What is the current state of the art in MAME frontends?
July 14, 2009 7:28 AM   Subscribe

What is the current state of the art in MAME frontends?

I have a huge storehouse of parts and gizmos for my nascent MAME cabinet. The last time I had it up and running ArcadeOS was the preferred frontend for a transparent experience. But that was a LONG time ago. I also have some experience with AdvanceMENU & AdvanceMAME, which i also liked. After researching it again i found a lot of the old links i had were dead and it doesn't look like ArcadeOS has been updated in quite awhile.

Can anybody recommend a current frontend that supports multiple emus and makes the whole process of picking a ROM to play both logistically and aesthetically pleasing? (the last point is VERY important...it should not look cheesy or too flashy).

Maximus Arcade looks promising (found here on MeFi).

Any suggestions?
posted by monkeybutt to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I originally used MAMEwah on mine and then when I redid the PC I tried a couple of different ones, including ArcadeOS. I eventually put MAMEwah back on because none of the others felt right. MAMEwah looks good enough, giving you a screenshot of the ROM you're selecting, it supports multiple emulators, different playlists for each emulator, and it's very intuitive to use and easy enough to administer. It's really designed for cabinets and meant to be used with a joystick rather than a mouse. It also does background music so I have an 80's soundtrack that plays. It's not the most attractive, but I prefer to let the screenshots speak for themselves. After all, the whole point of a front-end is to get to the game.

Don't be put off by the horrible MAMEwah page.

I guess it's not state-of-the-art, but if what you want is an easy way to pick a ROM, this will do it.
posted by bondcliff at 7:39 AM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I really like MameDox on the xbox. On my computer I think gxmame was my favorite, but I haven't used that in a while.
posted by valadil at 7:44 AM on July 14, 2009

Response by poster: thanks bondcliff,

yes, MAMEwah seems very close to what i'm looking for. very similar to the previous installation i did. i love the screenshot look...that is what i liked the most about AdvanceMENU.

can it also display marquee art? (AdvanceMENU did that, which was a *great* way of scrolling thru lists of games. fast and pretty).

your Midlife Crisis Machine looks pretty damn sweet. how do you like playing with a uber-control layout like that? i was thinking of a full-spread layout but kinda wanted to make it as close to the original experience as possible, so i designed several "archtype" control layouts that could be swapped out by lifting the panel up and disconnnecting just a wiring harness. they are held on my velcro and are actually quite secure. i even have plans to do single game-specific panels for Tron and Tempest and other classics.

(and you're right...the website is atrocious. it is like one of Santa's elves got hold of an HTML guide in 1995. ugh.)

thanks again
posted by monkeybutt at 8:27 AM on July 14, 2009

Yes, it does marquee art. If you look closely you can see it below the screen shot. It's highly configurable so you can locate it anywhere you want. Configuration takes some time but once you get it how you want everything else is easy.

I like the layout I have, though some times when playing joystick games I get hand cramps from pushing the buttons. I think maybe lowering the control panel an inch or two would solve that, or maybe finding a more ergonomic layout would work. The trackball and spinner are easy to get to and I never have a problem with one control getting in the way of another. I don't think you can pay too much attention to the layout.

I've seen some cabinets with interchangeable controls and it's a pretty sweet idea. However, I'm the type of person who just likes things to be simple. The more a pain in the neck something is to use, the less I'll use it. So I opted for one control set.

I do wish I had driving controls and a trigger joystick for Tron. If I ever get around to it I'll replace the center stick (a four way for older games, though I never, ever use it) with a trigger stick.

If you google around you can find some pretty clever designs. I've seen rotating control panels, so you just flip the thing over to switch from joystick to driving controls, and one that had controls almost like Legos, where you could swap them out into and almost infinite array.

I think they key is to really think about the games you want to play (for me it was the classic games that I played in my local arcade in the 1980s. Marble Madness and 720 were probably the most recent ones.) and design the controls to play most of them.

I did mine several years ago. I think if I did it today I'd build it with a flat-panel display in mind so it looked like the front of a classic cabinet but was thinner, as if it was a full cabinet recessed into a wall. Mine weighs a ton and it took four movers to move it from an upstairs room in one house to a basement of another, even with the control panel, PC, and monitor removed. They were all mighty impressed with it though.

Good luck, feel free to ask more questions here or in MeMail. Anything I can do to promote classic game geekery!
posted by bondcliff at 8:45 AM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

The last time I had it up and running ArcadeOS was the preferred frontend for a transparent experience. But that was a LONG time ago.

I have a really old MAME cabinet with ArcadeOS as the frontend, but I agree that it's nowhere near state-of-the-art anymore. This was back when MAME itself was still doing native DOS releases, and the machine running it had Win95 set to boot off of a floppy to run ArcadeOS in DOS. The reason for all of this was that instead of a computer monitor I used a normal 90s era arcade cabinet with the existing monitor, and just tacked on a new box for the controls. Windows won't run at all on that low rez of a monitor, but with a cheap video card ArcadeOS can show the frontend and run MAME on it.

If you're going to use a computer monitor, none of that silliness will be required. I can't recommend a Windoze-based frontend because in my later project that ran on a normal computer monitor I wrote my own frontend.

i was thinking of a full-spread layout but kinda wanted to make it as close to the original experience as possible, so i designed several "archtype" control layouts that could be swapped out by lifting the panel up and disconnnecting just a wiring harness

Just a word of warning here, most of the people I knew who did this never actually change their control layouts because it is a pain. Also, it's more of hassle to do the control configurations for games because you have to remap the inputs differently. If you do end up doing it that way, make sure that one of your control setups is a "universal" one that you could comfortably play most games on. I'm not sure if you have any young kids or other nontechnical people that will be playing this, but one of the things I've found with my MAME machines is that you want everything to be as simple as possible, otherwise you'll have to hover over everyone who plays it to help them switch games or change emulators or whatever.

By the way, how are you planning on hooking up your controls to your computer? I used an I-PAC on both of my MAME systems but I'm not sure if that's still what everybody does these days.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:14 AM on July 14, 2009

Response by poster: hey burn,

yeah, i have an ipac and an optipac on my machine.

the interchangeable layout is actually pretty robust. here's what i did: i had that in mind and thought that a 40pin IDE cable would make a good umbilical between the ipac and the control. it had more than enough pins to carry the signals on the ipac. that would allow me to prewire all the necessary connections to hardpoints and have them stay consistent between layouts. P1, P2, reset, fire1, fire2, etc would all be mapped to the same pins no matter where they are physically located on the board. i was just looking for some type of clever way to connect that 40pin flat ribbon cable with IDC crimps to the board without it being a micro-wiring hassle.

as luck would have it i was at a techno swap meet and saw a guy selling these curious looking connectors. i'd never seen them before. they has clip-down 40pin header terminals on one end and on the the other end they had screwdown terminals for all 40pins! i couldn't believe my luck! that would allow me to locate one of these on the cabinet body and one on each control panel i made. all that would be needed for swapping out the panels would be lifting it up, disconnecting the IDE cable and putting a new board in place. the guy even let me have a boxful of the things (maybe 10) for like $10!

i've only made three control panel prototypes since then (one for generic button + joystick games, one for Tron and one for tempest). however they all swap in-and-out with ease. i agree that non-technical or partygoing people would probably find this too much of a burden and for them i would probably want a "one-panel-fits-all"configuration. (besides i wouldn't want the innards of my cabinet exposed to novice folks). but for me it is a dream because i can use ONLY the controls i want for Tron, or Asteroids, etc. Quite a sweet setup. If i knew of the name/manufacturer of those 40pin breakout gizmos i'd give them to you. they had no markings on them and i have never the likes of them before.

also, on the subject of the ipac...i think they have a unified module now that connects thru USB and carries not only button presses but also quadrature encoder signals for spinners, trackballs and the like. there are also a few other players in the arena i think besides them.
posted by monkeybutt at 10:28 AM on July 14, 2009

Maximum Arcade and Mamewah look to run on top of Windows, so I imagine boot up times aren't speedy. Are there any frontends worth considering that are based on Linux or something more lightweight?
posted by rama at 10:37 AM on July 14, 2009

Response by poster: rama,

thanks for asking that. i was going to ask that myself but thought i'd get back a dearth of responses. i've LOOKED for linux frontends and found no current ones. i think the main issue with a linux build of anything is the list of available emulators for it. the big ones might all be represented but i think most will enjoy a winderz-only deployment.
posted by monkeybutt at 10:47 AM on July 14, 2009

I looked for Linux front-ends as well and found nothing. My cabinet briefly shows the Windows XP splash screen (which could even be replaced with a custom one) and then flashes the desktop before MAMEwah kicks in. MAMEwah is pretty speedy and requires no time at all to come up.
posted by bondcliff at 11:01 AM on July 14, 2009

i think the main issue with a linux build of anything is the list of available emulators for it

Yes, especially for console emulators, a lot of the best ones have been closed-source Windows-only ones. Depending on the exact games and platforms you want to support, Linux might work but Windows XP will run pretty much every major emulator. You can find various tweaks to make Windows startup faster though.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:11 AM on July 14, 2009

Response by poster: it is a shame the classic XBOX doesnt' have the horsepower to play a lot of the new(er) and bigger and roms out there in emulation. a modded XBOX would be an IDEAL host PC for a cabinet or cocktail: lightweight, enclosed, preconfigured with available emulators. the only trick would be getting the controls interfaced. but i've seen people hack keyboards and X-arcade panel to xboxes before (the gamepad inputs are really just USB)...so it probably wouldn't be too bad.
posted by monkeybutt at 11:30 AM on July 14, 2009

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