Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Stage 14: Let's Get Frontin', Y'all

A quick primer for everyone on what a MAME "Front End" is:

MAME by itself can play video game ROMs via the command line. That is to say, if you wanted to play that Burger Time ROM you just "found" on the internet, you'd have to crack open the DOS prompt or Run command and type in the following:
c:\mame -btime
This fires up the game but isn't exactly user friendly, especially when you have to dig into a huge list of strangely named files everytime you want to play something.

A Front End is a program that sorts and presents your games for you in a pleasing interface so you can better navigate through your game choices straight from the arcade cabinet and without using a keyboard or mouse.

There's loads to choose from out there, so it was up to me to choose one that suited my tastes and my "vision" as to what my MAME cabinet was going to be like.

I decided I wanted something that had a strictly graphical interface to it, so that someone who had no idea how a Front End worked could walk up to my machine and root through a list of games with ease. Many Front Ends are full of massive lists of games and loads of options, which I felt might overwhelm users and detract from the arcade immersion I was going for.

I originally settled on MAMEWAH, which seemed to be what I was looking for. I had spent some time sorting files and preparing layout images, but the archaic and somewhat counterintuitive setup was a real pain in the ass. Not to mention, MAMEWAH was simply not running well on my MAME PC at all, as it seemed to crash a lot thanks to the ridiculously complicated naming structures and file protocols it uses.

After reaching the aforementioned physical breakthrough with the cabinet, I decided to explore some other options for my interface, and I'm sure glad I did.

After dallying with UltraMame, 3D Arcade, EasyMAME and ArcadeEPIC, I had yet to stumble onto anything that really sparked my interest.

Enter Maximus Arcade, a relative newcomer to the Front End scene. With a simplified configuration process, snazzy onscreen menus and graphics and a sweet 30-day fully functional trial, I knew I had found what I was looking for.

Yeah, I was actually going to pay money for a Front End, but after an hour sifting through the options and test running a few games I knew that this was miles above the rest of the pack in terms of what I wanted. This was worth the $25, although the bastards at PayPal were making it an annoying process, but that's another story.

With my Front End solution found, I could now focus on other tasks. Since this was such a snap to setup, I could now expand my intended game selection to include games other than MAME arcade classics.

If my recent drunken Intellivision/Atari experience at Drake & Speedbag's place had taught me anything, it was that old games were fun to play, regardless of platform.

With this in mind, I set about pulling together a "modest assortment" of old video games from myriad sources. My intention: to have every single video game ever sold on a North American console. Commence the hunt!


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