amount about the code-flow of the games and how the video system works there is potential for us to manipulate that information in order to trick the system into dumping the internal area in a similar way to what was done with the later PGM titles in MAME.

Casio Loopy Casio Loopy Casio Loopy
Casio Loopy Casio Loopy Casio Loopy
(The Casio Loopy runs enough code that we might be able to find exploits for dumping the internal BIOS)

In terms of more realistic potential we’ve also seen drivers like “Fresh Fruit” where in reality it just needs some more video work to be considered ‘working’.


Fresh Fruit Fresh Fruit
(Fresh Fruit just needs a little more work, but isn’t the most interesting target)

There was also Frantic Fred, where inputs need sorting out, one of the developers has identified how it works (the dial generates interrupts) but it still needs hooking up.


Frantic Fred Frantic Fred
(Frantic Fred runs attract mode, but the wheel inputs don’t work)

The Super Pinball Action prototype could do with more work too, that might end up being revisited in the coming year, we need to establish if the extra rom is for a 2nd screen, and if all the data is present.. It should be possible to improve the emulation of the main screen either way.

Super Pinball Action prototype Super Pinball Action prototype
(The Super Pinball Action prototype is weird, and might use a 2 screen setup with a real Pinball display)

Another in MAME that could easily be finished off is the Guttang Gottong bootleg on Galaxian hardware. I could have grouped this with the Spanish sets because it was found / dumped in Spain with the rest of them, but I’m not sure it’s a Spanish specific bootleg. It is interesting because it has custom ROM banking just so that they could squeeze the sound effects in (completely redone compared to the original). Sadly the colour PROM was never dumped, although we do have videos of the original running to manually fix the colours if needs be. The main thing it’s missing at the moment is a simple bank for the sprite graphics, so it displays the correct tiles instead of garbage, should be a 15 minute fix really!


Guttang Gotton bootleg Guttang Gotton bootleg
(The Guttang Gotton bootleg just needs graphic banking hooking up, and the proper colour PROM)

Having the Cave games restored also means that ‘Medal Mahjong Moukari Bancho’ once again becomes a potential emulation target. It has a touchscreen hooked up to the SH3 serial ports, both of which need implementing properly for it to work, in that sense it’s one of the most interesting games on the Cave hardware.


Medal Mahjong Moukari Bancho Medal Mahjong Moukari Bancho Medal Mahjong Moukari Bancho
(Medal Mahjong Moukari Bancho requires more complete emulation of SH3 peripherals than the better known Cave shooters on the hardware)

We also saw work done on the Mattel Hyperscan, including a brand new CPU core, however nothing was done after that. Another where maybe we’ll see more progress this year?


Hyperscan
(The Hyperscan currently has no inputs and could present an interesting challenge)

Some potential has already been realized at the time of writing this. Carket Ball was added in 2013 as non-working, but definitely counted as ‘potential’ because there was a clear route to getting it working, and because I’m really bad at getting these articles out on time we already know that happened at the start of 2014. Prior to this (in the build we’re considering for this write-up) the game ran but with the occasional crash and buggy sound/music due to incorrect protection data. It feels a little awkward including it here now, but had this article been finished in time we wouldn’t know the emulation had since been improved.

Carket Ball Carket Ball
(We already know Carket Ball emulation was finalized in 2014, but it wasn’t during the period I’m covering here)


Press Coverage


With a project like MAME there are certainly valid arguments you could put forward for wanting to keep things out of the public eye.

Historically however there was always a bit of a buzz about MAME, and emulation in general. People saw it as something special, something magical. Back then progress was often talked about, people wanted to talk to developers and users for magazine articles, non-emulation related sites would end up talking about MAME because the people involved with the sites were excited about what was happening.

These days public awareness of MAME has dropped off significantly over the past few years and this doesn’t do the project any good either. People are becoming less and less aware of what MAME is all about which is a real shame because the work we’re doing today is in many senses even more amazing as a technical accomplishment than a lot of what was being done back in the day.

I feel it is important that people know what is going on with MAME, that’s why I do write ups like this, it’s also why I can take some positives from the press coverage we’ve seen over the course of the last year even if I feel a lot of that coverage has been for the wrong reasons.

The positive are that it helps remind people that we exist, it might make one or two people look back at the project, actually dig a bit deeper beyond the surface value of the article, see that we’re not actually still at 0.36, see that our scope is so much larger these days, that the developers are working on much more than arcade games, and that there are countless ways for somebody with the right skills to contribute and improve what we have or emulate a specific piece of technology they care about when nobody else does!

Of course only people that dig get to discover that, like I said, the articles I’ve seen don’t even scratch the surface of that. It’s easy to understand why writing an article that focuses solely on promoting MAME as something to play classic arcade games for free is easier than writing an article that looks at the development of our technology and the hundreds of potential uses it has, but it’s still a shame. I do wonder if we only have ourselves to blame to a degree tho, we do still strip everything that isn’t an arcade game out of MAME and place it in MESS for example, that almost screams ‘MAME is about playing games’ which is completely the wrong message.

The problem is mainstream media take years to catch up, so even if we were to make a change now it wouldn’t be noticed until much further down the line.

Other articles have focused on ROM collections being hosted in various places, again this rather misses the point, having a ROM collection and ROM dumps doesn’t mean things are automatically emulated, so having an article focused on that might put the project in the news, but again it doesn’t really get across the message that we actually need developers to emulate a lot of the material you can find. There are already lots of ROMs out there for things like cellphones and MP3 players (Firmwares etc.), but currently nobody is emulating them, I’m not even sure if anybody is documenting them or they’re just going to vanish with time, sometimes the most important aspect is looking at what we’ve failed to document so far, rather than what we already know about.

Anyway, like I said, it is good to have seen MAME mentioned a few times, but it would have been much nicer to see more modern, better researched pieces looking at the real potential the project has, and how people could help improve it even further.


Conclusion / Future Direction


I started off by saying I expect to conclude that 2013 has been a slower year for MAME progress, at least in the arcade side than 2012. My gut feeling is still that, and I still I think we’ll continue to see a dip in the arcade work being done next year, although a lot will depend on what shows up.

I guess as a counterargument if you compare the 2012 article with this one you could make the point that some of the work done this year has been more grandiose with things like Cool Riders while a lot of the arcade progress in 2012 was just relying on a steady flow of new dumps, but it’s a tough call, for example, I felt the SunA work done in 2012 was just as impressive as anything done this year. For this reason I would not actually disagree with somebody who feels this year has been more productive, I think some of it is a matter of perspective. The fact that I have been involved with a lot of the arcade progress means less of it has surprised me and it’s the surprises I find more memorable, the times when somebody else makes progress on something I’d all but given up hope on ever seeing work.


Year of Haze? Teamwork

I’ve just stated that I’ve been involved in a lot of the arcade progress this year, so does that mean I agree with the ‘Year of Haze’ statements people were making when I asked for input on things to include in this article. In a word, no. Let me explain why.

First of all I wanted to show that this year has been about a lot more than the work I’ve done and featured on my page and I think I’ve done a comprehensive job of covering a large amount of progress I was not involved with at all. Even with what I felt was a reduced amount of work over the year it’s taken the best part of 2 months to look at what has changed, figure out how it works, test it, make screenshots and write something worthwhile about it. Even without names being mentioned all over the place it should be obvious that there’s a lot more than the work I was involved in, it’s simply impossible that I could have been involved in that amount of work myself!

You could argue a lot of this article is bulked up with changes that aren’t ‘real’ progress at all, Software List additions in the home / console side that don’t improve the actual emulation likewise there are other changes which alter the way in which things are used, but don’t actually provide anything ‘new’ from the point of view of the end user. Such changes still represent what is going on in the project, they still takes time, and it still provides an opportunity for testing things, making it easier to understand and discover what the emulator we have can do, so I’d argue that I’m not bulking up the article with them because they still represent progress, still improve our documentation value and open up new ways of using the emulator.

Other bulk you could say has come from clones, again not really leading to driver improvements in most cases, but still, like I’ve said in the actual article they provide additional information, additional history, they help make our document a more complete one so can’t (and shouldn’t) be ignored.

Furthermore, even with an article of this size there are systems and bits of progress I’ve barely covered, progress that was on obscure systems devices, progress I ended up having to put in the ‘things I don’t understand’ section which even without further research is not insignificant. A lot of work has been put into these drivers too even if on the surface they look dull and uninteresting; it’s a fact of life that many of them likely ARE dull and uninteresting, but we don’t emulate things based on a criteria of how much fun they are to use.

So how do I think people reached that conclusion?

If you do strip all the things I’ve just mentioned away, or even strip away the non-arcade side of developments completely, the article you’re reading here would be much smaller. It’s fair to say I’ve not been heavily involved in the non-arcade side this year, I actually can’t even remember making any contributions of note there, but at the same time a huge part of this article is covering that part of the project. If you consider that side of things it’s an immediate counterpoint to the ‘Year of Haze’ theory, however a lot of people do ignore that side of things, it either doesn’t interest them, or they don’t notice it because it’s gets released in MESS not MAME.

People also tend to ignore / not understand / not care about all the underlying changes that go on, the ones that even this article barely covers because they make no real visible difference outside of the code, while I have been involved in some of those I haven’t been involved as heavily as some of the other developers.

If people are choosing to ignore all the progress in the part of the project completely (unwise, because that’s where the future of our project is, as evidenced by the continued decline of exciting arcade progress) then it is easier to see how people might start to conclude that I’ve done most of the work because the more visible arcade part of the project is the part where I still find myself most active and still making a difference.

Taking things further, if you strip down ‘progress’ to a simple list of Arcade games that work / work significantly better this year than they did last year (ie really limited view on things) then I can almost understand how some people have reached that conclusion and fully believe it.

The problem with this way of thinking is that things like Cool Riders, the Data East protection work, PGM progress and the re-added Cave titles are indeed all things I’ve had a hand in to varying degrees, but they’re also all examples of team work, not a single one would have been possible without work from other developers.

If you look at some of the other bits, like the newly working Arcadia titles, it is an accurate statement to say that I got them working, but that was just a matter of figuring out the correct bitswaps to decrypt them; the actual process of dumping them, the creation of the original Amiga / Arcadia Systems driver years ago were what made that work I did possible.

It is also true a lot of the clone work was done by me, but again it was more me working with other people, working directly with the dumpers, figuring out the extra bits of protection discussing what was different on certain boards, providing a 2 way communication channel while things were worked on.

I’ve always tried to promote where other people have helped out with progress when I’ve done Work in Progress updates here, but one comment I’ve continually heard throughout the year is that a number of people still see me as more of an official communication channel for Mamedev than the official site and contact forms, simply because comments here are publicly visible and I spend a lot of time actually promoting the progress being made, much as I’m doing here with this article. This seems to have a side-effect of making people associate me with the MAME progress even in cases where I am clearly naming all the other people involved. Unfortunately a lot of people don’t actually read, just look at the pictures and draw incorrect conclusions. Just for the record I’ve chosen not to name any names with this article because the list of people I’d have be naming over and over again is far too long and would detract from the actual talk about the progress.

I can see how people might end up drawing that conclusion, but I strongly disagree with it.

There is even plenty of arcade progress where nothing can be attributed to me. You only need to look at things like Turret Tower where I wasn’t involved in the emulation at all. Beyond you can see that the improvements to the Playstation based titles came as a direct result of improvements to the home system emulation, likewise something I was not involved in at all. These are just 2 examples, but there are countless others and all these bits of progress are just as important as things I was involved in.

The key thing all this highlights and that people should be taking away from this year is that the real progress comes when teamwork is involved, progress tends to stall when it isn’t. It is true I end up involved in a lot of things because I either initiate this, or I’m quick to offer help and assistance in getting something done properly when I see the opportunity, but the important part really is people working to their strengths.

The areas we’ve seen less progress is where work has been done, but nobody has picked that up and continued with it, for example the Fruit Machines, where I did put in a huge amount of groundwork the previous year but are really in need of people with a good understanding of all the assorted peripherals inside the more modern 68K models, the external Z80 support chips etc. or somebody to create a more capable presentation layer that lets us model things with moving (rotating etc.) parts and lamps with decay models more easily than the current system where an incredible number of ugly hacks are required even just to give the illusion that something is moving.

This requirement for teamwork isn’t new of course, but as the systems involved become more complex it certainly helps to have more people looking at them. There are exceptions of course, sometimes having one person who knows a system inside out is sufficient, but even then on a project the size of MAME you often need support from other areas, especially if doing something complex requires fundamental changes to how things work in order to make progress or keep things easy to use.

So no, this isn’t ‘Year of Haze’ and while I did play a role in the emulation of a lot of the things people cared most for over the course of the year, the amount of other work going on, and other people involved was not insignificant at all. Had others not been involved we’d have only seen a fraction of the progress we’ve seen over the year, even on systems people associate as being ones where I was the lead developer.


Overall..

As I’ve said it’s been arguably felt like a quieter year in terms of emulation progress, at least for the arcade side, although I have eventually managed to get this piece to a similar length to the previous one which hopefully shows that the project as a whole is still very much active. Strange as it may seem the article length was an issue at first; having covered the major arcade progress and surface of the work outside the arcade progress as I did last year I was left with a piece only 1/3rd the length, that version of the article was mostly ready for the new year, but I wasn’t happy with it, in the end it required some significant digging over the past 2 months to get what you see here!

A lot of the progress made this year has been amazing to see, and as significant and relevant as always. We’ve definitely seen a greater willingness to experiment when it comes to adding new features and many of the discoveries made throughout the year were remarkable to see even if some had little to do with actual emulation progress (things like the Bubble Bobble 2 Prototype just dropped in after working out the ROM loading) Improvements to older drivers were especially good to see too, the debate over how much slowdown should be in Double Dragon had raged on for far too long and the increased confidence in our Data East protection emulation is one of those landmarks when it comes to emulating titles form the 90s.

Some of the regression fixes have been good to see too, especially the non-arcade ones with several older drivers starting to get back on their feet, sometimes working for the first time since we added the capability to have Software Lists and began hosting everything under one roof and UME builds became available, meaning in some senses they feel like new drivers because they broke so long ago and weren’t quite as easily testable back then.

I do still feel an eventual dip in progress is however inevitable, I’ve been saying for years that the main thing about MAME is becoming not our arcade emulation, but how the project supports other things, the value of our components, how well tested they are, and how they can be used to emulate the platforms beyond what we currently support. I think this year has continued to show that, there are still many more realistic targets / areas for improvements outside the realm of arcades that better fit the profile of platforms where MAME excels in emulation (mostly 2D systems with moderate clock speeds) Things like the VSmile platform, the X68000, the Super A’Can or older handhelds like the game.com strike me as perfect fits where what we offer could easily become *the* number one choice with some more work, there’s definitely more obvious room for making progress on significant platforms than there is with the arcade side of things.

While I’ve said I disagree with the ‘Year of Haze’ comments people were making it remains true that I did have a role in a lot of the arcade progress over the year, and even I’m struggling to see how that can be repeated. This year wiped away a significant number of things that had been lingering on my personal ‘todo’ list for a long time, the remaining tasks are harder still so any progress that does happen on them will be slower.

Whether or not other people see things the same way is debatable, I’ve always said I think eventually MAME and MESS will officially collapse into a single MAME project because there isn’t enough arcade work to really keep MAME going as an arcade-only emulator and nothing we’ve seen this year has done anything to convince me otherwise. As I’d like to see this official unification (hence maintaining / promoting UME) I often feel like I’m my own worst enemy in this situation by continually putting the amount of effort I do into the arcade side when lower levels of activity might actually convince people more! There will come a point where it won’t matter how much effort I put in, or want to put in, progress will slow anyway.

What does this have to do with the rest of the article, and why am I rambling about this here you might ask, well, as I’ve said, I think this year brings the arcade side several steps closer to running on empty, and I think it also shows that the non-arcade side, while harder to discuss and not even as well covered here as the arcade side, has more potential. Due to this I feel in writing the article I ended up spending a lot more time looking at non-arcade platforms, not by choice, but because that’s where most research was needed this year. Really, it’s as simple as that.

In conclusion however, it has been a steady year, there’s been something for almost everybody to enjoy regardless of if you like classics, more modern titles, home systems, arcade systems, obscure hardware, beautifully simple hardware, or simply have a thirst for knowledge and love to see all the things that have been discovered over the years and can sit content in knowing that what has been uncovered will now be with us forever. Personally I love to see it all and while it’s certainly a shame that some developers have been less involved this year we have still managed to achieve some remarkable things.

Will 2014 be able to match this year? I have my doubts, but I’d certainly like to be surprised.

Go to article.. »

What’s New in 0.148u1

February 11, 2013 Haze Categories: General News. 30 Comments on What’s New in 0.148u1

With MAME/MESS/UME 0.148 out (see below) I’m going to take the time to write a bit about it and show you some screenshots, as I’ve done several other releases, simply because I believe that it is more meaningful than some jargon in a whatsnew file.

Talk of the town is are of course the improvements made to the original Playstation emulation, you can follow the thread at bannister.org (the MESS forums) for some screenshots of that one, and I’ll be picking some choice cuts out of it later in this update but for now I’m going to shift the attention to something else.

0.148u1 also sees numerous improvements made to the Sega Saturn driver, and while it still has a long way to go before compatibility can be considered good the changes do bring a couple more titles into the realm of playable with fixes allowing inputs to work in several games in addition to other changes giving an overall compatibility boost. If you’ve followed this blog for a while you’ll know I like my puzzle games, and even did a feature in the past on them, covering a number of Saturn titles. I’m happy to say that changes made in the latest build bring another one “Heisei Tensai Bakabon Susume! Bakabons” (bakabons in the saturnjp softlist) into the realm of playable thanks to Kale fixing an issue with the controllers.

It’s your traditional ‘block dropping’ puzzle game, but in this case you have to surround 2+ objects of one colour with 2 of another, for example creating a chains of ‘Red, Blue, Blue, Red’ or ‘Yellow, Red, Red, Red, Yellow’ It’s also full of quirky Japanese FMV clips between rounds, and while the whole thing has a distinct low-budget feel to it I find it to be another enjoyable game in the Saturn library and is definitely a title which would have been fully suited to an arcade release.


Heisei Tensai Bakabon Susume! Bakabons Heisei Tensai Bakabon Susume! Bakabons

Heisei Tensai Bakabon Susume! Bakabons Heisei Tensai Bakabon Susume! Bakabons

Heisei Tensai Bakabon Susume! Bakabons Heisei Tensai Bakabon Susume! Bakabons

Heisei Tensai Bakabon Susume! Bakabons Heisei Tensai Bakabon Susume! Bakabons
(Kale’s work on the Saturn driver makes Japanese Saturn game Heisei Tensai Bakabon Susume! Bakabons playable in UME/MESS 0.148u1)

Other Saturn games have benefited too, platformer Rayman has also seen a marked improvement and while it still has some graphical issues, you can at least play it a bit now (I’ve only tested the first level mind you)


Rayman Rayman

Rayman Rayman
(Rayman, the happiest character in any video game, now less likely to make you sad)

A few tweaks to the SCU DSP emulation also helped games like Croc, and certainly improves things despite it being more of a kludge than a real fix, the entire thing could do with being made a CPU core, even if the cost to performance might not be desirable. Actually the performance already isn’t desirable for many of the 3D games, hopefully there is room to optimize at least some of them, although a couple of ones I profiled didn’t look hopeful.


Croc Croc
Croc Croc
Croc Croc
(Croc also benefited from Saturn improvements, although currently runs slow and still has glitches)

It’s with a word of caution I mention this next thing, because battery saves in Sonic 3 are actually broken in 148u1 (although they have since been fixed)

You might be aware that Sonic and Knuckles for the Genesis employed ‘Lock-on’ technology, allowing you to plug Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 in to them to give special games, in the former case a version of Sonic 2 with Knuckles in it, and in the latter the ‘complete’ version of Sonic 3, featuring all the Sonic 3 and Sonic + Knuckles stages as well as the ability to play as Knuckles in Sonic 3 with brand new routes etc.

Most Genesis emulators (all PC ones?) simple use a hacked up ROM to support this, merging the data from Sonic and Knuckles with the data from Sonic 2/3 to allow this to work, and it works fine but you miss one key feature. On real hardware you could plug ANY cartridge into the Sonic and Knuckles one, and while you’re presented with an initial ‘No-Way’ screen that can be bypassed by pressing buttons A+B+C on the pad to give you a single unique special stage level generated using the cartridge you plugged in as the random seed.


Sonic & Knuckles with Sonic 2 Sonic & Knuckles with Sonic 3
(The well known cases of Sonic & Knuckles being locked on to Sonic 2 and Sonic 3)

As of 148u1 MESS has moved Sonic & Knuckles ‘lock-on’ support to the slot system, meaning that launch syntax of “ume genesis sk -cart2 waniwani” will tell UME/MESS to launch Sonic & Knuckles with ‘waniwani’ (Wani Wani World, one of my favourite Japanese Megadrive games) in ‘cart2’ which is the name MESS assigns to the slot on top of the Sonic + Knuckles cart. This is actually the best case to demonstrate the new feature in MESS, because with other emulators you’d have to glue the rom files together manually to try random game carts with it but with MESS it’s now a breeze and you can easily get the expected ‘No Way’ screen and unique level for any cart you fancy plugging in.

Sonic & Knuckes with any other game Sonic & Knuckes with any other game
Sonic & Knuckes with any other game Sonic & Knuckes with any other game
(Sonic & Knuckles locked on to a random game, in this case Wani Wani World)

Sonic 1 is actually another special case like Sonic 2 and 3, although slightly less known. Like inserting any random cart you’ll get the ‘No Way’ screen, but with Sonic 1 the screen isn’t dimmed, and doing the A+B+C combo gives you a game based on the special stages with literally thousands of stages (134217728 apparently) and a password system. There are so many stages it would actually take several hundred years to play them all ;-) “ume genesis sk -cart2 sonic” gives you that lock-on combination anyway.


Sonic & Knuckles with Sonic 1 Sonic & Knuckles with Sonic 1
Sonic & Knuckles with Sonic 1 Sonic & Knuckles with Sonic 1
Sonic & Knuckles with Sonic 1 Sonic & Knuckles with Sonic 1
(Sonic & Knuckles with Sonic 1 locked on)

Anyway this progress from etabeta shows how the MESS slot system can be flexible and allow you to use the systems in a way that closely mimics how you would use the real hardware and while it was possible to run the pre-merged locked on files before, this still manages to bring something new to the table. The downside of this is it’s now a little less convenient to launch the combined Sonic & Knuckles + Sonic 2/3 combo because you have to manually specify it, although I hope maybe one day the softlist can simply have an alias that does it for you.

In MAME you have just the solitary new playable game if you ignore the video poker titles, that being Brixian as featured in a previous update here. There are some worthwhile clones supported tho, a complete dump of the Japanese version of WWF Superstars means you can see a very American product presented in a Japanese way, with the use of Japanese text being significant enough that the version released over there required a different graphic rom to accommodate it, something of a rarity.


Brixian
(Brixian was the only newly working game in MAME 0.148u1 not falling under the gambling category)


WWF Superstars (Japan) WWF Superstars (Japan)
(..but it’s good to see new clones still turning up as well, including the Japanese version of WWF Superstars)

The other big thing across both projects is a round of cleanups. A lot of drivers are affected by these so-called ‘tagmap’ cleanups, something I hinted on in my 2012 article. While claims of miraculous speed increases across the board are somewhat unfounded these code cleanups have helped win back some long-lost performance in several drivers, and for some really abusive ones the gains are significant although those cases are few in number. It’s not going to make much difference to high-end drivers where the overhead caused by even high levels of hash lookups isn’t significant compared to the rest of the emulation, but for a number of lower-end drivers it provides a timely speed boost.

PSX, as I mentioned at the very start has seen some significant improvements over the past few weeks. Primarily the controller and memcard support was fixed, meaning games built using the dualshock libraries now accept inputs. Fixes were also made to the CD code allowing many more games to actually boot in the first place.

I should probably start by saying that it isn’t perfect, many games are missing FMVs, showing only blank screens, and for a large chunk of the Japanese library such conditions can’t be bypassed, leaving you often with nothing but a blank screen and some looping audio from the FMV. Furthermore almost every game using CDDA for the audio has severe issues of bad audio being played, often ear-popping data tracks being played instead of the actual audio ones. Some games also still fail protection checks so only cracked copies work, and for games using libcrypt protection (of which there are many in Europe at least) don’t currently work because there is no way to integrate the SBI subdata files from redump.org into the CHDs; some of those protections are subtle and will only crash the games after a few levels (eg. Spyro 2)

With that out the way I’ll say that many, many games are playable; European exclusive Terracon is one such game and a game I really enjoyed back in the day although I’d completely forgotten what it was called and was unable to find anything to point me in the right direction until somebody else remembered what it was called for me and I gave it a spin in MESS.


Terracon Terracon
Terracon Terracon

Harmful Park is a Japanese PSX game, a great Parodius style shooter to boot. For all people go on about how great the 2D games were on the Saturn I’d argue that the PSX actually had the better titles overall, at least in Japan, even if the Saturn had stronger arcade conversions of the Capcom titles. Anyway Harmful Park would have been right at home in the arcades, it’s bizarre, well themed and throws in some imaginative ideas to provide a memorable experience.


Harmful Park Harmful Park
Harmful Park Harmful Park

The Playstation is also home to a number of games where the arcade originals are not yet emulated. Raiden DX is one of these, and thanks to the flexibility of MESS when it comes to screen rotations you can easily run it in the mode designed for a rotated TV and get the full arcade-like experience from it. This is one where the intro movie is black, but luckily if you leave it the game will get to the title screen and play beautifully.


Raiden DX
Raiden DX Raiden DX
Raiden DX Raiden DX

One version of ‘The Block Kuzushi’ was released for the Arcades, but several others were released for the Playstation as part of the budget ranges in Japan, including a Hello Kitty themed one! They’re actually very good Breakout / Arkanoid style games.


Hello Kitty - The Block Kuzushi Hello Kitty - The Block Kuzushi
Hello Kitty - The Block Kuzushi Hello Kitty - The Block Kuzushi

Another genre I enjoy is the ‘clear the screen of enemies’ type of games, best known in the arcades in the form of games like Bubble Bobble and Tumble Pop. On the Playstation IREM put out a fine example of this Genre in the forum of Gussun Paradise, which takes the characters from their popular Gussun Oyoyo (Risky Challenge) and puts them in a unique game in said genre. It’s a perfect example of how 3D hardware can help this type of game too, just by adding little effects here and there like spinning the playfield around in certain situations.


Gussun Paradise Gussun Paradise
Gussun Paradise Gussun Paradise

Anyway, that’s enough talking about the Playstation, and while I’ve highlighted mostly 2D arcade-like games a great number of others are fully playable too and I’ll probably do an article showing even more of them at some point in the future. Not everything mentioned here is listed in the softlists yet, so don’t worry if you can’t see them.

Back to MAME, a couple of dumps of IGS036 based games showed up, mostly gambling / mahjong type games, but it’s interesting to note because it’s the CPU used on PGM2 titles. Unfortunately the CPU is the successor to the dreaded IGS027A used on many PGM1 games and IGS gambling boards before it, and we still have no way to deal with that one and this is already confirmed to have per-game internal ROMs just like the 027A does, and they’re likely secured just as well. Furthermore the external part of the program ROMs are well encrypted (some of the best guys on the MAME team say it’s not obvious) and the more recent ones even use secure modules to store the external roms as yet another level of security. The new dumps there only confirm what we didn’t want to know, and that is that these things are very, very nasty, don’t expect to see them emulated any time soon, if ever.

A couple of other interesting bits did turn up, the prototype of Super Pinball Action is very interesting, if not slightly confusing. It dates from 2 years earlier than the release build and has significant changes to both the hardware and the way the game is programmed. Even simple things like the palette format differs on this compared to the final build, as do the bits in spriteram used for priority and colour selection (they appear to be swapped around) Furthermore the prototype uploads data for all 4 background tilemaps on startup and uses the scroll registers to show the correct backgrounds, whereas the final build simply uploads them as and when it needs them, always keeping the scroll registers at 0. Registers are also moved around, inputs are moved around and I’m actually amazed by how much the final display does still resemble the release version. The most confusing aspect of all tho is that there is an extra Z80 on the prototype, and a graphic rom for a horizontally orientated tilemap of some sort, containing the ‘gal’ graphics which aren’t present in the regular graphic roms. This leaves me wondering if the prototype version is some kind of dual screen setup. Unfortunately the board had already been partially stripped for parts, with the sound Z80 removed, but hopefully all the roms are intact; we at least *seem* to be ok aside this mysterious extra program ROM and tile rom I wish I could make more sense of. Ignore the graphical glitch on the screenshots below, it’s caused by missing priority handling in the proto which isn’t yet playable.


Super Pinball Action (released version) Super Pinball Action (proto version)
(The prototype version dates from 2 years earlier and has an extra CPU and tile rom for unknown purposes, possibly a 2nd screen?)

I mentioned gamblers earlier, the work done on ‘New York Joker’ and ‘Number One’ was all included, with both games in working state. I’ve also been sifting through some new dumps and found that the roms from a ‘Hot Mind / Hard Times’ board ANY dumped were actually another version of Lucky Boom, this one on different hardware using a PIC for sound like Hard Times (unfortunately protected, but the Hot Mind one appears to work) It seems Playmark liked to put their gamblers on multiple platforms because as mentioned in the 2012 update we’ve seen Hot Mind on multiple boards too. It’s a handy dump to have too because it should hopefully point us in the right direction for some video registers and allow per-game kludges to be removed. Another thing ANY dumped is a game called ‘Fruit Fresh’ (although startup messages call it ‘Dream World’) I haven’t figured out how the reels work on it yet tho, might be some kind of raster effect / partial update scheme as the scroll values appear to be written multiple times in a frame.


Fresh Fruit Fresh Fruit
(Work in progress on a Fresh dump of a Fruity game)

Bug fixes are important to, be they for regressions, or long-standing issues with games which have been present from when they were first emulated. GTI Club is the recipient of a set of such fixes, with improvements to the ROZ layer amongst other things allowing for the sun in the sky to be correctly rendered instead of the Winners Don’t Use Drugs logo hovering up there, and while that was certainly cool in a surreal kind of way it definitely wasn’t correct until now, it’s good to see Ville active again!


GTI Club
GTI Club
(The sun is out and shining bright thanks to fixes to the Konami ROZ layer emulation used by GTI Club)

One bugfix that isn’t specific to a driver comes from Phil. B who has mentioned in the comments below that he fixed an important core bug relating to -aviwrite for 0.148u1 as well. All prior versions would introduce a glitchy frame in the video when crossing 2GB boundaries on the output file and this is evident in many of the videos I’ve uploaded to my YouTube account. While it might sound like a minor niggly issue it was certainly a major source of irritation if you wanted glitch-free videos prior to this release.

There have been system / game specific fixes in MESS too, and while the Chinese release ‘Ya Se Chuan Shuo (Chi)’ for the Megadrive / Genesis is listed as one such case where the protection has been emulated and the game should now be working it appears to have other issues here, crashing on startup so I’ll be leaving that one until u2 I think. The unlicensed Wisdom Tree games for the Gameboy also suffered a regression at some unknown point in the last year or two, 0.148u1 brings those back up to working state, and while the religious overtones might not be to everybody’s tastes several of the games are actually just takes on the Boulderdash theme.


Exodus Joshua Joshua - Lost Levels Spiritual Warfare
Exodus Joshua Joshua - Lost Levels Spiritual Warfare
(The Gameboy Wisdom Tree releases had regressed at some point, 0.148u1 fixes them again)

While the above Gameboy games almost certainly worked at one point in the past several NeoGeo Pocket games didn’t due to bugs in the TLC900 CPU core, a number of those bugs were identified and fixed by Wilbert Pol, resulting in additional working / less glitchy games. Noted improvements include the original NGP Pocket Tennis as well as NGPC games ‘SNK Gals Fighter’ and ‘Mezase! Kanji Ou’.


Pocket Tennis Pocket Tennis Pocket Tennis Pocket Tennis

Gals Fighter Gals Fighter Gals Fighter Gals Fighter

Mezase! Kanji Ou Mezase! Kanji Ou Mezase! Kanji Ou Mezase! Kanji Ou

Tweaks were also made to the Master System drivers, with subtle behavioral differences of the Korean systems emulated, needed in order for the numerous MSX conversions that were released over there to work, those games were often incompatible with the official baseline systems from Sega.

Continued updates and improvements to the Software Lists, including new lists, compatibility status updates as well as fleshing out a number of the skeleton listings also occurred between 0.148 and 0.148u1 with special mentions to Microvision and also the Philips Videopac G7400 and Videopac+ G7400 where there were also some significant driver improvements made (US users will likely know them as the Magnavox Odyssey 2/3)

I mentioned Microvision, and it’s certainly a significant one. The driver was added in 0.148, and is still considered non-working and from my brief testing of Connect 4 it’s easy to see why, the pieces rarely end up where you tell them to drop and, an it seems entirely random that the computer decides to drop a piece where it wants one. Clearly there is still work to do, but it’s an important system to have emulated, it’s generally considered to be the first handheld video system, and the actual game cartridges contain no ROM chips, but instead MCUs with internal ROMs, so simply having them dumped is a miracle (even if I think there is some question over possible bad bits) Here are some screenshots from Connect 4 running.


Microvision - Connect 4 Microvision - Connect 4 Microvision - Connect 4 Microvision - Connect 4
(Microvision screenshots.. not specs of dirt on your screen)

So before you ask if I’m serious, yes, I’m serious, those are the screenshots, the unit is so early it had a resolution of just 16×16 pixels, and the pieces for one player are represented with a 2×2 cross-hatch pattern, and the other solid 2×2 squares. That’s it, here are some enlarged versions of the same thing, just so that you can see them on a monitor! You’ll definitely want to run these with a high -prescale value in MESS if you don’t just want to see a washed out blur!


Microvision - Connect 4 Microvision - Connect 4 Microvision - Connect 4 Microvision - Connect 4
(Microvision screenshots.. magnified 1600%)

As I said, keep in mind it isn’t considered working yet, but at the same time understand how incredibly cool just being able to run that is, well unless you were expecting the Microvision to be something made by Microsoft before the Xbox I guess.

Going back to the previously mentioned VideoPac/Odyssey systems, not only have they received basic softlists in 0.148u1 (with plenty of todo notes indicating where things could be cleaned up, and what still need sourcing) but the emulation has improved significantly, from timing details etc. on the basic unit to huge improvements to the G7400 (which is still marked as non-working, but has several playable games now) Let’s start by looking at some G7000 titles in the form of Pick Axe Pete, and Attack of the Timelord! (likely released as Terrahawks in Europe)


Attack of the Timelord Attack of the Timelord

Pickaxe Pete Pickaxe Pete
(The original G7000 / Odyssey 2 releases of Attack of the Timelord / Terrahawks and Pickaxe Pete)


Fairly basic looking games, but Attack of the Timelord does make use of the speech unit like several games on the platform (actually there’s a MameTesters bug stating that several others should, but it doesn’t always work)

Now the G7400 received enhanced versions of both these games (as Terrahawks and Pickaxe Pete) and the emulation of them is much better in 148u1 than it was before now. The screenshots below show the additional backgrounds present in the G7400 versions


Terrahawks (G7400) Terrahawks (G7400)

Pickaxe Pete (G7400) Pickaxe Pete (G7400)
(The enhanced G7400 / Odyssey 2 releases of Terrahawks and Pickaxe Pete)


Both are actually charming little systems with games, that while often conforming to standard genres do try to do things a bit differently, even if it can make some of them a little difficult to understand at times. The pictured games might not be the best example of this, but still it’s a curious early system for those willing to do a bit of digging, just be warned not all games are fully compatible across NTSC/PAL regions, so running the Euro version of Frogger on an NTSC Odyssey will give you a flickery mess, the softlists, while making things easier, only currently list the regions not the compatibility, also like I mentioned the G7400 is still marked as NOT WORKING, so your mileage may vary.

The ZX Spectrum emulation hasn’t seen any improvements in 0.148u1, but it’s another one where the softlists have been fleshed out a bit, specifically the Spectrum +3 Disk listings have had the SPS releases incorporated, and having A-grade dumps listed as being known is obviously a good thing as they provide an absolute reference for quality so when they fail we know it’s our emulation that’s to blame, not the images.


Light Corridor Spectrum Light Corridor Spectrum
(The ZX Spectrum +3 Software List now lists the SPS dumped IPF images, which are a good benchmark to assess driver compatibility against)

The MSX is another system where we haven’t really seen any improvements in the new release, but the softlists have been improved, and are now a lot more complete. This again allows for testing and building of compatibility lists, as well as providing a more complete view of what was released on a system. When I did my writeup looking at some ports of classic games the coverage of the MSX was weaker than it should have been because the lists were incomplete.


Dig Dug (MSX) Galaga (MSX) Rally X (MSX)
Dig Dug (MSX) Galaga (MSX) Rally X (MSX)
(The MSX Software List now better represents the platform)

It’s interesting to see how official Home ports of things like Galaga compare to the unofficial ‘Fantastic’ Arcade port mentioned in the 2012 writeup.

The whatsnew for 0.148u1 lists the Vector HLSL, but it’s still turned off at source level, so any changes to settings will have no effect, that’s one for the future rather than something you’re going to play with in u1.

Fixes for a couple of things mentioned in the 2012 write-up have also been made by the developers, including improvements to the control handling in Armadillo Racing. The problem with Winning Run was also identified, but not fixed; the game turns on the TMS co-processors before it has uploaded code to them, this makes the behavior unpredictable and can cause out of bounds accesses that will crash MAME on some systems (like mine..)

The tagmap optimizations weren’t the only ones made for this release either, some drivers got specific attention, for example I put a lot of work into optimizing and improving stability of the Virtual Boy driver, you can now tell that Bound High is actually running too fast, although it’s still strangely addictive and I’d actually class it as my favourite game on the platform even if it’s a prototype and didn’t see a release back in the day.


Bound High - Virtual Boy
Bound High - Virtual Boy
(Bound High on the Virtual Boy, aim your bounces to land on the enemies, now with optimized driver)

The work on MIDI related technology has continued in u1 with Midi-out now being supported and hooked up to both the Apple 2 and PC drivers, allowing said emulated drivers to control external MIDI devices.

For general use you’re unlikely to notice too much, but there is one slight issue with this in that the timing when communicating with Midi devices isn’t quite right. The reason for this is due to the way MAME time and REAL time are only synced on a per-frame basis (and thus real world inputs and outputs if we don’t want to buffer them). A change was temporarily made to sync screenless systems at a far higher frequency but doing so makes MAME/MESS more prone to slowdowns as you can’t have any performance spikes within any single sub-division of the time within each ‘frame’ or the overall speed will drop below 100% and several drivers were doing that (CPU usage over a frame is a lot less smooth than you’d expect, and would be even worse with video based systems where the render call tends to happen as one single ‘spike’) Anyway, it’s possible that will be configurable in the future, at least for screenless systems, and maybe even ones with screens too, just be weary of the performance issues.

As an aside you can actually notice a similar performance spiking in a game in MAME already for other reasons. Pasha Pasha 2 (pasha2) as a game runs the game logic at 30fps, but the screen update is 60fps, this means that it spends an entire frame each frame doing NOTHING, and then has a heavy frame where it does everything. As a result you can unthrottle it to run at 120% (because the ‘nothing’ frames then take no time at all to process even if the heavy frames are still significant and this skew the results) but if you leave it throttled it only runs at 75% because the real bottleneck is the heavier frames. You’d start to see the same (confusing) behavior for many unexpected drivers if you attempted to sync MAME time and REAL time at a higher rate than once per frame.

As you can probably tell by now 148u1 has been a very MESS-centric update, at least as far as the interesting bits of progress go but hopefully I’ve also highlighted enough smaller bits of MAME progress to show that we’re still giving it plenty of attention. I expect this general trend to continue in the future as the amount of arcade bits we can work on and realistically make any progress with in a short space of time continue to wind down, especially with the likes of The Dumping Union struggling due to an issue with their donation system. I do have some MAME targets still in mind, so if you really only care about the arcade stuff then don’t worry, but I do hope some of the coverage here opens up eyes as to where the progress is heading, and how, especially in Japan, there really were a lot of arcade style games even on the non-arcade platforms.

Go to article.. »

2012 – A Year in MAME

Time flies.. I wanted to have something like this up for the start of January, it’s now nearing the end, but better late than never. Most of this hasn’t been proofread yet, but I’ll correct any obvious errors over time.

In a previous update I mentioned about wanting to do a write up of 2012, the highlights and such or maybe more along the lines of a general commentary of things I’ve noticed over the last year. Well that’s what I’ve tried to do here. Keep in mind that this is an opinion piece as much as anything, it isn’t exhaustive and people are free to disagree with any of it but hopefully a few of you will at least find it interesting.


#1 – Single Public SVN


Of course, one of the big highlights for me is MAME reeling in the work of MESS, bringing the projects closer together than ever although this makes for a serious question, should I be covering only MAME aspects of the project or the whole lot. As mentioned, the MAME whatsnew files are easier to reference because they’re neatly organized on the official site, MESS doesn’t have that (yet) but at the same time a lot of the interesting progress has been happening in MESS.

People have asked why I consider the bringing together of the projects a highlight, why I consider it a positive when some even see it as a negative especially when MESS does still lag behind for many popular systems and even with perfect emulation is unlikely to ever offer all the bells and whistles many of the standalones can offer; in part because a lot of those go beyond emulation into the field of pseudo-emulation, artificial enhancements and the like.

For me it’s simple, the work being done in MESS is the future of the project, arcades were more or less a product of a generation, all but dead today. MAME is our brand, and by always breaking new ground managed to cement a place in history of its own. MESS on the other hand has always been a case of missed opportunities, at least in areas people are likely to notice.

Now, don’t misread what I’m saying here, we’re still not offering MAME and MESS as one single package like I do with UME, but having the code sitting side-by-side so that people who see one part of it also see the other is a huge improvement over the previous situation of 2 SVNs and ugly merging between them.

Like with everything, it’s important to evolve to stay relevant, stay active and the above situation creates something of a quandary. MAME plays an important role, it’s a recognized symbol for documentation, preservation and providing an open gateway to the past, all very important things. It is however generation locked, you can trace a clear decline in levels of interest in MAME by the generation because arcades mean nothing to people under a certain age. As a result MAME, while having a secure place in history is also becoming increasingly irrelevant to the very people who are likely to be able to take it forward. The MESS aspect provides that relevance again, it keeps the project alive, and active, keeps developers on board and enhances the chances of fixes and improvements being made to the project as a whole but due to its sketchy history, lack of awareness and lack of an established brand like MAME I feel will struggle to establish a foothold alone.

I’ve always felt there is a tight window of opportunity to rectify this, it has to be done while MAME is still a strong enough brand to attract interest, while there are still enough people paying attention to realise and acknowledge that is the direction in which things are happen, to learn and understand the MESS aspect, to get on board, to spread the word etc. A point before the next generation of systems hits seems ideal to me, if people porting MAME to new platforms see that MESS is a part of it then MESS gets that exposure to a new generation; the good, and the bad. Right now even relatively modern ports such as MAME4Droid Reloaded *completely* ignore the MESS aspect (possibly because it wasn’t in the source for their base build) when in reality plenty of systems from MESS, especially the 8-bit consoles (where there are no complex controls) would perform well on the hardware targeted.

So yes, that would be my number one highlight of the year, was the tighter integration of MESS and the merging of the SVNs, 21 Aug 2012 I feel will go down as a significant date in the history of the projects, and while I still somewhat controversially believe we should be promoting the MESS aspect into the main MAME offerings sooner rather than later even the work done so far should help both keep the work being done by the MAME team relevant to new generations and prolong the life of both projects.

Equally as positive for me was that the code needed to compile the combined UME build was included in this new SVN making it an easy option for anybody who compiles the project.

For these reasons hopefully you’ll understand why the remainder of this article references both MAME and MESS, because to me they’re actually just two parts of one thing and progress is intertwined and heavily related.

I’ll come back to this more later, but for now let’s swiftly move on.


#2 – The Rare, Endangered and Forgotten


I can theorize about the risk of MESS being forgotten, or MAME stagnating and becoming irrelevant all day long, but what we do know for sure is that it did happen to a number of arcade games, remembered only vaguely if at all, or simply so scarce sourcing them at all, let alone playing them, is impossible.

That of course is not a good situation, for people who do remember them it can be maddening, try explaining to people about a game you played which isn’t in recorded history at all and most of them will probably just think you’re either loopy or just making the whole thing up.

The list of rare, and mostly forgotten, or even thought to be extinct games emulated over the past year is impressive, it’s been a good year for Deco Cassettes all of which can be considered rare and fragile. It’s great news whenever one of these is found, although the ones we’ve found so far are still only the tip of the iceberg, there are plenty more we don’t even have so much as a screenshot for.

Oozumou – The Grand Sumo, Manhattan, DS Telejan, Skater, Fishing (Angler Dangler), as well as the cassette version of Super Doubles Tennis and the original version of Burger Time from when it was still simply known as ‘Hamburger’ were the key Deco Cassette finds, and combined with a bit of extra work on the driver things are in better shape than ever. Thanks to the hard work of people involved with the project it’s also easier and safer to dump the cassettes and analyse the dongles than it has been in the past too because the dongles no longer need opening up to read them. The likes of Hamburger might not appear important on the surface because you can already just run the regular ‘Burger Time’ game, but it’s important to see where the game originated, and also significant because this is the version from which the Cook Race bootleg was derived and thus an important piece of the jigsaw and shows once again that being first to market was often very important for the bootleggers back then.


Angler Dangler (Deco Cassette System) Angler Dangler (Deco Cassette System)
(Angler Dangler is one of several rare Deco Cassette games now emulated, probably the most well known of them to be found in 2012)

Fishing (Deco Cassette System) Fishing (Deco Cassette System)
(In Japan it was simply known as ‘Fishing’ that version was emulated a few months earlier)

DS Telejan (Deco Cassette System) DS Telejan (Deco Cassette System)
(The Deco Cassette System had its token Mahjong games too, this one is now the first one emulated)

Skater (Deco Cassette System) Skater (Deco Cassette System)
(Skater is a hidden gem on the system, and doesn’t appear to have seen a non-cassette release)

Manhattan (Deco Cassette System) Manhattan (Deco Cassette System)
(Manhattan is fondly remembered by some US based MAME users for it saw a brief appearance in some arcades over there)

Hamburger (Deco Cassette System) Hamburger (Deco Cassette System)
(The original Japanese release of Burger Time was simply known as Hamburger, and appears to be the source of the well known Cook Race bootleg)

Oozumou - The Grand Sumo (Deco Cassette System) Oozumou - The Grand Sumo (Deco Cassette System)
(Oozumou – The Grand Sumo was another exclusive to the cassette system)

Super Doubles Tennis (Deco Cassette System) Super Doubles Tennis (Deco Cassette System)
(The cassette version of Super Doubles Tennis was also less well known than the ROM PCB version)

Last Survivor made big news too, as you’d expect from a much sought after Sega title. It might be borderline unplayable without the original controller device but at least having it emulated opens up the real possibility of somebody being able to reconstruct an original multiplayer setup for it; finding just one copy of it before was tricky enough, never mind the 4 you’d need for that!


Last Survivor Last Survivor
(The FD1094 encryption module on Last Survivor survived long enough for it to be read out but we’re on borrowed time with all of these now)

Rise of the Robots crept in the first release of this year, and this is eligible for my year in review, and even if it was technically a 2013 build the work in progress videos had been shown in the final weeks of 2012. That one was an extraordinary case of somebody still having a working HDD of the game which was only ever a limited prototype / location test everybody has assumed was long gone. The actual motherboard was in poor condition, no longer functional but the boot ROM could still be read, the HDD was still in good condition. The final part of the puzzle was Phil B who managed to whip up a driver the relatively obtuse platform, made by Bellfruit, better known for their Fruit Machines, in relatively no time at all, impressive. It’s terrible, but when you consider the amount of hype the game received back in the day before everybody realised it was terrible then you’ll understand the significance of this.


Rise of the Robots Rise of the Robots
(Rise of the Robots was a prototype on Bellfruit’s Rasterspeed hardware)

3 on 3 Dunk Madness was another prototype game discovered, interestingly a US build, which when you consider that most games were developed in Japan, and this, being a Video System game was also likely a Japanese development it is quite unusual. It’s also a prototype containing a lot of debug features which may, or may not explain the poor performance of the actual game. It also raises one more question, were there any other games on this hardware platform, the only game known to be using the same board prior to this being dumped was a quiz game released 2 years later, maybe Video System just recycled the boards after this game failed?


3 on 3 Dunk Madness 3 on 3 Dunk Madness
(3 on 3 Dunk Madness, A Video System prototype)

Fresh in the mind are the two recent finding in Italy, Grasspin and Planet Probe, both likely location test builds, or prototypes, each significant for a different reason. Planet Probe is likely an Orca / Kyugo development, basically the roots of Toaplan, who would in turn become the roots of companies like Cave and Raizing and people who have played it have even commented that it throws an awful lot at you for an early game, even if it does become repetitive.


Planet Probe Planet Probe
(Planet Probe, late Orca, early Toaplan?)

Grasspin of course you can read about just below, it appears to be tied to Zilec, the UK based developer for Jaleco, apparently it saw location tests in Greece and presumably Italy because that’s where the PCB was found, but until a couple of weeks ago it was all but forgotten.


Grasspin Grasspin
(Grasspin, Zilec, Jaleco, never seen in Japan..)

Taito’s Sky Destroyer, maybe not a prototype, but certainly rare is another I’ve covered in the past, significant because it’s Taito and because the NES port saw a great deal of fame when it ended up being one of the staple titles in many of the Chinese NES multi-game carts and tv-game clones. The Sky Destroyer progress also inspired some extra work on Cycle Maabou which had been sitting in MAME for longer, but as non-working.


Sky Destroyer Sky Destroyer
(Taito’s Sky Destroyer, known better from the NES port the arcade offers a bit of extra sparkle, including a tilting horizon)

Cycle Maabou Cycle Maabou
(The work on Sky Destroyer prompted a revisit of Cycle Maabou because it uses similar I/O MCUs)

Silver Millennium also featured here, and while I wouldn’t ordinarily include Korean titles in this part of the list because most of them are just shameless rip-offs and hacks this one is an earlier and entirely original Korean game which alone makes it a rarity. The hardware did just turn out to be your every day cheapo Tumble Pop rip-off though.


Silver Millennium Silver Millennium
(Silver Millennium was a rare original from Korea)

Some games are so rare and ill-documented we don’t actually know what they are. I featured an ‘ unknown Japanese horse gambling game’ in a previous update, and even to this day we don’t actually know what it is or who made it and due to its primitive nature it lacks any real form of identification. Italian games Claybuster, Gun Champ and Super Shot had a similar problem but I think we’re now confident which is which.


Clay Buster Clay Buster
(This one is Model Racing’s Clay Buster, lacks a title screen but obvious from the gameplay)

Gun Champ Gun Champ
(Again Model Racing, again no title screen, this one is Gun Champ)

Super Shot Super Shot
(and this 3rd one by Model Racing should be Super Shot, just having the title on screen would have made things so much easier)

Unknown Unknown
(as evidenced by this, because we STILL don’t know what it’s called or who made it)

Flipper Jack edges in here, an obscure Video Pinball by the unknown Jackson Co. I’d never heard of it before it turned up and I doubt many people reading this will have heard of it before MAME either (although some Flyers have been sold on eBay)


Flipper Jack Flipper Jack
(Flipper Jack, lacks polish but is far from the worst video pinball I’ve ever seen)

Magical Speed also turned up out of the blue, with a contribution from a MAME user posting on the forums offering a dump of the game for emulation purposes. This one is slightly unusual in that it’s a Japanese card game from Allumer, but unlike most Japanese card games it’s using a regular deck of cards, not the ones used for Hanafuda titles or Mahjong tiles. As a result this actually means it’s easy enough to pick up and play even if you know nothing of the Japanese language.


Magical Speed Magical Speed
(Magical Speed is a rare Japanese game using a regular deck of cards)

There are a number of MESS systems you could slot in here too, although emulation for many of them is still preliminary and a number lack any actual software to test them with, still having the old systems in the hands of people who care about preserving them and restoring them is a good thing. In this I’d include things like mainframes and business computers, the DEC Rainbow, the NEC APC, and the DEC VK100. Important steps have been taken towards emulating them and while they’re not going to make the headlines in the same way as ‘we found a long lost arcade game’ they’re still important pieces of history and having disks dumped is vitally important too because many of these will simply do nothing without an OS disk of some sort.


NEC APC
(The NEC APC is still marked as NOT WORKING, but already boots several disks and provides groundwork for future developments)

NEC APC
(The VK100 is in a more skeletal state and still fails self-checks)

There are other similar systems added in various states but none of them are going to make for interesting screenshots just yet, so I’ll leave it at those two, but needless to say it’s an important area just and many of the systems are very rare these days because they have no remaining practical uses at all.

In terms of actual gaming devices it was figured out how to dump the MCUs used for the games on what is recognized as the very first handheld, the Microvision, and that’s a very important step because poor design meant those were highly susceptible to ESD damage zapping the game CPUs while in normal use. The softlist for them did miss my cut-off date for things included in this article, but the emulation was submitted before that, so while there is work to do it gets a mention, just. No screenshots for it right now tho.


#3 – Diversity


Video based Arcade games only represent a small fraction of what the MAME core and emulated components can deliver. MESS presents the best showcase of this because it doesn’t have the hard ‘arcade only’ rule, so unsurprisingly that is where some of the more adventurous work is occurring.

I’ve talked about screenless systems in the past, and often such discussions rile some people as the connection to fruit machine games is a strong one and an area of gaming technology many seem to think would be best left to die, not be granted a place in MAME alongside what are seen as more prestigious products. In MESS however some of the systems falling under this bracket are much more interesting; Electronic Toys (the Parker Bros. Merlin) and a whole bunch of Synths all fall into the screenless category and development of drivers for the latter in the rear end of 2012 / early 2013 has spurred on the inclusion of the PortMidi library in MAME which should allow for the emulation of these devices to interact with real Midi devices connected to a PC thus boosting the practical uses for MESS to a whole new field.


Parker Bros. Merlin (MESS) Parker Bros. Merlin (Real)
(The Parker Bros. Merlin, a screenless system in MESS, real unit shown on the right)

Developments like this are exciting, I’ve talked in the first point made about work in MESS keeping the project relevant and this is just one such example, opening doors to do something you simply couldn’t do before, all within the framework of the MAME project.

If we look to the PortMidi integration, and the development prior to it we can see that the emulation of the synths also pushed forward improvements to the 68681 DUART emulation used by a variety of systems including various fruit machines, and the Taito Ensoniq sound system which actually happens to be the same tech as found in some of the synths but repurposed by Taito for a number of arcade platforms throughout the 90s. This has allowed code to be tidied up and given us a better understanding of why the Taito sound system is as it is (over complex!) because we can see how it has evolved from a device where things needed to be more flexible. This is a perfect example of how progress in one area of the emulator can help shore up another area when the two are seemingly unrelated to the naked eye.

The screenless systems people have noticed the most, and been the least impressed with us supporting are the Fruit Machines mentioned above, 20,000 non-working sets is a lot, and while most of them are clones (so the *real* number is a lot lower) it’s still non-trivial. When I embarked on doing those I’ll be honest, I didn’t realise just how many clone sets there were going to be, the existing Fruit Machine emulators typically used one set of ROMSs per game and that was it, and even after discovering that there was a dat file in which existing dumps had been recorded the disorganization of the thing initially led me to think each game most likely just used a bunch of ROMs, not that a zip with 20 files would actually be 20 sets and still missing a sound roms! That said, if I’d known everything I know now from the off I would have more likely been petrified at the prospect of sorting it all out rather than just mildly worried. We’re getting there though, slowly but surely and there is value to having these things documented properly, with proper sorting and verification that everything is actually what it claims to be; several people who repair / maintain the original hardware have already said thanks for the effort. Work has been done across the board on these systems and while it is too early to really appreciate most of it the moment it’s been pleasing (at least to me) to see early 90s classics like Electrocoin’s Sphinx showing some life. Pyramid, which is more or less the same game as Sphinx is also pointing at issues with our Z180 core and could be useful in fixing them.


Electrocoin Sphinx Electrocoin Sphinx
(Sphinx is showing signs of life, although the protocol for the text display, the sound system and the reels aren’t fully understood, you can see roughly how the layout relates to the machine tho)

Improvements to the artwork / rendering system are vital to properly representing these screenless systems, and while I’d certainly consider the code a sub-optimal kludge one important thing done in 2012 was allowing fruit machine reels to be rendered in a such a way they appear to actually be rotating / scrolling, much work still to be done in this area though.

Pinball is the other big set of screenless drivers, ironically not as ill received as the fruit machines when in reality they’re far less likely to ever be anything but I/O testers in MAME. Maybe because people remember PinMAME and how it could be hooked up to an external application? As I’ve mentioned in the past most of these are having to be implemented from scratch because the old PinMAME code was allowed to diverge so far from the baseline project. The last few months have seen a number of them have basic functionality restored (ability to trigger sensors, get tunes to play etc.) although it’s still miles away from what PinMAME was and still can’t be connected to a simulated machine in the same way (although most people seem to have abandoned that in favour of non-emulated enhanced versions from what I can see anyway)

Anyway, between the Fruit Machines, Pinball and Mess work there were actually a couple of other interesting, more unique screenless bits and pieces improved or added and improvements made to aid in their operation.

One very handy feature added was the internal mouse pointer for systems with clickable artwork. This, combined with work done on the game 30 Test (added the previous year, but only gaining a decent layout and clickable artwork last year) provide a good reference point for just how functional a screenless system can be. Kung-Fu Roushi and Janken Man Kattara Ageru are two other screenless systems.


30 Test (Screenless) Kung-Fu Roushi (Screenless)
(30 Test and Kung-Fu Roushi are good examples of how screenless systems can be perfectly usable with an appropriate internal layout)

Janken Man Kattara Ageru (Screenless)
(Janken Man Kattara Ageru shows that the internal layouts needn’t be ugly either)

Not every mechanical game with balls is a Pinball either, Taito games “Ice Cold Beer” and clone “Zeke’s Peak” both saw progress too, although for the same reason as the pinballs all you can really do is trigger the various event sensors but in doing so you can still trigger the winning sequences, hear any familiar tunes etc. Anyway, me writing about these isn’t going to win anybody over, you’re either going to think they’re kinda cool because it’s the original code running, albeit without most of the game, or a complete waste of time and space because there really is no game to play.


Ice Cold Beer Ice Cold Beer
(They don’t really look similar, but the left is the code of Ice Cold Beer running in MAME, the real machine is on the right, it’s a mechanical game, but you can trigger the events)

One area MAME and MESS both need to get a grip on is 3D games, the combination of fast CPUs, DSPs requiring tight sync and advanced, difficult to understand 3D hardware are not a good combination if you want to avoid cheating but it’s not an area where MAME wants to find itself locked to only 2D games and hardware because that poses a similar problem (in my opinion) to locking yourself to only arcades, it’s dead tech and a dead end.

MESS saw a lot of rumblings with N64 earlier in the year, a number of improvements which helped even with the N64 based bits in MAME (the Aleck 64 platform) but ultimately hit the sticking point of needing fast emulated CPUs with tight sync often to just boot and that’s before you even consider the 3D rendering. The worst part is it’s terribly slow, and the cores are already recompilers; to boost compatibility you actually have to turn the recompiler off at which point it becomes just painful. I guess the highlight there is at least it got looked at, the downside is nobody really has a solution. Many of the N64 based titles in MAME are presented at 2D games, but really it’s a 3D system, at 6-10% speed tho the performance woes can be hard to understand when all you’re seeing is a 2D game, they’re not easy to accept / understand for most people anyway when they remember running full speed N64 ’emulation’ on a 400Mhz PC back in the day and explaining that the emulation they saw then wasn’t really much emulation at all isn’t easy. Anyway, if I take a build from a year ago then ‘Hanabi de Doon! – Don-chan Puzzle’ crashes when you try to start a game, if I take the current build it doesn’t, so whatever changes have been made they’ve definitely helped compatibility at least.


Hanabi de Doon! - Don-chan Puzzle Hanabi de Doon! - Don-chan Puzzle
(Hanabi de Doon! – Don-chan Puzzle runs on N64 based arcade hardware, 6-10% performance means it looks better than it plays tho)

If I’m to focus on the positives Ville has been active with a number of 3D systems, especially Konami ones. Systems like the Cobra platform on which Fighting Bujutsu runs utilize a triple PowerPC CPU setup, enough to intimidate even the most experienced of devs seem to have been taken in stride and while it remains a long way from being a playable game, let alone see playable framerates the work being done does underpin any further developments MAME might one day see. (note, can’t make screenshots of this, emulation seems to have regressed, crashing on boot, see his YouTube Video for what it’s meant to look like)

Thrill Drive (Konami NWK-TR platform) as well as the games on GTI Club and similar hardware (GTI Club, Solar Assault, Hang Pilot) also saw the similar attention, the Viper hardware bits (Xtrail Racing, GTI Club 2) also featured in updates late last year, although I believe are yet to be submitted (YouTube video from November). In all the mentioned cases you’ll want to spent some time tweaking the inputs and analog settings in MAME to something more responsive, and be warned performance isn’t good, at least not on a Core 2 Duo (Solar Assault is about 50% speed, the rest are worse) maybe a quad core significantly improves things here.


GTI Club GTI Club
(The original GTI Club was popular in the Arcades, and is playable in MAME)

Hang Pilot Hang Pilot
(Hang Pilot used an immersive dual screen setup to not only show the player the view in front, but also below)

Solar Assault Solar Assault
(Solar Assault is a polished 3D ‘on rails’ shooter, and performs better than the other games in the driver)

Thrill Drive Thrill Drive
(Thrill Drive, one of the few games I can think of where the attract mode glorifies crashes rather than the actual racing!)

Yet another Konami driver also saw work from Ville, in this case the Konami Hornet hardware, or in other words, the Silent Scope run on, edging that forwards as well. Silent Scope again has very poor performance because it’s a dual screen game, the scope view is actually an entire separate display, also the game is still considered non-working at this stage, despite the improvements made over the year.


Silent Scope
(Progress was made on Silent Scope, but it’s still not working and performance is terrible as you’d expect from a dual screen 3D title in MAME)

Not content with Konami hardware, Taito Type-Zero was also touched, and some very impressive work was done there there leading to improvements. While none are yet playable, tend to have flickering 3D, obviously missing graphical effects like additive blending, and occasional crashes it is good to see some progress made. This covers games such as Landing High Japan, Battle Gear 1 & 2, Power Shovel Simulator, and Raizin Ping Pong.


Battle Gear 2 Battle Gear 2
(2012 saw progress on Taito Type-Zero, This is Battle Gear 2.. Car Porn!)
Power Shovel Simulator Power Shovel Simulator
(Digger Porn!)
Landing High Japan Landing High Japan
(and even Plane porn!)

Taito JC saw some work too, mostly modernizations, it was already one of the better emulated 3D systems but fixes over the last year, including some of the more recent changes to the 68040 MMU emulation do appear to have taken their toll on the performance.

Luckily it’s not only Ville tackling 3D hardware, some of the more established drivers have seen touch ups and improvements with the likes of hap making headway with the Namco drivers Phil S. left behind when he no longer had time for MAME, this meant that things like Armadillo Racing could slot in with relative ease once they were dumped. The supported set is a Japan one, and you’d think due to the sheer level of ‘crazy’ this game exhibits that it was probably only released in Japan, but some of the videos you can find of the game appear to show there was actually an official World / US release too. As of even now the trackball hookup seems nonsense compare to what test mode shows however, with UP acting as left, RIGHT acting as right and together them acting as UP, and no way to register any other directions unless I’m just missing the calibration menu someplace.


Armadillo Racing Armadillo Racing
(Armadillo Racing definitely wins ‘WTF’ points for concept alone, and aside some control issues slotted in the relatively well developed System 22 driver with ease)

Namco’s older flat-shaded System 21 also had the various Winning Run games promoted to working state, but they appear to have since regressed, showing no polygons on first boot and/or crashing. I’m guessing they weren’t fully tested after one of the TMS improvements for something else. No Screenshots due to this regression!

The Playstation based drivers also saw some back and forth over the year, with some additions and fixes for newly dumped arcade software (mostly Konami) but also some lingering regressions, 2013 does however look like it might be the year the PSX becomes interesting in MESS based on early checkins! One to watch out for when I do a piece similar to this next year. Anyway Hyper Bishi Bashi Champ, Gachaga Champ, and Handle Champ are your PSX hardware highlights for 2012. All are part of Konami’s ‘Champ’ mini-game series as you might have guessed from the titles, and while Hyper Bishi Bashi Champ is traditional in its offering Gachaga Champ plays things out with a Dual Joystick setup for each player, and Handle Champ uses steering wheels! Some other good news is that because the Playstation hardware is relatively weak compared to some other 3D systems performance is actually much better than most. Again these are 2D games on a 3D platform, not an uncommon use for the Playstation even if it isn’t traditionally considered one of it’s strengths.


Hyper Bishi Bashi Champ Hyper Bishi Bashi Champ
(The versions of Hyper Bishi Bashi Champ supported include several English language sets, the games use the traditional ‘3 Coloured Buttons’ control scheme)

Gachaga Champ Gachaga Champ
(Gachaga Champ takes the same zany concepts but uses dual joysticks)

Handle Champ Handle Champ
(Handle Champ does the same but with driving controls!)

2012 also seems to have seen MAME become more open to 3rd party kits which were sold commercially. Pacman Multigames, Space Invaders multigames and a (non-working) Missile Command multigame made it into the source. While not a drastic change in policy it is good to see these recognized for what they are, a valid contribution to the arcade industry albeit an aftermarket one, aimed more at people collecting, maintaining and operating the original hardware in more modern times. I’d actually quite like to see MAME more open to this kind of thing where significant effort has been put in, or where the software is genuinely useful because while the thousands of ‘misfit’ hacks aren’t especially interesting or worth adding there is a core of more modern software that is and it demonstrates a shift in culture with arcade boards moving from purely the realm of something people played to one where people are creating new and modified software products for them, which is surely history writing itself? I’d also quite like to add open ended software list based loaders for several popular drivers (Pacman and the like) so people can maintain their own ‘misfit’ software lists without us having to include any of that directly, or them having to recompile anything. Definitely some thoughts for 2013 there.


Invaders Multigame Super ABC Pacman Multigame Super ABC Pacman Multigame Invaders Multigame
(Who turned out the lights? 2012 saw several commercially available, but still unofficial Multi-game kits supported)

As an addendum to the above I’d also class the addition of Sega’s Fantasy Zone 2 remake as part of that greater level of openness. Technically it wasn’t a period arcade game, but a much later remake designed for a slightly updated System 16B board. We did we already had a title hacked mutli-game bootleg of it supported but Sega themselves demonstrated it running on actual arcade boards at several shows so it was decided that we may as well support the ‘original’ roms used by the emulator on the PS2 discs. It works on real hardware with a few mods, so while maybe less pure than some supported titles it’s cleaner than the multi-bootleg which attempted to credit the game to ‘ISG of Korea’


Fantasy Zone II (System 16C) Fantasy Zone II (System 16C)
(support for the official remake of Fantasy Zone 2 was added after ROMs from the PS2 release found their way onto PCBs)

Pong made a return to MAME in 2012 too, in a different form to how it was before when it was removed, this time entirely simulated at netlist level with the ability to read in the component list from an external ‘ROM’ file (as opposed to the game actually using ROMs, it has none) A word of warning, while Pong might be the simplest of the discrete games, it doesn’t run 100% correctly yet, and is unlikely to ever run as quickly as you’d expect for such an old game due to the level these things need to be simulated at. However what is important is that it again marks the willingness of the development team to do something new, try out new ideas, and hopefully find a solution suitable for covering this much older category of CPU-less titles, and hybrid ones where the CPU played a bare minimum role in how things worked. DICE is currently doing a better job, but the potential is there.


Pong Pong
(Pong, not a stinker but instead paving the way for future progress on discrete emulation)


#4 – The Surprises


While the majority of items covered in point #2 were surprises they’re not the only kind of surprise you get while working on MAME. The one that sticks in mind for me from 2012 is Demon Front. The IGS game, supposedly with one of their most secure custom protection chips for the period turned out to be amazingly easy to emulate. This didn’t happen because the protection was fully cracked, it happened because IGS more or less forgot to use it, or at least did not use it properly seemingly making no noteworthy use of the internal ROM area. It was a surprise because I initially just changed the program counter of the ARM to the start of the external ROM simply expecting it to blow up in a thousand ways, instead I ended up with a ‘holy crap, it runs’ moment. You can’t apply that to any other IGS game, they’re all protected properly so seeing it ‘just work’ was a surprise of some magnitude.


Demon Front Demon Front
(‘Holy Crap, it runs’ … Demon Front caught me completely off guard by its lazy non-use of the protection)

F1 Super Lap also turned out to be easier than expected, and while I doubt there is a chance in hell of getting the link logic working for multiple boards with the protection workaround I’ve used it was still a lot easier than expected considering people had been saying the protection was rock hard since the days of Modeler. In mentioning that, the work Sailor Sat has been doing on linking multiple instances of MAME was also a nice surprise, but not really in a way suitable for integration with the actual project unfortunately, still good to see people learning MAME.


F1 Super Lap F1 Super Lap
(F1 Super Lap was surprisingly easy to get running after so many people had claimed it was a nightmare)

Jue Zhan Tian Huang aka “that beat ’em up with Street Fighter 2 characters” I guess could also be classed as a surprise. These Chinese hacks are usually based off CPS1 games and having Street Fighter characters you might naturally have assumed this one would be too. In the end it actually turned out to be a Genesis based bootleg hardware (the same used for Puckman Pockimon) running on what seems to be an original game engine. Instead of ripping the original CPS1 art it uses characters graphics taken from the ports of the game, presumably because they have better aspect ratios without rescaling. If only the people who created the Knights of Valor bootleg with SF2 characters recently sourced by The Dumping Union had considered the same.


Jue Zhan Tian Huang Jue Zhan Tian Huang
(Jue Zhan Tian Huang has Street Fighter 2 and King of Fighters characters, surprisingly running on Genesis bootleg hardware)

Another ‘choice of hardware’ surprise was the clone of Hot Mind found by the Mame Italia guys. Playmark were known for converting various boards, but the choice of board in this instance is a curious one. The game turned out to be running on the same board as Fit of Fighting and History of Martial Arts, a platform noteworthy only for its use of the D78C10ACQ sound CPU and the infamy of those two awful rip-off / re-written bootleg fighters. Why that board? Does it have other origins? Were the fighters actually conversions of something else? The sound CPU alone is atypical, only used otherwise by the Metro hardware games which make me think it might have been a platform for other redemption / gambling games before the fighters were put on it.


Hot Mind on Fit of Fighting Hardware Hot Mind on Fit of Fighting Hardware
(Finding a copy of the Playmark Video redemption game Hot Mind on hardware used for the Fit of Fighting bootleg poses many questions)

I’m going to list a Video Poker game in here, mainly to avoid the controversy of listing it under rare, endangered and forgotten given I know people hate these things, although personally I’d consider it such. That game is Draw Poker by Bally. The MCR hardware is best known for the likes of Tapper, Tron, Two Tigers, classic games with a distinct ‘high resolution’ look to them. For this reason it was quite surprising to see an MCR board turn up with poker card graphics in the dumped ROMs. The game turned out to be an officially Bally product, with proper Bally logos on the cards and due to the high resolution nature of the platform is actually more attractive than many of its peers. Unfortunately the sound ROMs were missing, so we’ll need to find another more complete one but it does make me wonder if there are any other forgotten gambling games on this platform!


Bally Draw Poker Bally Draw Poker
(I had no idea there were any games other than the known classics on MCR hardware before this turned up, a surprise for everybody involved)

Being able to install Windows ME under MESS was also a surprise, even if it was near enough useless, the mere technical accomplishment of being able to do it being possible when little over a year ago anything even thinking about switching to protected mode would blow up completely. I did mention this at the time, and maintain that it’s not something you’re going to want to do, but if you force the installer to do it then it can be done.

I’m sure other devs have tales of bits and pieces they found surprising too, but without knowing their thought processes they’re not mine to tell.


#5 – Actual visible progress in difficult areas


You’ve probably noticed with MAME that a lot of drivers sit broken for long periods of time, likewise MESS, that’s often because a lot of those cases are extremely difficult, and any kind of visible progress on them actually represents a significant feat of reverse engineering.

One bar by which you can measure the health of the project is the number of breakthroughs on known ‘tough-nut’ cases, long term non-working drivers which present a significant challenge. Such work shows that the team don’t hide from a challenge, and that the existing developers are either learning, or new highly capable ones are becoming involved with the project. As mentioned earlier MAME made its name by pushing boundaries, challenging what people thought possible and figuring things out for the first time, and it is essential that this continues.

While it’s definitely easier to pick out a list of things that didn’t happen in 2012, some of which received absolutely no attention at all, there were a couple of highlights in this area. The 3 SunA games emulated by Luca; Brick Zone, Star Fighter and SparkMan fall into this category. All 3 games had sat in MAME as unemulated, not working titles for as long as I can remember (the 0.37 series, or early 2001 if my sources are correct) so seeing them finally tackled and the nature of the protection they used mostly understood was one big positive of the year.


Brick Zone Brick Zone Star Fighter Star Fighter
(Brick Zone and Star Fighter, tough nuts to crack when you consider they were low-budget Korean titles)

Sparkman Sparkman
(Sparkman completes the 2012 Suna emulation trio)

Cybertank was another one, scarier on paper than it actually turned out to be, 2012 was the year it finally got emulated to a playable level. Unfortunately 2012 would also mark the passing of ‘Nightmare Tony’ the owner and dumper of the only known US prototype of the game who was always both enthusiastic about seeing it emulated and in equal part helpful in his feedback as things progressed. At least MAME managed to give him one last opportunity to see the game in action.


Cybertank
(Cyber Tank emulation, dedicated to Antonio Gonzalez Jr.)

The progress on Little Robin, another I worked on the emulation of also represented an annoying piece of hardware finally being better understood, it was a driver I’d looked at many times with little to show for it so actually having the game playable with the majority of visuals correct is a good feeling.


Little Robin Little Robin
(the unique hardware of Little Robin caused frustration for many years)

Maybe not quite a feat of reverse engineering, but in addition to the aforementioned IGS PGM game Demon Front we also saw emulation of Dragon World 2001, Dragon World Pretty Chance and DoDonPachi II, also known as Bee Storm, all of which required work in extracting the protection data in order to get them running, there were also long overdue optimizations to the PGM video rendering. I was glad to see these games emulated because until now they were games which had gone completely unported, a situation I usually refer to as PCB-Locked. Unfortunately many of the remaining PGM games will require real feats of reverse engineering to get anywhere with, well beyond my ability.


DoDonPachi II - BeeStorm DoDonPachi II - BeeStorm
(DoDonPachi II, unlike the rest of the series this IGS developed sequel until it was emulated had remained unported and unavailable on any platforms outside of the PCB)

Dragon World 2001 Dragon World 2001 Dragon World Pretty Chance Dragon World Pretty Chance
(The same process used to emulate DoDonPachi II was also used to emulate Dragon World 2001 and half-sequel Dragon World Pretty Chance)

Taito’s Racing Beat saw fixes to make it playable as well, although for such a poor game it highlights other deficiencies in the Taito Z emulation better than most. I do still wonder how Taito went from producing majestic games like Continental Circus to dull scrappy looking ones like Racing Beat and Ground Effects tho. Maybe it’s just me, but games made in 1991/2 shouldn’t look worse than your previous offering from 1987.


Racing Beat Racing Beat
(Racing Beat hasn’t aged well compared to many earlier Taito racers)

Harem must be a contender for the most politically incorrect game emulated in 2012, another rare long time ‘non-working’ driver, thought at one point to be a bad dump but actually turned out to be encrypted.


Harem Harem
(Harem, all in good taste, I hope)

Sound is a subject hardly mentioned so far but of course sound fixes are equally important and there have been a couple of advances in that field over the year.

The audio component of the I5000 was emulated, we only have 2 games using it; “Rabbit” and “Tokimeki Mahjong Paradise – Dear My Love” but it’s been a long time in coming when you consider the game has been playable since 0.84u5 back in 2004.


Rabbit Rabbit
Tokimeki Mahjong Paradise - Dear My Love
(Rabbit and Tokimeki Mahjong Paradise, both now with sound after many years of silence)

QS1000 sound emulation was another big one in my view, and while still preliminary, glitchy and unbalanced it’s good to be able to hear audio from the library of Korean games using the chip. Luckily despite having an internal ROM option for the built-in CPU the majority of games use it with an external ROM configuration, it seems like Pang Pang Car is the only known one using the internal ROM at this point, the rest have some form of sound now, or at least the ones in the drivers it was hooked up to. The Eolith games, Limenko games and several other Hyperstone titles all benefit from this even if it is only preliminary. This includes titles like Legend of Heroes, Dynamite Bomber, Super Bubble 2003 the Hidden Catch series, Crazy War, Landbreaker, Wyvern Wings (video) and plenty of others.

Legend of Heroes Legend of Heroes
Super Bubble 2003 Super Bubble 2003
Hidden Catch 3 Hidden Catch 3
(Legend Of Heroes, Super Bubble 2003 and Hidden Catch 3, just 3 of the games now with preliminary sound emulation thanks to the QS1000 core)

Atari’s Pokey chip is best known as a sound chip, but it also serves several other purposes, not least as a subtle extra protection on a number of games that make use of it. MAME has had Pokey emulation for as far back as I can remember, but still some games were playing up. Liberator was one problematic game, and had been exhibiting a reset problem when selecting higher levels for a long time, likewise Missile Command had some rogue sounds and undoubtedly there were more issues lingering in MESS where the chip is also used by Atari systems. The past year saw a number of Pokey updates to nail down these issues, and also add filtering and the like to the sound output, bringing the overall quality of the sound emulation on Atari titles using it to an all time high.


Liberator Liberator
(Liberator will no longer crash if selecting the higher levels thanks to Pokey improvements>

One of the big sound improvements a for a lot of people will be the support for MP2 playback, and while it’s still not the MPEG video a number of systems in MESS are in need of it is a big step forward for the Sega games using the Digital Sound Board. None of these games are actually emulated well enough to play them in MAME, but for Star Wars Arcade you can now let the attract mode run and listen to the theme play, it’s as dramatic and theatrical as it ever was. Again this was technically a 2013 improvement, but still falls within my cutoff period of 0.148.


Star Wars Arcade
(Star Wars Arcade – You still can’t play it, but you can listen to the music now)

Offroad Challenge could have been mentioned with the 3D games, but the hardware was already mostly emulated, as you’d know if you’ve played Crusin’ USA. This one was a case of needing some CPU core bugfixes in order to function, luckily there was an external contributor up to the task this time again showing that there is actually a lot of talent outside of the dev team making a real difference to the project. CPU core bugs can be some of the toughest to track down, and in the cases where they’re not crashing the CPU outright it can be very difficult to determine if a bug is in the CPU core at all, or an error in the emulation; in fact it’s not unheard of to see crazy workarounds in used drivers when the real culprit turned out later to be a subtle CPU bug.

Off Road Challenge Off Road Challenge
(A Cpu core bug needed tracking down and fixing in order for Off Road Challenge to work correctly, it now plays fine)

The one everybody always asks about is Raiden 2, or more accurately the Seibu COP protection. Ignoring the COP aspect for now, Raiden 2 and Zero Team did see one very significant change this year and that was the completion of the sprite decryption. Prior to that work being done Zero Team only had garbage for sprites, and Raiden 2 had lots of ugly artefacts due to improper decryption. It doesn’t change the working state of the games, but obviously come the day they do work people will be happy that the graphics are already fully decrypted! Amusingly after decrypting the Zero Team graphics we found the (at the time undumped) Zero Team 2000 board had entirely decrypted sprites in the first place and could have been of great assistance. Unfortunately it only had decrypted sprites, the rest of the protection is entirely intact with it, so it’s not just a cheap unprotected bootleg!


Raiden 2 at the start of 2012 Raiden 2 at the start of 2013
(Raiden 2 sprite decryption was significantly improved in 2012 (left) and is now correct (right), even if the game remains unplayable)

Zero Team at the start of 2012 Zero Team at the start of 2013
(The improvement in Zero Team is more dramatic because prior to this the sprites weren’t decrypted at all, it’s also still unplayable tho)

Seibu’s COP is of course the bit everybody really cares about, the beast sitting there and leaving the games unplayable. The past year saw some work done on that too, you’ve be excused for thinking Heated Barrel was fully playable if you didn’t know the underlying operations were still highly suspect and the collisions in SD Gundam are much improved with the game only really falling apart in terrible ways once you reach some of the bosses. Zero Team was at one point quite playable, dodgy collisions and visual problems aside, although it did regress based on further hardware tests. Legionnaire still has some collision issues depending on which way you’re facing and enemies tend to wander into areas of the screen they shouldn’t be allowed to. Seibu Cup Soccer lets you start a game, and even finish the game as long as you do nothing except kick the ball straight into the goal and repeat. Raiden DX still has major issues due to ROM banking, and Raiden 2 has what might be additional protection on top of the protection (I’m not kidding) entirely for the bullets. Still, it’s progress, and we’re in better shape than the same time last year thanks to Kale’s hardware tests etc. Anyway, given the interest let’s address the 68000 based games one by one in a bit more detail.

As mentioned above, Seibu Cup Soccer lets you start the game now, a big improvement on before, but the player AI and collisions are wrong, plus you will crash the game quite easily if you put the ball out for a throwin etc. Attempting to do anything other than run in a straight line will cause issues, and if you lose the ball you’re not likely to get it back. I’ve seen entire teams of players collapse simultaneously under 1 slide tackle, and the goalkeeper can’t even touch the ball to make a save. Assuming all you do is run in a straight line you can score as many goals as you want and actually finish the game, not exactly much fun tho.


Seibu Cup Soccer Seibu Cup Soccer
(Improvements to Seibu Cup Soccer mean you can start a game, and run in a straight line to score as many goals as you want, still not properly playable tho)

Legionnaire has improved collisions between player and enemies, although currently only attacks facing right actually work, if you’re facing left it acts exactly the same as if you were facing right, and causes enemies to be hit to your right instead of your left, a little strange to play. Enemies also have a habit of wandering into the backgrounds above the playfield, or slightly below it into places you can’t hit them. If you’re patient it is actually possible to get through this game as well now, but due to these bugs it’s not an enjoyable experience. Graphic layers and scrolling tend to be wrong in places too, also likely tied to the protection.

Legionnaire Legionnaire
(Improvements to Legionnaire allow you to attack enemies, although it always acts as if you attack to the right!)

Godzilla is an odd one, the protection emulation improvements mean it loops attract mode correctly, and you can coin it up, start it, and the players even face the right direction depending on their relative positions. It does however have severe problems with the scrolling of the backgrounds, they move erratically and at this point we’re not sure why because it doesn’t seem tied to the protection in any obvious way (but none of the protection IS obvious so…) Again, the improvements made over the last year are clear to see tho.

Godzilla Godzilla
(Players now face the right direction in Godzilla, and it doesn’t crash during the attract mode, but there are still significant issues)

Heated Barrel you’d be excused for thinking was working, and you wouldn’t be alone, several people have made that mistake over the year, and improvements to the various elements of the protection including the hitboxes and other areas have left it in a mostly playable state, some enemy movements are wrong, especially on bosses, and the game will crash occasionally, but it’s still a big improvement on how it was a year ago.

Heated Barrel Heated Barrel
(Many people actually think Heated Barrel is correctly emulated now, it’s not, but it is close)

SD Gundam Sangokushi Rainbow Tairiku Senki has also seen significant improvements, again collisions are much better now, you can use lifts without risking falling through, attack enemies, and play through several levels with minimal issues. The real noticeable problems again come from how the bosses, and sub-bosses use the protection creating graphical glitches and causing some of them, like the driller boss on the 3rd level to leave the screen never to return, leaving the level unfinishable. If you cheat your way through there are also some server layer scrolling problems later.


SD Gundam Sangokushi Rainbow Tairiku Senki SD Gundam Sangokushi Rainbow Tairiku Senki
(SD Gundam Sangokushi Rainbow Tairiku Senki has improved collisions amongst other things but still has game breaking issues)

Taking a step back down to something more obscure again we saw progress on the Vega driver inching forward, although the less positive side of that is it was one of the few contributions Dox made this year and as one of the key devs of recent years it’s a shame.


Vega by Olympia Vega by Olympia
(Vega, a game running on old but still confusing hardware, is showing signs of improvement although is still unplayable)

One barely worth mentioning is Poke Champ, I mention it only because it annoyed me for so long, usually correct graphic decoding and bitplane order takes an half an hour at most, that one managed to frustrate me numerous times prior to it being sorted out, and it turned out to be so simple as well. I say it’s hardly worth a mention because the game is actually just a hack of the software for Data East’s Pocket Gal, but on more modern hardware.


Poke Champ Poke Champ
(2012 saw me finally figure out how the bitplanes decoded on Poke Champto give proper colours)

Black Touch ’96 is another Korean game where the emulation continues to frustrate me, proving that not only SunA could make life difficult. Strides were made on the emulation in 2012, but there still remain problems with the timer not working, and of course the sound hookup


Black Touch '96 Black Touch '96
(Progress was made on Black Touch ’96 but there are still difficult to track down issues outstanding)

A lot of MESS systems fall into this category too, having seen significant improvements over the year even if many haven’t progressed to an overall ‘working’ state despite many individual games working in the drivers. As I’ve mentioned, MESS has a bit of a history of missing opportunities, failing to excel in areas it should have been able to excel in at a time when it was important. What this does mean is that there are a lot of drivers sitting there awaiting improvement, or awaiting fixes because they’ve simply been left to rot so it’s good to have seen some of those get attention over the past year with results everybody will be able to appreciate.

Atari’s Lynx handheld was one such system and several improvements earlier in the year have helped bring it up to a far better standard, with the majority of software now playable. The Lynx isn’t an insignificant system either, Atari beat both Sega and Nintendo to market when it came to having a colour handheld and it even got some rather ambitious ports of famous Atari titles like Hard Drivin’ in addition to some more realistic ones like MS Pacman. Specific improvements were mentioned for Viking Child and Xenophobe but many more games benefited too.


Xenophobe Xenophobe Viking Child Viking Child
Ms. Pacman Ms. Pacman Hard Drivin' Hard Drivin'
(The Atari Lynx handheld saw improvements across the board and was promoted to working state)

Another portable (although I use the term loosely) system that got a lot of attention this year was the Nintendo Virtual Boy. An abject failure in the marketplace it might have been, but the actual hardware remains interesting and surprisingly capable. Unfortunately there seems to be a temporary regression with it again at the time of writing, although you’ll be pleased to know I’ve used this testing opportunity to fix it and greatly improve the performance at the same time. Emulation isn’t perfect (several features are still missing including proper framebuffer handling / writes, and there are likely still some CPU bugs causing strange problems) but it’s been great seeing progress on it and some games are perfectly playable.


Virtual Boy - Mario Clash
Virtual Boy - Mario Clash
(Mario Clash shows that some Virtual Boy games are fully playable thanks to work done in 2012, although the system as a whole is still tagged as not working)

Apple might be considered a big name in technology today, but arguably some of their more interesting and much cooler products were produced back in the day and represent another area where a significant amount of work was done over the past year. Regular MAME developer R.Belmont took these systems under his wing, mainly because he was disappointed with the standalone offerings not offering the level of power and flexibility he desired. As a result MESS can now run systems like the Apple 2 incredibly well, and supports a whole array of random expansion cards for the series of machines. The machines aren’t the easiest to understand or use if you’re unfamiliar with them but I did manage to get some bits and pieces to run on the Apple 2GS with some tips from R.Belmont in the case of non-bootable floppies (mess apple2gs -flop3 sys601 -flop4 pickpile) One thing I have noticed with the Apple 2 however is that a lot of the listed software is cracked, and has very obvious cracktros and ‘cracked by’ messages, none of which is currently marked in the Software list. While I think it’s important to document all such versions I also think it’s important they get market as such. Anyway some screenshots of misc titles running in the Apple 2 GS driver follow, I’m not sure how many of these (if any) are newly working in 2012, but they’re all new to me.


Arkanoid 2 Apple 2 GS Arkanoid 2 Apple 2 GS
(Arkanoid 2 presents a nice rendering of an Arcade scene before running a remarkably good port of the game)

Pick n Pile Pick n Pile
(Pick ‘n’ Pile showing the Graphical OS before loading the game)

Pipe Dream Pipe Dream
(Pipe Dream had its origins in the home systems before later being ported to the arcades)

We’ve not been stuck in the 8-bits with Mac progress either, many of the 68k based Mac systems also had significant amounts of work to them with a number of the ‘LC’ (Low Cost) and ‘Classic’ ones promoted to working over the course of the year, good to see. Like the Apple 2 systems various expansion cards, supported by the MESS slot device system, have been emulated for these Macs as well, and there have been hints of progress on the later ones too. Performance will vary depending on the model you use, the Macintosh LC II shown below is nice and colorful but quite slow, while the ‘Classic’ Models seem to run better but don’t look anywhere near as nice.


Macintosh LC II Macintosh LC II
(The Macintosh LC II running OS 7.5.3 from the Software List)
Macintosh Classic Macintosh Classic
(The Macintosh Classic running OS 7.1.1 from the Software List)

The C64 and related systems also saw significant amounts of attention in the last year with MESS now boasting support for more expansion boards than you could possibly count. Unfortunately performance in the driver is still somewhat of a bugbear for me with the drivers struggling to hit 100% even on a decent system. It’s good that they’re seeing attention, but until a way of better optimizing the driver is found in all honesty it remains underwhelming. I don’t want to criticize too much because MESS really needs dedicated developers like Curt, who has been doing most of the work on the system, emulating even the most obscure expansion boards, I just hope we can find a way to make the performance a bit more attractive without sacrificing accuracy because if we can then MESS could turn out to be a first choice emulator for the old Commodore VIC and C64/128 brand systems

NeoGeo CD was covered here before, although as mentioned at the time the lack of many real exclusive games / extras and the hindrance caused by excessive load times make less of a staple system than it’s contemporaries, despite boasting the same high capacity zooming sprite hardware and fighting games that helped make the actual MVS units so desirable. Emulation is about on par with Final Burn Alpha, to be expected because it’s mostly a port of the FBA code. If you’re trying it remember to use the NeoCDZ, not the plain NeoCD because only the CDZ works at present.


NeoCD Special NeoCD Special
(Neo-Geo CD Special was a CD with promotional material on, one of very few exclusives but not very interesting except to hardcore fans)

NeoCD Last Hope NeoCD Last Hope
(The NeoCD did see a release of the first Last Hope game, but it wasn’t an exclusive as it was also released for the AES unit and the Dreamcast)

Casio’s PV1000 also got some important fixes handed to it, allowing Dig Dug, Space Panic, Excite Mahjong and several others to finally function properly. It’s a cheap system with severely limited functionality and mostly low-grade ports but it now works well enough to have been promoted to working giving further insight into the way the Japanese home audience might have seen classic games like Dig Dug. Personally I find progress on systems like this to be interesting because there is a sharp contrast between the ports Japanese audiences got and the ones we saw for our 8-bits over here. Typically the Japanese games seem to have been developed under closer guidance of the original developers, using graphics derived from the original resources whereas the games we saw in the UK were more typically ‘influenced’ by the originals. This can sometimes make the Japanese ports dull because they’re all so similar, just with different limitations depending on the hardware, but it also shows how much they valued the classics and how very different the 8-bit hardware was over there compared to the systems we had here.

PV1000 Dig Dug PV1000 Dig Dug
PV1000 Space Panic PV1000 Space Panic
(The Japanese Casio PV1000 was a home to primitive ports of a number of arcade titles, including Dig Dug and Space Panic shown here)

PV1000 Excite Mahjong PV1000 Excite Mahjong
(Some original titles like Excite Mahjong were also released)

An area I should be giving a far bigger mention to than the snippet you’re going to get is the work put in to the Japanese PC98 systems, which were x86 platforms capable of running DOS / Windows but also the target for many ports of Japanese arcade classics, including ones from the 90s on the later models. Being a series of machines rather than a single dedicated system, and still lacking a meaningful per system softlist it’s a bit difficult to break into, and for this one I had to, for the time being, wave the white flag and surrender. There are some pretty screenshots on the MESS forums if you want to take a gander over there, and it’s possible something I’ll revisit at a later date but I do want to stress what an impressive amount of work was put into the emulation of the specifics of the platform, systems like the PC9801RS were important back in their time.

I feel very lazy for doing this, but I’m going to link to the forum threads. One or two images here (mixed with images from other systems) and the Dedicated Thread is Here

On top of all this it is important to remember that the difficulty of some drivers and the actual achievement involved can also be sometimes overlooked if a driver goes straight in as working because people don’t see the complexities of the development process and all the little changes needed to support them. Something like the previously mentioned Rise of the Robots is every bit as challenging as anything mentioned and the work might go under appreciated because like many significantly easier additions it looks from the outside like it just slotted in to MAME with minimal work which is hardly a fair representation!


#6 – The (mostly) Invisible Progress


It’s easy to pull up a list of all the games that saw significant emulation progress in the last year and choose highlights from them but the underlying changes and progress needed to support that should not be underestimated. Most of this progress these days comes in the form of improved device emulation, arcade games typically only need a small subset of device features emulated whereas if you’re trying to emulate a computer, console or other system in MESS you’ll often see relatively common components taxed to a much greater degree.

I’ve said before that the value of the MAME project is not that of being an arcade emulator, but as a collection of emulated components, from CPUs to Sound Chips as well as simple IO devices, controller chips etc. Those are the type of thing you want good solid emulations of because the better the quality of the emulation the more likely it is to be reusable, and ‘just work’ the next time you come across something requiring it. MESS will always have the better test cases for the ‘off the shelf’ components and also boasts emulation of systems people are likely to be more familiar with and thus are absolutely certain where something is wrong, and are in a better position to actually run tests and figure things out; the independent level of research done on the staple systems and the components they use far surpasses anything done for the platforms in MAME.

2012 has seen significant progress in bringing the MAME x86 emulation up to scratch and while it’s going to take some form of recompiler to get the speed anywhere near reasonable the first step is always to nail down the correct behaviour. As a result of this you can (if you’re foolish enough to want to try) install various versions of Windows right up to Windows ME inside of the MESS PC drivers. An additional effect of this work is that systems like the FM Towns / FM Towns Marty are now better positioned for further progress too as well as the later NEC PC98 series machines which were also based off x86 series processors as mentioned earlier.


Windows ME on a 486
(Installing Windows ME is NOT the most productive use of the improved PC / X86 emulation)

Just mentioning Windows ME isn’t especially fair tho, that’s just one example, the work done actually means a lot of old DOS games can now run under MESS, and like PC98 there are big threads on the MESS forums showing various bits of PC software running in MESS. I want to avoid over-hyping it tho, because for now, while plenty of things run it really isn’t a patch on something like DosBox in either performance, or ease of use, and compatibility is mostly limited to software compatible with low-end 486 machines. It is still fascinating work tho, with many different PC cards being emulated, and if you’re into hardcore use of MESS you can hook up alternative emulated soundcards and hear how things would have sounded on something other than a cheap SoundBlaster. I might pull some images from that thread if I do a minor revision of this update later right now there are just too many pages of cool stuff to flick through ;-)


Windows 3.1 on the FM Towns
(A Japanese Windows 3.1 on the FM Towns is nice to see tho, although I’ll admit I stole this screenshot from the forum thread above)

Now this is important to MAME too, the majority of arcades you see today are PC based, even plenty of older platforms made use of PC technology because it was cheap; systems like the Chihiro (an original XBox) as also close to PC architecture, and MAME can actually show the boot screen of it these days, although at 1% speed it isn’t exactly practical right now.


Chihiro BIOS
(The Chihiro BIOS shows signs of life, but running at 1% speed it shows the need for a recompiler when trying to emulate fast x86 chips)

I mentioned Rise of the Robots appearing to just slot in earlier, again a good part of that you can accredit to the x86 core being in good shape. It’s a reminder that even when a driver appears to be mostly a solo effort the work done to put MAME in a position to make that possible is the result of many contributions over the past years. I’ve seen people say MAME doesn’t need the bloat of x86 emulation and PC emulation and that people should just use ‘loaders’ instead, but said game very much isn’t on PC hardware yet has undoubtedly benefited from the effort put in to getting Windows etc. booting in MESS.

Not only is it the x86 core seeing updates though, one pleasing aspect of MESS is how it brings even more obscure cores up to date, fixing bugs along the way and improving the value of MAME as a resource. Take the Z8000 core, for MAME it exists solely to run Pole Position, Namco’s classic racer that utilized a Z8002 for the sub CPUs. In MESS there is the Olivetti M20 using another Z8000 series CPU in the form of the Z8001. It was a professional / business computer running the PCOS operating system, so you’re not going to find any flashy games on it, in fact using it in MESS today isn’t likely to serve any practical purpose other than showing what the machine was and providing a little bit of a nostalgic experience for people familiar with it, but it’s still great to see progress like that being made by an external contributor putting in a significant amount of effort with minimal guidance needed to get it there.


Olivetti M20
(The Olivetti M20 was one of few machines to use a Z8000 series CPU similar to the ones on Namcos Pole Position arcade game)

The PowerPC, ARM, MC68HC11, M680x0, H8, Amtel AVR and V810 cores have all seen significant improvements over the year too, something like the official Space Invaders / Qix anniversary game might seem like a pointless, insignificant thing to have emulated when MAME already emulates the originals but because it’s running on completely original hardware it actually allowed some significant bug fixes to be made to the H8 emulation, and those bug fixes naturally could also improve things elsewhere or avoid problems in the future.

Space Invaders / Qix Anniversary Space Invaders / Qix Anniversary
(The Space Invaders / Qix Anniversary game helped track down some H8 bugs)

The biggest overhaul in terms of CPU cores though was Olivier’s work on the M6502, bringing about massive modernizations, and an overhaul to hopefully make it accurate at a sub-opcode level. It’s possible there are still a few issues to be ironed out, as you’d expect from such a large scale change but it’s also the kind of progress the emulator needs if we’re to make strides with some of the more finicky 8-bit machines in the future.

MESS plays a big role in CPU core improvements even for popular CPUs too, because while MAME only really runs games, MESS also runs computers and it’s not atypical to see ‘torture’ test software developed for them, to test every aspect of a CPU operation and give pass/fail benchmarks to compare against, in additional start-up hardware checks can be more intensive to ensure the underlying system is stable. Things like that are invaluable in debugging the emulation because they highlight clear cases where things aren’t being emulated correctly rather than simply a game where you only have the guidance of it appearing to run correctly to go by. This is how things like the M680x0 and PowerPC improvements have come about, from the work on the Apple Mac systems and similar.

A lot of the technical work being done in the background could also count as ‘invisible’ to the general user. As a team Mamedev is very lucky to have people like Charles MacDonald involved, analysing hardware, figuring out ways to extract internal roms on often unpopular or relatively insignificant titles, for example from the ‘Wing / Sega’ CPU modules used on a number of gambling games as well as the original versions of Free Kick (and Counter Run, but that is yet to be done) Very few people are going to notice / care because for things like Exciting Black Jack the dumped CPU component is likely to be part of a bigger setup we still don’t have, and Free Kick has been emulated via a bootleg (which turned out to be an exact copy of one of the original revisions) for a long time. Nevertheless this is vital work and actually is also a real feat of reverse engineering, possibly even more so than a number of the things listed in point #5 above.

Other progress I was involved in included the introduction of libJpeg into the source for use by Sliver, replacing the pre-decoded Jpegs used in prior versions, that was definitely invisible progress to most uses, the romset changed, dropping the fake ‘ROM’ containing the pre-decoded graphics but that was it. It was a worthwhile piece of progress however because it means we now have the ability to encode / decode JPEGs if we need it and that should at least come in handy for Magic the Gathering at a later date, and possibly even some of the MJPEG bits like PC-FX in MESS depending on exactly how the encoding works there.


Sliver Sliver
(The underlying emulation on Sliver changed significantly, actually decoding the JPEGs instead of cheating and using predecoded ones, but it looks the same)

The actual build system saw updates in the past year too, Python was introduced to the build tool chain, allowing for cleaner helper tools to be used in the build process, for example the code emitters used by the previously mentioned 6502 core. Python allows for this to be done in a cleaner, scripted way, as opposed to building and running helper executable files during the process. It’s not something you’re going to notice as an end user, but it’s an important change to consider if you’re doing development.

Cleanups to protection simulations (removal of ROM patches etc.) is another classic case of invisible progress. Done correctly you should see no change at all to the emulation, it’s the type of work where people are really only going to notice it if you mess up. As a result of this kind of work popular games like Metal Slug X and Caveman Ninja are now running without MAME having to patch the code in advance.

Aaron is another typically involved in ‘invisible’ progress, pushing through underlying architectural changes to the MAME framework, going about changing the way in which drivers are developed and even giving a spring clean to the various Sega drivers, pushing things like the CPU decryption to be an extension of the actual CPU cores so that it works more like the original modules rather than being pre-decrypted on state changes and cached. He also introduced a base class to help emulate sprite chips rendering to a buffer for later mixing and made it possible to run the actual sprite generation asynchronously to the tilemap rendering, prior to the final mixing of the two and while I can’t actually think of any systems where both the sprite and tilemap rendering are so heavy a multi-core system would struggle with doing it in the first place I guess it still makes sense especially if you try increasing the time sync between the emulation and external world to less than a frame in which case any spikes become more noticeable.

It would be possible to write an entire section on these MAME core changes alone, but for the average person likely to be reading this none of it is going to be likely cause for fireworks, and it’s all very technical and professionally documented in the change logs already, Aaron is good like that. The point I mentioned above about people only noticing if you mess up holds true here too, you can make massive core changes of unfathomable magnitude and get the vast majority of it right, but if you get one tiny thing wrong that’s what people will pick up on and when you’re working on changes across the entire project that’s always a risk you have to take.

You also have invisible progress in the form of cleaning up after such changes, some of it with more impact than others. It’s been a long time now since MAME switched over from using indexed CPUs, ROM regions etc. to tagged ones, but still a fair amount of cleanup work remains. That’s not because it was a bad change, but it’s a change which had the side-effect of making some older driver design ideas not so good ones. Looking up an indexed cpu/region had no CPU cost, it was just a number, you could do it anywhere in a driver with no consequence. Looking up a named one incurs a rather expensive hash lookup so you want to keep code like that as far away from inner loops as possible (ideally doing the lookup during init time) even if it used to be fine there. The same applies with dynamic banking and the like, installing / uninstalling ram handlers used to be fast, but these days it’s slow and inadvisable at run time, and while it can result in cleaner code the performance cost tends to be prohibitive. What this means, contrary to public opinion is that both MAME and MESS developers have spent a lot of time over the past year to win back lost speed, to improve performance in some drivers where it was lost for entirely avoidable reasons. This isn’t because the new design is worse, or less capable, it’s just because it requires a different approach than the one often taken in the past.

Jedutil, one of the MAME support tools also saw many very significant updates over the last year, and combined with the work Charles has done on brute force analysing PALs etc. is an important if often overlooked / misunderstood component of MAME. Pals are typically used for things like memory mapping on real hardware, so are important, but despite being programmable chips actually act more like logic devices and are often read protected so you can’t get the exact original programming out of them. They can also be used for memory scrambling / encryption, video mixing, and even some types of protection, so being able to analyse them and work with the data, understand it and generate equations from it is important. The work done on CPS1 and Batsugun in previous years were a direct result of this kind of analysing of PALs, so anything that makes it easier for future systems is a welcome boost.

The role of support tools like Jedutil shouldn’t be underestimated, they help people with original hardware to repair as well as helping MAME, and let’s not forget it is vital that MAME continues to provide assistance to people trying to maintain and repair the original hardware.

One thing MAME / MESS don’t have is a similar toolset for comparing and managing CD images, a tool like that, similar to ROMCMP would be very useful for weeding out dupe CDs, comparing them to what we already know about etc. but this article isn’t meant to be about things MAME doesn’t have, so I’ll leave it at that.


#7 – The general rumble


MAME as a project is always going to require maintenance work, people to do the grunt work, the boring stuff, the changes which aren’t going to get you showered in praise from the fans of the project but are essential to showing that the team still care. It’s another one of those factors from which you can gauge how alive the project is because if nobody is even doing the simple work, accepting responsibility for things like adding new clones, working with and guiding people contributing externally etc. then you start to get a large backlog of tasks, unverified material and people put off from contributing because they don’t see what they’re doing as being valued.

I mentioned clones, they can be boring to add, and if you’re not familiar with the game you might see little point in them. Likewise if you own the PCBs it can be a boring, mundane task to check the roms on every single one only to know that in 99% of cases what you dump will match exactly with already known sets leaving you with nothing new to contribute.

The task of adding them can be equally unrewarding, with the age of many of the chips you have to keep an open mind for the possibility of something not matching simply because the rom has suffered from bitrot, or been badly dumped due to dirty / broken pins. Then you’ve got cases where there isn’t actually any new data at all, just the same data in a different arrangement of ROMs, usually worth supporting but in no way exciting.

Of course sometimes it’s more obvious, if you happen to own an alternate revision of a game which is very obviously an alternate revision because it’s got obvious changes or is for a different region then it’s a fair bet you’re going to find something new by dumping it but for the majority of cases you’re simply not likely to know unless you actually try; in some rare cases even where a game displays a revision number there can be alternate versions with very different code, the original manufacturers weren’t always perfect with their versioning.

The upside is that when people do make the effort new discoveries are made. I could highlight Daioh as one such case here; the set supported in MAME for a long time had various reset bugs / glitches you could trigger if you played the game in a certain way. Until an external contributor decided to check their Daioh PCB this was the only version of the game known to exist however upon dumping the ROMs from their PCB it quickly became obvious that they were for a newer version of the game than the already supported one. This new set had various bug fixes applied, a valuable find. It works the other way too, sometimes you find older buggier revisions, prototype versions of games which ended up not being returned after their field test ended, again these can be interesting because they show the evolution process of the game.


Daioh Daioh
(From the surface you can’t tell, but the newly dumped Daioh set is a significant bug fix revision)

If we’re talking about alternate region ROMs then some of the highlights for me have to be where original Japanese sets have turned up, of note 4 Sega titles namely GP Rider, AB Cop, Jurassic Park and OutRunners all saw Japanese clone sets added in the last year. That might not seem very interesting to readers who don’t read or speak Japanese when there are already English language sets playable but what you have to remember is that these games originated in Japan, these are the native versions of the games as they were designed before any additional cuts or censorship was done for export markets. Jurassic Park is also interesting because I remember when emulating the World version I noticed Sega had made odd use of a sprite using RAM based source graphics in the attract mode to cover up a typo in the word ‘Merchandising’ (‘Marchandising’ had been programmed into the tiles used in the MASK roms) The Japanese version instead still has this typo fully visible.


GP Rider (Japan) GP Rider (Japan)
(In the Japanese release of GP Rider you have Japanese text in the attract mode and various other selection screens)

Outrunners (Japan)
(The Japanese Outrunners has bold stylish Japanese fonts on many selection screens)

Jurassic Park (Japan) Jurassic Park (Japan)
(Jurassic Park is more subtle, but subtitles the intro screens, it’s also an earlier revision without the ‘Marchandising’ typo fixed)

AB Cop (Japan) AB Cop (Japan)
(AB Cop also shows the story in Japanese)

The Japanese release of Sammy title Survival Arts was also added, although including Survival Arts in any list of highlights is just be wrong.


Survival Arts (Japan) Survival Arts (Japan)
(The Japanese language can’t stop Survival Arts being a terrible game…)

It’s not all about clones though, people maintaining the documentation aspects of MAME outside of the hardware emulation itself fall into this category, and that has been ongoing as ever throughout the year. Documentation of popular systems like Capcom’s CPS1 is in a better state than ever thanks to the work of dedicated teams verifying the information present, double checking dumps where possible and filling in the blanks with knowledge gained over the years. It’s something very few people will appreciate but we’ve come a long, long ways from the days of Callus being a quick fix to play CPS1 games on your PC!

So yes, a lot of grunt work has to go in, and there are a fair number of active devs who fill the role of helping with this, and while many of those devs aren’t going to take the project forward on a large scale with revolutionary driver progress and architectural changes they are essential when it comes to keeping all the gears turning at a smaller one so I’d consider it a big positive that the projects still have people involved doing that work.


#8 – all around the world

MAME and MESS are global projects, worked on by developers from all around the world and intended to show and document the history not just where arcades and game development was popular but instead every corner of the globe where they existed in any form.

Point #7 above talked a lot about clones, and we’ve definitely seen an increase in the number of clone sets found for the South American regions over the last few years, but there is more to the story than that.


CPS Alt regions CPS Alt regions
(It’s always good when genuine alternate regions of well known games show up, especially the less common regions, Hispanic being for Mexico etc.)

Brazil had a curious history when it came to arcade games, people often mentioned ‘Taito do Brasil’ and games like ‘Fantastic’ but until this year we’d seen little trace of the actual products, the actual proof that these things were something different. That was until this year when some old ROM dumps were salvaged and given to the team for analysis in addition to several enthusiastic guys from the region providing background information and assistance.

One thing that became immediately clear is that Taito do Brasil were something of a shady operation, and I doubt Taito would have approved of anything that happened in Brazil had it been public knowledge. The games for the most part were cheaply hacked rather than appearing like official licensed titles but 2 of them stood out more than the rest; Fantastic and Kong.

You see, Fantastic and Kong weren’t ordinary bootlegs, they were completely rewritten games. It’s true they stole the graphics from the originals but the game code had nothing in common at all making them closer to ports of the games. We’d seen similar before in the form of the Zig Zag bootleg of Dig Dug, which would appear to have its origins in a similar place and was also advertised by Taito do Brasil.

Fantastic was a copy of Galaga on Galaxian hardware and Kong was a copy of Donkey Kong on Galaxian hardware. As a game Kong undoubtedly turned out the worst of the bunch, the rewritten game has horrible controls, collisions, object movement and some awful bugs that can lead to you getting stuck on ladders with no choice but to wait for death to catch up with you but at the same time it’s a fascinating insight into what people in Brazil grew up thinking Donkey Kong was.


Kong by Taito do Brasil Kong by Taito do Brasil
(Kong uses no code from the original Donkey Kong game, and as a result has many small differences and unique bugs)

Fantastic was a better game, and while the limitations of the hardware showed and the game offers some peculiarities like the starfield scrolling horizontally with the swarm movement it presents you with a fast paced and fully playable adaptation of Galaga easily on par with any home port of the era.

Fantastic by Taito do Brasil Fantastic by Taito do Brasil
(Fantastic might look a lot like Galaga, but like Kong it actually shares no code with the original game)

Did Taito do Brasil make these games, or just import them from somewhere else like Korea and modify them? That part isn’t 100% clear, it’s possible it will never be 100% clear but together with additions from the previous year in the form of “Galactica – Batalha Espacial” they at least help form a picture of what arcades were like for Brazilian gamers back then.

It wasn’t just Brazil of course, 2012 saw new additions and fixes made to drivers from all over the world. I could have included Galaxia and Astro Wars in with the mention of fixes to long-term drivers (although some say they still suffer from problems later in the game) Both are Italian creations, the former being a Galaxian rip-off with an energy bar similar to the ‘Swarm’ bootleg, the latter being an Astro Fighter rip-off. Both offer a unique gameplay experience compared to the originals because they’re actually different games. One long-term curiosity of mine is that the actual flyers for Galaxia show a plain Galaxian bootleg with Zaccaria copyright, not this final release which isn’t even on the same hardware.


Galaxia Astro Wars
(Galaxia and Astro War are also unique games, despite being heavily influenced by other titles)

A version of Head-On on a unique Z80 based board also showed up in Italy, but with that one I’m uncertain whether it’s been reprogrammed or not because the Z80 is largely compatible with the 8080 the original runs on anyway.

Head On (EFG Sanremo)
(This EFG Sanremo Head On bootleg might also be original code, it’s different hardware at least)

There was a fair contribution of Japanese, Korean and Chinese specifics too. Mahjong, Hanafuda and other similar games aren’t usually popular outside of Japan in part because of the language barrier, and the fact that the rules are alien to most western players. The other side of the story is that many of them are actually gambling games and will cheat like there is no tomorrow, and even many of the ones where no payout is involved do the same just to limit your game time! Anyway, Mahjong Janshin Plus, Mahjong Dai Touyouken, Return Of Sel Jan II, Mahjong Long Hu Zheng Ba 2, Kkot Bi Nyo Special, Jong Yu Ki and Touryuumon seem to be roughly the yearly quota for games in this category that haven’t been mentioned earlier, a significant drop-off from the days when people would simply bash MAME for being the ‘Multiple Arcade Mahjong Emulator’ but that’s to be expected, like with most things the well known ones have been covered already and the rest are actually much less common.

Mahjong Dai Touyouken Mahjong Dai Touyouken
Mahjong Janshin Plus Mahjong Janshin Plus
Return Of Sel Jan II Return Of Sel Jan II
Kkot Bi Nyo Special Kkot Bi Nyo Special
(The 4 Sigma / Dynax developed games have attractive graphics and a variety of mini-games too)

Mahjong Long Hu Zheng Ba 2 Mahjong Long Hu Zheng Ba 2
(Mahjong Long Hu Zheng Ba 2 shows that Mahjong was popular outside of Japan too, IGS made plenty of games like this)

Of those mentioned Jong Yu Ki shows that Mahjong games were not necessarily ‘cheap’ products in Japan either sporting a dual screen setup.


Jong Yu Ki
(Jong Yu Ki’s dual screen setup showing your opponent reaching across the screens)

Most of them run ok, but you’ll probably want to give Touryuumon a miss, being driven by a 200Mhz ARM makes the emulation very, very slow and it seems to get stuck on an error message anyway, I’m not sure if that’s a regression or if there is a procedure to bypass it.

Touryuumon
(Touryuumon seems to get stuck here..)

Even MESS covers systems from all over the place, work was done on a couple of Russian clones of machines (although I can’t remember them offhand) as well as the Australian ‘Pencil II’ system (made in Hong Kong, sold in Australia) It’s still a ‘non-working’ driver because you can’t load anything yet, but the basics are in place.


Pencil II Pencil II
(You’re unlikely to have heard of the Pencil II outside of Australia)


#9 – the bits nobody else cares about


If you played 3×3 Puzzle, either in MAME, or back in the day then I feel genuinely sorry for you. It’s a terrible game, it shamelessly rips off other more popular games with diabolically bad execution of some rather simple concepts. It’s probably rare, although not forgotten nor valuable, and emulating it certainly isn’t going to have won MAME any plaudits so why am I saying that it, and games of a similar ilk are one of the highlights of the year?


3X3 Puzzle 3X3 Puzzle
(3×3 Puzzle is forgettable in every way, but there’s good reason we emulated it…)

The answer is simple, because nobody else is going to care about these things it is important that MAME does, otherwise they would just end up being lost. MAME and the MAME developers paying attention to these things shows that there are team members who care indiscriminately about the project goals and that is vital because these games are every bit as much a part of history as anything else. They show why Ace Enterprise and others aren’t household names held in the same regard as your Sega, Konami, Namco or Nintendo.

There is a broader aspect to this, even some of the bigger manufacturers do have titles with a more limited appeal, some even specialize in areas a lot of MAME users aren’t going to lose sleep over if the games never get emulated but that, to a degree, makes it more important that MAME does keep tabs on such things because it’s much more likely nobody else will.

You can throw some of the video gamblers and redemption games in this category. How many people know exactly how many Print Club, Name Club and other miscellaneous redemption games Atlus and Sega ended up producing for the ST-V system (and earlier C2 system) Those things have absolutely no gameplay value, they’re photo booths where you get to select a themed border. It seems even Sega didn’t care too much when it came to quality control on them, assuming the carts we’ve seen aren’t all bootlegs they lack the regular Sega ROM numbering, the actual ROM tests in service mode don’t match up well with the cartridges, in effect they’re cheap throwaway garbage, so when a stash of them show up it’s always interesting to see if there are previously unknown ones in there to help build the bigger picture of what was available. Being realistic about things there’s simply no room outside of MAME for a ‘Sega Print Club’ emulator, nobody would care enough to give it a second look and they’d simply get lost and forgotten once again, so they get a free ride, and broader appeal as part of MAME awaiting the day somebody emulates the camera and printer to make them at least do something. Last year saw one such batch of these games turn up, including Pokemon, Felix the Cat and Olive Oil themed versions, who knows what else is out there.


Print Club Print Club
Print Club Print Club
Print Club Print Club
Print Club Print Club
Print Club Print Club
(A Selection of Print Club shots, mostly from Test Modes showing the different frames)

It’s easy to say that MAME shouldn’t be wasting time on such things when there are more pressing challenges but the indiscriminate factor in what MAME looks at is vital if we’re to build a real picture of our computing history and these novelty machines were a part of that.

Redemption games are a bit different, they fit the middle ground between games and gambling machines, although more often than not the actual games involve minimal skill and are just a test to make sure you’re actually paying attention. Ganbare Marin-kun was one of Capcom’s entries into the redemption market. Running on a repurposed CPS1 board and released in the year 2000 there was little record of it until it showed up for auction. It was a surprise because we thought we knew about all the CPS1 titles, even if one or two are still illusive when it comes to sourcing them, it also means there might be more out there like this.


Ganbare! Marine Kun Ganbare! Marine Kun
(Capcom redemption game Ganbare! Marine Kun was a late use of CPS1 hardware)

Boong-Ga Boong-Ga (Spank ’em!) or ‘that game where you poke somebody in the ass’ is another such game, although I’d actually more firmly place this in with the gamblers because from what I can see the outcome is pre-determined with the game only paying out a medal if it wants to even if you use the perfect power / force settings. Overhyped, and borderline on becoming something of an internet legend, at least in arcade circles I’d say it was a highlight because people have all but shut up talking about it now! (Although it’s possible the version supported is a censored export version..)

Spank 'Em Spank 'Em
(Without the novelty factor of actually poking a stick up a model arse Spank ’em has very little to offer)

I mentioned gamblers, Fun River, Get Rich you’ve probably never heard of them, and while they are almost certainly some of the more recent video gamblers supported they run on dated Z80 driven tech. Prior to the video and sound roms being dumped they were just two of a handful of Amcoe titles where only the program ROMs were supported (because said company offer the program updates from their Website) I hope ‘Version 4’ gets dumped at some point during the next few years because while I have no level of fondness for, or affiliation with the actual game I can see it being an absolute pain to track down in a couple of years with such a generic name!

Fun River Fun River
Get Rich Get Rich
(These fairly recently slot games are running on a system still driven by the Z80 core, remarkable to see it still in use really)

Several Japanese gamblers and general redemption games showed up too, many of those are an even bigger mystery because apart from the Mahjong titles there is very little in the way of documentation or records for them.

The Japanese games Fruit Dream and Last Bank were also of interest because they turned out to be using a similar Z80 based ‘System on Chip’ solution as the Taito L system games (Puzznic etc.) so prompted some cleanup work there with a view to possibly merging the code down, it also answered a question I’d been pondering over for a while, explaining why Evil Stone has nothing in common with the rest of the Taito L games other than the video (it simply uses the same Z80 based chip, rather than being an actual Taito L board with Taito sound system, obvious really) Fruit Dream was also helpful as it points toward Nippon Data Kiki also being the manufacturer of Dream Crown, a game running on a different custom Z80 Soc (in that case the Seta ST0016) Again this is MAME helping to join the dots.


Fruit Dream Fruit Dream
(Fruit Dream provides an example of a Japanese video slot machine other than the more commonly seen Mahjong titles)

Last Bank Last Bank
(Last Bank provides a different theme to the usual derby horse race style game while retaining the same basic betting rules)

There are less attractive gamblers too, Robbie has been painstakingly documenting many variants of Video Klein poker games over the past year, I don’t envy him, but the level of work and dedication he’s shown to them makes it a highlight. Titles include Witch Up & Down, Wild Witch, Witch Strike, and Witch Jack.

Witch Up & Down Witch Jack
Witch Strike Wild Witch
(Which Witch is which?)

Sticking with the Witch theme, and I wouldn’t mention it otherwise, what is likely to be the original version of the Sega / Coreland gambling game ‘Witch’ also showed up, with an Excellent System copyright. It seems to have the same graphical problems as the Pinball Champ 95 set for whatever reason tho.

Witch Witch
(It’s starting to feel a lot like Halloween…the original(?) version of the game Sega/Coreland also put out)

For US readers ‘Merit’ is likely a more familiar industry name, mainly due to the Mega Touch machines, however earlier offering “Riviera High Score” saw some attention.


Riviera High Score Riviera High Score
(Riviera High Score, simple but effective graphics as with most older Merit games)

The Meyco driver didn’t escape improvements either although primitive doesn’t even begin to describe these virtual fruit machine / slots games! I talked earlier about how MAME had added the ability to display ‘scrolling’ reels on the non-video fruit machines, well these don’t even attempt to do that and they have an actual video output!


Wild Arrow Casino Blackjack
Draw Poker Draw Poker
(Meyco made some primitive casino style games, those now work as long as you follow the battery init procedure)

Anyway the same applies with all these bits as with the Sega Print Club games mentioned earlier, nobody outside MAME is really going to care about these things so we have little choice but to care about them ourselves.

Basically, yes, MAME has been quite active in this area, not unexpectedly, such games were ignored for over half the life of the project, so there is a lot of catching up to do. Chance Kun, Bikkuri Card, Super Stars, Lucky Boom, Funcube (1 and 5, to complete the series), Chance Thirty Two, Pairs Redemption, Ganbare Jajamaru Hop Step & Jump, Kuru Kuru Pyon Pyon also fit in here somewhere and despite all being dull redemption games I could easily pull out some interesting fact about the hardware / discoveries made when emulating each one but you’re probably bored of reading about them by now so I’ll just throw in the facts with some screenshots. If you absolutely hate this type of thing being added to MAME then at the very least consider them highlights because they’re done, and don’t need doing again.


Fun Cube Fun Cube
Fun Cube 5 Fun Cube 5
(The games in Namco’s FunCube series each offered a collection of redemption-based mini-games and run on a modern ‘Coldfire’ 68k based CPU)

Pairs Redemption Pairs Redemption
(Pairs ‘Redemption’ offers a family friendly alternative theme to the regular Strata/IT Pairs game in addition to ticket payout, rather rare this one)

Jajamaru Hop Step & Jump Jajamaru Hop Step & Jump
(Jajamaru Hop Step & Jump is a Rock, Paper, Scissors game, those were popular in Japan apparently – the hardware inherits some ideas from the NES)

Bikkuri Card Bikkuri Card
Chance Kun Chance Kun
(Chance Kun and Bikkuri Card are both horrible little ‘games’, we don’t know who made them but the ROMs have a ‘Penisoft’ copyright inside, a joke?)

Lucky Boom Lucky Boom
(Lucky Boom looks deceptively like a proper game, until you try playing it – from Playmark of Italy)

Chance 32
(Chance 32 whips out the high colour modes while you undress girls by playing your cards right..)

Super Stars Super Stars
(Super Stars is a German video slot machine)

Kuru Kuru Pyon Pyon Kuru Kuru Pyon Pyon
(Kuru Kuru Pyon Pyon is a slightly more bizarre Japanese take on such things, runs on MSX2-like hardware)

Another category of machines exist for the home market in the form of Educational systems / beginners systems, I was tempted to put these in the diversity section but they fit just as well here because to most people they’re simply not interesting enough to emulate. V-Tech made a bunch of systems which fall into this category, and some of those have either seen new dumps, or significant progress made over the year too. The Genius IQ series is one such system, with the driver seeing various improvements and new systems supported including the Genius IQ TV 512. Prior to the work done this year the system had no mouse support and was therefore basically unusable.


Genius IQ TV 512 Genius IQ TV 512
(The Genius IQ TV 512 is a learner computer system for the German audience, it offers functionality to help with day-to-day tasks)

To look at the screenshots you’d think maybe it was some nice mini-os, in reality it’s a bit too limited to be considered a real OS, it’s somewhere between the faux OS UI’s some games used back in the 90s when it was ‘popular’ (I’m thinking Jagged Alliance here) and an actual OS, or possible a phone OS.

“Professor Weiss-Alles” is another similar system, but really it’s just an alt language version of the already supported ” Socrates Educational Video System” it even takes the same cartridges which appear to be multi-language.

Professor Weiss-Alles Professor Weiss-Alles
(Professor Weiss-Alles is the German version of the ‘Socrates Educational Video System’ and teaches basic skills)

Some other V-Tech Genius systems were also dumped, but haven’t yet been emulated because they use different, and sometime unknown CPUs / MCUs.

Personally I don’t think systems like this have anywhere near the value something like the ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC and Amiga had to me growing up, but in recent times I guess the most important thing has been seen as showing how a ‘modern’ OS works in terms of using the programs, not actually giving the power to create anything meaningful and understanding the raw logic.

Does anybody care about Gameboy pirate mappers and the like? Well a couple of those were added, allowing things like the horrendous “Sonic 3D Blast 5” to run. It looks better than it plays and I’ve seen better looking things sat in my toilet.


Sonic 3D 5 Gameboy Pirate Sonic 3D 5 Gameboy Pirate
(Sonic 3D 5 for the Gameboy, they couldn’t even get the attack mechanic right, oh dear.)

Older arcade games on PC-like hardware tend to be underwhelming too, and while DosBox is an excellent little piece of software for emulating DOS based games, and early PC software emulation of the weird one-offs based on PC hardware it usually left to the realm of MAME. PC hardware was common for things like Touch Screen bar cabinets, and “Street Games II” is one such title promoted to working over the past year. Oddly the prequel, on basically the same hardware doesn’t work, failing to register inputs with the touchscreen. These games are ROM based, rather than being HDD based so aren’t as close to being ordinary PC titles as some, but that’s all the more reason why they end up being left to MAME.

Street Games 2 Street Games 2
(Street Games 2, basic touchscreen titles on PC-like hardware)

As you can see, most of what is included here could also have been included in the ‘All Around The World’ section, redemption games seem to have been developed far and wide, and we’ve probably only found the tip of the iceberg with them in some areas. I’ll never understand why these games became so popular, at least with the real gambling / slot machines you do have a chance of winning something worth more than you put in, instead with these things all you’re ever going to get is a novelty prize with your tickets.


#10 – discovery


One thing having MESS more closely tied to MAME has done, and of course working on UME and promoting that has aided in too is the discovery of new things, the little links, connections, ports of things you were surprised to see ported, or simply titbits of new knowledge.

I’ve done articles covering this in the past, the recent one showing off different versions of Pacman running in MESS / UME, and even ones before that demonstrating some of the Saturn games which are functional and in a self-referencing kind of way even this very article here.

MAME is immediate, and obvious, with 99% of the supported library you know exactly what you’re going to get, and after working on the project for so many years somebody only has to mention a game and I can picture it, and with a decent enough description of almost any game I could probably tell them what it is. Arcade games themselves can also be rather boring, with it being possible to squeeze the majority of them into a small number of action focused genres, not surprising because they were designed to be immediate, easy to learn, pick up and play, and it doesn’t surprise me at all when people who have used MAME for a long time and experienced a large number of the supported titles start actually picking up prototypes as their favourite games; often they ended up failing the location tests and never getting released because they were too complex, had more depth than it was possible to pick up inside of the time a credit or two is going to give you.

You might think that’s one mighty slur against arcade games coming from somebody who has been so heavily involved in arcade emulation and MAME, but the comment should be taken in moderation. Arcade games are a blast, the pick-up and play factor can be a very good thing, you can squeeze some amazing ideas into bite-sized chunks of gameplay which simply wouldn’t survive as a larger title, and I feel one of the problems with the industry today is that, aside from mobile / downloadable games it seems like the majority of titles have to be big Hollywood style games, although if that’s what people are buying then that’s what gets put on the shelves. Anyway, my point was a game like Populous, or Powermonger, both classics from back in day simply wouldn’t make it as an arcade game, it would be a non-starter, even Lemmings was with the version Data East did never making it past prototype stage; thoughtful, slow-paced strategy games don’t work as Arcades. The same applies to heavily character driven games like RPGs, some were attempted in the arcades, Cadash being one example, but they’re more pseudo action-based RPGs than real ones. All these things have been emulated in MESS for a long time, but if you’re new to MESS due to ties between it and MAME being more obvious, or have embraced UME because you enjoy having a combined binary then you could consider things like this new to the project, even if really they’re not.


Populous Powermonger
(MESS and UME by proxy can introduce you to new types of games in ‘MAME’ which would simply never work as arcades no matter how much you reworked them)

It’s also important to understand that I’m not just talking about the actual game aspect, I highlighted that first because it’s something I can imagine a lot of people will be able to relate more closely with, but as an actual developer on the project and in general, the hardware and how it is being used is a far more interesting subject.

Arcade hardware and software rarely show the same level of ingenuity required with some of the more limited home platforms where a single system must survive tens or even thousands of games, not one or two. Arcade hardware tends to be built for purpose, you do encounter a lot of weird and wacky things, but you very rarely see a game push the system it’s on to the absolute limits, you don’t have interesting things like cassette loading schemes to study and part of the charm of something like the ZX Spectrum comes down to things like that. Most of it is probably lost on anybody who didn’t grow up with them, and who haven’t ever studied it at a technical level because they’ll just see the systems as a bunch of mostly ‘bad’ games but when you look at some of the things you see on the screen from a technical point of view it’s often much more of a challenge to work out how they pulled them off, and that extends even into the 32-bit era and even today if you think about it, the current platforms are hitting 8 years old and pushing out graphics nobody imagined possible at the time.

Looking at a specific example, you might see that a weak 8-bit system like the Amstrad CPC with a 4Mhz Z80 has a port of Chase HQ, A 4Mhz Z80 was the sound CPU on the original arcade alone, the weakest part of the system! Couple that with the fact you don’t really have any dedicated video hardware and you might think it was simply impossible. I’m cheating a bit with this example because I already know it’s a good port, but if I didn’t I’d be quite impressed. Sure, it’s not smooth, it’s not in a nice high resolution, but it still manages to look good and capture the feel of the arcade game really really well, it’s an amazing technical achievement and the opportunity to discover and study such things by making use of the MESS code is amazing.


Amstrad CPC Chase HQ Amstrad CPC Chase HQ
(MESS / UME show off some amazing technical accomplishments, funky custom tape loaders, and ports of games to hardware with less overall power than the original had in the sound section!)

With arcades you simply don’t have that, none of the platforms were around enough for people to learn how to program them to that level, it makes emulating them easier, but definitely less interesting. I guess you could say the NeoGeo was around long enough, but the majority of what was achieved there was simply done by ramping up the ROM capacity as required to fake any effects needed.

Anyway, none of that is ‘new’ as such, and if you’ve been following MESS for a while, or other console & computer emulators you’ll have seen it all before, if you haven’t then you’ve really been missing out on many levels.

The Role of Software Lists in the Discovery Process

For the reasons just explained the process of exploring what MESS has to offer has been one of the highlights of the year, and combined with the efforts put into creating and maintaining the softlists has made for some fantastic discoveries; I feel my knowledge has been enriched as hopefully some of the following examples will show.

I can understand the frustration it might cause some people, actually having to figure out how to load something in MESS on an original computer system is at times even more frightening than having to use the commandline, and advanced use of that can be difficult too but there is plenty to discover even if you only stick to the more immediately accessible systems as I’ve found over the course of the year.

Even for systems where I thought I knew most of the library inside out there have been surprises in form of seeing how the systems were used and abused by manufacturers of pirate games (often unlicensed movie tie-ins etc. or clones of popular games) many years after the death of the original systems. The Software Lists attempt to document both official and unofficial software released for the platforms, so make identifying this kind of pirate release easy. One such release was the a Genesis release of Super Mario Bros, sold in Russia; apparently it’s based off a direct code translation of the NES version, so unlike all the other terrible Chinese ports this one plays exactly how it should, apart from the sound which lets the whole thing down a bit.


Super Mario Bros (Russia) - Genesis Super Mario Bros (Russia) - Genesis
(You’d be forgiven for thinking this Russian Genesis release of Super Mario Bros was the original NES game, the visuals and gameplay are spot on)

While many of those are recent pirates from the last 5-6 years because the Genesis is still popular in places like Russia other older pirate games have turned up and promptly been documented in the Software Lists too, in addition to many prototypes. Sticking with the Genesis one of those unlicensed games was Bomboy from Gametec, a 1993 release clearly inspired by Bomberman; it’s not even too bad compared to some of their other offerings. In MAME something like this turning up would be classed as a new game and listed in the relevant sections of the whatsnew, but because MESS is still playing catch-up when it comes to the Software Lists things like this tend to slip in unnoticed even with the more mature lists like Genesis, SMS and SNES, so it can be rewarding to look at the history of individual lists to discover new additions.


Genesis - Bomboy Genesis - Bomboy
(Bomboy was a rare unlicensed Genesis pirate cart from 1993, uncovered and supported last year)

MESS also became the first emulator to attempt to identify and use the individual chips found in the Sonic & Knuckles cartridges rather than using pre-merged ROMs, and while I think there is still a bit of work to do for that (detection of the Sonic 2 cart leading to the switching) it’s still a bit nicer than loading a pre-joined blob. The Software Lists are an essential tool for being able to document how things like this, where custom loading is needed.

If you look at the history of the SMS and GameGear list you can also see it tracks things like SMSpower releases, so naturally through the course of them making rare prototypes available MESS documents their existence in the lists so thanks to them the likes of Crazy Faces and CJ Elephant Fugitive are known about. The SMS list also shows that work has been done to document the specific (mis)behaviors of the various clone models like the ones released in Korea which a number of the MSX conversions released over there as SMS carts rely on.


CJ Elephant CJ Elephant
Crazy Faces Crazy Faces
(The Software lists help document newly discovered cartridges, in this case two Game Gear titles found by SMSpower)

Janggun-ui Adeul Janggun-ui Adeul
(The same can be said for the Korean SMS, aka the Gam*Boy – manufactured by Samsung. This is ‘Janggun-ui Adeul’ an unlicensed beat ’em up)

Of course, this isn’t the work of the MESS team directly, except in cases where the emulation needs fixing to support the various games but it does show how useful a well maintained Software List can be in discovering things about the systems you might otherwise have missed.

It’s also wise to keep an eye on the list additions for some of the more obscure systems too, several sets for the Sony SMC777 surfaced too, including a port of Choplifter, a shooter called Striz B.H., and some multigame discs with basic puzzle games and the like on them.


Sony SMC777 Choplifter Sony SMC777 Choplifter
(A port of Choplifter on a newly discovered SMC777 disk)
Sony SMC777 Striz B.H Sony SMC777 Striz B.H
(Striz B.H is another recently discovered SMC777 title)
Sony SMC777 Rocker Sony SMC777 Rocker
(Rocker is a Rock Paper Scissors based sliding puzzle game for the SMC777, part of one of the multi-game collections)

I was also fascinated to discover things like the Atari 2600 Supercharger expansion, until that point I had no idea that there was a cassette based expansion device for the old Atari system, even if people more familiar with it would probably consider it to be an obvious and well known part of the history of the system. The best part is I could fire it up in MESS and it actually worked well for most of the software I tried. If you only followed mainstream news you might be forgiven for thinking the Atari 2600 only had the disasters that were E.T. and Pacman, but being able to discover more in a familiar emulation environment has been an invaluable experience. While I can’t pinpoint a specific version in which it happened some work must have been done here over the past year as well because when the initial check in of the A2600 Supercharger Cassette list was done at the start of the year there was a comment saying loading from the Software List didn’t work even when it should.

Atari 2600 Frogger Atari 2600 Frogger (Supercharger Cassette)
(The Software Lists helped me discover that the A2600 cassette unit was actually an upgrade and allowed improved versions of games like ‘The Official Frogger’ (Right) over the original A2600 release (left) )

Of course part of the discovery process can be disappointment, seeing a system with a large software list then not being able to figure out how to use it, or finding that it most of it doesn’t work at all, or the driver is suffering some kind of long term regression, and there are certainly plenty of cases guilty of either or all those issues but after a while you come to accept it and move on, or attempt to do something about it.

Software Lists are a vital part of understanding the place in history a system had, it’s influence, the primary markets, secondary markets, and even new markets long after first party support was dropped. They provide a place for people to document their findings, a vital support link for the emulator allowing for correct loading schemes to be used and any extras found in cartridges to be hooked in without having to hack up correct ROM dumps in order for them to work, and in doing that they allow for comprehensive documentation of the innards of removable ROM based media, just like MAME attempts to do with PCBs. They allow you to ascertain a good level of understanding and discover many things you might not of otherwise known about, they can inform you of dependencies, and compatibilities if such things are contained within the lists and such functionality only stands to get better as they mature. The lists, as with the rest of the project are a gateway to knowledge.

When doing the ‘Ports of Classic games’ article late last year the Software List were my main reference for finding out what systems the likes of Pacman and Mappy had been ported to, and while I know there are gaps in the coverage they provided a big head-start for that research so a big shout out must go to everybody who has helped maintain them, track down things to list in them and validate / improve the information contained within.

Back to the Arcades

At a technical level the discovery aspect does still apply to MAME in some senses. One of the things I kick-started back into action when 3-on-3 Dunk Madness was dumped was my reworking of the Video System Co. sprite chip emulations and it was certainly interesting to discover that there really were only a small number of basic types hooked up to different hardware for the final tile indirections. Even in the case of Pipe Dream where the system is driven by an 8-bit Z80 the sprite implementation could be hooked up seamlessly once re-factored without the need for duplicate code in every driver to accommodate the minor differences in the final tile indirection or house per-game hacks due to incomplete implementations. At the same time as working on all that I discovered that Hattris doesn’t use sprites at all, and while I’m sure whoever did the driver in the first place made the same observation at the time it was something new to me, and made me curious as to how the game worked because for most non-sprite based games it’s a lot more obvious they lack sprites. I was going to do an entire article on sprite-less systems but never did get around to it. Also as featured in a previous update here, that work on the Video System sprites improved sprite emulation in several of the games using it, including Tecmo World Cup ’94 and Grand Striker, although both still need attention on protection and background rendering respectively.


Tecmo World Cup '94
(Work on cleaning up Video System sprites helped Tecmo World Cup 94, but we still need to tackle the protection)

A desire for discovery, learning, and understanding new things was a big part of the reason why I became involved with MAME in the first place after my initial contributions, so that’s why I’d consider this a highlight of the year even if it isn’t tied directly to any individual progress made during it (aside maybe the integration mentioned in the first point, but I was already doing this before then)


#11 – the potential / signs of things to come


I did an update on some ‘almost’ drivers a while back here, but the steady flow of new drivers to work on, new information to study and things to figure out is also an important part of keeping MAME alive.

Not everything added hits the ground running, and even if you ignore the vast swarm of non-video based sets there are a lot of things added where a good pair of eyes might be able to yield some interesting progress.

It’s not always possible, for games with protection MCUs the task might well be impossible with no way of dumping them, almost everything produced by IGS after 2001 falls straight into that category for example and while I’ve already shown a screenshot of the Chihiro boot screen earlier it’s unlikely anybody is going to be even considering emulating a modern Pentium 4 based PC in MAME for even the remotely near future so in cases like that the potential is far off, or more likely to be seen elsewhere first.

Other things have been creeping along in MAME too as a result of the same x86 / PC emulation, Funky Ball for example has also started showing decent signs of life now, and with an x86 recompiler and graphic fixes who knows what could come of it.


Funky Ball Funky Ball
(Several changes over the year have improved Funky Ball, performance is still bad and many graphics seem to come from the wrong RAM/ROM bank but the emulation is showing potential)

With that said there are more realistic targets becoming clear, drivers where perhaps they just need a little more work, and a little more motivation to get them to a working state. Of the additions from last year I’d say PoPo Bear and Super Bubble Pop (an unlicensed NeoGeo release) were probably the closest to be actual working drivers. Super Bubble Pop is a NeoGeo game so most of the base hardware is already emulated, and while there is some kind of slight ROM scramble on the header it also had problems with the FG layer incorrectly being cleared, and P1 controls not working which could be flaws in the emulation of the system due to the game doing things in a non-standard way, or some additional protection. Popo Bear needs work on interpreting various parameters properly and understanding the interrupt generation in order to improve graphics and game timing, it is already quite playable tho.


Super Bubble Pop Super Bubble Pop
(So close.. Super Bubble Pop for the NeoGeo is almost working, but for some reason only the P2 controls are functional)

Popo Bear Popo Bear
(Popo Bear is also close to working, a very unusual release from BMC who are better knowing for gambling titles)

That of course gives no guarantees anybody will look at them, there are others teetering on the edge that have been in such a position for well over a year, the games in the ‘Pinkiri 8’ driver (Mahjong titles) just need that one critical piece of the puzzle solving and it frustrates me that something as trivial as ‘how the height of the sprites is determined’ has been an issue for so long. They could even be kludged to work if needs be, just nobody has got around to either yet.

New dumps can be a reminder to look at drivers, a reminder of their potential, and the surprise of some previously unknown PGM cartridges showing up (A non-Super version of Puzzli 2 and a 3-in-1 cartridge of Photo Y2k2) were a definite reminder that I need to take another look at the emulation of Puzzli 2 and Photo Y2k2, but unfortunately time didn’t actually permit for any improvements last year so it remains to be seen how long these will remain as ‘potential’. The potential for something to be emulated is greatly increased with working boards / cartridges at hand because it makes recording reference material, getting vital information and running tests so much easier, so it’s easy to understand why it acts as a good reminder.


Puzzli 2 Puzzli 2
PGM 3-in-1 PGM 3-in-1
(New dumps, like these PGM titles often act as a natural reminder of where driver potential lies)

The work done on Konami’s Firebeat is also a sign of what might be just around the corner, and with the Keyboardmania games on the platform also ties together with the midi work mentioned earlier. Several games are on the verge of being playable, including Keyboard Mania 2nd Mix and 3rd Mix but using them on with standard PC input devices is tricky, so they would be ideally suited to being hooked up to a real keyboard.

Keyboard Mania 2nd Mix Keyboard Mania 2nd Mix
Keyboard Mania 2nd Mix Keyboard Mania 2nd Mix
ParaParaDancing ParaParaDancing
(The Konami Firebeat games have seen progress in the last year and with a little more work could be promoted to working)

Small commits and improvements are often a reminder of where potential lies too. System 10 in MAME saw some advances in figuring out the encryption, and knowing the underlying system is PSX based means that it’s highly likely once all that is figured out a whole bunch of the titles on the platform will ‘just work’ although currently there is nothing to show for it, because like all program rom encryptions you’re basically dealing with a case of things either being correct and the game code running, or being incorrect and the code simply crashing.

Similar smaller updates in the MESS side of the code also show potential areas for improvement, there were fixes to the F8 core and Video Brain earlier in the year, and while you can boot the system up it’s still considered non-working; inputs don’t function correctly and there are various glitches but in simply running it you can see it has the potential to go somewhere.

Judging potential from how things seem to be working can in some cases be misleading, you’d be forgiven for looking at the non-working Gaelco games in MAME, seeing how much of them actually run and just assuming the remaining protection issues were actually trivial when really they’re the exact opposite.

Poking around in some MESS drivers makes you realise similar as I have over the last year. MESS surely must have the potential to be the best ZX Spectrum and ZX81 emulator out there, from a hardware point of view they’re very basic systems, but the more you dig the more you realise the problems aren’t really trivial fixes. If you’re to do the emulation properly you’d need to apply a similar level of treatment to the Z80 core as the 6502 core saw and if you consider that the Z80 underpins everything from Pacman to the majority of sound systems used by all the major manufacturers in the 80s and 90s and even some of the more recent gambling games then you can get a grasp of the potential impact of such work , the amount of testing it would need and the number of hacks and bad assumptions having an actual 100% accurate core could break. Heaven knows what voodoo is going on with the Speccy emulators capable of delivering perfect emulation on an original Pentium! Of course we could probably cheat, I think the MSX already cheats in a similar way, feeding custom cycle counts to the Z80 core, but any cheat will always fall apart at some point.

The Amiga is similar, for it to be actually good with original software it will need better 68000 support in addition to everything else. It’s very noticeable at the moment that we fail protection checks on a number of original titles presumably because our timings aren’t good enough and they’re built with Anti-debugger code which is designed to be very fussy about timings.

All is not lost however, things can be improved even without all of that. Playing around with a few things (like fixing the CD32 pads) give an idea of what might be possible with some more minor fixes, and potential short term improvements however. Fixing the Amiga 1200 floppy support was an important step towards making some progress as it opens up the door to booting a variety of AGA mode software, which could provide useful test cases for fixing the emulation, but somebody will still have to do the work! There were also some fixes to the regular system for a couple of specific cases that were identified deemed easy to fix.


Amiga 1200 Amiga 1200
(Some minor improvements allow the Amiga 1200 to boot disks now but bugs are obvious in many places)
Amiga 1200 Amiga 1200
(The missing menu selector here is one such bug that may be worthy of some time investigating)

Amiga 1200 Amiga 1200
Amiga 1200 Amiga 1200
(Even the few listed games in the CD32 list show areas where clear attention is needed)

Those screenshots focus on the AGA systems, but as mentioned the OCS and ECS systems need just as much work, with many simple PD games demonstrating very visible glitches. It’s definitely a driver I’d still file under ‘potential’ despite fixes made over the year. Unfortunately the original Amiga drivers had been marked as ‘Working’ prematurely many years ago, so 2012 actually saw them correctly demoted to a non-working state because they’re far from correct.

Focusing back on areas where new progress shows potential for much more we’ve seen things like the NeXTcube driver touched and showing signs of life, PC-FX too.


NeXTcube
(I don’t know much about the NeXTcube, maybe it needs software to pass the startup tests, but none is listed, one to watch tho)

NEC PCFX
(The NEC PCFX was the follow-up to the PC Engine, not much to look at yet tho, but it’s progress over the previous year)

Maybe a lot of this should have been filed under the ‘discovery’ section, because a lot of this potential isn’t the result of new changes, but the result of looking at what is there over the past year, hence being mentioned in this article in the first place.

Potential is often seen as a negative thing, especially in the case of MESS. This is because things in MESS tend to be judged on a per system basis, when in MAME they’re judged on a case-by-case basis. Even Virtual Boy, which I’ve already mentioned had some very significant improvements over the year could still be considered ‘potential’ because while Mario Clash runs and comes across as a well polished classic Nintendo offering attempting to run 3D Tetris instead will show the driver fails entirely to handle framebuffer writes, leaving that game unplayable. The software lists can give some perspective on this in cases where known working / non-working software is known which brings things more in line with MAME but people are naturally and instinctively more likely to judge things on a system-wide basis.


3D Tetris Virtual Boy
(For all the good things I’ve said about Virtual Boy progress things like 3D Tetris show why as a system it’s still considered non-working)

Reasons above are why systems like the Virtual Boy, despite seeing significant progress in the year are still marked as non-working, it avoids over-selling MESS, or having people somehow think the driver is done and requires no more work but also has the consequence of making MESS look worse than it actually is when many games on a ‘non-working’ system can actually be fully playable. Sega CD is another such example, I’ve left it as non-working because I don’t entirely trust it, and a number of games will fail or require scary hacks to get working. Even considering that however you’ve been able to run things like Sonic CD and Wonderdog for a long time now. If Sonic CD was a standalone arcade game in MAME then it would be marked as working, and people would think everything was good, but because it’s a Sega CD game and the overall quality of the system emulation has shown it isn’t entirely trustworthy it gets batched in with the ‘MESS sucks, nothing works’ viewpoint for many. Let’s put it this way, if Area 51, Maximum Force and the other CoJag games were regular Jaguar games in MESS then even if they worked to the same quality they do in MAME now the system would still be considered ‘non-working’ because 98% of the system library doesn’t work to any worthwhile standard.

Mega CD Dragons Lair Sega CD Sonic CD
(In MESS terms these are considered non-working, because they run on the MegaCD / SegaCD which isn’t trusted yet, this can reflect unfairly on MESS because if they were MAME standalone games they’d be marked as working)

On one hand it’s cheating to show Mega CD / Sega CD, because as a system it wasn’t touched in 2012 aside some code shuffling, but I consider it important to highlight it to anybody who might be unfamiliar with MESS and how even with non-working systems there can be individual working games, sometimes many of them and with the closer ties to MESS introduced in 2012 it seems right to mention it.

So is potential a positive, or a negative? I’ve included it here because some things caught my eye, it can point at interesting future developments, but can only really be considered a positive if people build on it, and fully realise that potential.

Potential can Benefit Others

There is another way to view things as well however, and it’s an important one to consider. Even if a driver doesn’t see immediate attention it can’t really be seen as a negative, MAME (and MESS) provide a great deal of documentation value even for completely non-working systems, information useful to owners of the original systems etc. Something as simple as MAME listing that PC based game requires a dongle allows people to know that if they see one for sale without the dongle (for example, just the install discs) it probably won’t be usable. In addition if we document versions we know about, and a different one shows up it means it might be worth buying on the cheap even if the dongle is missing, this often applies to things like Naomi discs where revision discs quite often end up ‘loose’ but we know we already have a suitable dongle.

Getting caught up in the trap of thinking that everything in MAME should exist to benefit you and you only is an easy thing to do, and we see it often, it’s very easy to miss the bigger picture, that MAME exists to help everybody, people with vastly different needs and interests to your own and by having things like skeleton drivers where we’re simply documenting everything we know until the day somebody can emulate it we’re fulfilling one of those needs.


#12 – the rest


One thing I didn’t really expect to see / hear is that 45% of users of a popular ROM site are opting for the 7-zipped versions of MAME ROMs according to some statistics I was given. That’s not a bad adoption rate for a change introduced last year, and one where there is still some work to be done in updating support when using some of the tools (romcmp) and MESS when it comes to floppies etc.

7-zip support was actually only a convenient side-effect of the CHD compression improvements, which due to their size are generally more important to have well compressed, and that ended up in the entire CHD handling being rewritten practically from scratch and a long bedding in period there are signs of things settling down now, and it did help uncover some issues with how the older tools handled certain CD images too.

I’d consider that a highlight because it’s good to know I wasn’t wasting my time in adding support for the more modern format, it makes sense really and while one of my real reasons for adding it was to future-proof us against cases where a board has >2GB of ROMs it tends to compress things like the unpopular fruit machine sets down very well because most of the clone files are 99% the same as the parent and the solid compression handling is ideally suited to such cases.

A lot of people consider the classics ‘done’ as well, but 2012 proved otherwise with improvements to the blitter timing in Robotron, bringing the game closer than ever to the real PCB performance. This isn’t something you’re likely to notice unless you’re a hardcore player of the game, but it shows a dedication to improving the accuracy of things where possible and while arcade games tend to be quite forgiving in areas like that it’s the same kind of dedication that people will need to show to some of the computers and consoles if they’re achieve a good level of compatibility!


Robotron
(It will surprise many people but even Robotron was still seeing emulation improvements in 2012, with the blitter timing now more accurate than ever)

Then there are of course the games added which aren’t especially rare, aren’t exceptional in any way, and weren’t especially difficult to emulate because most of the work was already done, but at the same time show the course of history for certain developers.

In this category I’d put Toy Land Adventure and Diet Family, both Korean developer Semicom products, both running on Hyperstone based hardware, but compared to earlier efforts seem a little tame and underdeveloped. Toyland Adventure is really your ‘by the numbers’ Tumble Pop style game, but possibly more generic than even Head Panic, and Diet Family is closer to a modernized version of Galaga with a food theme, but really lacks any charm and the graphics, while attractive are very flat and add little to the game. One positive from them is they did tell us that the actual hardware outputs a very strange resolution, with the bottom 4 lines not being output by the hardware at all. I was glad to discover this because up until then I was fearing a nasty Hyperstone CPU bug causing the clipping issues at the bottom of the screen, but no, the games are actually programmed around the exact hardware limit.


Toyland Adventure Toyland Adventure
(Subliminal messages in Toyland Adventure still don’t make it anything more than a very average game)

Diet Family Diet Family
(Diet Family, putting looks above innovative gameplay)

Magicball Fighting was an earlier Semicom game, completing the series as far as support for their arcade baseball games is concerned. Again not really my favourite games, they’re just coin suckers and none of them fill me with any real confidence that there is more skill involved than luck but no doubt an important part of Semicom history forming a staple series for them in Korea.


Magicball Fighting Magicball Fighting
(Magicball Fighting, the first in a series of 4 arcade baseball games, all now emulated)

Also from Korea we saw two new Eolith hardware titles too in the form of ‘Linky Pipe’ and the awkwardly named ‘Steal Sea (& Get Land)’ which is a 2-in-1 affair, and by far the better of the games.


Linky Pipe Linky Pipe
(Linky Pipe, flawed and not a huge amount of fun)
Linky Pipe Linky Pipe
(Steal See & Get Land, an awkward name, but the game on offer isn’t too bad if you like that kind of thing)

Some other systems in MESS also had decent bits of progress made to them. The Super Cassette Vision for example was already decent but several fixes were made throughout the year to improve the supported games such as Boulderdash, Kung Fu Road, Real Graphic Mahjong and many others. It’s fair to say that the whole system library has been improved significantly in the last year even if some games like Mappy still aren’t quite correct (it runs far too quickly) and the screen resolution / aspect seems odd if stretched for 4:3


Super Cassette Vision - Boulder Dash Super Cassette Vision - Boulder Dash Super Cassette Vision - Kung Fu Road Super Cassette Vision - Kung Fu Road
(There have been improvements across the board to Super Cassette Vision, including CPU bugs fixed for Boulderdash)

Super Cassette Vision - Real Graphic Mahjong Super Cassette Vision - Real Graphic Mahjong Super Cassette Vision - Pop n Chips Super Cassette Vision - Pop n Chips
(Graphic / Sprite fixes helped many other games too, including Real Graphic Mahjong)

Various old regressions were fixed too, apparently the Famicom keyboard hadn’t been working since some point in 2011 and while the Famicom will always be in the shadow of the NES, at least outside of Japan it’s still good to keep it in decent shape.

The 9938 VDP, as used by the MSX also got some fixes, mostly in the form of cleanups, removing an old sprite limit ignore hack which was actually causing more problems than whatever it was meant to fix, also some music tempo fixes and similar, nothing major just a spring clean.

The Votrax speech unit (Gorf etc.) was touched early in the year, but the code left disabled, enabling it shows why, it still bears no resemblance to speech. It’s a shame there was no further progress, but I was glad to see it touched mainly because I’d really like to hear the German versions speaking one day without any hacks or assistance (we don’t have samples for those anyway) I guess this one still gets filed under potential.

Let’s also not forget we entered 2012 with some long standing, and highly annoying bugs with Save States, namely the one with the OKI6295 where it would randomly crash if you attempted to use Save States. We leave 2012 with that fixed, and the importance of bug fixes like that, especially if you’re using MAME on a daily basis should never be underestimated. One slightly more surprising side of things is the number of drivers still lacking in Save State support, maybe a worthwhile goal for 2013 would be to go over the drivers adding it, it’s never been easier now that we have mostly modern drivers and devices with the hardware specific inside the class states.

Some changes throughout the year were understandably disruptive, but needed doing, for that reason I’m going to mention Olivier’s floppy rewrite here, it left disk support in a number of drivers broken or only partially working for a long time, and a double team with another one of the significant updates, the SCSI code rewrite means that the X68000 is sitting mostly broken even today (I think, could be wrong). However, both of those things were absolutely essential towards making long term progress across a number of systems. The new floppy code gives the ability to support complex disk formats and their protections, it allows drives in a number of drivers to be hooked up properly, without resorting to hacks which inevitably cause another system to break, and while some areas of the code are still settling as the needs of each system and how they used / abused the hardware are fully understood we’re showing signs of improvement and are definitely over the worst of any fall out now. From time to time you need changes like this, ideally such things should be invisible to the end user but inevitably they aren’t, and that’s one reason why having users is important, to catch the edge cases and fall out. I consider this work a highlight because it’s all been done in a professional manner. it was the kind of task many devs would have shied away from but instead it was tackled head on.

The SCSI improvements I just mentioned, that’s been another big one, bringing together all the different implementations, trying to implement things properly so that various devices are reusable rather than ending up heavily tied to one specific implementation for one specific system, it’s all important work even if it may not appear so.

That’s also been another key thing we’ve seen this year, implementations brought together. Already mentioned was the work I did on Video System, but there were still bits done for Data East (following on from work in the previous year) and the various Kaneko video + protection chips. Many general devices got similar treatment, code being ripped out of individual drivers and actual proper implementations being hooked up (the 68681 as already mentioned is one of note) In cases where multiple implementations of devices were created only to later find out they were a rebadged version of something else we’ve also seen work done in crunching those down; it’s been a busy year for device changes and improvements with far too many to mention.


Additional Thoughts


For a project where a lot of people seem to think nothing good has happened for many years I hope this write-up shows that there has been a significant amount of progress over the last year alone, just like most of the ones before it if you were to pick them apart and do similar. Sure, the focus is slowly changing, but even then there are still fixes, improvements and refinements made to classic era games, as well as a number of lost classics showing up.

The changes we’ve seen over the past year were always inevitable too, as much as some users and even developers want to resist MESS, or see it and the gambling games as some kind of ‘cancer’ on MAME it’s just the natural course of progress if we’re to see the project continue to be relevant to generations beyond those who remember and admire the classic arcade games.

Harking back to points made earlier, as one of the younger members of the core team I’m now 31 and not getting any younger, and the lack of any significant amount of younger developers is a worry even if the old brigade are doing are still doing a fine job of supporting the project for the time being.

My personal memories of the arcades are mostly ones of being barely able to reach the controls with the constant jangle of money being paid out of fruit machines across the hall along with all the peew, pow, bangs from the older titles and things like TMHT (TMNT) blaring out the theme tune every attract loop. By the time I was old enough to start appreciating them most of the interesting games had gone, replaced by flashy VS. fighters, shock factor appeal, novelty dance games, and huge expensive dedicated cabinets. Sure, as a kid, the arcades were impressive compared to the graphics on my ZX Spectrum, they had a wow factor in terms of graphics and sound, but they weren’t magical to me the same way they must have been to a generation earlier, and I’d guess to generations after they were even more irrelevant.

For that reason I’m glad to have seen some decent progress in the 3D systems in the past year. As cool as many of the rare findings are, and fascinating as their history can be most of them are going to do nothing to reach out to a new generation even if they make fans of the more classic eras giddy, or at least the ones who are open minded enough to recognize that there was more to the arcades than PacMan, Donkey Kong and Robotron!

My fear is still that MAME, like MESS did so many times, has already missed the boat with some of the more recognized 3D titles though, for example the likes of Daytona (Model 2, ElSemi’s Emulator), Scud Race (Model 3, Super Model), the newer Naomi, Naomi 2 where you have Demul, and then the hacked Taito Type X games where people are running them natively. This puts MAME in a difficult position, people aren’t going to be impressed even if we do them perfectly, the response is more likely to be ‘about time’ or ‘performance isn’t good enough’ and understandably so. 2012 has done little to dispel my fear in this area, and while taking onboard the MESS developers has been a boost, the lack of fresh blood in terms of both developers and user base is a concern.

When emulating the 80s and 90s stuff for the first time MAME became and stayed popular because it always made a splash, it was often the first to do things well and in an accessible way; not necessarily the best, but with the best balance of the important factors. This in turn meant that people were drawn to MAME, heard about MAME and wanted to contribute to MAME, making it better; the fact that most people of the capable generations had been exposed to programming on home computers no doubt helped too. These days we’re seeing more and more people with no home computer at all, instead relying on crippled tablet devices and phones and using computers simply in schools environments where they’re equally locked down so I think this problem is only going to get bigger.

The work I mentioned earlier being done on the 3D systems in MAME is often ground breaking, things nobody has done before, but the balance of usability, stability, performance etc. just isn’t there. In part it’s the games, something like Silent Scope without the novelty of the scope is hardly worth a mention. Worse still if you want to do things properly in a portable, readable way without really just creating one giant hack only capable of running a handful of games then performance will always be an issue. In the past CPUs typically got twice as fast year on year, but if anything we’re not seeing people more and more move to lower power systems, which is inherently bad for emulation. I think this makes working on the emulation less appealing too, it takes a strong mind to work on emulation for something you know most people are going to slag off, and not test properly or possibly not even notice for reasons basically out of your control.

That said, the MESS components are showing signs of progress, and while I feel this article doesn’t fully do justice to a number of them it is pleasing to see because the systems covered by MESS have a broader appeal and there are even systems left to emulate that, given some decent recompilers, make for realistic targets in the future. I wouldn’t suggest trying to emulate something like the Nintendo DS, or Playstation PSP right now because they’re still a bit modern, but they are realistic targets for some point in the future.

As I mentioned at the very start, that was my big highlight of the year, the bringing together of the development of the projects, because it helps start to make it clear that the horizons of the project do extend beyond just the dead-end arcade tech, it brings closer together a generation of hardware that had more appeal to my generation and younger

Keep in mind that the main reason I got into MAME development was because I saw that there were arcade games running on Genesis hardware which really got me curious, had it not been for that link I might never have bothered at all. I was actually going through some old CDs of data backups from when I was working on that driver and found some rather unsavoury comments in my private tree regarding being asked to not include actual Genesis games in my driver even back then, it seemed silly to me at the time and now, near 15 years on, it seems ridiculous that we still maintain any level of separation yet people say I’m trying to rush this kind of thing and push people into doing it too quickly?

Anyway we’ve seen progress on that front, we’ve seen general advances to the core, and we’ve seen hard work and dedication put into drivers for even the most unpopular games as well as the classics.

We’ve also seen breakthroughs on some tough nuts, progress in diverse areas, and huge amounts of money thrown towards helping locate rare stuff for analysis. It’s hard to ask for much more, in terms of actual progress, and getting things done it’s been a good year even if I think a lot of it ended up slipping below the radar for most people, hence this write-up in the first place!


Disappointments


There were a couple of disappointments, we’ve still no solution for things like the Bubble Memory, and while it’s entirely possible the code will turn out to be the same as the ROM based re-releases we emulate it would be nice to emulate the system right down to MCU level, including having raw dumps of the magnetic ‘bubble memory’ so that we can see the MCU performing any reading and error correction in action. Those things are a ticking time bomb.

Gaelco games are another such time bomb and again not one for which we have a solution. World Rally is only emulated because Gaelco kindly provided the code, but I’m not even sure they could do that for something like Glass if they wanted to, because to the best of my knowledge it was a 3rd party development. For the others there has been no further contact, no indication they might make available the dallas code for World Rally 2, Thunder Hoop 2, or a number of others. I did take a look at Glass earlier in the year, but quickly concluded the number of small behaviors controls by the protection were far too great, and it was more or less a lost cause. The changes I made merely served to get it past the initial ‘fail’ screen.


Glass Glass
(Are the remaining Gaelco games a lost cause? Glass shows how the protection can be heavily involved)

Finding several Deco cassettes was a positive, but there are many of those left to find too, even if several are likely to be dull mahjong titles it would be a shame if they got lost forever.

Speaking of dull titles, we’re still yet to get a complete set for any of the Sega X-board + satellite based gamblers, Charles did manage to pick up a large number of components for one of them recently, but like every other time one key part is missing, and they need a complete set to be of any use at all. I already mentioned things like Exciting Black Jack using setups like this, but I believe other titles like Royal Ascot did as well, we currently have a dump of the X-Board part of that, which will boot and show a title screen, but then just seems to sit there and wait for something, presumably other terminals used for the actual betting, to talk to it.


Royal Ascot
(Royal Ascot, useless without dumps of other terminals?)

One point of severe frustration is that I’m still having to sit on one driver I wanted to submit a long time ago as well, frustrating because I’d love to be able to say ‘look what we found’ but for that game I can’t, and it’s easily one of the more interesting pieces of prototype history.

In terms of personnel, there are times things do still seem like an uphill struggle also. There are still arguments inside and outside the team, Guru wants his $6000 for Wyvern F-0 he says Smitdogg owes him, Smit says he doesn’t, Guru went above and beyond the terms of any deal they had in what he paid for it etc. It throws the emulation status of it into limbo, and when I’m told by my Asian contact that one recently changed hands over there for closer to $1000, and only that price because it’s a custom cabinet, then I can’t see that conflict being resolved amicably, in the end it will just turn up somewhere else and we’ll end up with a situation where everybody loses. Understandably with that amount of money involved and whatever misunderstandings may or may not have occurred in the past there is a lot on the line but it’s sad to see people unable to work together.


Wyvern F0 - didn't happen in 2012 Wyvern F0 - didn't happen in 2012
(Wyvern F-0 is in Mamedev hands the emulation status is in limbo due to personal squabbles, we’ll probably need another one before it gets emulated)

Then there is the general abuse over things that are being done because people refuse to look at how things being done benefit the projects when they personally don’t like them. I let comments through because I like people to be able to have their say, even if it is to express a dislike for what is being done but it would be nice if people could see the bigger picture, see how emulating things they don’t like might benefit MAME in ways they do, or even make MAME appealing to other people.

I’ve talked a lot positive about MESS over the year but there are disappointments there as well, systems which have regressed to the point of being unusable (BBC Micro), or really been marked as working prematurely. The fiddly solutions we still need for systems like the SNES when it comes to carts with add-on CPUs still represent a problem, as does the performance when several of them are used despite us being a long way from Bsnes accuracy. For all my promotion of MESS I have to be honest when I say it’s not perfect, it might do a damn good job in a lot of cases, but we still need to aim for better. The same can be said of MAME, you just don’t notice it as much because we can typically plaster over the cracks more easily, but in MESS they do show because you can’t get away with cheap hacks when you need to run a large open-ended library of software.

There are also systems I feel we probably should be emulating, or should have seen better progress. The state of the Jaguar is still shocking, and there’s nothing especially complex about any of the NES mappers in reality but we’re still missing the odd significant one. None of them stop MESS being a good, important part of the project but you do still notice them and they are still an irritation.

So those are some of the disappointments for the year, you could call some of it dirty laundry (but it’s been going on far too long) other bits you could say are me being overly concerned about things which will surely get done eventually, but I still do worry about them.


Final Words / Conclusion


Despite my lengthy concerns in the final thoughts and disappointments section above I don’t actually consider it a bad year for MAME at all, that’s mostly me just rambling, and most of it would get chopped in an abridged version of this post, so you can mostly ignore it. It’s interesting to note that one of the biggest sections is still the one that covers things nobody is likely to care about, but that’s just the nature of these things, and any industry as a whole is probably going to produce more things nobody cares about, or only specific groups care about than anything else.

I already mentioned it, but 2013 has already started with a bang for MESS, 148u1 will hit with a massively improved Playstation driver, probably as a single advancement in MESS more significant for most users than anything of 2012 so that’s excellent news and I’ll likely to an article on that in the near future to highlight some of it. It’s also caused renewed interest in improving the Saturn emulation too, because it now looks bad in comparison!

People have often asked if I really believe what I say, or if I’m just putting on a front, and I’m sure plenty will ask if I really think all the things I’ve mentioned here are highlights, or if it’s just meant as one giant MAME press release designed to hammer home some political agenda that everything MAME does is great. I’ve tried to keep things human as much as I can here, without descending too much into incoherency so that people realise that these are indeed my thoughts, and explanations are given where possible.

I can’t deny some systems in MESS are a pain to use, there are no screenshots for a number of drivers because I struggled to figure them out, but I don’t really see it as a blocking issue. I suck at most of the arcade games in equal measure as I suck at using some of the systems, it’s a learning process and if people start posting screenshots of some ‘killer game’ they’re running in MAME alongside the arcade ones then people are going to be intrigued with regards how to get it running, even if it’s just copying what somebody else told them to type and in that sense people will learn and I see no harm in giving the option to learn within our project. Is that not one of the key goals? to educate people about the past, to keep the knowledge alive? So yes, I do believe in what I’ve said, I do believe the highlights I’ve pointed out are highlights, even if they might not be highlights for obvious reasons. I’m not so sure why people even question that.

MAME is doing good things, MESS is doing good things, together they’re doing great things and this year has showed how that continues to be the case.


Thanks


In addition to the hard work of the developers and external contributors, those mentioned by name above, and those not I should note that much of this was written using the resources at the MAME Previous Versions page on the mamedev.org Wiki and The MAMEinfo news page. in addition to the SVN logs were used (mostly for MESS, because there isn’t really an equivalent that I’m aware of)

The period covered, give or take a few days / special mentions is everything after MAME 0.144u5 (first release of 2012) up to and including MAME 0.148, the first release of 2013.

Thanks to everybody involved, and thanks for reading, scrolling through the images, or whatever else you decided to do when presented with this mountain of text which by my own admission is often opinionated, possibly rather preachy in places, and often wandering miles off-topic. I’m sorry if I missed something important, but at over 25,000 words this was already getting far too lengthy, the best thing I can say to anybody out there is explore, discover, don’t be afraid to try things and don’t be afraid of change. If you want to run PacMan then MAME will always run PacMan, but it can also do a lot more thanks to the work of everybody involved, and everybody using it and testing it and sourcing materials to help the developers improve it.

Anyway, enough of that, hopefully I’ll have just as much to show off, and as many positive words to say next year!

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UME 0.148

January 11, 2013 Haze Categories: General News. 29 Comments on UME 0.148

UME (logo by JackC)

UME (Universal Machine Emulator) combines the features of MAME and MESS into a single multi-purpose emulator. The project represents a natural course of development for the emulators which already share large amounts of code and is part of an ongoing effort to unify development efforts and provide a single emulation platform for users and developers alike.

As an end user this means that the software provided here is not only capable of emulating arcade machines like the baseline versions of MAME, but in addition can emulate a large number of home computers and consoles from across the world using the very same code, developed by the very same team of developers.

0.148 Windows binaries (32-bit and 64-bit) (Self Extracting 7-zip) (all MAME / MESS tools included, both 32-bit and 64-bit versions in tool32/tools64)

The source is identical to that found on mamedev.org

General Notice

As of 0.148 the MESS binaries are offered as an optional extra to the MAME base package on mamedev.org, while this isn’t a fully merged solution like UME it is a step in the right direction towards having MESS recognized as part of the MAME family, which is one of my goals with UME.

I hope in the future we can see them offered as a single package, and eventually merged, spawning the ‘classic’ builds (Arcade-only emulator without any of the pinballs, gambling stuff) alongside a complete build with everything (Arcade + Home) Some people remain unconvinced over this even if it is already the direction in which development is heading. Doing that would give a ‘best of both worlds’ scenario, with the main release showing our dedication as a team to the documentation and preservation of everything we can (a unified voice of what I hope UME shows right now, rather than it just coming from me) along with the Classic version for people who really don’t want some of the recent ‘bloat’ and prefer it to simply emulate arcade video games and nothing else. Everybody would win, I think?

What’s New

You can read the various whatsnew files on mamedev.org
From MAME, From MESS

Points of Interest

There are some really good additions this time around, as well as bug fixes for some long term lingering bugs (such as the control redefining problem for some of the Consoles) Preliminary disk support has also been restored for systems like the CPC (although protected disks won’t work yet until support is improved dramatically) as well as the ability to change disks with softlisted software working again (although not with 7z compreed files due to some pending debate and the need to establish an actual .diff format for writable disks, rather than trying to modify the content of the original files, which you really don’t want to be doing for softlisted media anyway!)

The Rise of the Robots proto made it in, so as I’ve mentioned, that’s if you like trainwrecks that’s no doubt one to study. Mahnattan for the Deco Cassette is there too, along with a couple of Deco Cassette bug fixes I made to support it. Grasspin too, in a working state even if there are a few things to be ironed out.

From MESS the PV1000 has been promoted to working, a curiously underpowered system from Casio to which some not terrible ports were done, although the limitations of the hardware are quite apparent even from those.

HLSL stability fixes have also been put in place, so it now copes better with games doing dynamic resolution changes, which previously were a very good reason to keep HLSL off altogether. If you like HLSL you won’t want to be using anything pre 148 because those fixes are essential for a significant number of popular drivers / systems. The vector games may still have issues, so you might want to create a vector.ini with HLSL turned off, although it has been said a more fancy HLSL vector renderer is in the pipeline, something I’m sure fans of AAE will be glad to hear.

A word of caution, the -mt multithreading option was turned on by default, on my system that still causes issues with noticable random graphic corruption / flickering in several drivers if running unthrottled, if you experience anything like that you’ll probably want to turn it off; the performance benefits are negligible to say the least and I was really tempted to flip it back off for UME (but wanted to stick to the baseline code)

One of the other potential highlights is the Microvision support, also known as the ‘very first handheld’ Unfortunately it seems like nobody added any kind of Software List for it, which makes knowing what are valid images to run on it for testing rather tricky. I’ll probably revisit that one in one of the u updates if one gets added. The cartridges all contain only an MCU, which acts as the CPU, although with a resolution of only 16×16 monochrome pixels as you can guess it is going to be a very limited system!

Once again proving the projects are an international effort and just not about the popular systems everybody knows there has been work on a number of relatively obscure systems including the Hanimex PENCIL II, a system mostly known in Australia (although apparently manufactured in Hong Kong) It’s more or less an MSX style machine, although again there is no software listed and it apparently does not have the capability to load in any software at the moment (it was placed in the wrong section of the messnew, it isn’t actually marked as working yet) Still, it’s one to watch if some dumps turn up, otherwise you can play with the built in basic.

(Stay tuned for more) (sorry, not been too well these days)

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