What's this about a cabinet?
MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) is a program that lets you play over 6900 classic arcade video games on your computer. The use of the original game ROMs results in near-perfect gameplay. All the same levels, characters, patterns and tricks you learned as a kid are still there. While a reasonably powerful system is needed to play the latest and greatest games supported by MAME, an older modest system (around 750 MHz) will play about 90% of the classic games from before 1990 or so. MAME exists for several platforms such as DOS, Windows, Linux, Macintosh, and others (even handheld PCs and digital cameras). It's a great way to make use of old computer hardware, preserve historical games, provide an ongoing construction project, re-live one's youth (or make up for the lack of it), and just have some fun. MAME was originated in early 1997 by Nicola Salmoria and has since grown into an international open-source volunteer project supported by dozens of programmers. Best of all, it's completely free!
So what have you done so far?
Many people (including me) have gone a step further and decided to build a dedicated MAME machine by putting a PC inside an arcade-style cabinet along with a monitor and custom control panel to more faithfully recreate the arcade gaming experience. Since different games had different player control layouts for joysticks, buttons, trackballs, spinners, steering wheels, gear shifts, pedals, flight yokes, light guns and such, some compromise is necessary, but a reasonable recreation can be made for the vast majority of games you want to play the most. Other PC games and emulators (for early home consoles, computers, and pinball machines), MP3 jukebox players and similar software can also be installed to make a stand-alone wide-range entertainment machine, ideal for the family recreation room. Depending on your budget, woodworking/electronics skills, and which parts you already have, cabinets can range from simple and cheap to complex and expensive. Some people modify old original generic arcade cabinets (without destroying classics of course), while others build something completely new from scratch. Check here for lots of examples. An important rule of thumb to keep in mind though: A MAME cabinet will end up costing twice as much, and using up five times as much of your spare time to build as you'll estimate. On the bright side you'll end up with lots more tools.
Is this stuff legal?
I've been planning to build a cabinet for a long time, but have only recently started organizing everything to bring the project together. See my journal page to follow the construction progress. Living in a small second-floor apartment means that I'll be proceeding slowly. A MAME cabinet is never truly finished, since there are always software updates, hardware upgrades, and other tweaks necessary to keep it in top shape for the latest games.
How can I learn more?
Technically you're supposed to own the original game boards for any ROM images you download, but the subject is still under debate. Since many of the old game manufacturers no longer exist, it can be argued that emulators such as MAME are the only way to keep these historic games alive. Selling (or even giving away) the ROMs together with MAME or otherwise making a profit is against the rules (and spirit) of MAME. Don't even think about wiring up a coin slot and putting a MAME cabinet in public, for example.
Were you really there?
Check out my big collection of MAME Links, and join in the local discussion forums at Arcade4All.
Yes indeed, and here's proof: A recording (6.5 MB, MP3) I made at the Avalon Mall arcade in St. John's, Newfoundland in 1983. Nearly 7 minutes of Wizard of Wor, Q*bert, Pole Position, Popeye, Gorf, Centipede, and many more classic games in their prime. Recognize any others? E-mail me. For those who collect ambient arcade background noise, more examples can be found here (2.1 MB), here (2.8 MB) and here (Three excellent ~80 MB files!). How about some arcade music? The MAME Theme, Pac-Man Fever, and Power Pill Pacman.
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Thanks to KiLLerCloWn's MameWorld Rips Page for the animated game
graphics and to The Killer List of Video Games for the game information links.