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Weekly Alibi Those Good Ol' Games

Classic Video Games Invade Internet

By David O. Dabney

SEPTEMBER 2, 1997:  Some things you think are lost forever. When I was kid I would spend hours pumping quarters in and sweating over arcade games with names like Scramble, Defender and Pengo. My greatest dream was to buy my own video game so I could play it whenever I wanted without having to pay, and maybe make a little money on the side from my friends. (I once actually tried to convince my parents that they should buy an arcade. They said no.) Now, as a respectable adult, I still play video games, but they just don't seem the same. Street Fighter, with its multi-button moves and super buff kung fu opponents, just isn't the same as popping the little dragons in Dig Dug. That said, I can't describe how excited I was when I found out that some enterprising hackers had dedicated themselves to preserving these classic arcade games and making emulators for them on modern PCs and Macs.

Technical and Legal Aspects: Most of these emulators work by aping the motherboards of the original machines. The games you download for these emulators are the programs that were once contained on computer chips called Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory (EPROM). One caveat about the programs that you run on your emulator: usually the copyright for those games is still owned by the companies that made them, and some people who have made them available on the Internet or BBSes have been sued. Nobody has bothered the regular users like you and me, though. That said, most of these games have very little commercial value and many of the companies who made them originally are out of business.

Atmospherical Heights M.A.M.E. Page: Without a doubt the best place to start. M.A.M.E. stands for Multi Arcade Machine Emulator and is touted as the best one around. It's available for PCs (Windows 95 and 3.1 as well as DOS) the Macintosh, the Amiga (remember them?) and the Acorn. They also have a huge library of games, a handy FAQ about the M.A.M.E. and video game emulation, and pointers to other sites about the M.A.M.E. The only problem is that the site is in the Netherlands and can be hard to access during peak usage hours. (www.xs4all.nl/~delite/arcade_mame.html)

Zophar's Domain: This one is full of techie talk, but don't be discouraged. Behind that geek façade is a treasure trove of information about emulating the Atari 2600, ColecoVision, Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), the Super NES and even the supremely ancient Vectrex, which is so old it was rare when I was a kid. Its an exceptionally well-researched and nicely organized set of pages, with reviews of various emulators and links to either look at their creators home pages or download them directly. (http://www.ziplink.net/~shadow5/)

Emulation World: These guys are so well-organized they actually have their own domain name! This site also has a comprehensive list of emulators, which is actually a little longer and more comprehensive than the one at Zophar's Domain. The difference is that, for example, Emulation World's list gives only one emulator for the Atari 2600 while also listing emulators for other Atari models besides the 2600; Zophar's Domain, while only listing 2600 emulators, lists five of them with reviews. They also have a very good selection of FAQs about various game machines and put together a nice on-line magazine about emulators called Emulation Times that has news, reviews and a question and answer section. As yet another nice twist: Emulation World has a search engine that allows you to search the entire site if you're too lazy to look for what you want. (www.emulation-world.com)

High Scores: Now that you've followed all my advice about where to go to download the games and emulators you'll probably waste many hours playing them. When you're ready to take on the Internet's best players take a look at the various high score pages. The better ones are M.A.M.E. High Scores at www.geocities.com/SiliconValley/Pines/6452/mame_scores.html and the Emulation Hall of Fame at www.intrlink.net/~jouster/. The Emulation Hall of Fame is the better of the two as far as design goes and they also run tournaments, but the M.A.M.E. High Scores lists more games overall.

--David O. Dabney
david@alibi.com


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