Alright, its been a while since my last update. My main focus has been on finding a front-end that I like. A front-end is simply a main screen that lets you scroll through the list of games and select one to play. If you read my previous post, you saw that the default game select screen is pretty crappy and only is useful if you have a keyboard.
After reading a lot of info about various ones and watching some YouTube video demos and tutorials, I thought I would give Hyperspin and Mala a try. But first, I went ahead and trimmed down my collection of games. Rather than deleting ones I didn’t want, I put all of my ROMs in a separate folder and then just copied over the ones that I wanted to have. This way I could easily grab more later if I want them. As of now, I have about 70 games.
So the first one I checked was Mala. Just downloaded it, fired it up, and got the configuration to point to my MAME executable and to the folder that contains my ROMs.
Pressing OK, it launched Mala and I got this.
Much nicer already than the default MAME screen. I can scroll up and down and select a game, and it launches that game. I don’t really care for the default background, which comes from Space Invaders, but luckily Mala has a Layout system that lets you create your own custom layouts. They also provide a bunch of layouts you can download from their website. Here’s just a few of them I tried out:
As you can see, some of them can get pretty cool! Also, if you look at those layouts, you’ll notice a lot of big blank areas on the screen. This is because those are placeholders for things like marquees, or screenshots of the game, so that you get a little preview of the game before selecting it. Which is pretty awesome! However, in order to utilize that stuff, you have to find and download all of those images. Luckily there was a huge zip file that I foundn that had tons of arcade artwork, marquees, screenshots, historical info, etc. that I found and downloaded. Here’s a short video of me starting with one of my favorite layouts and then setting up some of the art options and showing how it changed/updated the main game-select screen.
(yeah, you can hear my boys playing in the background)
Pretty cool! Now it is starting to look a little more professional and complete. But, it would be even cooler if it would play a short video of each game rather than just a single still image. That would really give the user a better preview of what the game and gameplay are really like. Fortunately, Mala does support that! Unfortunately, I could not easily find a bulk download of a bunch of arcade videos to use. So I had to make my own. So, I found a YouTube ripper site where you can enter in a Youtube video address and basically save the video to your computer. I then did that for all 70+ games in my list. So this took a lot of time. But here’s how it turned out when I set it up.
Now THAT is pretty cool! It also lets you setup game lists. For example, if you wanted to have a list of all the 2 player games, or maybe you want a list of games in each decade. To test this out, I setup a list of games that utilize a trackball control. Here you can see the setup window open on the right where I set it up and the result of it running on the left.
You simply press LEFT or RIGHT to go between the various game lists. By default, it comes with an “All Games” list as well as a “Most Played”, which shows which games you’ve played the most. So that is pretty neat.
Finally, Mala comes with a Layout editor that lets you setup your own layout. You have to provide the background images and things like that. But I discovered it is just as easy to grab one of the layouts I downloaded and simply edit/change the background image that it comes with to essentially make it my own. To test that point, I created a background and launched it. This is what it looked like.
This isn’t anything like what I’m wanting to make, but I just wanted to see that I could do it. Pretty awesome.
Now that I’ve given Mala a shot, I figured I’d try out Hyperspin. If you spend any time at all researching front-ends, you’ll find that Hyperspin is considered the gold standard. It’s very fancy. Has a lot of cool art and animation, and supports dozens and dozens of different emulators. Feel free to search YouTube for HyperSpin and you’ll see a bunch of cool videos where people show off their Hyperspin setups. However, it is also by far the most complex and difficult to get setup and running.
So I downloaded Hyperspin. Then had to download an update/patch for it. Then found that I needed to download a companion app called RocketLauncher to help go through the configuration and setup. I spent probably 5-6 hours on this, between reading tutorials, watching video tutorials and playing with various settings, and I still had not yet got it launching my games or even reading from my collection of ROMs. I’m ditching Hyperspin. Mala was SO much easier to setup and I’m really happy with its flexibility and customization options. I think Hyperspin would’ve been worth the time investment if I was trying to run a bunch of other emulators along with mame. But since that’s all I want, it is a bit overkill and not worth the amount of time it takes.
A side note, there are people out there that have downloaded all of the emulators and thousands of games for those emulators, and setup Hyperspin correctly to work with them, copying that setup to external hard drives, and then trying to sell them to people that want to do projects like this for a lot of money. But I’d much rather do it myself, save the money, and be proud of the effort I put into it.
So, Mala it is! I will either pick one of my favorite layouts and customize it to use my own background layouts, or maybe I’ll mess with the Layout Creator tool they have and create a full layout myself from scratch. Either way, I’m excited and happy with this decision. There are other front-ends out there that I could look into, but again, I’m really happy with Mala, so I’m going with it.
Next steps are to get an old PC setup an make sure it all runs nicely on there, then get buttons and joysticks ordered and configured!