Retrogaming on Mac: Getting started with OpenEmu

I started retrogaming when it was cutting edge gaming, and I still have all the hardware I accumulated along the way. And while I still enjoy dusting off an old machine and loading some forgotten format into a reader no longer made, I have grown into an Apple ecosystem user… and appreciate when something is simple and just works. I’ve toyed with the more complicated setups of individual emulators, and due to Atari allegiance have gotten a few of those working in the past, but it is with OpenEmu that the world of emulation has become simple and just works for Macs.

Before you start, figure out where you are going to store some files. Like a lot of files. Millions of little bitty files… and thousands of big fat ones. We are talking dozens to hundreds of gigs of stuff, depending on how complex you want to get at the start.

Download OpenEmu… not the big red “download” button, but the little red text underneath that says Experimental. This is the version that is starting to offer support for the MAME engine for arcade machine emulation. There will be warnings that MAME is not fully supported yet, but this is currently the best and easiest way to go.

OpenEmu is something called a frontend: it organizes the files needed for other programs, the emulators themselves, to run the game ROMs. ROM is an acronym for Read Only Memory, a type of chip used in things like game cartridges to hold the actual game program. Loading a ROM file into an emulator is like sticking the cartridge into your Atari 2600. OpenEmu works as a middleman to stick the right ROM files into the right emulators.

In addition to ROMs that are similar to cartridges or program files, there are ROMs that are more like operating systems. Because of the nature of copyright law, some emulators cannot be distributed with the ROM files from the machines they emulate; these files must be found by the user. Thanks to the Internet Archive, these files are easily found. The OpenEmu BIOS Pack includes all the files needed to activate the different cores, or machine emulations. Download and extract the files to your chosen storage location, then go to OpenEmu and select Preferences… System Files. You will see a whole list of warning symbols that we want to turn into green checkmarks. Just drag the files to the System Files window and OpenEmu will know what to do with them.

When all our checkmarks are green, OpenEmu is ready for some game ROMs. The Internet Archive Software Collection is your best friend in this process. This page links to libraries of archived software for different machines, and perhaps most importantly of all, for archived arcade machine ROMs… MAME ROMs.

MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) is the gear OpenEmu kicks into when it is time to emulate arcade machines. While it is astonishing that MAME can do what it does, there is a certain amount of learning curve in getting MAME to sing to your tune. OpenEmu takes a lot of that confusion away for you, but there is still one thing you have to do correctly for all this to work: get the right MAME ROMs. In particular, the right MAME ROMs for OpenEmu’s version of MAME is 0.149. This is the sort of thing you are looking for. Download, extract, and drag the files into OpenEmu’s Arcade Library window.

At this point (well, after OpenEmu does a huge amount of chewing. Maybe you shouldn’t have dropped all 20K or so files on there at once, after all), you should able to play at least some of your old arcade favorites. If you downloaded the full MAME ROMset, there will be a lot of files that are for gambling machines that aren’t going to seem to work at all… and some of your favorites won’t look right, or may not run at all. This gets into more advanced MAME issues, and I bring it up here just so you won’t think there’s something broken.

At this point, it’s time to play around with your console emulators. I’m a longtime Atari guy, so those are the first ones I checked out. Once you have installed the BIOS ROMs mentioned above, you will just need game ROMs to play. Rather than downloading entire sets (this was important for MAME mostly because of how difficult it is to reliably source individual files from a particular ROMset version), I found a few sites where it was relatively easy to download individual ROMs, Planetemu.net and CoolROMs.com.au being a couple I used most often. I also found the very interesting ROMCollector.com; if you decide you do want to have a full archival ROMset for some of these emulators, it looks like this guy has done the hard work for you.

One more thing about OpenEmu: the controls. In general, OpenEmu has a best guess as to how to map keyboard keys to game functions. You can open Space Invaders and expect the arrow keys to move your base left and right, and depending on what system you are emulating, there will be some key that fires. You can edit these settings, including telling OpenEmu to use attached controllers, in OpenEmu’s Preferences… Controls section. It may take a little while with some games for you to figure out your controller mapping, but it’s worth it if you happen to be, say, a Robotron 2084 fan who figured out how to set up his Logitech F310 controller’s two joysticks to move and fire like in the arcade. I lost minutes figuring it out, then I lost hours enjoying it. Also, if you do take the time to map something special like this, make some manual note of the settings: I’ve not been able to figure out how to make OpenEmu save game specific controller configurations.

Discussion thread for this post in the jjewell forum.

Success Story Number Two

Multiple small successes rolled into one: I have an online shop for physical items, I have, again, finally, online forums, and I’m running a website primarily from iOS. The website from iOS thing was primarily the purpose of the fireapplered.com web address… not sure what I’ll do with that at the moment, since I’m now accomplishing its purpose here.

This is a particular victory for me at the moment because I’ve been working through some depression… and things haven’t seemed worth doing, recently. Making some visible changes is a good sign.

Success Story Number One

OK, so. I’ve got the tools set up to write anywhere, at any time. I’ve got a 22 year old domain name ready to host writing. I’ve been given the time. I actually have quite a few ideas, in notes, drafts, or other similarly skeletal forms of things to write about. So why don’t I write?

I’ve heard an unexamined life is not worth living, but I am acutely aware of the dangers of over examining. When I ask myself, why don’t I write, I already know the main reasons that flummox most people… those things are already automatically out there as possibilities. So it’s really easy to pick one of those that sounds logical. I do know I have perfectionist tendencies… and that is something that holds some people back: the thought that “it’s not ready yet, I need to work on it more…” But I’m not even getting to that point. It’s not a type of feeling that I can’t do good work, I’ve done in the past, there continue to be bursts of which I am particularly proud and I can see the quality of what else is out there: I’m ready to actually post something.

 So why haven’t I been writing? Other things seem more important at the time. When I think about sitting down to write about something, a whole list of things pops into mind, passes in front of my eyes, is on the iPhone somewhere. And I keep going around in circles doing that: it seems to be the common thread is not following through on anything, hell, barely getting started on anything… because I keep feeling like something else is more important… that my time would be better spent doing something else, even if I don’t know what that is. Maybe a different way for me to think of Attention Deficit Disorder: I can’t wrangle attention enough to carry through with things. Over the past two weeks I’ve bailed out on watching Archer, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, and playing Minecraft because it just didn’t seem like I had the attention span to make it through the next episode or the next five minute Minecraft day.

So, success story number one on the way back: this is getting written. It’s only being written because I put things in place earlier on the phone to be able to do this. I am currently driving, but dictating into my iPhone. I like Apple’s iOS voice recognition just fine, but it quits listening after a brief time. So I installed a dedicate dictation app that will listen indefinitely and send the text over to my writing workflows… I have actually written this entire piece while I was driving back home from running errands today with dictation. 

This was a manufactured success: I want to highlight to myself that getting this posted was the result of looking at what wasn’t working and establishing different patterns that do work. First brick down. 

jjewell.com X – Rock Bottom Edition

jjewell.com has been around since the summer of 1996. It has changed formats and platforms and hosts and topics, reflecting changes and realities in my own life over that time.

And here we are. This is Rock Bottom. I don’t feel like enumerating failures or negative mileposts right now, plenty of time for that as this goes along if it seems as though it will help.

This is the start of my story out of here.

Re-presenting The jjewell North American Tour 1998

I first established the jjewell.com domain in 1996.  I can’t really remember what it looked like, right at first, and neither does the Internet Wayback Machine.  But when 1998 brought the closing of the manufacturing plant where I was working and provided me with a severance package, my fledgling web empire became the home of my first weblog (although they weren’t even called that, yet… much less “‘blogs”), the story of the jjewell North American Tour 1998.

And actually, the Internet Wayback Machine doesn’t even remember what that looked like… but I do.  It was raw html coded in notepad.  At first it had a dark grey marble background image with bright text in blue, green, and yellow.  Yeah, I know: that didn’t even last the length of the tour, it ended up in more classical looking greys and navys by the time I returned home.

At any rate, those updates from a cross-country road trip contain some of what I consider to be my most entertaining writing, and I’ve wanted to repost the series somewhere.  I finally decided that jjewell.com was where they were born, jjewell.com is where they should dwell.  So I’ve retroactively posted all the NAT updates here.

Now… between these old posts and the Wayback Machine, it’ll be days before I find time to do something useful… Start here…