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.
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)
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.
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.
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 $30 so I went to ebay.com,
one of the online auction houses on internet.
So, like a fool, I hightailed
it to the other side of town to get this one unit they had left
in stock. When I got there, I was so surprised to find that they
did not in fact have a Gravis gamepad
but a second rate knock off of it and 39 @#$%&^ 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.
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.
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....