Mame Arcade Machine – PC and Frontend.

During the evenings this week I’ve been building a PC for my Mame Arcade cabinet with a view to sorting out the Mame front end for it today. It’s a basic PC and nothing fancy but it’ll play Mame games perfectly well including a few other dedicated arcade emulators that need a bit more oomph to run. Emulators like  Zinc, Mojnir, Daphne, Nebulas, and AAE (with a bit of tweaking).

Here’s the specs –

Pentium 4 2.8mhz

2gb Ram

Geforce 7800GTx

120gb HDD

WinXP – SP2…I did consider Windows 2000 originally as I want this thing to boot as quickly as possible but XP seems fine as is.

Further modification ais required to provide  power (via the spare 4-pin molex) to other parts of the cabinet but for now, a basic setup will suffice.

With that done, it on to the emulator front end.

I was going to break from my norm of using either MameWah or Mala and try the incredibly gorgeous looking Hyperspin .

I’ve been messing around with Hyperspin for a few days and it certainly ramps up the eye candy to ‘number 11’ by adding animated menus, transitional  animations, system and game specific themes, arcade sounds and gameplay videos.   When set up correctly it looks superb!

Check it out in action –

Of course, to get it set up properly, you’re going to have to invest in some serious time to  if you intend to source and download each file individually. There are collections out there that contain all of the  files in one go but you’re looking at downloads of anywhere between 45gb to 95gb – Yup that’s gigabytes, not megabytes :-O

Initially the thought of getting all of those files individually didn’t really put me off because I wasn’t going to be running a full mame rom set in my arcade machine, just a select few of my favourite arcade games. At the last count, this came to about  126 game titles and so not a huge amount of time to sit at the Hyperspin download area.

As I began to installing and my collection of themes, artwork, movies and sounds began to grow,  a couple of things became apparent.

Firstly, Hyperspin mainly uses Adobe Flash and runs movies in .flv format (soon to change I hear) thus it benefits from a fast processor and lots of RAM. Having a half descent graphics card make no difference with Hyperspin and therefore  my low spec P4 and 2Gb just wasn’t cutting it. Even with small list of games and a small number of themes, it’s was beginning to suffer and was very laggy overall. Just scrolling though a list of games could often be a pain.

I tried it on my laptop (Intel Core I3 /4gb laptop and even though it has a  crummy integrated video Hyperspin runs silky smooth.

Hyperspin has a setup utility that can  tailor the amount of graphics options to suit your requirements (as well as quality) which goes some way to speed things up. However, even running as a low resolution, the lag was too much for me. Swapping out the movies for screenshots helped somewhat, but with a larger rom list, the lag was back 😦

Secondly, yes it looks and sounds nice but after awhile all that gloss seems to just get in the way when all you just need to quickly zip through to the game you want and off you go. The noise from all those sound effects playing out at you navigate through the game list was too much for me too. Of course you do have the option to turn the sounds off.

Maybe if I upgrade the PC, I’ll look at HyperSpin again, but for now I think I’ll stick with something a little lighter on the senses.

Also, I’ve since changed my mind on the number of rom images to include too as more often than not, having all often brings a hidden gem to light.

However….8000+ roms including all of the clones and umpteen Mah-jong games are really not  required on this particluar cabinet so it’s time to crack open some software apps to trim down 26gb of roms into something more manageable.

My favourite app for this has to be Mame Content Manager – http://mcm.mameworld.info/

Using a copy of Catver.ini you can easily filter out all of the rom files by category (or individual files if you want 100% control).

I don’t think I want any tabletop games so that’s 428 roms removed (or renamed in the event that you make a mistake).

mcm

With MCM I’ve trimmed down my rom set to about 4000 titles (including clones) which I’ll filter out with custom lists using another handy piece of software called ROM Lister – http://www.waste.org/~winkles/ROMLister/

To get the best out of ROMLister, it’s best to create a master list of your Rom collection (I usually do this after I’ve removed the unwanted roms with MCM) By opening a command line, browse to the Mame folder and run mame -listxml > mame.xml

This will create a file called mame.xml with all the games listed. Next, I use ROMLister to scan my rom folder to produce a list of the rom files I have. Add in Catv.ini and I can merge these lists to filter out even more unwanted roms.

Filter by category, monitor orientation buttons and controls. Don’t think I’ll be needing lightgun games etc.

romlister

Both of these tools are great to use on a whole range of emulator frontends whether directly, or importing the lists and converted them to  the standard that the frontend uses.

So now that I’ve decided not to use Hyperspin just yet, I thought I’d settle on either Mame32, Mala or MameWah.

Mame32 is a great, no frills frontend which is both light and fast. If run Mame on my desktop, then Mame32 is the frontend I would usually use. Sure, it’s not pretty but it works perfectly and is super robust with plenty of options.

mame32 (Custom)

Mala – FE was the one I was going to use and have used this on many Mame projects before including one of the arcade cabinets at the Retro Computer Museum and my defunct bartop. There’s lots of options to play with as well as theme support so you can build a nice frontend as complex or as simple as you like.

For some reason though, these past few days I’ve been fighting with Mala and for some unknown reason I cannot for the life of me get it so ‘see’ my rom lists. No matter what I do, my game list always shows as being 72 games! I’ve tried other frontends using the same lists and they all appear to be fine. In the end, I gave up…..:-(

…..and have come full circle as I’ve decided to stick with an old friend – MameWAH.

The first time I played around with MameWah was around eight or so years ago and back then I found it a little too confusing to set some of the advanced options. However it doesn’t take to long to get it running the way you want it (the documentation is much better these days) including multiple themes for each emulator.

I wanted my main Mame theme to be quite simple one – Just a  game list, a corresponding screenshot and not much else really. Originally, I was going to have a simple ‘Galaga’ style space backdrop but in the end, I found a Space Invader image on DeviantArt which I messed around with in Photoshop and added a little neon (Font and FX plugin) and colour to match the red, white and blue colouring of my cabinet.

space_invaders_3d_by_v4arg-d3a7llm

Here’s a rough mock up (not the monitor I’ll be using) but I think I’ll change the game list from centre to left justification.

IMG_3308

Hopefully it shouldn’t be too long before I can test it out in the cabinet.

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