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UK Mike (miner2049er)

The Bi-Weekly British Backtrack MAME Cab Part 5

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What's this? Part 5? How can there be a part 5 when we've done the cab refurb and we've got all our emulators running? Well, finishing touches my friend, finishing touches. Nobody walking up to an arcade cab wants to start messing about with a mouse or typing dos commands on a keyboard to run a game, so we need a frontend to act as an interface between us and the games and to present them in such a way that our simple arcade controls can select an emulator, selects a game and then play it. First though, what else should every arcade have? That's right, a jukebox.

I already have various methods for streaming music and other media around my house from a file server, but if I was running a jukebox from the PC in my arcade cab then the music would have to be stored locally on the PC. More importantly, it would need to have a simple user interface that I could control via my arcade controls. I tried a couple of different programs until I found a free one called SK Jukebox, and while the downside is that the project is no longer in development, the upside is that it is very much in a usable state.

SK Jukebox has the look and feel of a real live jukebox with flipping album covers showing the album art, coin drop sounds and the ability to select songs using a numeric keypad. Conventionally SK Jukebox would be used as a standalone product using directional arrows for scrolling through the music library and a numeric keypad for selecting tracks. Each album has a number beginning at 01 (or 001 if you have over 99 albums) and if you enter the number 056 it will jump to album number 56, then you press the number of the track you want, so for track 8 on album number 056 you would press the code 05608 and the song will play.

While I don't have a numeric keypad on my cab I am able to scroll through the albums by moving the Player One joystick left and right, and I can jump from letter to letter, i.e. Queen to Radiohead, by moving the Player One joystick up and down. The albums are shown on the screen which is split into quarters, and once the album I want is on screen, the four covers shown are numbered one to four from the top left to the bottom right, so I select the album with one of the four Player Two buttons then scroll up and down the track list with the joystick and hit fire to play the song.

When a song is playing you can choose what gets displayed from album art to a screen saver or a graphic equaliser. Album art just has to be an image file in the same folder as the album called folder.jpg or in more recent versions cover.jpg as well, though bitmap support has also been added and now the folder will be searched for .jpg, .bmp and then .jpeg in that order. It will also display hidden album art too such as that created by Windows Media Player.

The later versions also added support, in addition to MP3, for WMA, WAV, AIFF, FLAC, AAC, MP4 (sound only), AC3 and ALAC, and also playlists which you can restore from when the program was last closed.

The only requirements for SK Jukebox now are the VB6 Runtimes and a file called MSCOMCTL which you will need if you get an error about the file missing. Download it and unzip it to either the application path or your Windows System32 directory. You can grab both sets of files from the SK Jukebox World Download page or my own page here.

To set SK Jukebox up all you need to do is install the VB6 runtimes and copy the application folder and your music library over to your hard drive. Once you run the program you can go into the options with a right mouse click or pressing [CTRL]+[SHIFT]+[O]. Most of the options are self explanatory but a couple to bear in mind are the mapping of the keys to your own control panel. All the emulators on my cab are exited with the [ESC] key which my I-Pac maps to holding Player one and pressing Player Two so I made SK Jukebox exit the same way. Also because the PC will be sat in a cab, make sure you select that the music library is static otherwise it will rescan the whole lot every time you launch the player, and obviously with a large music library that can take a while.
I took my time with the setup and tweaked quite a few of the settings just to make it run better in the cab environment, and a lot of it is just trial and error but don't worry about breaking anything because if it does stop working (don't forget it is no longer developed or supported) simply re-copy the program to your drive and start again. Occasionally even now I will get an error where the program shows the splash screen but fails to launch, so I just have to [ESC] out of it, launch it again and it always works the second time.

So now all the emulators I wanted to run were set up it was time to configure a Frontend that would drive it all via the control panel. I tried a few before deciding on Maximus Arcade, despite the fact that it is a paid for product where others are free, but once you see Maximus running, see what it can do and appreciate just how versatile and how easy to set up it is, you can't help but like it.

It also gave me an idea for another thing to run on the cab but more of that later.

Maximus Arcade basically manages interaction with many different arcade and console emulators while keeping the Windows environment hidden. It's easy to setup and it doesn't require any additional Frameworks or Runtimes to function. The download contains both the Frontend and a Skin Editor should you wish to configure it further. It will run on either Windows 2000, Windows XP or Windows Vista, and the trial version will work fully for 30 days at which point a registration code is required for further use. The registration allows you to use Maximus on two computers that you own at your residence, though there are discounts available for multiple licenses, and once you have used it for that long I don't think you'll want to be without it.

Like MAME, Maximus doesn't install as such, you just need to extract the zip file to your hard drive and run the executable inside. Should you make a mistake in configuring it, or just want to start again from default settings, you can simply delete it and extract it again to the same location and start over.

To get started launch the Maximus executable and on first run it will notify you that there are no emulators set up and it will go straight into the the configuration screens. To manually go into these screens later use either [CTRL] + [P] or right click and select Preferences. Select the "Configuration" tab and then select M.A.M.E. from the pull down menu and either fill in the file paths or browse for them by clicking on the button next to the Executable field.
You'll need to use at least M.A.M.E. 0.90 or newer because older versions don't generate an XML game list that Maximus needs to generate file descriptions that it shows in the menu.

After selecting the M.A.M.E. executable you choose paths for the folders containing the Media (ROMs), Images, Movies and Marquees if they are not filled automatically. These pictures and videos will then be displayed alongside the game in the Maximus menu when you are browsing through your game lists.
Select the secondary tab under "Configuration" labeled "Launch" and verify that the command information is: %file -skip_gameinfo -nowindow. This is the command that Maximus will send to M.A.M.E. when it launches a game so any settings such as resolutions to run at could be applied here.

Select the secondary tab under "Configuration" labeled "Scan" and make sure that the "Media Extensions" field has .zip in it so that it will search your ROM folder for .zip files, and make sure that the "Scan within subfolders" option is checked and that the "Force rescan of media folder" is Also checked. This force rescan should only be checked either when you first run, when you change the ROM folder or when you change the folder's contents. It simply refreshes your game list to reflect the folder's contents. Bear in mind it will run every time Maximus launches though, so normally it would be unchecked to speed up the Maximus, and therefore the cab's, launch time.

Select the secondary tab under "Options" labeled "MAME" and make sure all of the switches are selected based on your preference for resolution for example. Select the "Display Order" tab and make sure that only MAME is in the right hand field by deleting all entries and then adding MAME again. Select the "Close" button at the bottom of the preferences window and Maximus will now rescan the new folder paths and the M.A.M.E. ROMs then present you with your game list. If you have set up the images path correctly, and have got game images in the folder, they will be displayed on the left hand side.

You can test a game if you like but it is best to wait as we have not configured our controls properly yet. Press [CTRL] + [P] or right click and select Preferences again to go back into the configuration pages and select the "Options" tab where you will see the "Setup1" and "Setup2" tab. In here are the controls that Maximus will use for all emulators not just M.A.M.E., so bear that in mind when you set up the controls for your games. The first thing to do is to save a new control scheme and give it a name (you will see that it is currently set to "default"). If you create a new one and make a mess of it, you can always revert to the default settings by choosing "default" in the scheme list again.

The main options you will need to configure are those for navigating the Maximus menus, configuring your favourites lists, selecting games and exiting games. Once you have your controls mapped correctly save your control scheme again so that you can always restore it later and then feel free to try M.A.M.E. out. Everything should work as planned.

Now you can go back into the configuration screens and under the "Display Order" tab add Visual Pinball to the list and set the file paths for it the same way you did for M.A.M.E., remembering to force a rescan on the first launch then test it before making any adjustments that you need to.

All of your emulators should now be added to the "Display Order" list and set up
in the same way though SK Jukebox does not need any additional file paths for its artwork. You just set the "Media" folder to the the parent folder containing all of your albums, and as long as you have a relevant artwork file (i.e. folder.jpg, cover.jpg, folder.bmp etc) in each album folder SK Jukebox will display it for you.

It really couldn't be simpler.

I mentioned earlier that seeing some of the options and features available in Maximus gave me a few ideas, and one of them is a folder called ambience. What this does is gives you a folder path where you can put .mp3 or .wav sound files and then when you run Maximus it will play these files as ambient noise in the background. If you have multiple files in there it will play them randomly but I just have one file in there and it is a recording of a real 1980s arcade with the actual sounds of 1980s games being played. There are separate Volume levels for Master volume and ambient volume too so that your game can be played at full volume but ambient sounds in the menus can be quieter and more, well, ambient.

Sometimes it's cool just to have your cab running and playing the ambient sounds as though it were sat in a real arcade, and you can imagine yourself as a child being back there all over again.

Don't forget to wash your hands before tea though. And you could grow potatos behind those ears .......

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