MAME, the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator and darling of fanatical retro arcade gamers, is going open source for the first time in its 18-year history. MAMEdev.org, the non-profit group behind the emulator’s continuing development, announced the move in a surprise tweet.
This has apparently confused some around the Internet, but it’s actually a simple and important distinction. For as long as I can remember, the project has always made the source code available under a modified BSD license that prohibited commercial applications, and it’s already up on GitHub for a while. But now it’s official that anyone can contribute to or modify the code base.
The current version of MAME, 1.61, supports several thousand classic arcade games from the late 1970s through modern times. It’s available in various versions for Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms. The main goal of the project has always been the preservation and reference of the inner workings of emulated arcade machines in case the last known machine of a particular title stops working and would otherwise disappear forever.
MAME“Of course, in order to preserve the games and demonstrate that the emulated behavior matches the original, you must also be able to actually play the games. This is considered a nice side effect, and is not MAME’s primary focus,” the developers say on their site.
MAME engineer Miodrag Milanovic told Gamasutra the BSD license was put in place not only to prohibit reselling it with ROMs or other ‘misuse,’ but to also prevent museums that charged entry fees from showing MAME in exhibits. “There was intention to do this for years,” Milanovic said. “Our aim is to help legal license owners in distributing their games based on MAME platform, and to make MAME become a learning tool for developers working on development boards.”
ExtremeTech has covered MAME over the years, including in a 2004 print book from Wiley titled Project Arcade: Build Your Own Arcade Machine, and in a retro gaming blowout I wrote in 2010 that I’ve been meaning to rewrite and update for a while now. I’ve used MAME pretty much since its release in 1997; as fans of the project know, as MAME expanded and became more accurate, you had to download different (some say improved and more accurate) ROM images in order to play the same games as before.
Speaking of which, the latest shift to pure open source doesn’t mean MAME developers will begin packaging ROMs with the code, of course. The ROMs themselves remain under copyright from all of their respective owners. The MAME project is also fully integrated with MESS, the Multi-Emulator Super System. All of this reminds me, it’s probably time to break out the X-Arcade TankStick Pro and get back to work on improving my Missile Command and Kung-Fu Master skills.