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UK Mike (miner2049er)

The Bi-Weekly British Backtrack – MAME Cab Part 4

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So we’ve got the hardware side of things sorted and its time to look at the software side of the project. Now it would be very easy to get bogged down in the details and the commands and switches involved, but before you click the Back button I promise to avoid doing that, and I’ll try to stick to the theory of it where possible.

Obviously the first thing I needed to do was to install the Operating System and all of the drivers then update and patch it using Window Update, though you could perhaps skip some of that process if like me, you don’t intend to let your PC anywhere near the Internet or your home network.

I chose to use Windows XP Professional but there are certain tweaks that need to be applied to it. Fantastic Operating System that it is, it is weighed down with lots of services and processes that we simply don't need running in our cab, and anything we can do to reduce this number of background processes will improve not only its performance while running but also decrease its start up and shutdown times too. It will also help if you go into the BIOS settings and disable any hardware that you are not going to be using such as serial and parallel ports, integrated audio if you have a sound card and on board video if your motherboard has it. Though I didn’t use the USB ports for controls, I left them enabled for attaching drives to for copying data to the PC once it was sat in the cab.

What you'll want to do is remove the default XP boot logo by editing the file boot.ini in the root of C Drive. there are two ways you can do that; either in msconfig or by editing the file directly in Notepad. I favour the msconfig method simply because I will be going in there anyway to stop any unwanted processes from running at boot up. Whichever way you do it you need to add a /NOGUIBOOT option after the switch /fastdetect

You can add a custom splash screen but do be careful because Windows doesn't really like it if you get it wrong.

Once booted you'll briefly see the desktop so you'll want to set a gaming related wallpaper and remove any desktop icons, then you can go into Control Panel and turn off any screen savers and power options that will stop the disks or turn off the monitor after inactivity. You also need to change the option for shutting the PC down when the power button is pressed. To do that double click on the Power Options applet and under the setting "When I press the power button on my computer" change it to "Shut down" so that we can kill the cab with a single press of the external button.

While you are in Control Panel go into the Sounds and Audio devices applet and change the sound scheme to "No Sounds" to remove all the default beeps and dings whenever Windows does something, then you could add a couple of custom sounds for the two options Exit Windows and Start Windows, so your cab plays them when turning on or off.

Once that's done you can begin to set up the emulators. Firstly M.A.M.E. is quite simple, just create a folder called "mame" on the root of C Drive and copy all of the M.A.M.E. files into it.

Once that is done you can test the install with DOS commands, so open up a Command Prompt and change to the new mame folder by typing the command

Code:
cd c:\mame
And you can then run the game 1943 with the command

Code:
mame 1943
If the game runs you know that your M.A.M.E. install is fine and you can move on to the next emulator which for me was Daphne for emulating Laserdisc games like Dragon's Lair, Mach 3 and Space Ace. Now a quick mention here of Daphne ROMs because they are not subject to the same legal issues that I described for M.A.M.E. ROMs.

Daphne ROMs are freely available for download and use for non-commercial purposes, and in fact once the emulator is installed it will help you to download them. The only proviso is that some of the games will only run if you own original discs for them in some form, and those games are Dragon's Lair, Dragon's Lair 2, Space Ace and Thayer's Quest.

Firstly head over to the Daphne site, click on the Downloads link and grab the Windows version of the emulator. Then follow the link there to the Microsoft Downloads site and grab .NET 1.1 which Daphne requires to run. Install the .NET framework then you can set up Daphne itself. The Daphne ROMs are downloaded as part of the install process but they are not distributed from the Daphne site, they’re distributed via bit torrent. That is both good and bad. Good in the sense that if the Daphne site is down you can still download them but bad in the sense that you are dependent on other people having the ROMs and making them available for you to access. This download can be a lengthy process, and for me it took around two days until it was finished. If your Internet connection is slow or if you have a bandwidth cap, then your I.S.P. is not going to be very happy with you for downloading the approximately ten gigabytes of game files for Daphne.

To set Daphne up use the easiest, and the recommended method, for Windows.
(1) Unzip the archive file you have just downloaded (keep it simple and unzip it to C:\daphne)
(2) Run DaphneLoader (running Daphne directly will not work). If you are prompted that a new version of DaphneLoader exists click OK to automatically update to the latest version
(3) You will see a list of games so click on one of them then click the Start Button
(4) Now you will be prompted that DaphneLoader needs to download some files so click OK
(5) The download will take hours or days as I mentioned so be patient
(6) Once you eventually run a game for the first time Daphne will need to parse the video files
(7) When that has finished your game will run. The controls are much the same as in M.A.M.E.

The process for running the games I mentioned above for the first time is slightly different and again those games are: Dragon's Lair, Dragon's Lair II: Timewarp, Space Ace and Thayer's Quest. When you run any of those games you will be prompted to insert your original DVD. Once inserted click OK and DaphneLoader will attempt to authenticate it. The only time you will need to insert your DVD again is if you either move the install folder to a different location or to a different computer. Yes that's right you only need to download the game files once (or get a friend with unlimited bandwidth to do it for you) then you are free to move them around to other computers but you will asked to authenticate your disks on each new computer that you use them on.

One good tip when you are putting the PC in a cab is to turn off the Internet awareness in Daphne, otherwise when you start it up it will check to see if it is online and see if there are any updates. This slows down the start up process and takes longer for a game to run which you don't want in your cab. Ideally you need to run each game at least once so that it can authenticate those that it needs to and can parse the videos for each game too. Once that is done Daphne is finished and it is time to put another emulator on there and the one I chose may or may not be of interest to you. It is Visual Pinball.

Now I am not really a huge pinball fan and I didn't play that many pinball tables in the arcades as a youngster, or even since, but the Pinball scene is huge. So what about playing Pinball in a virtual environment then? Well, most early simulations were top-down 2D games such as the 1982 game David's Midnight Magic for the Apple II, Commodore 64, and Atari computers which was notable for being the first commercial simulation of an existing pinball machine, namely Williams' Black Knight.

Visual Pinball, released by Randy Davis in 2001, is a simulation and editor program that allows users to create and play 3D computer simulations of actual existing pinball machines on a personal computer, even importing the real sunds and images from them. Every Visual Pinball table comprises two main parts: the "physical" play field design (displayed in the editor) and the script which controls the table game play. The editor uses Visual Basic but the Visual Pinball program itself is written in C++ with ATL (which helps in making ActiveX controls) thus allowing Visual Pinball to run on Windows 98 or newer.

Visual PinMAME is an ongoing project that is similar to M.A.M.E. in that it combines the Visual Pinball program with an emulator that recreates the hardware CPUs and the connected ROM chips used in modern pinball tables. Unlike older tables with solid-state electronics and electro-mechanical devices that contain no ROMs or advanced chips in their hardware design, most modern tables require VPinMAME to run as it controls both the behavior of the simulation in Visual Pinball and reproduces the sounds and score displays of the actual tables.
Well it all sounds very complicated but come on, we're on installment three here. Nobody has got this far through these incoherent, and at times over indulgent, ramblings without being up for a challenge, so how do we set it up on Windows XP? Well, there are two ways to get all the components installed and set up. Both of them involve signing up at AJs VPinMAME site and forums where you can download the files you want and get support should you need it.

If you like you can install the components individually you can, but the easiest way is to use the Visual Install Pack which will take care of all the required files for you. To use the Visual Installer Pack just run the installer, choose your Install Directory, and complete the basic install as prompted. After that the GUI for the installation of Visual PinMAME will open so click the 'Setup Paths' Button and in the opening window press 'RESET' and all the paths should reset to the install-directory. Uncheck the 'Always run fullscreen on this display' option, other wise you will just see a huge score display when you start a table. The only time you would leave that option checked is if you are running on more than one monitor where one could be the score display and the other could be the actual field of play. You can now close this window.

Now all you need to do is put tables and ROMs into the correct folders and you can start playing. Put the .vpt in the "tables" folder the ROMs in the "roms" folder. Start Visual Pinball with the shortcut that has been created on your desktop and load the table you want to play into the editor by choosing File -> Open in the tab-menu at the top. To boot up the table click on the "Play" button in the left-hand menu bar. Congratulations! You should see a very impressive rendition of the chosen Pinball machine and you can drag the dot matrix display around the screen and tinker with the options to have the table run in a window or full screen. After the table has finished loading add coins with [3], [4] or [5] (not on the numeric keypad) for credits, then press [1] once to start a One Player game or twice for a Two Player game and so on. Press [RETURN] to pull back the plunger and the [LSHIFT] AND [RSHIFT] to use the flippers. As of Visual Install Pack 8.1_1.59 you can also double click a .vpt file to bypass the editor and start a table directly.

If the table you downloaded doesn't work then you may have hit the same problem that I did. As I mentioned you will need two components for each table, and they are the table files (.vpt) and the ROM files (.zip archives) and both of these can be downloaded from AJs, however, some tables have more than one ROM archive, and some of the ones I got from AJs didn't work. I had to get either different ones or different versions of them from the Internet Pinball Database site at ipdb.org.

Please note that both tables and ROMs are usually found online in compressed (zipped) format but the ROMs must NEVER be unpacked and you should leave them as .zip files in the 'roms' folder. Tables on the other hand must ALWAYS be unpacked and the .vpt file inside should be placed in the "tables" folder. The exception to this rule is if the zipped table file contains a file with a .vps extension which is an additional script file for that table. These .vps files should be placed in the "tables" folder along with the corresponding .vpt file. Another important thing to note is that you should never unzip a table file directly into the tables folder, always unzip it elsewhere and then copy the .vpt and .vps files over to it. The reason for this is that the tables folder, and some table zips, contain .vbs files (which you will remember we had to install during the manual install procedure) and if any of these .vbs files get overwritten by an older one then a lot of the newer tables would not be able to function anymore. The Visual Install Pack automatically installs all the relevant .vbs files you need, and the version available for download always contains the latest available files, so the only thing that you have to worry about (besides the installation) is to move the .vpt (and occasionally .vps) files into the 'tables' folder, and the ROM files into the 'roms' folder. The rest will be O.K. (and up-to-date) as it is.

Depending on the layout of your M.A.M.E. Cab control panel you may want to change some of the default Pinball controls as I did, you could even add further buttons to the sides of the cab which would give you a more conventional Pinball control feel but I made do with my existing controls and assigned the flippers to the green buttons on my layout.

Now that the gaming side is covered, there is one more function that I wanted my cab to perform.

No, not that!

Saucy!

Find out next time.

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