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Tuesday, February 10: Classic Arcade Gaming

Ed Lee and Roger Chang

Did you know you can relive part of your childhood in the form of these classic games for free, thanks to the Internet? What's more, these games are downloads—yours to keep and cherish forever.

Emulators and ROMs

Emulators are software programs that essentially duplicate the innards of old video game machines, as well as classic consoles such as the Atari 2600. ROMs are the games themselves, extracted from the source code of the originals and zipped up to be read by the emulators.

If this seems a bit confusing, don't worry. Some excellent sites are devoted to this nostalgic pursuit. At ClassicGaming.com, you can find a variety of emulators and hundreds of ROMs to download.

Mame

By far the most popular type of emulator, according to ClassicGaming.com site director William Cassidy, is Mame (http://www.mame.net). Mame and its Windows counterpart, Mame32 (http://www.classicgaming.org/mame32qa), emulate more than 1,500 classic arcade games such as Joust, Centipede, and Pole Position. There's also a Mac version called MacMame (http://macmame.org). Here's how to use Mame:

  1. Download Mame. Download the binaries, not the source code, unless you're interested in programming.

  2. Download the game ROMs. The legalities involving ROMs are far from resolved, so you'll have to find the ROMs on your own.

  3. Install or unzip the Mame file. Notice that in the newly created Mame directory, there's a subfolder called ROMs.

  4. Put your downloaded ROM files into the ROM folder in the Mame directory. Do not unzip the ROM files. Mame was created to accept ROM files in zip format.

  5. Start Mame. From the File menu, select Show Only Available. If you don't follow this step, Mame will list every supported game, whether you have it or not.

  6. You can customize controls within each game's properties. These include sound, game controller, and video settings.

  7. Select the game you want to play and click Run. To skip the first warning screens, type ok. The game will need to boot up in Mame.

  8. Here are your game's controls: 5 and 6 insert quarters into the game; 1 and 2 select one or two players; during the game, adjust specific game settings by hitting the Tab key; Esc exits the settings menu.

Console Emulators

Most other emulators focus on one console, such as the Atari 2600 or the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Some of these include Stella (an Atari 2600 emulator), ColEm (ColecoVision), Genecyst (Sega Genesis), and NESticle (NES, http://www.classicgaming.com). "Virtually all console systems before 1995 or so have been emulated," Cassidy says.

Emulate Multiple Consoles

The only emulator that handles multiple consoles successfully is called Mess (http://mess.emuverse.com). Most people would rather find the emulator that gets their favorite games just right.

Emulators for the Mac

Emulation.net is the one-stop shop for Mac users interested in emulating classic and not-so-classic game machines, including such greats as the Super Nintendo, the Atari 800, and, of course, Mame.

So, this community of enthusiasts has given these games a whole new lease on life with emulator technology. But at this point you might be asking, are these games legal? Isn't someone, somewhere, going to want to be paid?

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