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.

This can be a learning moment for some people, so perhaps I can save you some pain.

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.

A lot of approximations, there…

In case that was too vague, here’s some visual aids. This part is not really integral to getting the program up and running; feel free to skip ahead to the next section if you’re in some kind of hurry.

This is a list of the arcade machines I’ve played the longest in OpenEmu.

If you are my age, you will recognize quite a few of those. That’s what I mean by at least some.

Here’s a shot of my lowest rated games. Because I didn’t want to confuse games I hadn’t played having a zero and games that just didn’t work having a zero, if I tried to play the game and couldn’t get it to work, it gets a 1 star rating.

You can see there are some things I tried that didn’t work. Sometimes there might be multiple versions (or dumps) of a particular game, and perhaps a different version of the ROM will work.

Lastly, I wanted to draw your attention to one particular entry on that last list: Hulk, The (Bellfruit) (Scorpion 5) (set 1). Let’s take a look at the whole ROM list just sorted alphabetically.

OpenEmu

You can see several “sets” of that Hulk game, as well as a couple of other games that have the same names with multiple sets. My understanding is that these are gambling machine video game ROMs, and to run correctly they need to have the special hardware required by that kind of machine to be emulated somehow. I believe that parenthetical info refers to other ROM files to emulate that needed hardware. Not chasing that rabbit down the hole… can’t spend emulated payouts.

Back to our regularly scheduled emulation…

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.

Pando People (jj church sermon 0.1)

Have you ever heard of Pando? Pando is a forest of birch trees in the western US. Burton V. Barnes started studying the forest in the late sixties, and noticed something peculiar: the trees in the forest all seemed to be just alike. Simply based on morphology, what the plants looked and acted like, Barnes believed that the trees in the forest made up a single unit. Future tests and techniques bore him out: Pando is a forest of genetically identical trees, trees that are connected by a single root system. Pando might very well be the largest living thing on this planet, depending on how you go about measuring such a superlative, the largest living thing humans have ever encountered. But from the outside, without digging around for miles underground, or digging into microscopic genetic code… Pando just looks like a bunch of trees.
I have come to think of human beings as resembling Pando. From the outside, we look like a bunch of individuals of a particular type… but if we look deeply enough, if we are willing to dig… we will discover that not only are we more alike that we ever imagined, we are in fact all a part of one connected entity.
Genetic science has made incredible progress and discoveries; it is now within the grasp of many humans to submit their own material and find out specifics of their background. We discover that all of us trace back to a few lineages. Something like ninety percent of all humans can be traced back to sixteen historical fathers… some known to us, some lost to history. Genetically, our family tree grows from few roots. I have no doubt that with continued improvements in testing and data mining, we will eventually narrow those roots even further. I think it is obvious that, like the trees of Pando, individual humans grow from the same genetic root.
I also believe something less obvious, something that we have not developed the tools and methods for which to dig. Humans seem to have a further connection that science has not yet understood. Linguists have noted that, based on the amount of the language human children are exposed to, there’s no explanation for how we learn to speak, how we learn to communicate. Psychologists have described the collective unconscious, that which we all seem to know innately, that which seems to be passed down through generations without our realizing it. This connection is not the only thing beyond the limits of current science… the simple question “where do we come from” ends with the mysterious and poorly named Big Bang; which, for all we can explain, happened for no reason out of nothing at all. We can’t explain how the elemental forces that affect us work together, or really, work at all. We have ideas, theories… string theory is one that could help explain the nature of these forces; but string theory requires we do our theoretical math in sixteen or twenty-five dimensions, rather than the three we can point to and touch.
The Big Bang, the beginning of everything from nothing… and the the equal but opposite mystery of what lies beyond the universe we know… are particularly difficult to wrap our minds around. We understand height, width, and depth, and even the quasi dimension of moving inexorably forward through time. But we literally have no frame of reference for what might be above height, farther out than width, behind depth… or before that time zero when everything we know and understand just simply… started.
What if it is really that simple, though? We are creatures created within that realm of time and three dimensions, our perceptions are only built to conceive of those axes. What if the outlandish prediction of string theory is correct, and there exist dimensions outside our perception, outside our reason, outside our comprehension?
Human beings are Pando, individuals sprung from the same genetic stock, appearing separate and distinct but exactly the same underneath, and intricately and intimately connected. The Big Bang is the ground from which these apparent individuals grew, hiding the nature of our connected root system. That root system, that connection we have noticed but can’t define or explain, simply lies in dimensions beyond those which we were built to sense and comprehend.
Looking at life and lives in this framework, science and religion avoid their apparent dichotomy: science understands its limits are these three dimensions, and religion understands its implications lay beyond and aren’t always measurable or actionable in those three dimensions.
This probably sounds like a strange “sermon,” but it is an important plank in the platform I want to build, the church I want to attend. My church is intended to be an exploration of religion, a celebration of the paths and methods man has used and continues to use to find a larger sense of order, to find their place in the “Grand Scheme” of things. My church wants to deal with human information as far back as we have records… and my church isn’t trying to force those historical narratives to adhere to the three dimensions we can actually perceive. My church values the history of religion beyond its adherence to the limits of our science, and values science constantly improving the world within those limits.
I’d love to hear what you think of my church.

Discussion thread for this post in the jjewell forum.

Starting Somewhere

I have had an idea for some time. It’s a big idea, literally world changing. There have been many nights I’ve lain awake thinking that this is what I’m here for, what I’m supposed to be doing for myself and for the world. It’s a big deal… And I want to get it right. Which has led to overthinking: where to start?

I want to change the way we think about religion and politics, and how the two have to live together to get the most out of either of them. Sounds obvious and necessary, but do you start by examining what is broken, or reestablishing a religious basis, or a political movement? How do you even start a religion or a political party? I’ve felt as though I need to write at least three books just to get this thing going.

So as much to lay the starting brick for myself as for those I hope to follow, I am starting with a declaration of intent, including why I feel something must change, and the foundation upon which that change must be built.

The very first part is the why, and to get into that, we have to get into story time. My story, how I got to where I felt I had to change something. In particular, my religious and political history.

I still have the bible I was given from Northside Methodist Church in 1975. I don’t remember receiving it, nor any particular events at the church in those days: we were a Christmas and Easter family, at our best, and we weren’t at our best very often. By high school, I wouldn’t be able to recognize anyone from the church, and they wouldn’t have been able to recognize me. I lived much of my adult life this way. It was only after years of working through depression and ADHD that Suzy and I decided to make the church a part of our lives again. Suzy still has her bible from Northside circa 1977, and several of her family members were and are still church pillars there, so that’s where we went. We were in the choir, and the bell choir, I played guitar for outdoor summer services; Suzy became the head of children’s ministries, I became president of United Methodist Men at Northside; I took lay speaking courses, became certified, taught Sunday School classes, and even preached from the pulpit on more than one occasion (yes, that means precisely twice).

As we got more and more involved in the church, and became more a part of decision making and leadership, it became more obvious that the UMC, the organization, was operating primarily as a business. And although I can’t say I am so naive to believe that’s not going to be the case in the US, even worse, it was being run as a bad business. Large, successful churches had a lot a “small groups,” for instance… so our tiny, older congregation was tasked with creating such groups. This led to all the groups being the same people; I was over fifty when they needed Suzy and I to be a part of the “Young Adults” small group. Instead of looking at the strengths and need of the individual churches, leadership was pushing to generate what amounted to fake numbers that looked like what they themselves defined as being successful. There was also a pastor that did not get along with a significant portion of the congregation: he was directly responsible for the only couple actually younger than Suzy and I in the Young Adults group leaving the church. Even Suzy’s grandmother, who’d been with Northside since it was people knocking on doors saying “we should start a church ’round here,” had taken to pointing out “it’s not his church, it’s our church” on matters involving this pastor. When Suzy’s grandmother passed, she did not want the pastor in question to preside over the ceremony, and we contacted the previous pastor. We were told that she would not be comfortable doing it, because, and I quote “that’s his flock now.” That’s when I realized that the organized church is not working for its congregations, but rather operates believing that its congregations work for it.

Religion, as practiced by the organized church in the US, is broken.

I was brought up Republican, which is to say that I was aware of my parents and grandparents voting Republican in the seventies and eighties. In high school, I was already getting the idea that both major parties had more in common with the actors in the other party than either of them had with the citizens they supposed to be representing, and I was sporting the “withdrawal in disgust is not apathy” banner to remove myself from political conversations. As I grew older, it occurred to me that the political conversation ended up affecting me whether I took part in it or not, and I have been an advocate for third parties ever since.

Over the past couple of decades we have seen the worst gridlock and political obstruction in our history… and our government is currently shutdown, despite bipartisan congressional agreement, at the childish whim of someone who can’t get us to pay something he told us someone else would pay for.

Politics, as practiced by the major parties in the US, is broken.

When we think about who we are, what we are for, what is our greatest good… we all too often compartmentalize a vast array of moral and social values into lumps we call politics and religion. Because of the peculiar brokenness of politics and religion in the US, we largely define ourselves within structures hundreds, even thousands of years old, that we did not build and to a great extent don’t even understand.

We have to start over. The structures we have are broken. My task as I see it is to create new structures, which both acknowledge the reality of the existing structures and plan for their eventual replacement. The next step is defining exactly what they are and what they do.

I’m not looking to replace religion or politics themselves, but rather the structures we use to define them: basically, a new church and a new political  party. For now, they’re called the jj church and the jj party. Part of the foundation of these new structures is that they are not intended to completely replace existing structures: I can foresee someone meaningfully calling themselves a “jj Republican” or a “jj Methodist.” One ideal of these structures will be to focus on common ground and working together to move forward, to make sure our differences don’t stand in the way of our similarities.

The very first thing we have to agree on, that has to be similar, is what we are trying to do with these structures. We toss around terms like “politics” and “religion” as though we all know exactly what we are talking about and to what extent. But we need to know why the structures exist in the first place… we don’t seek out a religion or political party because we like the colors of the building (or at least we shouldn’t), we seek them out to fill needs within and outside ourself. At its most basic level, religion is an attempt to understand where we as individuals fit in the “grander scheme” of things. At its most basic level, politics is an attempt to understand where we as a society can move forward the “grander scheme” of things. The insistence of separating church and state has always seemed odd to me when clearly the one was little more than an outward, societal take on the other.

To summarize: with the intent of offering a better version of objectively broken modern US politics and religion, I am starting a new church and a new political party. These new structures will be intentionally built to focus on first working around, then eliminating these problems.

Party Like It’s 1996

Glory Days time, here. Back in the day, the mid-90’s day, my second job was at a comic book store. I had learned to read from Donald Duck comics digests, and when Star Wars came out (a life-altering event, for me), Marvel Comics started a Star Wars comic book. That introduced me to the rest of the Marvel Universe, and I was hooked. As an adult, working part time in the comic store was a great way to feed my habit.

A lot was going on in the comics and related fandom worlds at the time. A new thing called Magic, a game where you collected trading cards as playing pieces, was taking over the geek imagination. Although it seemed fascinating, there just wasn’t anything about it that drew me in enough to make the considerable investment in Magic cards.

Then came the Star Wars Collectible/Customizable Card Game.

For months, all my part time earnings went into packs and boxes of Star Wars cards. We played at the store, we played at each other’s houses… we played for hours at the local pizza place on Tuesday nights (thanks, Bertolo!). We played tournaments on Saturdays and at conventions.

What with being able to collect so many cards, and being in the center of a varied group of players, I got pretty good at the game. So good, in fact, I managed to win the tournament at Dragon*Con in 1996, the first year it was held. I still have the unopened box of Premiere I got for a prize.

But that wasn’t the best part of it. Dragon*Con was the first qualifier for the Star Wars CCG championship. Decipher, the company that created the game, flew me and 39 other qualifier winners from literally around the world to Vail, Colorado, where we holed up for the weekend and played cards. I ended up in the middle of the pack (I know it was two away from right at the middle, I was either 18th or 22nd, it’s lost in the fog of time, now), but the experience was amazing.

Decipher released more card sets, I kept playing. Somewhere along the line, Decipher sold out to Wizards of the Coast, the Magic makers. Between fewer players keeping up with the ever-expanding game and other happenings in my own life, I started playing less and less. Once the wife then kids arrived, the Star Wars cards were in boxes in the closet.

Not entirely unexpectedly, my own kids turned into Star Wars fans. When they were young, we watched the movies together, as they got older, we played the video games together.

One day, it became time to play Star Wars cards together.

So my kids got me to dig out my old cards and refresh my memory of Activate, Control, Deploy, Battle, Move, Draw. We had fun.

The limitation was built decks. I still had six or seven decks built from the day, and that’s what the kids and I have used. There’s just a huge amount of cards and playing styles, and with the kids just learning as they go, deck-building isn’t something they’ve shown an interest in, at least yet. To try and scratch that itch, I went back to some of my old comic haunts to see if there were any players left.

Not really, no. The market had moved on, and if you told people you were playing the Star Wars game now, it means something completely different. So online I went.

First stop was the Star Wars CCG Players Committee at https://www.starwarsccg.org, and pay dirt right away: there’s an Online Play link right in the middle of the page. That link led me to the GEMP website at http://tlbiesterfeld.servegame.com/gemp-swccg/, where you can build decks and even play online against folks around the world.

I haven’t even fully explored the GEMP site yet, much less started using all the tools. But this is the kind of thing the internet was literally built for: making the tedium of chasing 120 playing cards around a table into a click-and-drag operation, and bringing together people from far away over the same interests.

May the Force be with you.

Long Time Coming

Okay, so the bad news is I haven’t slept all night for two straight nights.

The good news is it’s because I got interested in something.

After having this goal for way too long, this weekend I finally went through the process of setting up my digital music interface and actually cutting tracks of vocals, acoustic guitar, and electric guitar, while also setting up an M-Audio keyboard controller for keyboards, bass, and drums synths. I used an actual song to test, my own Approximately, and it’s now on SoundCloud and also linked in the menu here on jjewell.com.

This is actually a pretty big one, for me. Getting over the hump on cutting some sort of “baseline” track to build on was a mental block for far too long… but once that foundation was laid, the rest of it came together a lot more quickly than I would have expected. Don’t get me wrong, this is in no way a finished song, but the fact that completed it and it exists and its out there in the world is a big deal I intend to celebrate.

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…

Asheville, NC – evening

Last update from the road, but only just barely.

So why the hell would I stop in Asheville, about 50 minutes from home?  Damned if I know, talk to Roberta Verona, it was her idea.

The last mechanical problem, that “missing,” or just not wanting to take the gas uphills, particularly after running for awhile, popped up again.  I alternated between 60mph down hills and 20mph up hills for about 20 miles into Asheville.  Luckily, if you enter North Carolina from the east on I-40, it’s pretty much straight down for an awful long way.  After getting onto I-26 and wrestling with the question of whether to just tough it out the last few miles, I remembered talking with my dad the night before (and he thought I never listened to him…).  The last thing he said was “Don’t push the RV too hard.”  So, actually, it’s my dad’s fault I’m in a Shoney’s just outside of Asheville.

It feels good to be home already.  An old girlfriend lived in Asheville for awhile when we were together, so I know the city pretty well, and the drive back to Greenville is basically a long driveway for me at this point.  I feel like home.

I can’t wait to introduce Scout and Kato to Crash.  I’m secretly hoping that the boys will kinda team up on Kato, who’s been pretty rude to Scout since she showed up.  No respect for it being his house first.  I just have a feeling Scout and Crash will get along.

The second thing I’m going to do is file the new “big books” I got in San Diego.  The big dogs get special treatment including two Mylar sleeves (one upside down inside the other, to seal without any tape.  We don’t like tape anywhere near a multi-hundred dollar comic book)  and are filed off separately.  This way I get to look at all the coolest stuff without digging around in multiple boxes for it.  Hey, so I’m a geek.  I like it.

After that, I’ll start the arduous unpacking process.  I’m not even going to try to get everything tonight, but I’ll bet all the comics and Atari stuff gets unloaded first.  After that, I may just play until I fall asleep and worry about the rest of it tomorrow.

There will be at least one more trip update, perhaps more as things like photo developing happen.  I’ve also discovered that I have something to say about this whole Clinton thing (on long trips, AM stations stay with you longer than FM, for some reason, so I’ve been listening to Rush Limbaugh take enormous glee in demanding impeachment, indictment, disbarrment, excommunication, deportation,and a good flogging for Mr. Bill.  As usual, the fat man makes some excellent points but fails to reach the appropriate conclusion…).  It doesn’t really fit into the update category, so it looks like I may start using my webspace to shoot off my big bazoo about stuff on some regular basis.  Stay tuned…