Once I was satisfied that the hardware was all basically working the way I wanted it to, I decided to take a break from construction and delve into the software. My goal was to get the software to work with my jury-rigged control panel and prove to myself that I could create a machine which doesn’t take a computer-literate person to operate, and can be controlled without a keyboard/mouse.
First, I downloaded the latest emulator from www.mamedev.org – seemed like an obvious thing to do. This worked, but had some issues with being controlled exclusively from the control panel. I still had to keep hitting the ESC key on the keyboard, and that just wouldn’t do.
So, I went to the support section on www.xgaming.com and they have an article on there entitled “Configuring MAME for X-Arcade use – The Easy Way”. Now that sounded good! They recommend using a slightly different version of the emulator called “Mame Plus!” – no problem, I downloaded and installed it and it worked just fine, following their simple directions. I did of course have to put some ROMS into the mame/roms directory (more about this later).
The nice thing about using this version, and the associated control files that come with it, is it’s set up nicely for the joystick/button setup that I have (same layout as the xarcade device). When you run a game, it comes up with a warning screen telling you that you need to own the ROM files because of copyright issues. Then, it makes you type OK on the keyboard to proceed. With this emulator version & associated control files though, you also have the option of moving player 1 joystick left then right (it says on the screen to do this) instead of using the keyboard.
Another important thing is exiting the game. To do this, you hit the ESC key. Fortunately, with this software setup you can hold the “2 player start” button and push the right pinball flipper simultaneously to exit also. Voilla! Keyboard has now been rendered totally unnecessary for game play. I decided that was an odd key combination, and I changed mine so that you press “1 player start” and “2 player start” simultaneously to exit. I may decide that’s a bad idea at some point, but it seems good for now (besides, if you read the bit about the wiring harness, you might remember that my right hand fllipper button is not hooked up because the wire is too short, and I was too lazy to extend it). I also went into the mame.ini file and manually disabled the game info screen that comes up when you first launch a game (after you say OK to the ROM police). To do that, I changed “skip_gameinfo 0” to “skip_gameinfo 1”.
Here’s a useful article which lists all the options in the mame.ini file, and what they do: CLICK HERE
If you really want to use the latest version, instead of the “Mame Plus!” version from xgaming, then edit the mame.ini file and in the “core input options” section, make sure you have “ctrlr xarcade” in there. That should do all the control tweaking for you.
While the mame/mame+ user interface (UI) is workable, it’s not very pretty, and not very kid-friendly (or grandma friendly). So, I looked around for other front-end programs. There are quite a lot of them out there. The one I decided to download and try was Hyperspin. I’m not totally crazy about this front-end, but it does give me the ability to prevent users from bailing out and ending up with a windows desktop. Also, it makes the game selection process more game-like than the mame UI. I learned quite a bit about managing it and getting the menu selection pared down to a usable list (instead of 6000+ games in alphabetical order). I’ll share that stuff later on. For now, I’m satisfied that I can make this thing turnkey and it’s back to the hardware!
Next up: Extending the wire harness