Enter MAME - The Multi Arcade Machine Emulator;

The links I found at the Sinistar site led to some very interesting items. I was slowly starting realize that there was a lot more to this whole emulation thing than I had originally expected. There was obviously many different groups of people working on software emulation of these old arcade machines. What I expected to find was an endless search for ONE executable program that would run Sinistar only. Almost an impossible task, especially for my "small market share" Mac. What I ended up finding was that there are emulators out there that would run literally hundreds of games, all with the same hunk of software! How much luckier can a guy get? All of the games that I spent the better part of my childhood dropping quarters in, sitting on my desktop? It was heaven.
Qbert - foul mouthed guy with a big nose
Although there seems to be at least a few choices for the PC world, MacMAME was the only choice available for me. I usually like to shop around for the best deal or the best features for the money but the fact that I did not have a choice here does not bother me in the least. I am very happy with the performance and features of this amazing piece of programming. In fact, I have taken a test drive of MAME32 (one of the many "front ends" for the Windows platform) and I have to say that although they both have about the same features (MacMAME and MAME32 are nothing more than ports of the DOS version), I like the Mac version much better. MAME32 simply feels like Windows. It has a Microsoft Windows Explorerish type interface which is very well laid out and has a multitude of extras that make it easy to use and the games a pleasure to play. It also has that certain Windows slant to it. I can't really explain it. Both are very good at what they are doing. Just a preference, I guess.

The first version of MacMAME I found was a beta. I figured, "oh great. It's not going to work very well. It will be buggy and will make my Mac crash repeatedly. It will make a feeble attempt to run the games and then fall flat on it's face, never to recover." (can you tell that I see the glass as half empty?). I downloaded it anyway and gave it a try with my Sinistar ROM. The first attempt did not go well. The ROM image that I had gotten from that first site was missing some of the pieces that would allow the game to run. DISAPPOINTED!! (I have later learned that the ROM files may not have been incomplete. Apparently, some versions of MAME will have code in it that allows the adding of more supported games. Unfotuantly, that sometimes makes others not work anymore. Software is not an exact science)
Centipede - Another triumph from Atari
At this juncture, I was still not getting the whole picture of what there was out there for this emulation thing but I decided that this was way too cool to give up on. I had to scour the web and find another site that had a Sinistar ROM. I again used Yahoo! to search for Sinistar. And again, I found at least two dozen listings for that word. YES!! What followed was a little disappointment to find that only about three of them (not including the first site I visited) were for the original. The rest were for Sinistar Unleashed as mentioned above. I went through all of the links but did not find any other versions of the ROMs. I did notice that all of the sites were talking about arcade gaming emulation and it being a big deal. The more I surfed, the more I learned about emulation and the like. There were huge sites dedicated to being a repository for these ROM images. Games that I have not seen in years. Games that I have never seen before. Games that I wished I had known about when I was a kid. Games, games, games... It's enough to drive a guy crazy.

I did finally find another copy of Sinistar at one of the ROM sites that I found. In fact, I found about 4 different versions of Sinistar. I downloaded all of them and attempted to get at least one of them running. This time there was more success. I remember from long ago that most arcade games had some kind of start up procedure, like a self test mode. During startup, you will see the craziest things flash across the screen. Symbols, letters, graphics from the game in duplicated in long lines...Sinistar (actually, all Williams Electronics games as I now know) is a little different. There was a brief moment where I thought it was not going to work. A splash of colored pixels almost resembling white noise, like between two TV channels, covered the screen. Then it did it again. I thought, no way, all this and it's not going to work!! Then the screen said "Initial tests indicate: All systems go." Touchdown!! The crowd goes wild! It was at that moment that I realized that I had absolutely no idea what buttons did what or what I needed to do to play. All I wanted to do was to have it start so I could play. But I had to stop and find the readme files that come with MacMAME to figure out that I need to feed this machine just like I used to feed all the machines in arcades. It craves quarters! Only now they are virtual quarters. So I dumped a few "coins" in the machine and started the game with a button press. I heard Sinistar say "I hunger" and it actually sent a chill up my spine. I know that sounds silly but it's true. I actually had goose bumps.

Donkey Kong - Why was Kong so irritated with Mario anyway?The game play was not really what I remember it to be. The game seemed very difficult to control and I could not seem to turn the way I wanted to go. It was almost impossible to mine the crystals and actually pick them up before they were gobbled up by the workers. And I was getting myself killed by the warriors left and right. This was not going well. The game seemed to be running okay with no slowdowns or emulation problems so I couldn't figure what the problem could be. Was I really that bad at this game? I remember playing a lot better than this when I was a kid (yeah, I know that was a lot of years ago, don't remind me). Playing the game on a computer keyboard was kinda irritating so that could have been part of it but there was something more. I only seemed to be able to steer in four directions. I know that there was more movement than that in the arcade version. Anyway, I decided to do a little more poking around to see what I could find out. I went back to one of the original sites that was dedicated to Sinistar only. I found out a few things, one of the biggest being that the arcade game had what was called a 49-way joystick. This would easily explain why I didn't have the range of movement that I was expecting during game play. Since I knew that there would be no way for me to play this game without a 49-way joystick and since I had never seen 49-way joysticks growing on any of the trees near my home, I decided to go out and find out what else I could get for this emulator in the way of games.

I surfed for quite a long time (literally days, actually) before I found a good source for ROM images. There were little sites with a few ROMs of the more popular games. At the time, I was interested in finding all of the most popular games and didn't really care about getting anything that I had not heard of. Once I managed to get a good sized list of games going, I decided that I should expand my horizons and get some of the games that I had never heard of to see if they were worth anything. I found quite a few winners in the batch of unknowns that I grabbed. See a partial list here.
Ms. Pacman - All this and looks too?
After a couple of weeks of banging on my keyboard, I decided that I needed to get out my old joystick. I had bought a Gravis Mousestick II at a MacWorld Expo show about 3 or 4 years back. The software that came with it was very cool and worked very well but I was not much of a Mac gamer (til now) and when I did use the stick for the few games that I played, it felt like I was going to rip the stick out of it. It's not that it was or is a flimsy stick, it just made creaking and squeaking noises like plastic rubbing against plastic. It bothered me so I didn't ever use it much even when it was new. This felt like a perfect opportunity to reacquaint myself with this joystick. I got it out, plugged it in, dug out the software floppy and loaded it up. Almost instantly during the first game I played with it, I remembered why this thing has spent the last few years in the closet. I couldn't stand it. I had to have something else. I remembered that when I bought this thing at MacWorld Expo , there was a gamepad version as well that was actually less expensive but I decided against. I think I was looking for the stability of being able to put the stick on the table and use it like it was an arcade stick on a machine (that never worked out). Since Gravis made the gamepad version at one time, perhaps it's still available!

I went to the Gravis web site and sure enough, they still had some. They also had a few other choices for both PC and Mac, the best being a USB version that would do either. Unfortunately, I have a PowerMac 8600 which was made the year before Apple Computer started with USB. If I wanted to get one of those, I would need a USB card for the machine I have or a new machine. This was not an easy choice as the new USB pad has many new features, more buttons and it would be compatible with the Windows NT machine I use at work (for those lunch time stress reliving challenges). However, the USB pad was $79 at the cheapest price I could find (not the Gravis web site) and the USB card for my Mac would have run me at least $30, probably more. Now we are over a $100 down the road. Being that I am married with children now, I am not exactly made of money like I used to be. Five or ten years ago, I would have undoubtedly coughed up the 100+ bucks to make this happen but I am older and more...oh stop it, this is making me sick...I'm broke!! Could not afford to do it this way. Couldn't even really afford to get the original Gravis pad which weighed in at $30 so I went to ebay.com, one of the online auction houses on internet.
Pole Position - Too many quarters went in this game
I found several instances for people selling their never used and barely used Gravis game pads but the prices that the auctions were currently set for were not great when you consider that they will likely go higher before auction end and I would still pay shipping above that price and to top it all off, who knows if it is in working condition when you get it. Your word against theirs and I have been burned before (in fairness, the seller was selling Mac equipment that he had no Mac computer to test it with. I do not believe that he intended to rip me off but the end result was the same). Then there's the wait to see if you win the auction and the disappointment when you don't. Then I'd have to bid on another one, only to not win that one either. I couldn't stand it. I went on an online search of a new Gravis Gamepad (not a Gamepad Pro, the USB version). I found no less than 30 different mail order houses and catalog stores that indicated that they carry it but are currently out of stock, but they have plenty of the Gamepad Pro models in stock. I tried the phone. I called about 7 computer stores all of which told me that they did not have the thing in stock, but they had the Gamepad Pro(can you see where this is going?). Finally, I called one last Mac only store that was on the other side of town. I didn't really want to drive over there but I would do it if I had to. They said that they had one in stock and 39 of the Gamepad Pro (urgghh!!).

So, like a fool, I hightailed it to the other side of town to get this one unit they had left in stock. When I got there, I was so surprised to find that they did not in fact have a Gravis gamepad but a second rate knock off of it and 39 @#$%&^ Gamepad Pro's. The knock off was made by a company called CH products which at the time, I had never heard of. After giving the sales person on the floor a rather large ration of shit about checking their stock more carefully when a potential customer calls about a stock check, I reluctantly bought the CH gamepad as I had already made the trip across town and did not wish to leave empty handed. That was a mistake. The unit did have a better shape than the Gravis gamepad, making it far more comfortable in the hand. That's about where the good news stopped. The documentation, what there was of it was not written all that well. All it really did was tell you how to install the software (which any computer novice could achieve on a Mac by simply clicking on the install icon - a fairly simple process). It did go on to tell how the interface worked and how to assign keystrokes to each button. The sad part about the whole thing is that the keystroke assignments allowed you to assign modifier keys (command, control, shift) to the buttons but they did not work when used. The only things that would work were standard unmodified keystrokes. An example is that I wanted to set up one of the buttons on the pad to allow me to choose a new game in MacMAME. This combo is command-O which equates to "open document" in most Mac applications. It definitely allowed me to assign this keystroke, it just did not work once assigned. This was true of a few others as well. Anything that used a modifier key did not function. I was torqued! It took me less time to decide that I did not like this piece of junk than it did to get across town to buy it. And then I still had to make another trip to return the stupid thing! There has to be a solution.
Galaga - where did the get this name anyway?
Once again, I hit the internet determined to find a decent, fairly low cost alternative to the Gravis problem. I used Yahoo! to search on all kinds of words. Gamepad, joystick, game stick, game controllers. As I am sure you do, I attempted to sift out the "spam" of the search and was usually only looking at links that looked like stores of some kind. There were a few sites that looked like stores but were not really. I guess you could call them a business. They were in business doing what I was about to do. Building arcade control consoles. I looked at a few of them with interest. They looked great. But they were very pricey for what the were. There was one site that had several models and options for how many sticks and buttons and they even said if you don't see what you like, email us and we will build it however you want it. Most of these sites stated prices in range of $200 or more. Although these units looked great and were obviously built to last, I did not really want to spend that kind of money on this project. As I said above, I am broke. There was also one other big problem with these units. All PC compatible only. No Mac support. One of them was a USB device which means it would likely work with a USB Mac but there was no mention of support for Macintosh and it would not have worked with MY Mac anyway.

I was about to give up, bite the bullet and order the gamepad from the Gravis web site when I saw a link that obviously was NOT a store or a business but WAS talking about arcade controllers. It was the The Build Your Own Arcade Controls home page which is, I am sure, how many of you came to be here reading this. This site had information and an order of steps for research and building arcade style control units. It also had links to many, many other sites of people that had built either an arcade controller or a whole full standing arcade machine. Some had built a machine out of an old gutted original arcade machine that they had picked up cheap or free. Others had just built a controller for their home computer. This definitely seemed like the best option for me. Being an alarm and card access installation technician for 10+ years, I am pretty handy with wood and power tools.
Phoenix - Best thing to come out of Arizona since the Grand Canyon
I chose to do a small(?) arcade controller as I was on a budget. I also live in a two bedroom condo with my family so I did not have the space needed to house a full stand up cabinet or even a cocktail type machine. But how much would this actually cost to do? The parts surely would be in the $100+ range for arcade style joysticks and buttons. Not mention the wood, paint, drills and all the other materials needed to complete the project. Then there is the time. I was kinda anxious for this thing to be here, NOW. But if I did this, it was not going to be a slap together thing. I would want it to be a thing of art. That meant time. I also wanted to do some research to be sure that I was getting the right stuff (for instance, 4-way joysticks or 8-way joysticks?? -more on this later). I started reading what some of the others had done and where they had obtained their arcade parts. Most said that had procured their stuff from Happ Controls, an amusement products company. There are other options for parts which I have listed in the links page. I went to the Happ Controls website and sifted through all of the possibilities, noting that their prices were much more reasonable that I had expected. With prices this low, why would I buy somebody else's idea of what they thought I wanted when I can build it exactly the way I wanted it myself for about the same price or less?

It's true that when I started this endeavor, the idea was SAVE MONEY. I ended up spending almost the same amount as I would have if I had bought the Gravis Gamepad Pro and the USB card for my Mac. However, I believe that I have gotten so much more than that gamepad would have ever given me....