MAME Diary 015: Frontend « Jamesonline

MAME Diary 015: Frontend

This final part of the MAME Cab saga is all about Maximus. I don’t mean this one.

I mean this one.

Kindly make up your own jokes about my blog posts and arses.

Thank you.

Maximus Arcade basically manages interaction with many different arcade and console emulators while keeping the Windows environment hidden. It’s easy to setup and it doesn’t require any additional Frameworks or Runtimes to function. The download contains both the Frontend and a Skin Editor should you wish to configure it further. It will run on either Windows 2000, Windows XP or Windows Vista, and the trial version will work fully for 30 days at which point a registration code is required for further use. The registration allows you to use Maximus on two computers that you own at your residence, though there are discounts available for multiple licenses, and once you have used it for that long I don’t think you’ll want to be without it.

The long, long list of emulators that Maximus Arcade supports include:
* Built-in Adobe Flash Player
* Built-in Screensaver
* 3DO
* Atari 2600
* Atari 5200
* Atari 7800
* Atari Jaguar
* Atari Lynx
* Bandai Wonderswan Color
* Batch Files
* Coleco ColecoVision
* Commodore 64
* Commodore 128
* Commodore Amiga
* Daphne
* Future Pinball
* GCE Vectrex
* Kawaks
* Magnavox Odyssey2
* Mattel Intellivision
* Nebula
* NEC PC Engine
* NEC Turbo-Grafx-16
* Nintendo Entertainment System
* Nintendo Super NES
* Nintendo 64
* Nintendo Gameboy
* Nintendo Gameboy Color
* Nintendo Gameboy Advance
* Raine
* Sega Genesis
* Sega 32X
* Sega CD
* Sega Master System
* Sega Game Gear
* Sega Dreamcast
* SNK Neo-Geo
* SNK Neo-Geo Pocket
* SNK Neo-Geo Pocket Color
* Sony Playstation
* Visual Pinball
* Windows Media Player

Clearly I have not tried them all, but the ones I have tried worked great. There was just one issue I had when I tried the Z26 emulator for Atari 2600 games. A lot of them required an [F1] key to start the game and I couldn’t see an option to remap it, so that would have meant adding a key to my cab should I have wanted Atari 2600 games on there. Actually I think
they are still on there and the emulator is still set up but I just took the launch option out of the Maximus menu. Plus, that is more an issue with the emulator rather than the Frontend but it is worth bearing in mind.

As I mentioned, Maximus is extremely versatile and as well as just managing your emulators it can be used to do things like:
* Filter out mature content from your MAME games list.
* Use a universal exit switch to quit all emulators and return to selection mode.
* Manage both horizontal and vertical layout options for use on cocktail cabs.
* Create and modify multiple favorites list.
* Launch program shortcuts and batch files.
* Display game screenshots, movies, flyers and marquees within the interface.
* Take screen captures during game play.
* Jump through game lists alphabetically or a page at a time.
* Play videos in various formats.
* Play ambient sound effects in .wav or .mp3 format during selection mode.
* Display a screensaver that uses an attract mode to launch games.

Some of these features gave me ideas and allowed me to add nice finishing touches to the cab interface but first let’s get Maximus set up to control M.A.M.E.

This is made easier because Maximus doesn’t install as such, you just need to extract the zip file to your hard drive and run the executable inside. Should you make a mistake in configuring it, or just want to start again from default settings, you can simply delete it and extract it again to the same location and start over.

To get started launch the Maximus executable and on first run it will notify you that there are no emulators set up and it will go straight into the the configuration screens. To manually go into these screens later use either [CTRL] + [P] or right click and select Preferences. Select the “Configuration” tab and then select M.A.M.E. from the pull down menu and either fill in the file paths or browse for them by clicking on the button next to the Executable field.

You will need to use at least M.A.M.E. 0.90 or a newer version because unlike older versions they allow the MAME executable to generate an XML game list which Maximus needs to generate its file descriptions that it shows in the menu. I tried the same M.A.M.E. 0.66 that I had used on DOS and it did not work. My game lists were empty.

After selecting the M.A.M.E. executable you can choose paths for the folders containing the Media (ROMs), Images, Movies and Marquees if they are not filled automatically. These pictures and videos will then be displayed alongside the game in the Maximus menu when you are browsing through your game lists.

Select the secondary tab under “Configuration” labeled “Launch” and verify that the command information is: %file -skip_gameinfo -nowindow. This is the command that Maximus will send to M.A.M.E. when it launches a game so any settings such as resolutions to run at could be applied here.

Select the secondary tab under “Configuration” labeled “Scan” and make sure that the “Media Extensions” field has .zip in it so that it will search your ROM folder for .zip files, and make sure that the “Scan within subfolders” option is checked and that the “Force rescan of media folder” is checked too. This force rescan should only be checked either when you first run, when you change the ROM folder or when you change the folder’s contents. It simply refreshes your game list to reflect the folder’s contents. Bear in mind it will run every time Maximus launches though, so normally it would be unchecked to speed up the Maximus, and therefore the cab’s, launch time.

Select the secondary tab under “Options” labeled “MAME” and make sure all of the switches are selected based on your preference for resolution for example. You may need to deselect the “Disable unplayable roms” switch and rescan if you receive an alert that no roms are present. You may also need to deselect the “Disable clones” switch and rescan if you receive
an alert that no roms are present.

Select the “Display Order” tab and make sure that only MAME is in the right hand field by deleting all entries and then adding MAME again. Select the “Close” button at the bottom of the preferences window and Maximus will now rescan the new folder paths and the M.A.M.E. ROMs then present you with your game list. If you have set up the images path correctly, and have got game images in the folder, they will be displayed on the left hand side.

You can test a game if you like but it is best to wait as we have not configured our controls properly yet.

Press [CTRL] + [P] or right click and select Preferences again to go back into the configuration pages and select the “Options” tab where you will see the “Setup1” and “Setup2” tab. In here are the controls that Maximus will use for all emulators not just M.A.M.E., so bear that in mind when you set up the controls for your games. The first thing to do is to save a new control scheme and give it a name (you will see that it is currently set to “default”). If you create a new one and make a mess of it, you can always revert to the default settings by choosing “default” in the scheme list again.

The main options you will need to configure are those for navigating the Maximus menus, configuring your favourites lists, selecting games and exiting games. Once you have your controls mapped correctly save your control scheme again so that you can always restore it later and then feel free to try M.A.M.E. out. Everything should work as planned.

Now you can go back into the configuration screens and under the “Display Order” tab add Visual Pinball to the list and set the file paths for it the same way you did for M.A.M.E., remembering to force a rescan on the first launch then test it before making any adjustments that you need to.

All of your emulators should now be added to the “Display Order” list and set up in the same way though SK Jukebox does not need any additional file paths for its artwork. You just set the “Media” folder to the the parent folder containing all of your albums, and as long as you have a relevant artwork file (i.e. folder.jpg, cover.jpg, folder.bmp etc) in each album folder SK Jukebox will display it for you.

It really couldn’t be simpler.

I mentioned earlier that seeing some of the options and features available in Maximus gave me a few ideas, and one of them is a folder called ambience. What this does is gives you a folder
path where you can put .mp3 or .wav sound files and then when you run Maximus it will play these files as ambient noise in the background. If you have multiple files in there it will play them randomly but I just have one file in there and it is a recording of a real 1980s arcade with the actual sounds of 1980s games being played. There are separate Volume levels for Master volume and ambient volume too so that your game can be played at full volume but ambient sounds in the menus can be quieter and more, well, ambient.

Sometimes it’s cool just to have your cab running and playing the ambient sounds as though it were sat in a real arcade, and you can imagine yourself as a child being back there all over again.

Don’t forget to wash your hands before tea though.

Maximus also gave me the idea for using Windows Media Player when I saw it mentioned in the options. If like me you own the Digital Leisure DVD sets you will know that contained on them are full uninterrupted play throughs of the games, so you can just sit back and watch Dragon’s Lair or Space Ace for example being played through correctly.

I copied these video files over to my cab and added Media Player to the “Display Order” list then selected the videos folder in the file paths window, and now I can watch them on my cab. I made a few minor changes to Media Player so that it ran full screen and didn’t show the controls. You can also set these videos as a screensaver if you like which looks good. In fact you can set any emulator as a screen saver and after the configured timeout it will launch and play a random game. Personally I don’t have a screensaver set as I use the ambient settings which just loops nicely and gives a constant stream of arcade sounds.

Now all there was left to do was to swap the DOS PC out of the cab and put the new Maximus one in, but before I did that however I backed the whole thing up to another hard drive in the PC using HD Clone. So there are actually two hard drives in the PC which are identical to each other but one is disconnected
until it may be needed (hopefully never).

The amount of disk space this whole install will consume will depend mainly on the M.A.M.E. version you are running and the size of your music library of course, but mine clocks in at around seventy Gigabytes. That’s why I chose the method I did to back it up. Any other way would be impractical so now in the event of a hard drive failure I would simply need to switch over to the new one without having to go through all of the setup process again.

In practise I would run HD Clone again and back up my reserve drive to another new one which would then be disconnected until it may be needed, and because I don’t have both connected all the time, nothing is being written to the backup drive and corrupting it. It simply serves as a snapshot of the original setup I had configured.

Finally I am happy with it and in fact the only thing I would do differently should there be a next time would be to use a bigger monitor and perhaps some more lit buttons. The results of all this hard work can be seen in this demo video of my shiny new Maximus Arcade cab.

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