Every few years I find myself coming back to MAME. For the uninitiated (or just forgetful), MAME is the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator, a remarkable piece of software that emulates considerably more arcade games than you even knew existed.
Unfortunately, my experience always goes like this:
- Download and build MAME (I’m often on Linux and building from source works best for me); this step usually works pretty smoothly, if a bit slowly as the MAME code base consists of many thousands of files
- Find some ROM images I downloaded years ago
- Re-familiarize myself with the documentation; the trade-off you make with such a marvelously super-flexible program is that the setup can be painful
- Finally figure out how to launch the emulator with a particular ROM
- Find that the ROM package is corrupted and MAME can’t run it (no quality control with underground contraband, I tell ya)
- If it does work, then read some more documentation until I can make a gamepad work and achieve the optimal graphics and audio settings
Then I can finally enjoy a classic arcade game or 2… until I remember the final insult:
Pure arcade games are not terribly engaging when played by yourself in free-play mode. When playing any arcade game in free-play mode, it becomes painfully obvious in short order that — for the vast majority of such games — the only challenge is to keep your character alive and the only motivation for doing so is to not have to feed more currency into the machine in order to keep playing. When you’re effectively on free-play, getting through an arcade game just feels like a rote chore. Conventional emulators don’t suffer from this same issue since, generally, one emulator only emulates one system while MAME emulates thousands. Further, other emulators tend to emulate systems that are built around gameplay principles other than pure token-eating.
Still, I have come back every so often and get that MAME fix.