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First Looks: MAME for OS/2- by Lief Clennon

Summary: The Multi Arcade Machine Emulator lets you re-live old memories of the Coin-Op Golden Age classics, even though this beta version of the port has a little way to go before being finished.

Have you ever thought fondly back to the early '80s, and endless hours spent in an arcade attempting to flip the score on Defender, or perfecting the patterns of Pac-Man? Or alternately, are you too young to even really remember those games? Well, in either case, a solution is now available.

Canned nostalgia

MAME, the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator, is truly an impressive piece of work. It is exactly what its name describes: a set of emulators for the processors and mainboard chipsets commonly used in arcade machines, mostly the older ones (.GIF, 3K). The rest of the game's guts -- the graphics and programming -- are contained in separate ROM images, which the emulator loads. There can often be numerous files in a single ROM image (each represents a single chip's worth of data), but the emulator can read them directly out of .zip files, so there's no clutter involved.

The emulator can't run every game, of course; many have custom chips. But with each new version, special-case code is added and more games are supported. The latest version for DOS has even included support for far more recent games (.GIF, 17K), with the popular Neo-Geo system; the OS/2 port is a few versions behind, but hopefully we can look forward to continued development on that front.

Native features

Well, first a native non-feature: there are no sound effects in this version, nor can it run in full-screen mode. Both issues are planned to be resolved in a future release. Another minor issue is Matrox cards: you need to both have at least version 2.21 of the driver (available from Hobbes), and the emulator will not work with EnDIVE enabled.

MAME for OS/2 uses DIVE for quick screen draws. It may use EnDIVE for hardware scaling, but I've got a Matrox card so I couldn't test that. The keyboard can be used to control most games, and for the adventurous, so can the mouse; however, should you happen to own a joystick, MAME not only supports it, but also includes an OS/2 joystick driver.

Dig Dug at 5fps

Perhaps the biggest problem with MAME for OS/2 is that it is incredibly sluggish. On my 200MHz P6, some newer games wouldn't run faster than 1/4 speed. Even the oldest, simplest games would only go full speed if I left them at "actual size", the size of the screenshots displayed here. With hardware scaling this might be less of an issue, but I sincerely hope some development time will go into code optimization.

While in many ways little more than an interesting curiosity, MAME is small enough and fun enough that it's worth having around just for the heck of it. Hopefully, development will continue: this is definitely beta software, but it's a very good start. Hats off to the folks at OS/2 Netlabs, and the same to MAME's own designers.

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MAME for OS/2 0.31.3

by The OS/2 Netlabs
download from the OS/2 Supersite (ZIP, 973K)
Registration: Free

Lief Clennon is a computer hobbyist and Team OS/2 member currently residing in Albuquerque, NM. He can usually be found badgering his friends on IRC.

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