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41. Mame serves up old games

By Mark Alberstat

The internet has brought us a lot of valuable information, not to mention countless ways to waste time. With a few simple downloads, you can relive lost hours from your past with classic games such as Joust and Centipede. All are free, and you can play forever as long as you have a PC or Mac in your home.

The keys to reviving these classic games are emulators and ROMs. Emulators are software programs that mimic the software programming of old video game machines and classic consoles such as the Atari 2600. ROMs are the games themselves. They are often extracted from the source code of the original games and then prepared to be read by the emulators.

One of the most popular types of Windows-based emulators is Mame, which stands for multiple arcade machine emulator. is the primary home for the software's development and downloading.

Here you can find various versions of the software, a list of the updates, changes and improvements, and a FAQ that will answer just about every question you may have, including what are the most basic specs for a PC to be able to run Mame.

The good news here is that those specs are surprisingly low: a Celeron or AMD Duron with between 64 and 128 megs of RAM; a varying amount of hard drive space, depending on what games you want to play; DirectX and any sound card that works with Windows will fit the bill and get you Jousting once again.

Mac users are certainly not left out in the cold. is the place for the Mac-friendly version, with all the info needed and the downloads for OsX and older versions as well. is another popular Mac emulator site. This clean and easy to navigate site has everything you need right off the opening page.

Downloading and installing the emulators is a straightforward process. The game ROMs, however, have a caveat. Often, the original manufacturer still holds the copyright to the games, and the ROMs themselves are illegal. For this reason, emulator sites often do not have the game ROMs for download but have links to other sites that don't mind listing them for your downloading. A simple Google search for the game name and ROM will often come up with a list of valid sites.

To use Mame, there are a few simple steps to follow:

  1. Download Mame. Here you have the choice of downloading the compiled program or the source code. Unless you are interested in helping the Mame programming community out, stick to the compiled program.

  2. Install or unzip the Mame file.

  3. Download the game ROM of your choice.

  4. Put the downloaded ROM into the ROM folder under your newly created Mame directory. Do not unzip this file as Mame was written to use the files in zip format.

  5. Start Mame and from the File menu select Show Only Available. This will list the game ROMs you have downloaded.

  6. Enjoy the game. There are several controls you have to get used to, as with any game. The numbers 5 and 6 insert imaginary quarters into Mame to start a game, while 1 and 2 choose single or dual-player games. Other controls are usually found by hitting the tab key.

You should have an updated virus scanner running at all times, and not all software will work correctly with every PC ever produced. With the emulator downloaded and a search for your favourite - but not forgotten - game, you too can waste time like the teenager of your past.

The following are some useful links:

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Originally published 22 August 2004


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