The definitive, ONLY guide to playing arcade games on Windows Mobile
Arcade games... If you have ever read WikiPedia's related article, you know it well enough arcade machines had the status as the forefront of new game releases and, by using the latest, sophisticated graphics and sound chips, used to present a far better gaming experience than any home computer or even home gaming console of that age for about 15 years - at least before 1995.
The golden age of arcade games was, as has been stated, probably before 1995. The arcade titles of that age were considerably better than anything achievable on a home computer or console. For example, consider the game Scramble. When it came out in 1981 as an arcade title, at the age of the Atari 2600 (home console) and the VIC-20 (home computer), naturally, neither of these home systems were able to provide at least something close to the gaming experience of the "real" arcade title. For example, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum (which was only released a year later; the game even later: in 1982, Melbourne House's "Penetrator" and in 1983, Bug-Byte's "Cavern Fighter") had much inferior ports, and this is true of almost every home systems of the early eighties.
This trend continued through the entire eighties, well into the early nineties. It was only in 1990, with the release of SNK's dual (AES (home) and MVS (arcade)) system NeoGeo, that a home console hit the market with exactly the same games as its arcade counterparts. NeoGeo has received some really nice games; most importantly, the vastly successful Metal Slug series, which is a very popular 2D platformer title even today.
However, the NeoGeo didn't really sell to home costumers as well as, say, SNES or Sega's Genesis; mostly because of the price of the cartridges (about the twice of those of SNES) and the comparative (compared again to SNES and, before its release, the technically even less comparable NES and Genesis) rarity of titles. This means it was only with the advent of really powerful home computers that the age of arcade machines started to decline. Still, a LOT of these games are of very high quality even by today's standards, particularly when compared to the lack of quality games on mobile platforms like Windows Mobile. Therefore, emulating arcade machines (and running arcade games) on mobile devices is much more important than on desktop Windows with, at times, much better native titles.
When you hear the word "arcade games", don't think of 25-year-old "crap" like Pac-Man, Dig Dug, Frogger and the like. Some people only like referring to these really old titles as "the" arcade games. That's in no way true: the Metal Slug series and the 19XX-series (starting with the old 1942) are also arcade games. Therefore, anyone stating "arcade games are very old and technically very bad games not worth emulating" only shows he/she doesn't have a clue about what he's saying. Or, if he's an arcade emulator developer, he may just be explaining why he hasn't implemented any support for any new system ;-)
As arcade games were produced even in the 2000's, there are really quality titles around. For example, I don't think you'll be able to show me a 1942 clone for Windows Mobile that is better than 19XX or 1944 written for the CPS-2 arcade machine (and perfectly runnable on a better Windows Mobile handheld!) This means there is a plethora of up-to-date, visually and, sound-wise, absolutely stunning action games well worth emulating on our mobile devices.
Keep in mind that, in this complete guide & tutorial & roundup, I refer to all the games ever released for arcade machines - both 25-year-old early games and 5-10-year-old, really advanced ones. Of course, I'll put definite emphasis on emulating newer systems to ease the lack of high-quality, comparable 2D action titles on Windows Mobile (WM for short).
Why should you bother?
- To bring up memories (or, if you prefer simple games)
- To play (more recent) games better than anything else on Windows Mobile in the genre
and, of course, because Windows Mobile is able to run these titles.
Look for â€œMAMEâ€ sections on ROM sites. Some ROM sites have dedicated NeoGeo and/or CPS-1 and CPS-2 sections. Unfortunately, I am not allowed to give you links. If you open your eyes and use Google, I'm sure you'll find the ROM sites in a fraction of a minute.
Don't be afraid of these sites - I've tested the ones coming up as the first after some quick Google searches. Not one of them continued any viruses and all MAME downloads were usable and CRC error-free.
After downloading the ZIP files, just copy them in the roms subdirectory of your emulator. Do NOT decompress them!
Note that MAMECE3, unlike the two other, more recommended emulators (Finalburn and PocketCultMAME, which must be manually copied to the handheld) comes with a CAB installer. This means you'll manually hunt for the roms subdirectory. If you install it to a storage card under WM5+ or in the built-in storage with any operating system version, it'll be at \Program Files\MameCE\Roms\ (with WM5+, on a storage card, prefixed with the path of the card itself). With operating systems prior to WM5 and a storage card-based installation, it'll be in \MameCE\Roms\ on your card.
Finalburn Alpha 0.09
First and foremost, the most important arcade game emulator you MUST check out is the WM port of Finalburn Alpha (current version: 0.09), the only REALLY usable CPS-1 / 2 and NeoGeo emulator. You can read a complete review & tutorial on the title HERE (click the link!); therefore, in here, I won't really elaborate on it - except when directly comparing its features, speed and compatibility to other arcade emulators.
Its main strength is its speed (in which it's just unbeatable), sound quality (in that, not even PocketCultMAME comes close, let alone MAMECE3!) and features like on-screen tap areas. Its main disadvantage is, however, the complete lack of running non-NeoGeo / CPS games. That is, it won't be able to run anything released before 1990 - and only about 10-20% of later games. However, the titles still available for the platform (and playable on a current WM device) are still overwhelming - this emulator is really nice!
Finally, it's capable of running even (most of) the latest (NeoGeo / CPS) games. For example, 1944 - The Loop Master was released for the CPS-2 in 2000. Still, Finalburn emulates it flawlessly.
MAME-derivatives or ports
MAME is probably the most widely know multiplatform emulator emulating almost 10 000 arcade games, starting from the oldest and ending with the latest titles. It runs flawlessly even on slower Windows devices (for example, even, CPU-wise, underpowered UMPC's) and is REALLY recommended for a quick test to see what kinds of games you can (hopefully) also play on your mobile device.
To do this (test and/or play arcade games on your desktop Windows computer), you will need to download and utilize the desktop MAME. I'll explain this in the following section. Note that this has nothing to do with WM - just a quick explanation of what you should do in order to be able to play these games on your desktop computer (including UMPC's, notebooks and the like).
The desktop MAME
Download mame.rar from here - there, youâ€™ll need the topmost file (now, itâ€™s mame0115b.exe). UnRAR it to anywhere. Move your ROM ZIP files to the roms subdirectory of the emulator. For NeoGeo games to play, youâ€™ll also need THIS file. Just put it in the home directory of MAME.
To start a given game, directly execute MAME.exe (in the home directory), passing it the name of the ZIP file (also the official MAME name of the game) like this:
This will start the game (if everything is OK). Upon the first running of each ROM set, youâ€™ll need to at least once press Left and, then, Right on the cursor block of your PC. Then, after the game has loaded, youâ€™ll need to press 5 (with two players, 6) to insert (virtual) coins and, then, press 1 (with two players, 2) to start the game. In one-player mode, the games are controlled by Ctrl / Alt + D-pad; in two-player mode, the other player is controlled by D: left; F: down; G: right; R: up.
Now, back to the question of Windows Mobile: what arcade emulators are there on the platform? Now follows PocketCultMAME, the best generic MAME port.
(main game selector of version 0.4a)
(main game selector of a 0.5 preview)
Currently, this title is by far the best generic MAME port. This means it's able to run both 25-year-old classics (which Finalburn Alpha is fully incapable of) and (comparatively) new titles.
However, it should NOT be used for NeoGeo / CPS emulation - in that, Finalburn Alpha is WAY better. Should you be unsure about what runs under Finalburn Alpha and what needs the more generic, but slower PocketCultMAME, you may want to deploy the ZIPped ROM files under both emulators. If Finalburn runs the game flawlessly, then, just stick to it and don't even test the game under PocketCultMAME - believe me, it'll be FAR slower with should enabled (if it runs at all).
For emulating significantly older stuff (games from the entire eighties - not just the 25-year-old titles), however, it's the emulator you must check out.
There are two versions of the emulator: 0.4a (currently the fastest version with, compared to the newer one, more limited compatibility) and 0.5WIP, a MUCH slower, experimental tech demo with much broader compatibility.
This means you should download both versions. Always try to run a title under 0.4a first and only give a try to 0.5WIP if it doesn't run in the older emulator.
Note that version 0.4a has two additional EXE files as a separate download. One of them, noCYCLONE, is related to the Motorola 68000 emulation and using it instead of the default one will result in a certainly visible speed penalty. It, however, offers somewhat improved compatibility with some titles otherwise incompatible with PocketCultMAME 0.4a. That is, if an otherwise as compatible listed game doesn't run in the standard version, just exit it and run these two files instead to see whether, then, it runs or not. Affected games are for example 'Black Tiger', 'Rampage' and 'Pang'; see for example THIS for more info.
Conveniently, unzip the two additional EXE files in the same directory where the traditional executable of 0.4a, PCMAME.exe, resides. As these files are named differently, they won't override the default file, PCMAME.exe. Putting it in the same directory results in not having to copy the same ROM files in more than one directory on your memory cards.
Still speaking of add-on downloads, 0.5WIP also has an additional download fixing some NeoGeo issues. As PocketCultMAME should NEVER be used to run NeoGeo games (it's just too slow for this), you don't necessarily want to download / install it.
Using these emulators are pretty straightforward and if you know how Finalburn Alpha is used you also know how PocketCultMAME is: after starting the application (PCMAME.exe with version 0.4a and PocketCultMAME.exe with 0.5WIP), you're presented a list of the compatible, playable ROM's in the roms subdirectory. You select one and start the game. During the game, you insert virtual coins to the game, (keep) press(ing) the Start button and, then, play.
Also, you can do some settings. For the two current versions, I've compared these in the following chart. Make sure you follow the links to see the screenshots of the individual settings. This will really help you in discovering the emulator.
The chart is available HERE (CLICK THE LINK!).
Note that you WILL want to fine-tune these parameters; most importantly, you WILL want to disable sound, should you encounter speed problems. Also, if you have a Dell Axim x50v / x51v, you MUST enable 2700G support for greatly increased speed.
To demonstrate why it's worth fine-tuning these parameters, I've made some very serious benchmarks to find out what the speed culprit is (it turned out to be the sound, unlike with, say, Finalburn) and how the different settings have an affect on speed.
I've run the tests on three different devices: the Dell Axim x50v / x51v (VGA WM5 device with the 2700G 3D chip equipped with a 624 MHz Xscale CPU), the HP iPAQ h2210 (an older, QVGA WM2003 model with an older, less efficient, 400 MHz Xscale CPU) and a Fujitsu-Siemens Pocket Loox 720 (520 MHz VGA WM2003SE).
Note that the chart only contains data on the first two models; with FPS display enabled, nothing runs on the Pocket Loox 720 (only a black screen and a part of the "FPS" text is displayed in the bottom left corner). (Note that this problem may be pretty common with all F-S models; see THIS.) This means I don't have quantitive results on the Loox. However, it, subjectively, delivered pretty playable results. With the Loox, I could only display the FPS in MAMECE3 (in 1941, 38 fps without sound; 20 with it). Note that, except for the last column, I've only en/disabled one feature / changed one parameter a time to see how it affects speed.
The chart is available HERE (CLICK THE LINK!).
As can clearly be seen, you WILL want to disable sound with more action-packed games. With much older, less CPU-intensive games like Scramble, you can safely keep it on. If this doesn't help or you still need additional speed, you may also switch to the "Steplines" mode to only display half of the scan lines. And, of course, if you do own a 2700G-enabled Dell Axim, make sure you enable the 2700G support. While it, because of the pixel doubling, results in for example hard-to-read text, its speed gain is enormous.
Note that the "doc" subdirectory of both versions contains the lists of compatible games and a quick intro to the emulator.
Fixing your ROM images with RomCenter
The author of PocketCultMAME frequently asks users to fix the ROMâ€™s they plan to use; that is, to convert to the (ancient) MAME format used by the emulator. Unfortunately, as using the recommended application RomCenter isnâ€™t really explained anywhere (except for some not very detailed forum posts still missing some very important steps like THIS, THIS and THIS) this may prove to be an impossible task for many. This is why Iâ€™ve written a mini-tutorial to fixing ROM images.
Download RomCenter from HERE (donâ€™t get the 3.0 Alpha; the latest stable release, 2.71, accessible on the Download page, will do just fine), install and execute. Go to File / Open datafile manager and click Addâ€¦. In the file selector dialog, look for pcmame.dat (or, as far as version 5 is concerned, pcmame05.dat) in the home directory of the (two) Windows Mobile PocketCultMAMEâ€™s. Note that you can safely import both if you plan to convert the format of your ROMâ€™s into both 0.4a and 0.5WIP. Click Close after finishing adding the file(s).
Now, open the drop-down list under the menu bar of the menu bar of RomCenter. Select the file youâ€™ve just added (pcmame.dat for 0.4a or pcmame05.dat for 0.5) as can be seen in here.
Now, go to File / Add ROM path. In my case, itâ€™s c:\ArcadeRoms\. The items will be quickly scanned and loaded, but still not displayed. To do this, just click the name of the path (NOT â€œGames databaseâ€!) in the left pane.
Now, right-click ALL items in the right pane that have a yellow (NOT a green and NOT a red!) icon in front of them. Select â€œFix ROMâ€ in the menu. The file will be fixed. The resulting (fixed) file will be placed in the same directory, overwriting the old (bad) ROM image.
Note that because of the overwriting behavior, you may want to fix a COPY of your original ROM files.
(in the game selector screen)
This very old, but still usable emulator may also be of interest, particularly if, for some reason, PocketCultMAME isn't able to run something. This is because PocketCultMAME is much better in every respect, particularly screen tap, auto fire and sound-wise. With MAMECE3, you definitely will NOT want to enable the sound because it's really annoying and really bad.
There are two versions of the emulator: MAMECE3 and the much larger Mega MAMECE3. Now that, with the advent of very cheap memory cards, the 6 Mbytes difference in size doesn't really matter any more, I recommend the second - theoretically, it supports more than a thousand games, as opposed to the 100+ MAMECE3.
Unfortunately, it's, along with the sound problem and not supporting auto fire / screen tap areas, is definitely less compatible with newer titles than even the 0.4a version of PocketCultMAME, let alone 0.5WIP.
Finally, a not really recommended title,
This title is based on the very old MAME version .261.
This application, reviewed for example HERE, is very restricted in that it only contains drivers for 19 arcade games of the early eighties. The lack of support for other titles means you can't even play for example Scramble or Zaxxon on it - you can in no way make it run any other titles than it contains built-in support to.
As with the other titles, you need to download ROM images off the Web to make it work. This may turn to be pretty problematic because most of the images of the games it supports have been removed from ROM sites because of ESA - that is, it's much easier to get hold of, say, the Zaxxon ROM than that of, say, Pac-Man.
As it is REALLY limited, playable ROM-wise and doesn't have anything to show up with (not even Scramble or Zaxxon), I don't really recommend this title. BTW, this - the complete lack of support for extra functionality like on-screen tap areas and the lack of support for anything else than the 19 classic games - was the reason for my not including it in the Comparison Chart either.
- get Finalburn Alpha. When compatible with a (newer, NeoGeo or CPS) arcade ROM, it'll deliver by far the best results.
- get both versions of PocketCultMAME. When Finalburn Alpha isn't compatible with a (non-NeoGeo or CPS) title, the two versions of PocketCultMAME may still be. Always try running a given game in 0.4a first and only if it turns out to be incompatible move to 0.5WIP because of the much lower emulation speed. Also remember to check and, when necessary, convert your ROM sets before playing to avoid later incompatibility problems. If a as compatible marked title still doesn't run under 0.4a, make sure you give a try to the two alternate main EXE files to see whether they help.
- You can also get Mega MAMECE3, but remember to prefer PocketCultMAME to it. The latter has better (on-screen) controls, autofire and WAY better sound.
- Only get iMAME if you don't need anything else than the 19 built-in games.
The comparison / feature / compatibility chart
It's available HERE. DO CHECK IT OUT!
As usual, I present you a reliable, dependable chart comparing all the reviewed titles (and the desktop MAME). In addition to comparing features like state loading / saving, screen tap areas, auto fire etc. (please see my earlier emulator reviews for an explanation of these; I won't do this again in here), I've also checked the compatibility of many titles.
My other game emulator reviews in the Games section of the Smartphone & Pocket PC Magazine's Expert Blog. I plan to cover / discuss ALL emulators available for Windows Mobile and have already published some of these articles. Do make sure you follow / read these articles - nowhere else will you find a better source of emulation-related information, I'm absolutely sure.
Other articles / links of interest
Rich Hallâ€™s Play Arcade Classics on Your Handheld and Pocket PC. Note that, the article being some six years old, the links to the ROM repositories don't work any more.
An iMAME review
MAMECE3 compatibility reports: THIS, THIS, THIS (with for example a lot of WonderSwan, PlayStation discussion and elaborating on THIS generic PPC emulation article. Make sure you read the feedback in the thread before believing everything in that article!) and THIS.
It's unlikely MAMECE3 will ever be updated (a 2004 post - nothing has been released in the meantime)