Friday, December 08, 2006

Stage 30: First Blood

Myself, my roomate Colin and my pal Stan decided to take in the cinema classic that is Rambo: First Blood Part III recently. The movie wasn't as amazing as I recalled it being back in 1988 when I was a mere boy of 12, but it definitely had it's share of wild action and absurd cliches.

After the movie, we reminisced a bit about the old Rambo NES video game and the arcade shooter based on Rambo III. If only there was some way to play these classics ...

... which of course there is, thanks to my MAME cab!

We fired up the NES classic, which was a lot more like Zelda than I remembered it being. He kills a lot of snakes, spiders and weird ghosty shit and not too many soldiers, which was strange. Got tired of that pretty quick and we moved onto Rambo III the arcade game, which was very much like Cabal and G.I. Joe in its design (ie, you shot and killed a never-ending stream of people and occasionally fought tanks).

Fun times for a while, especially since Stan and I were pretty fucking loaded at this point on gin and Jack Daniels. The whole episode really marked what owning and stocking the MAME machine was all about - being able to play any game you could think of whenever you wanted, and reliving old times while you do it.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Stage 29: Peck, Peck, Peck

Been a slow time for me and my MAME the last little while - more a reflection on my laziness than me not having opportunities to work with it, really.

Still, I recently began a short spell of work on the thing and it's slowly but surely taking form as I peck away at the myriad little chores that need doing. Recent changes include:

* Fixed the Maximus Arcade front end to properly work with the X-Arcade joystick and boot up straight from launch. From startup to the main menu is only a 20-25 second wait now, a time I hope to shave down once I dig into the registry and bypass Windows Explorer altogether.

* Straightened out some of the MAME and MA inputs. A lot of the joystick commands were lost as I did testing and formatting via the keyboard instead of the sticks. Took some doing, but MAME and MA seem to have their keys where they should be. I still need to sort the NES, Sega Master System, Daphne, Intellivision & Atari commands so the joystick works as it should, but it's getting there.

* Finished sorting the massive pile of Sega Genesis games/snapshots/movies. That took much longer than I thought, but I devised a simple yet effective way to quickly line up the files so I could archive them and eventually transfer them to the MAME PC. The Super NES and Virtual Pinball folders still await me, as do the Coleco files I got off my brother-in-MAME Dwayne. Hopefully it won't be the mind-numbing siege that these Genesis files were.

* Cleaned up the fucking disaster area that was the spare room, aka, the Labratory. There was a lot of shit in that room that didn't need to be, and once I tossed it out and moved junk like my air conditioner and VHS movies somewhere else, it really opened the room up. Now friends of mine can come over and play MAME without having to crawl over chairs and poker tables. And the psychological effects are greater than I had anticipated - I actually find myself looking forward to spending time in that room with the machine instead of dreading it. Whee!

Not giant leaps, but a series of small steps that are indeed bringing this project closer and closer to home. Up next on my agenda:
* Sorting Super NES/Virtual Pinball/Coleco files
* Continue to hone MA interface to make it quicker & easier to use
* Refining game lists to make sure all games work
* Start getting cabinet ready for the marquee & bezel work
Hopefully I can get a lot of this done before my Xmas party on Dec. 23rd, which would be an excellent time to showcase to my friends what a massive video game nerd I am (if they are comepletely without a clue and have not already deduced this from the preponderance of game consoles in my living room).

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Stage 28: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the MAME ...

Sometimes I even amaze myself:

Having finally procured the IDE to SATA Hard Drive Converter I needed to make my new 200GB HDD speak to my motherboard for my non-MAME desktop computer, I made an amusing discovery upon cracking open my case for the umpteenth time in this project:

My ECS K7S5A Pro motherboard which is incapable of supporting SATA HDDs is in fact NOT an ECS K7S5A Pro motherboard at all. I realized this about 20 seconds into attaching the Converter when I noticed two small ports cryptically marked "SATA1" and "SATA2" off to the left of the IDE ports. Surely I had not overlooked these damned things on nearly a dozen previous occasions inside the case?

After connecting the SATA HDD to these ports, the answer was a most decidedly "yes I had". The HDD worked fine, these were indeed SATA ports and now I have a $15 IDE to SATA Converter collecting dust in a drawer.

Un-fucking-believable, not only because I had somehow not seen these two in-plain-view SATA ports on the countless instances I had cracked open the case of this machine in recent weeks, but also because I had chosen to verify that the ECS K7S5A Pro motherboard did not support SATA several times on the internet instead actually, you know, LOOKING at the damned board in my machine. Sigh.

How'd This Happen?: My best guess is that back about a year ago when I took my board into the shop because the USB ports weren't working, they good folks at Mysterybyte Computers gave me a loaner board which I promptly fried while flashing the BIOS without knowing what I was doing (not recommended, BTW). Apparently my original board was FUBAR so they replaced it with a new board which was "exactly the same" as my old one.

This term clearly means something different than what I think it does, because the board in my main PC is definitely not an ECS K7S5A Pro board. I have no idea what kind of board it is, but not only does it have the SATA ports that it shouldn't, it's currently exceeding its alleged maximum 1GB RAM capacity by 512MB since I put an extra stick in there during the Great Computer Swap after I got Ward's machine. So whatever is in my PC, it's better than what I thought it was. Woo woo!

I think I'll run some diagnostics when I get home and see what in blazes I actually have running on that damned machine. Knowing, as they say, is half the battle.

Update: Apparently I'm rocking an ASUS K8N motherboard in my PC instead of that ECS piece of crap I thought I had. It's not a hell of a lot better, but it's defintely a small step up. Huzzah for free hardware upgrades!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Stage 27: Everything Old Is New Again

After careful deliberations over the weekend (aided in no small part by my heroic intake of wine and Ciclon Rum Drink on Saturday night), I finally came to a decision re: my HDD & desktop setup dilemma:

My old PC shall remain as my desktop unit and Ward's PC shall fulfill its original purpose and find its way into the MAME cabinet. The RAM shall be split 1.5 GB per machine, and the 250GB HDD will be assimilated into my old PC via this snazzy IDE to SATA Hard Drive Converter I found for a mere $15 on eBay:

The 80GB HDD will once again migrate out of my old PC and into Ward's machine, where it will hopefully lead a long and fruitful life. Heck, I might even add the 30GB HDD from the piece of shit PC currently serving as the MAME PC as a 2nd HDD.

So once again I play the waiting game as I pass the time until this newest piece of hardware shows up at my door. It probably won't be here till next week sometime, so I continue my slow march through the hundreds and hundreds of Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo and Virtual Pinball games that need to be synched up - I'm at the "O" section in the Genesis folder now. Yay!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Stage 26: Decisions, Decisions

I don't know what it is about me and tech-toys, but I certainly enjoy the prospect of spending my hard earned (well, earned, anyways) money on them.

Anyhoo - I have once again found myself wondering which iteration of the 2.5 PCs I now own will find its way into the MAME cab and which one will be living on my desktop as my actual PC.

Having cloned my old 80GB IDE HDD to the new 250GB SATA one, I totally formatted the old one and reinstalled Windows fresh. Waving a magic wand to make that annoying Microsoft Validation thing go away (*ahem*), I began to diligently put my massive collection of games onto the virgin platform and buckle down to get this thing ready to put into the MAME.

But soon I came to realize that for all it's fanciness and cool new super-quiet case, my old PC was still markedly more powerful than the one I got off Ward.

Not by a lot, but after some benchmarking the differences were signifigant enough for me to think that the benefits of 2GB of RAM in Ward's PC vs. the max 1.5GB I could have in my original PC was not worth the slower CPU (my 2.4 gHz vs. Ward's 2.01 gHz) nor the seemingly slower graphics card I had (my Radeon 9600 XT 128 MB vs. Ward's ATI Radeon X1300 PRO PCIe 256 MB). It's amazing the difference you can find in reality vs. the differences you see on paper, heh!

This leaves me with the following choices:
a) Continue with current plan.
My old PC will go into the MAME and the one I got off Ward will be my new desktop computer.

b) Get an IDE to SATA Converter and swap the HDDs.
My old PC (with some of Ward's RAM & the 250GB SATA HDD) would remain on my desk and Ward's PC (with the 80GB IDE HDD) would go into the MAME. Converters cost around $20-35, so this isn't such a bad idea, moneywise. Unlike ....

c) Buy new IDE HDD and don't switch at all.
A new 250GB (or more) HDD for my old PC, which would remain my desktop computer with the extra RAM mentioned above and the now extra 80GB IDE HDD installed as a 2nd drive. Ward's machine would go into the MAME with a massive 250GB SATA HDD loaded with the MAME stuff.
I have to confess to being torn between options B & C. It's not like I play a ton of PC games or anything on my PC as it is, but the idea of having a more powerful PC in the cab dedicated to playing 20 year old arcade games doesn't sit well with me.

So I guess the choice now is as follows: $35 for an IDA-SATA converter or $100 for a new IDE HDD? The difference sounds like a lot of money, but for the extra $60 I could get a hell of a lot more space and a lot less hassle. But do I really need all that space? Hrmmmmm ...

Until I decide, I am continuing to sort through the massive pile of games and prepare them for their final destination. I have all the Intellivision, MAME, Atari, NES, Daphne and Sega Master System games sorted and in sync with their screenshots and preview movies.

I still have to go through the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo folders, and it's slow going indeed. Last night alone I found over 230 duplicate snaps/movies in the Genesis folder! A long haul now, but once everything is setup I can copy them all to DVDs for future reference and won't have to worry about this kind of crap ever again.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Stage 25: The Ol' Switcheroo

I arose Saturday rather hungover thanks to my pals Lynn, Louise, Colette and Sarah (yeah, I hang with tha ladiez, yo) with full intention on getting Ward's PC in shape to replace my PC, with my PC in shape to replace the MAME PC. The Ol' Switcheroo was in full effect.

But a problem quickly arose: Ward's Motherboard was PCIe and my old one was AGP. What this meant was that none of the three (count 'em: three) AGP video cards I had laying around would work on this bastard. Should have seen that coming.

Compounding this problem: My old motherboard won't support Serial ATA harddrives, which naturally the new 200GB drive was. Ward's machine supports both Serial ATA and IDE harddrives like my old harddrive, but without a PCIe video card I couldn't even begin my plan to clone my old harddrive onto the new one. Argh!

The solution came two unexpected sources: The provincial government of Nova Scotia's recent decision to rid the provice of their absurdly antiquated Sunday shopping restrictions and the unexpected arrival of my lovely and talented girlfriend Holly at my place with a set of wheels borrowed from her employer.

After a few calls to local computer shops reveal that not all nerd-infested businesses were eager to jump on the Sunday shopping bandwagon just yet, Holly suggested I try Futureshop and they were indeed open. A quick jaunt to Bayers Lake and 40 mins later, I was back in my house with a brand new ATI Radeon X1300 PRO PCIe video card. It was a little pricier than I wanted, but it should fill the gap in my regular PC needs until I finally make the switch to Dual Core or something a year or two down the road.

So I began the furious disassembling and reassembling of my old PC and Ward's PC on my living room table, much to the delight of my roomate Colin. There was a comical amount of the following procedure:
1) Put one of the computers on living room table and remove case
2) Fiddle around inside with screwdriver and headlamp on head
3) Reattach case and reinstall on desk
4) Turn on PC and discover something is wrong
5) Scratch head, groan, and then return to Step 1
I finally bumbled through some of my obvious mistakes ("Hrm, this thing marked 'POWER FOR MOTHERBOARD' might be important ...") and got both machines back to basic running states.

Using a neat program called Acronis Migrate Easy, I was able to take my old HDD and clone it onto the new HDD with little difficulty. This immediately made my legitimate copy of Windows very suspicious and I was soon innundated with demands that I verify my ownership of the disc. Looks like someone will be doing some pirating in the not so distant future. Yahar.

But I soon hit another wall - Ward, likely in a hurry to dump me out of his car with a defective PC and peel away with the money, neglected to give me the drivers disc for his motherboard, which meant I was unable to get the Ethernet Card (aka, the Internet) or the Sound Card working properly.

So I focused the remainder of my day once again prepping my files for the final MAME experience. I managed to rename and sort all the Intellivision files and got through about 250 of the 750 Sega Genesis games before my eyes began to fail me.

Ward has promised to deliver the CD unto me tonight, so hopefully I can get even further in this process soon. As I had oft said, I am keen on wrapping up the software/hardware end of things so I can focus on making my cabinet look the role. I guess we'll see how the week goes.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Stage 24: The Brain Is Here

After some time off from thinking about this thing (and shoving turkey into my face), I am preparing to dive back into action on my mostly functional cab. Thanks in part to his generosity and willingness to take my hard earned cash from me, I am now in possession of Mike Ward's old PC.

It's a beast of a case - it looks like the that giant fucking black thing from 2001: A Space Odyssey. I'm hoping to crack it open this weekend and peer inside to see what my $425 bought me.

Possible Ideas

* Swap out the 200GB harddrive for the 80GB harddrive on my current pc.
I don't know if I need so much space for the MAME, but my porno collection does indeed runneth over. I don't think it's hard to clone my current HD onto the new one, but maybe it is. Hrm.

* Take 1GB RAM out of this beast and supplement my actual PC's current 1GB RAM setup.
Same reasons, different technologies involved. I don't know if I need 2GB of RAM to run these MAME games - the speed problems are usually based in the processor speed, not the RAM.

* Buy new video card for my real PC and put my current video card into the MAME.
I've been jonesing for a new video card for PC games lately anyways, and since my alternative is to strip out the crappy TV-Out beater card currently in the old MAME PC and put it in the new one, I can see this one happening. The video card in my PC has more memory and a TV-Out so it would work just fine.

I guess we'll have to wait and see what I decide to do, hopefully between my poker tourney on Saturday and the hangover that will invariably follow on Sunday I can get some shit done on this. I am keen on finalizing the software and hardware aspects so I can move onto cosmetics. I'm just so vain.