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Nicola Salmoria InterViewed! - February 4, '99 by JoseQ
By far the most popular emulator, MAME, has been carefully developed by an elite group of C programmers with one goal, to preserve our Arcade History. Going back to its roots, when it was just one man, we find Nicola Salmoria, the foundation of what probably got you into the world of emulation. With no needed introduction, Nicola answers a few questions to EmuViews about the past, the present and the future of MAME and emulation. I'm certainly honored and very proud to present to you, an InterView with Nicola Salmoria:

1. Can you tell us how you first learned about emulation? What got you interested in it?

I had seen a few home computer emulators in the past, like a Spectrum emulator for the Amiga, and later a C=64 emulator which ran at 100% speed on a 486, but I never did really used them apart from the occasional game at Impossible Mission.
What literally changed my life is the source for a very preliminary PacMan emulator which I downloaded at the end of 1996 from the Arcade Emulation Programming Repository page by Allard van der Bas. I knew nothing about arcade emulation at the time, I had no idea that arcade games were so similar to the systems I knew and that it was possible to emulate them.

2. How long after that did you start programming emulators yourself?

Immediately! When I got the source for the PacMan emulator I didn't even have DJGPP installed on my system, I only had a really old version laying around in some CD, so the very next day I downloaded everything I needed to compile it and started poking around.

3. Can you tell us how did MAME come into existance? Did you expect it to eventually be this big?

After some work, I had gotten the PacMan emulator to be quite accurate (apart from sound), and I received a few encouraging mails (like "oh no, not another PacMan emlator, try doing something useful!"), so I did a few other standalone emulators based on the same skeleton: Pengo, Crazy Climber, Lady Bug, Rally X come to mind. Most of the information came from the Arcade Emulation Programming Repository, Lady Bug was the first I did entirely by myself (and nowadays I know it has a very unusual sprite system, so I wasn't lucky in my first choice).
After about a month, maintaining all those separate projects had become a nightmare, so I had to merge them into a single program - and MAME was born. Did I expect it to get this big? Well, certainly not, especially not this fast. When I started I knew absolutely nothing about arcade games. Everything I found was new for me, and there was very little information available. But MAME was designed from the start to make it as easy as possible to add new drivers, to be portable, and to encourage people to contribute. That is what made it successful.

4. Did you expect the MAME following to grow as it has grown? Did/do you want it to grow like this?

At the beginning, the main target was other programmers, and people owning non-Wintel platforms. Even today, a very large portion of the contributions come from Mac people.
The user base really started to explode after MAME got coverage in popular web sites and on tv. Of course an increase in the user base is good because it increases the number of potential contributors - but it also brought in a lot of people who don't care in the least about the technical aspect of emulation, nor care about preservation of the old games; people who just want to play games for free. This is sad, because it reinforces the "emulation == piracy" equation.

5. How would you characterize the evolution of the emulation scene since MAME got there? Has it been all for the better? What would you have changed if you had the chance?

Let's face it: up to a few months ago, things had got blown way out of proportion. When MAME was started, there were only a couple of sites which had ROMs for download (mostly to help collectors in repairing their boards). Most emulation sites were adamant about NOT offering ROMs to download, and explaining the copyright issues involved. Soon afterwards, this all changed. All sites started carrying ROMs, and not only that, but ROMs "for" specific emulators - which is conceptually wrong, since the ROMs are just a verbatim copy of what's on the original board, they are not "for" an emulator or another. Again, this reinforced the "emulation == piracy" equation. In a short while, sites carrying ROMs for games not supported by emulators almost completely disappeared. Everyone was just crazy about having all the ROMs needed by the latest emulator immediately after it was released. Certain web sites even publically criticized emulator authors for not telling them in advance which ROMs were needed. It was all backwards, but since nobody complained, everybody got bolder and bolder until finally the representatives of the copyright holders just had to do something to bring people back in line. You can't keep such an high profile and get away with it for long.
I know that there are many arcade collectors which are mad at emulators because all the confusion generated by them has made it more difficult to find ROM to repair broken boards. In part, they are right. But emulators also caused a much stricter quality control in ROM dumps. If you look at how ROM sites where in 1996, you'll see that there were a large amount of corrupt ROMs, incomplete archives, color PROMs were a rarity, and documentation often inaccurate. Now, ROMs might be harder to find, but once you get them, you have a very good chance of getting a 100% working and complete archive. Documentation and preservation. Those were the goals which made me start MAME. Those are the reasons why I am still leading the project after two years.

Historical research. Not piracy.

In 2050 or so, if the law isn't changed AGAIN to extend the copyright period AGAIN (as if 75 years weren't enough), the games we are emulating will start becoming public domain. The problem is, there will be absolutely nothing left of them if we don't do something now. The hardware is not designed to last that long. And if you think you could go in 2050 to a game company (assuming it was still in business) and ask for the code to a game released 75 years earlier... well, you badly need a reality check.
I strongly believe that the current copyright law is unfair, and I hope the turmoil which has been raised by emulation will help building awareness of the problem in the general public. Software cannot be considered like literature. The book has been there, substantially unmodified, for hundreds of years. Once a book is published, it will easily last for over a century if it isn't accidentally destroyed. How can that be put on the same level with computer software, where hardware is obsolete 6 months after it is produced? Is it right for copyrights to last an order of magnitude longer than the life expectancy of the hardware the software runs on? Even leaving hardware aside, software is stored on physical media which has a life expectancy much shorter than a book. It HAS to be periodically backed up to preserve it (I don't remember the exact figures, but I think a printed CD-ROM should last something around 25 years). The law grants you the right to backup your software; yet again, some companies deny you that right, either explicitly, or implicitly, by using copy protection.
Now that computers are an important part of society, I think these issues will have to be addressed. Unfortunately, I have the feeling that they will be addressed by further RESTRICTING individual rights (like severely limiting freedom on the Internet). Yet again, if more people which share our ideas reach political power, things might turn differently. It's up to us to fight to make it happen.
If you think it isn't important, think how would be the world if all Shakespeare plays had been destroyed at his time. Or, think about how we sadly regret HAVING lost so much artistic works of hundreds of years ago. Even if you don't consider old arcade games as work of arts, think that they are part of our culture, part of our history, part of our lives, and they deserve to be preserved for future generations to enjoy them, just like we do with literature, music, movies, paintings, and every work of art which we produce.

6. How would you describe the position you hold right now within MAME? Could you tell us what an average day is for you in regards to this project?

I am the project coordinator. I collect contributions from the developers and plug them into the official source tree. Of course I work on the code myself when I have the time. Basically, I spend most of my free time working on MAME one way or another.

7. What are the most difficult parts of your job (in MAME)?

Keeping up to date with all the code submissions and mails is difficult, and in fact I'm always behind by a hundred or so messages - and whenever I release a new beta, there's someone who complains because his submission wasn't included :-) Sorry folks, I try to do my best.

8. Can you list some of the most exciting things you've experienced since you started MAME up until today?

Well, the most exciting moment was the first exposure. Starting the PacMan emulator I had just downloaded, seeing all those funky patterns on the screen and thinking "damn, it doesn't work", and then a few seconds later getting the cross hatch pattern and the title screen. It was like a mystical experience - I was instantly hooked. Nowadays, it's mostly routine, but I've been seriously impressed several times, like when the Slapstic was broken, or when the digital emulation of the YM2203 started to sound even better then the SoundBlaster OPL chip.

9. What are your next goals, or what are looking forward to in the next releases of MAME?

The only goal is to keep improving MAME as much as possible as long as I will be able to.

10. What can you tell us about your requested vacations as the MAME administrator? Will you be returning after a while?

I'm not going anywhere. I just needed to relax a little because the number of developers is now so high that it's really hard to keep the pace. So I'm processing just a handful of submissions per day, and doing some more programming myself. Of course the messages are piling up, I don't know how I'll be able to handle them but I'll find a way.

We can't thank Nicola enough for taking the time out of his incredibly busy schedule to answer these question. One question we might all have right now is: "How does he do it?", and the answer to that is very unknown. In the words of another MAMEDEV, Howie Cohen, "Nicola has a JAMMA socket in the back of his head". Which would explain many things. I hope you have enjoyed this InterView as much as I did. Thanks for reading!

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Name: eric aka bobble head Posted: Thursday, October 21, 2004 - (21:58)
Subject: roms
From: dialup-4.235.48.108.dial1.orlando1.level3.net
how do u make roms

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Name: Posted: Tuesday, November 2, 1999 - (7:37)
Subject:

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