What Is MAME?

If you know anything about arcade games or emulation, you may have heard of ‘MAME’. 

This project is responsible for cataloging and recreating a massive amount of old video games, and is one of the most influential pieces of software in the retro gaming community.

What Is MAME

But if you aren’t familiar with MAME or video game emulation in general, it can be a bit tricky to understand. Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered.

This handy guide will take you through everything you need to know about MAME and the world of arcade classics.

Ready? Then let’s get started! 

MAME: An Overview

MAME (or Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) is an open-source emulator that replicates and recreates vintage arcade games on modern software. Now, I know that sentence is a lot to take in, so let’s break things down a bit.

An emulator is a piece of software or hardware that is meant to recreate another system. Emulators are used for more than just games; they can allow a computer to simulate a mobile, or run Windows on Apple devices, to name just a few uses. 

MAME is an open-source emulator, which means that its code is available for anyone to use, download, and alter. MAME isn’t just intended to recreate old games; it’s a project that aims to preserve vintage arcade games by replicating their original hardware and software.

The MAME software lets you emulate thousands of different arcade games on PC and several other modern platforms.

By recreating the original arcade game’s hardware and software in a digital ROM, MAME has managed to preserve literally thousands of games that would otherwise have been lost and forgotten.

And while the distribution of video game ROMs is typically illegal, MAME allows free and legal access to plenty of classic games.

Something that sets MAME apart from other emulators is how much variety it supports. MAME has been used to emulate classic arcade games regardless of their platform, developer, or design.

Not only that, but the developers of MAME emulations go to painstaking lengths to accurately reproduce every single aspect of the game and the arcade machine it ran on to ensure the most authentic experience possible.

Not all the games MAME emulates are playable, however. MAME is primarily intended to recreate the inner workings of the arcade cabinet in a digital format. This means that some games are left unplayable without the original hardware.

MAME vs The Arcade Machine

While MAME was developed to recreate and preserve classic arcade games, the emulators aren’t fully identical to the games they replicate. 

Differences in hardware can have an impact on anything from the game’s appearance to how certain parts of the games function. 

For instance, the way a game loads may be different in the MAME version – Billy Mitchell, the previous world record holder for the Donkey Kong arcade game was exposed for using a banned emulator due to differences in how the arcade machine and the MAME version load in levels.

In addition to slight variations in the games themselves, entire games can be lost forever. 

Some games aren’t compatible with MAME, and there are no digital ROMs (a digital version of the game’s code that lets it run on an emulator). This means the only way to play some classic arcade games is to track down a machine.

Region-specific versions of games have also never been emulated. While this doesn’t mean you can’t play them, the game might not be the same experience.

MAME Today

Since its creation back in 1996, MAME has grown and evolved numerous times. While it was initially developed exclusively to emulate arcade games, MAME has since taken on emulating a range of other consoles, computers, and platforms. 

What Is MAME (1)

A lot of this is down to MAME integrating its sister-project MESS (or Multi Emulator Super System), another multipurpose emulator that covers a much wider array of retro consoles.

This merge in 2015 has massively expanded the MAME library, and it now supports over 7000 classic games.

MAME’s source code is still freely available and accessible to all and can be downloaded to multiple platforms easily and at no cost. 

MAME is also constantly being updated and improved, and a new version of MAME is released nearly every month.

Developers work to make the emulator better suited for replicating each game as accurately as possible, as well as restoring lost translations and recreating unique hardware in a digital form.

What Games Can You Play On MAME?

MAME supports thousands of games, from various different platforms, developers, and systems. That said, the free and legal ROMs available on MAME are fairly limited.

The legal ROMs available on MAME contain around 30 different classic arcade games, including games from notable publishers such as Exidy and Video Klein.

Although this selection is only a small selection of the emulated games recreated for MAME, the legal parameters around downloading and distributing ROMs limit the games the project can offer.

That said, MAME is capable of running a vast amount of classic arcade games if you purchase a legal copy of the ROM or already have one. 

Some of the most popular games on MAME are emulated versions of the most successful classic arcade games.

Donkey Kong and Pacman are two of the most notable games on MAME – in fact, the project began as a way to preserve games in the Pac-Man franchise before other games started being emulated.

Other popular MAME games include Street Fighter, Ghosts and Goblins, and the original Mario Bros. arcade game.

Due to their popularity, games from big–name publishers like Nintendo, Sega, and Capcom often have the best-quality emulations.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it! Now you know a bit more about what MAME is, how it works, and what it’s used for.

We hope you enjoyed finding out about this piece of retro gaming history, as well as how MAME is used to preserve and recreate the legacy of the video games that brought us to modern gaming.

If you’re interested in downloading MAME for yourself, you can find downloads for almost every platform on the MAME website, as well as the free and legal ROMs available to emulate.

Enjoy!

Melanie Nilsen
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