New games with their fancy textures, 3D modeling, and immersive environments have their charm, sure, but what if you crave some old-school arcade gaming? Read on to see how you can turn your computer into a virtual arcade cabinet.
Vintage games ran on hardware significantly less powerful than that found in modern desktop computers. With the right software, a joystick or two (if you want to make the experience feel more authentic), and a little digging online to find your favorite games, it’s easy to play the arcade hits of your childhood.
What Do I Need?
For this tutorial, you’ll need a small number of free items and potentially a few option items if you want to go the extra mile with your arcade emulation.
- Arcade or Game Controller (Variable price)
- XPadder ($10) or Joy2Key (Free)
- USB Drive (Variable price)
The three optional items will come into play if you wish to easily map your joysticks/game controllers to the arcade emulator (see our guide to setting up an Xbox360 controller with Windows using Xpadder) and/or if you wish to make it a portable system. MAMEUI64 and Xpadder/Joy2Key are all portable and can be tucked on a USB drive for gaming fun on the road.
What Exactly Is MAME?
MAME stands for Multiple Arcade Machine Emulation. Much like there are emulation programs that allow you to play old console games on modern hardware, MAME allows you to play old arcade games on modern hardware. MAME was originally the brain child of Nicola Salmoria and released in 1997 as a way to combat the slow disappearance of vintage arcade games. Salmoria passed the coding torch and a series of directors have maintained the project with the help of thousands of programmers from around the world.
What started as a bid to preserve old hardware and games like Pac-Man and Missile Command has grown into a highly developed project with monthly releases and support for emulation of hundreds of arcade-cabinet hardware configurations and thousands of games. You can read more about the history and current development of MAME here.
MAME is, by default, a command-line tool. While you’re free to use MAME in such a fashion to launch your games, various programmers over the years have, thankfully, whipped up a more user-friendly interface or two. For this tutorial, we’ll be using MAMEUI64, a Windows front end for MAME that comes prepackaged with MAME, a GUI, and a large game database that contains valuable compatibility information about the games. Let’s unpack and run MAMEGUI64 to get started.
Installing and Configuring MAMEGUI64
Installing MAMEGUI64 is a snap. The application is fully portable (although it is dependent on .NET 4.0 and, for some of the more advanced arcade games, DirectX) so you can simply extract the MAMEUI64 folder to a location of your choosing.
Inside that folder, you will find nearly two dozen folders and a handful of files but there are only two we need to concern ourselves with:
The executable launches the GUI/MAME module and the /roms/ folder is the default location for storing your ROM files (You can change the default director and/or add additional directories from within the user interface but we opted to keep everything tidy and within the emulator’s existing directory structure).
When you first launch MAMEUI64, you might be shocked to see how many games it comes with:
Before your heart bursts with the joy over the thousands of hours you’re about to sink into playing every vintage arcade game imaginable, we’ll have to rain on your parade. The initial view in MAMEUI64 is the All Games view which is essentially a giant database of all known arcade game ROMs. It doesn’t come with all those ROMs, it just comes with a very handy database that tells you valuable information about the ROMs that are out there like whether or not they work with MAME (and to what degree they do work, e.g. they have video output but no sound output).
To see the actual games you can play (games you have the actual ROM for and are located in your /roms/ folder), click on the Available entry in the sidebar. If this is your first launch and you haven’t populated your /roms/ folder, the Game column will be empty.
Let’s grab some free game ROMs now. The developers of MAME have a selection of games on their website that game designers from the 1970s and 1980s have specifically released to the public.
Hit up this page to browse the selection of free arcade ROMS; the selection is fairly sparse but there are more than enough ROMs for you to conduct tests on your emulation setup before beginning the process of scouring the internet for additional ROM sets.
Once you’ve downloaded a few, we downloaded Side Trak and Alien Arena, copy them to the previously mentioned /roms/ folder. The games won’t automatically appear in the Available games tab, you’ll have to either restart the application or go to View — Refresh:
Once the MAMEUI64 checks the directory and then checks the ROMs in it, they’ll appear in the list of available games.
It’s worth noting here that unlike many other kinds of emulators MAME can be rather particular. The project is still under active development and getting better with each release. In order to keep up with improvements, ROMs are also updated and released. It’s quite possible to have a ROM that worked well with version 0.02 of MAME but doesn’t work properly with version 0.12—to that end, if you really get into arcade game emulation it’s worth keeping your old copy of MAME as you upgrade overtime just to ensure backward compatibility with your collection.
Playing Games with MAMEUI64
To load your first game after refreshing the interface to properly display your new ROMs, simply right-click on it and select Play. The game will load and display a series of screens prior to showing the game as it would appear to an arcade goer—these screens include MAME diagnostics and can include the boot screen for the arcade machine itself.
Once you’ve clicked through these screens (either by typing OK or hitting enter, depending on the screen) your game will load:
The default controller buttons for a keyboard and mouse setup are as follows:
- 5 – Insert Coin
- 1 – Start
- Arrows – Move
- Ctrl – Action Button 1
- Alt – Action Button 2
- Space – Action Button 3
- Mouse – Analog Control (needed for some games)
- P – Pause
- ESC – Quit MAME
- F2 – Service Mode
- Tab – MAME Options Menu
There are several things to keep in mind while playing with MAME. First, unlike console emulators, you’ll need to use the 5 buttons to feed in a bunch of virtual coins in order to play. Second, be wary of the ESC key, pressing it is just like pulling the plug on the machine and will dump you out of MAME and into the MAMEGUI64 interface. TAB is one of the handiest buttons in the emulator as it allows you to quickly pull up a variety of useful submenus like the key bindings (both for the general interface and for the specific game you’re playing if it has special key bindings).
If you want to mess around with the key bindings within MAME (whether to change them or to record them so you can map them with XPadder or another helper application) you just need to press Tab –> Input (general or this Game depending on which you want to alter) –> Player 1.
There you’ll find a veritable laundry list of key bindings you can change although, once you get past the first two dozen or so, you start getting into game/hardware specific bindings often used for obscure and specialty games.
Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the key bindings and/or configured your controller, all that’s left to do is sit back and enjoy some retro gaming!
Further Reading and Additional Adventures in Retro Gaming
If you’re interested in trying out retro gaming on a variety of platforms, check out some of our prior articles about game emulation including:
- Play SNES Games on Your iPad with Wiimote Support
- N64oid Brings N64 Emulation to Android Devices
- Play Your Favorite DOS Games in XP, Vista, and Windows 7
- How to Hack Your Wii for Homebrew Games and DVD Playback
- Play Retro Nintendo Games Right Inside Your Browser
- How To Play Your Favorite Retro Video Games on Your Windows PC
For further reading on MAME and ROMs, Google is definitely your friend. That said, here are some handy links to get you started:
Between these resources and a little poking and prodding to find ROM files for your favorite retro games, there’s no end to the fun you can have with a MAME setup.
Have a tip, trick, or sweet custom MAME cabinet to share? Sound off in the comments!
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How can I play classic PC games? ›
To play old school console games on your computer, you need two things: an emulator and a ROM. An emulator is a piece of software that mimics the hardware of an old-school console, giving your computer a way to open and run these classic games. A ROM is a ripped copy of the actual game cartridge or disc of yesterday.How do I install MAME on my PC? ›
Installing MAME. Navigate to the release page on MAME's official website at http://www.mamedev.org/release.html. This page features the latest releases and updates for MAME. Click on the latest .exe link for your Windows system, then select the option to save the .exe file to your desktop.How do I get old games to work on Windows 10? ›
You can access Windows 10 compatibility options through the application Properties menu. Select the old game you want to open, then right-click and select Properties. Select the Compatibility tab. Use the Compatibility mode option to run your application in a previous version of Windows.How do you emulate a retro game on PC? ›
If you own a game physically, you are likely to emulate or own a ROM of the game. However, there's no legal precedent in the United States to say it's illegal. There is no trial on record of any company going to court over emulators or ROMs and their use.Is it legal to emulate arcade games? ›
Emulators are 100% legal, as is the process of downloading them. They are no different to other programs you might download such as word processing or music player software. Downloading and uploading ROMs is illegal, however, so make sure you use your own game files.Is MAME the same as arcade? ›
MAME stands for Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator. It's a piece of software that you run to replicate the arcade machine, then play the original code for the game on. In theory, the game should run exactly as it did in the arcade. The first version of MAME (v.Why is MAME so complicated? ›
MAME is not a software package that tries to do all the work for you to find compatible games and make them run for you. MAME already does so much, and tries to present a UI that is as easy to understand as possible, but it takes time, patience, research, and experimentation to learn how to use it.Why are my MAME Roms not working? ›
This error can be caused by the game roms not being loaded properly, a misplaced EXE file, or video problems. To fix the issue, try the following. Ensure game roms are in the proper folder. The EXE file that runs MAMEUI must be in the same location as the roms folder.Why do old games not work on new computers? ›
Because old games were designed to run on old operating systems or sometimes can't identify newer hardware. So if you want to play old games your best bet is to play them with a virtual machine running old Operating system or emulators.
Do Windows 95 games work on Windows 10? ›
For example, the 64-bit architecture of modern operating systems like Windows 10 simply don't support the older 16-bit architecture found in Windows 95 or Windows 98. This means you can't always run Windows 95 games in Windows 10 just like that.Can I play old games on Windows 11? ›
As a result, most old games were history as they were not good enough to stick. 16-bit Software – Windows operating systems with 64-bit software also don't support any 16-bit games software. Therefore, if you want to play old games in windows 11, it won't be possible.Are emulators safe for PC? ›
Not every emulator is safe because you may download viruses while downloading an emulator. However, if you get your emulator from a reputable and reliable source, you can be sure it's safe. Reliable emulator developers have no reason to infect your system through their products.Is MAME legal? ›
Owning and distributing MAME itself is legal in most countries, as it is merely an emulator.How much RAM do I need for emulation? ›
2 GB RAM(DDR3/DDR4/DDR5) minimum, 8 GB RAM recommended. 2 GB of available disk space(HDD/SSD) minimum, 4 GB Recommended (500 MB for IDE + 1.5 GB for Android SDK and emulator system image)Is it illegal to use Bluestacks? ›
Yes, using Bluestacks is 100% legal as it only emulates an operating system (Android) that isn't illegal itself. However, the same can't be said when it comes to emulators for Gameboy or Nintendo because you need to download ROMs (these are protected by copyright) for them to work, which is illegal.Is PCSX2 illegal? ›
Here's a great guide that lays out the basics of configuring PCSX2 and its graphics settings without overloading you with information. It also touches on the one complicated part of setting up the emulator: the PS2 BIOS. While the PCSX2 code is completely legal, Sony owns the code of the PS2 BIOS.How can I legally play ROMs? ›
In order to play ROMs on a computer, you'll need an emulator. An emulator is a piece of software that mimics the original video game console hardware. The emulator will then read the digital copy of the game (the ROM) and you'll be able to play the game.Can I play retro games on PC? ›
The Easiest Way To Play Your Favorite Retro Games On PC! New ...Is emulating pirating? ›
Emulating a videogame is not piracy. But if that videogame was downloaded off an unauthorized website, then that is piracy. Just understand this, emulation is not piracy. An emulation company once won a lawsuit against Sony after being sued to take the emulator down.
Do emulators cost money? ›
The emulators are free. The games are free. But, uhhh, you might not be if you download them.What machines can MAME emulate? ›
MAME is the prime example of a jack of all trades; it can technically emulate consoles like the PlayStation and Nintendo 64, but for those consoles you're better off going with our recommended emulators as they may be more performant or more compatible than MAME's own drivers.Is MAME a good emulator? ›
MAME is the great-grandfather of all modern arcade emulators. It's the go-to choice for most people, especially anyone that wants to set up an all-in-one machine in their home. MAME is currently on version 0.229 and can handle almost any arcade title you throw its way, including a huge number of different fan hacks.Which is better MAME or JAMMA? ›
For all intents and purposes they are not the same thing at all nor even in the same category. If you are looking to scratch build a machine capable of playing multiple arcade games you are looking for Mame. If you are looking to restore original hardware then concern yourself with JAMMA.How do I run MAME? ›
Now the game rom should run.
- To insert a quarter, press 5.
- For 1 player, press 1. For 2 players, press 2.
- P pauses the rom.
- You can press Tab to access the options in MAME.
Ok, so first you need to download the game, and place it in your Rom folder, located in the Mame folder. Do not unzip the games... leave them as is. Then Fire up your mame, and click on "All games" option, which should be located on the left column, to display the list of all games.What file type are MAME roms? ›
|.ZIP||MAME Game ROM|
|.68K||SEGA Mega Drive & Genesis Classics ROM File|
|.CFG||MAME Configuration File|
|.CHD||Compressed Hunks of Data File|
The BIOS file just needs to be in the same directory as the zip file of the game. For example, a Neo Geo game, you need the Neo Geo BIOS in the same directory. It gunks up your game list in EmulationStation, but it works well.How do I run mame ROMs on Retroarch? ›
How to Play MAME Arcade Games on RetroArch - YouTubeWhat are Romsets? ›
romset (plural romsets) (video games) A group of related ROM images required to emulate a particular game.
How can I play old PC games for free? ›
- Abandonware DOS.
- My Abandonware.
- Games Nostalgia.
- RGB Classic Games.
- The Internet Archive.
Here are the best websites for you to play retro games online.
- Old Gameshelf. Miss the days of the NES, 8-bit pixel graphics? ...
- Retro Games. ...
- Classic Reload. ...
- Emulator Games Online. ...
- Play Classic Games. ...
- My Emulator Online.
- Abandonware Dos.
- RGB Classic Games.
- My Abandonware.
- Games Nostalgia.
- Honorable Mention: The Internet Archive.
- Go to the CD or DVD and right click the installer.
- Go to "properties" then go to the "compatibility" tab.
- Select "Run this program in compatibility mode for:"
- Select "Windows 95"
- Run the installer as administrator.
- Go to the Shortcut of the game and right click it.
- 1: RetroGames.cz. We liked this website for how well they organized so many choices. ...
- 2: Software Library: MS-DOS Games. Software Library: MS-DOS Games brags about having over 4,200 DOS games alone. ...
- 3: Classic Reload. ...
- 4: GamezHero. ...
- 5: Play Retro Games.
- Step 1: Download the DOOM game to your computer. ...
- Step 2: Unzip the archive on your PC and copy the folder to your Android Device. ...
- Step 3: Copy the folder to your Android Device. ...
- Step 4: Install and Enable the free GamePad application on your Android Device to get cursor controls.
For example, the 64-bit architecture of modern operating systems like Windows 10 simply don't support the older 16-bit architecture found in Windows 95 or Windows 98. This means you can't always run Windows 95 games in Windows 10 just like that.How can I play old 90s computer games? ›
Use an Emulator
If a game is too old or too broken to make it work natively, an emulator can help. One of the most popular emulators for Windows is call DOSBox(Opens in a new window). This lets you run games designed to work in DOS directly in modern versions of Windows.
- Method 1: Use Flashpoint To Play Flash Games.
- Method 2: Check For Flash Game Archive.
- Method 3: Play Games Using Internet Archive.
- Method 4: Use OperaGX (Our Recommendation)
Some Windows 10 XP games can run well on Windows 10 PC. However some others are not fully compatible. When the game won't start on your new PC, try launching it in the compatibility mode. In addition, I suggest that you go to the store to find similar games compatible with Windows 10.
What does GOG mean in games? ›
GOG.com (formerly Good Old Games) is a digital distribution platform for video games and films. It is operated by GOG sp. z o.o., a wholly owned subsidiary of CD Projekt based in Warsaw, Poland.Where can I download old retro games? ›
Old Games Download is an archival website providing a database of abandonware games from the 70s, 80s, 90s and early 00s. You can rediscover hundreds of lost games from your childhood released on various platforms, including Arcade, Commodore 64, DOS, PlayStation, Sega, Windows and more.Is GOG better than steam? ›
Both Steam and GOG have their strengths and weaknesses, but neither is remarkably better than the other. If you want classic games with actual ownership, GOG is the best bet — but if you're looking for an easy platform for online multiplayer with your friends, Steam should be your go-to platform.Will Windows 7 run old games? ›
You can't launch a game if it doesn't support the newer system. But if you have Windows 7, you'll be able to run most older games. You can usually launch games that worked on Windows XP, but you can't do that on Windows 10.Can you run Windows 98 games on Windows 7? ›
Ideally if the games are too old and are for Windows 98 and previous versions might not work with Windows 7 because of the compatibility issues. The 'DOSBox' is capable of emulating many types of graphics and sound hardware and does help if you have hardware compatibility issues.How do I run old programs on Windows 7 64-bit? ›
Right-click the .exe file, or a shortcut to the .exe file, and select Properties. Click the Compatibility tab. Then check Run this program in compatibility mode for and select an appropriate option. Then try launching it again.