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Randy Hoffman InterViewed! - September 14, '00 by JoseQ
Not so long ago, a site by the name of MAME Targets emerged from out of nowhere, building a huge resource of information where all games not supported by MAME are, or will be listed. The man behind this great site is none other than Randy Hoffman, a MAMEDEV whom spends a lot of time and effort in making sure his site shows correct information which can only begin to give you a sneak peek at the future of MAME. I sent him a few questions and sure enough he was very kind to answer them. And here they are, both the questions and the answers, for you to enjoy on a commemorative day in which he adds 'E' related stuff to MAME targets... 'E' for EmuViews... Read on!

1. Typical first question. Would you mind introducing yourself (not a yes or no question) to the public?

Not a "yes" or "no" question? Then my answer is, "Certainly!" ;-)

I'm 33, Christian, single, and live in a typically cluttered bachelor apartment outside of Pittburgh, Pennsylvania, with 5000 of my pet books. I work as a technical writer, cranking out manuals and sales brochures for computer-communication equipment (modems, routers, KVM switches--*lots* of KVM switches!--, etc.). My major hobby, besides emulation, is science fiction and fantasy literature, movies, games, and music (not TV, I just don't watch it any more):

  • I was president of Pittsburgh's science fiction club for two years;
  • For ten years I helped run the local general-interest science fiction convention (but it's on hiatus now, we can't get an affordable bid from any venues, they all make too much money on wedding receptions!);
  • I've won a couple of fan awards for some of the Oz stories I've written and some of the "filk" songs (SF/fantasy folk music) I've written/composed;
  • And I'm part of a boardgaming/roleplaying group whose roleplay GM has been running a continuous series of Fourth Age MERP campaigns for the last thirteen years of real time.

    "Get a life"? What life? Nope, sorry, don't know what you're talking about... [maniacal grin]

    2. How did you come into the world of emulation?

    I sneaked in the door marked "Employees Only." Actually, let me give you a hideously long and circuitous biographical answer because I'm feeling nostalgic. I was about 15 when I first started hanging out downtown in my old homestead. I had a paper route and some spare change, and discovered the precious few arcade games our town had to offer. The local 5&10 (remember those?) had Ms. Pac-Man, Battlezone, and Kick; to this day, Ms. Pac-Man is still my favorite arcade machine, and the arcade game I'm best at. Later on, they brought in Jr. Pac-Man, then Mappy; in the meantime, the pizza shop down the street got a bootleg Ms. Pac-Man that used Pac-Man Plus graphics (I'm still hoping somebody finds and dumps one of those machines someday). An arcade/pool hall briefly opened, where I got good enough at Bump 'n' Jump to win high-score coupons for free pizza (I don't think anybody else in my hometown ever discovered the trick of going through whole levels without crashing *anybody*). When I went to community college, another Ms. Pac-Man machine was there waiting for me.
    Two of the memories I'm least proud of revolve around arcade games, in fact. One time I got so angry and desperate at not being able to turn in a good game of Jr. Pac-Man before I ran out of money that I went and begged a quarter off a lady "for charity." And once I even blew off a college final playing Ms. Pac-Man. Sigh.
    My first real experience with home computers was in the summer of 1983 when I visited my cousin in California, who had a TRS-80 (complete with the external floppy drive that was noisier than a jet engine and prone to overheating). The TRS-80's first disk-based game, "Sands of Egypt," had just come out; we solved it in three days. That fall our school installed a computer lab full of Commodore 64s, and I thought they were the greatest thing since sliced meatballs. Along with the computers, we had all of the diskettes with Commodore's "educational" BASIC games on them; first I hacked the boring Star Trek game to add a cloaked Klingon ship, the Genesis Weapon, and a couple of other goodies, then I hacked the Dambusters game so that if you shot out the *bottom* of the dam before you could shoot *through* it, successive shots into that area would destroy the text at the bottom of the screen, then travel right out of video memory into program memory and eventually crash the game.
    My first attempts at writing games from scratch were BASIC ports of the board games Score Four, Mastermind, and Isolation; if porting is the handmaiden of emulation, I was definitely getting closer. (I think I still have those games around somewhere; I hope they're not on the diskette whose main directory at Sector 0 Track 0 got trashed by a read error--anyone know how to recover from that?) Later, at college, I wrote sections of a huge parody text adventure in FORTRAN (yes, a *text adventure* in FORTRAN), and, during the time that the software-vs.-software mayhem of Core War was being popularized in the pages of Scientific American, I wrote a Core War compiler and main program in COBOL (yes, a *compiler* in COBOL--I was a very sick puppy); those programs no longer exist except in code printouts.
    For years after I got out of college, I had too many bills to pay to seriously think about buying a computer. Then in January of 1998 my uncle gave me the one I have now, which runs Windows 95 and Internet browsers fine despite being roadkill on the highway of Moore's Law--a 120 MHz i486 DX4 with 24 MB of RAM. One of my friends pointed me to the most amazing MAME site of the time, which was called Atmospherical Heights (let's pause for a memorial moment of silence); once I had downloaded MAME32 and played a couple games, I was hooked. I've been following MAME (and, to a lesser extent, the rest of the arcade-game emulation scene) ever since.

    3. What fascinated you the most then? What fascinates you the most now?

    The thing that has always fascinated me about MAME is its grand scope. When you stop and think about its stated goal for a second, it's really quite insane: To document and emulate every arcade game in existence--with a single software program. How many thousands of games are there? How many CPUs, sound chips, graphics chips, memory-banking schemes, protection mechanisms, etc., etc., have to be understood, reproduced in software code, tested, and (and a lot of people don't realize how hard this is) maintained and adapted no matter how MAME's architecture changes over time? I'm a very completist, gestalt-oriented person and have always been strongly drawn toward sprawling documentation projects like this.

    4. How about MAME Targets, what motivated you to start that project?

    Well, first off let me say that if I could, I would help the MAME project by contributing drivers and other code. But unfortunately my current machine is so feeble that it won't even *run* MAME anymore, much less *compile* it. One of these days I will break down and buy a decent computer, but until then I have to find other ways to help the team.
    I was very glad when sites with lists of unemulated games started popping up, because when I first got into the scene at least a third of all of the messages on the message boards were "name that game" requests. But I noticed that these sites tended to fall into two categories. On the one hand were those with lists that tried to be comprehensive, but threw in everything but the kitchen sink: rumored games, games mentioned once in single Usenet postings, games listed under two or three different spellings, even plush-prize crane games. So they weren't very reliable. On the other hand were lists that were fairly accurate, but limited to certain manufacturers, or certain time frames, or what have you. Bobby Tribble's unMAMEd Games site is a great example of this: He has a superb collection of information, but he's not all that interested in post-1990 games and I don't blame him. For a while there, during the early part of this year, I was trying to help him, and in the process I got semi-acquainted with several MAMEDEVs. I told Phil Stroffolino about wanting to put together my own site with a list of unemulated arcade games that was both comprehensive *and* accurate; the next thing I knew, I had been shanghaied into MAMEDEV myself, and given Web space for the site (thanks again, Tim!). Now I know what the curators at the Smithsonian must feel like: The MAMEDEV archives contain a lot of priceless information, but it's so jumbled up and mixed with strange and unknown junk that it's a big challenge to get it all sorted out.

    5. What has been your experience in creating such a site? Have you found games that have surprised you as being non-emulated?

    As for the experience, it's been just plain a lot of work. Compiling lists of games from large numbers of sources, especially when those sources disagree about titles, release years, etc., is frustrating and tedious. But it can also be very interesting: For one thing, I'm forever running across (and people keep mailing me with) strange tales of forgotten games and manufacturers. For another, exploring the Web sites of obscure Asian arcade-game companies and trying to glean information about their games when I can't read Japanese, Chinese, or Korean is like being a tourist in a totally alien world.
    As for games that surprise me, at first I was really taken aback by how many dumped but unemulated 1970s games there are; you would think they'd be the easiest. But of course they're just the opposite; in those days, everybody was reinventing the wheel in a hundred different ways, shoehorning in custom parts, and using every sneaky electronics trick in the book to wring that last ounce of performance out of their hardware. The guys who designed and built games then were envelope-pushing pioneers; they were ahead of their time, really, and it amazes me what they were able to accomplish with such pitifully meager resources.
    There are only a few games and game systems from the 80s and 90s whose non-emulation to this point puzzles me. (I have pestered other MAMEDEVs about these often enough that they don't want to hear it any more.) One is Nichibutsu's "Moon Shuttle" (1981); that was a semi-popular and highly regarded game, and I fondly remember playing the C64 port of it, but maybe the hardware is more complex than I realize. Another is Namco's "Libble Rabble" (1983), which was the first Motorola 68000 game released in Japan; I suspect that perhaps, as in many other first attempts, there are unique elements in its hardware that were tried and then discarded in favor of better ideas. A third is Konami's "City Bomber" (1987), which AFAIK we have all necessary info for, although it's slightly different from the other Konami games of the period. Then there are the remaining mid-80s games already emulated by JFF: three by UPL, three by Jaleco, and Williams' "Roller Aces" (1983); except perhaps for the sound hardware, I don't think there's anything intrinsically difficult about these. Finally there's Nintendo's Vs. Unisystem -- its hardware is so similar to the NES, and there have to be at least half a dozen open-source NES emulators out there...

    6. Out of those, which ones would you say were 'big' or are your personal favorites that you would like to see emulated soon?

    The ones I think it's important to add to MAME for historical documentation purposes are "Libble Rabble" and "Moon Shuttle." The ones I'd most like to see added, though, are probably the JFF UPL games, because I loooove UPL games. ;-)

    7. How many games would you expect MAME to tackle within the rest of this year?

    That's very hard to say, because it very much depends on what different devs decide they want to do tomorrow. I'm hoping we'll see Vs. System and Century CVS drivers by yearend--maybe even (dare I hope for it?) CPS-2? And I know that various Sega games/platforms, some Seta and Jaleco games, and the Arcadia Multi Select system are being looked at again. Maybe Nicola will also enable the commented-out 1999 games after the turn of the year. But I'm not about to hazard a number.

    8. What are your thoughts on how MAME has evolved from when you first saw it until today?

    It has been astounding. I think the most unbelievable couple of months were there in the middle of the 0.36 beta cycle, when all of those game platforms were added one after another: Namco System 1, Namco System 2, Atari MCR, Bally/Sente, Konami custom, and so on. And that was when I was "on the outside," so to speak. Now that I'm part of the team, and I can watch the flow as it continues ceaselessly hour after hour--dumps, new code, questions, redumps, fixed code, screenshots, tweaked code, proposals, discussions (arguments), more new code--I feel...well, amazingly privileged, is all.

    9. How about other new Arcade emulators such as Final Burn, Mimic and Laser?

    I'm so very glad they're out there. There's never only one way to do things; the more that people experiment with new methods and new features, the richer we all are. And there are two things that will probably never change: These smaller, nimbler, more dedicated emulators (a) are faster than MAME, and (b) can be built from the start to support gameplay-friendly features, such as save states, that MAME can't (and probably never will).

    10. What do you think are big things that we will be seeing in emulation for the next two years as not only MAME but emulation targets?

    I'm guessing that in another two years' time there will be emulators for just about every console system that ever was. On the arcade side, I'll venture that 90% or more of the dumped but currently unemulated games with a CPU released prior to about 1997 will be emulated.
    Two challenges strike me as looming on the horizon, both of which are external to the MAME project but directly impact it: First off, many newer games try to give the player experiences they *can't* get from a console game; when you can't even get *close* to reproducing the original game's input devices, is it possible to meaningfully emulate games like "Propcycle" ("pedal! pedal harder!") or "FootballPOWER" ("kick that thing! no, not *that* hard!") or "Hip Hop Mania" ("sc-sc-scratch away, DJ Fool!")?
    Second, no matter how universal arcade-game emulation becomes, games can't be emulated until they're fully dumped. How many of the remaining undumped games can be found and dumped before the clock runs out and they perish from bitrot or get buried under a mountain of garbage at the local landfill? And can ways be devised to extract ROM data from suicide MCUs and similar devices?

    It will be very, very interesting to watch these issues being tackled.

    11. Any personal words for the public?

    Welp, I don't want to lay a heavy trip on anybody, but as fun as all this is, and as important as it sometimes seems to be, there *are* other things going on in the world. Don't get so wrapped up in this hobby that you can't devote at least a little of your time and effort to helping other folks, or even just getting to know them. I also believe that there's a much more important existence awaiting us after we die, which we can't experience unless we surrender our lives to Jesus Christ. I did so many years ago, and I've never regretted it--He's been my surest protector, my wisest teacher, my best friend, and an unfailing source of "good times" that last longer than the shallow pleasures of the moment.

    That's all. End of sermon. End of "War and Peace." All the best, folks!

    Many thanks go out to Randy Hoffman for taking the time to answer the questions even though he suffered a Hard Drive crash in the middle of the process! He certainly has a good sense of humor! I hope you enjoyed reading through this lengthy Interview as much as I did when editing it. Thanks for reading!

    One Article Up: First after-shock...
    One Article Down: NLMSX 0.29 is here!

  • Add Your Comments

    Name: Adri Posted: Saturday, February 17, 2001 - (5:37)
    Subject: Know play the mame
    From: 195.241.233.39
    I got a qeustion how the mame emulater works.

    [Post a reply]

    Name: Posted: Thursday, October 28, 2004 - (3:24)
    Subject: Re: Know play the mame
    From: ppp30-98-gw03.athens.access.acn.gr
    >I got a qeustion how the mame emulater works.
    >

    [Post a reply]

    Name: bruno magno Posted: Monday, August 4, 2003 - (19:16)
    Subject: Re: Know play the mame
    From: 200.253.156.130
    >I got a qeustion how the mame emulater works.
    >

    [Post a reply]

    Name: BRUNO Posted: Monday, August 4, 2003 - (19:16)
    Subject: Re: Re: Know play the mame
    From: 200.253.156.130
    >>I got a qeustion how the mame emulater works.
    >>
    >

    [Post a reply]

    Name: Posted: Sunday, January 19, 2003 - (14:37)
    Subject: Re: Know play the mame
    From: cache-mtc-ah04.proxy.aol.com
    >I got a qeustion how the mame emulater works.
    >dose it have bois & plugins?

    [Post a reply]

    Name: Adri Posted: Saturday, February 17, 2001 - (5:36)
    Subject: Know play the mame
    From: 195.241.233.39
    I got a qeustion how the mame emulater works.

    [Post a reply]

    Name: Stiletto Posted: Friday, September 15, 2000 - (16:31)
    Subject: Way cool...
    I'm just another Randy waiting in the wings - some coding experience, but helpng in other ways at this time - and yes, we have lots in common too.

    Way to go, Randy, on this interview and MAME Targets! I'm cheering you all the way, bud!

    Stiletto

    [Post a reply]

    Name: SYRINX Posted: Friday, September 15, 2000 - (8:44)
    Subject: Yes, great interview
    What a cool guy! I have all the same interest as he does, and I even went to college for technical writing( I never finished though =( Thats cool what he said about mame relooking at sega stuff. Sega system 16 games run great, but they are running in low color and mono sound if im not mistaken. Isn't it crazy how talented programmers such as Randy are using computers like a 486 while me who has zero programming skills and cant figure out dos sometimes, has a P3 super suped system? I hope you are able to get a good computer soon Randy, all the best of luck to you and thanks for your contributions to the scene.

    [Post a reply]

    Name: richardginn Posted: Friday, September 15, 2000 - (8:40)
    Subject: great....
    interview.

    [Post a reply]

    Name: thenetbum Posted: Friday, September 15, 2000 - (3:56)
    Subject: Good interview
    You can tell Randy's a professional writer. Great advice and wise words at the end. Very true. I wish I was as devoted to everything in my life. He did a very good job of not coming off preachy.

    [Post a reply]

    Name: eyen0de Posted: Thursday, September 14, 2000 - (23:52)
    Subject: Nice article
    An interesting read, certainly from a different perspective than we're used to. I hope Randy keeps it up, we really need a site like this. He's put a lot of work into the site already and it shows.

    I would only add one small detail (shameless plug?). I'm also running a site that that specializes in games not emulated by MAME, but that ARE by other emulators. Its mostly for people who are interested in what other arcade games are playable today besides MAME games. If anyone's interested, check out http://nonmame.retrogames.com. Its very basic, but it gets the job done.

    Anyway, excellent job JoseQ and Randy.

    ~/eyen0de

    [Post a reply]

    Name: Chambers- Posted: Thursday, September 14, 2000 - (18:03)
    Subject: Excellent Interview
    This was a great read, awesome job Jose!!

    [Post a reply]

    Name: JoseQ Posted: Thursday, September 14, 2000 - (18:09)
    Subject: Re: Excellent Interview
    From: (not JoseQ)
    Thanks to Randy =) I only asked the questions. =)

    JoseQ

    [Post a reply]

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