Possibly one of the most overlooked MAME developers, Mike Balfour
has contributed over 20 MAME drivers and has made many contributions
to the scene. He has also been part of projects like GoldenApple and
even others you probably haven't even heard of. Recently he even
published his own semi-emulator which will put PacMan in a whole
new perspective everyone has yet to experience to the fullest. I
think it's about time we put the mic on this long time MAME developer,
and write up for you, an InterVie
with Mike Balfour.
|Mike Balfour InterViewed! - February 23, '99 by JoseQ
1. Can you state your name and how you became related to
Sure. I'm the not-so-famous Mike Balfour. My introduction to emulation was
TRS-80 and Apple II emulators for the PC several years ago. Since I grew up
on these machines I was fascinated. I was also horrified that my beloved
Apple II was emulated on a PC, and not a Mac, so I started coding an Apple
II emulator for the Mac ("GoldenApple"). The results were less than
spectacular. Let's just say that C++ and CPU cores don't mix very well. ;)
Fortunately, STM came out about that time, so I could continue to hide in
obscurity. A couple of years later, I discovered Marat's GameBoy emulator,
and Sparcade, and I was hooked for good.
2. How long have you been involved in the scene, and what have
been the major highlights, lowlights you've seen happen?
Well, I've been in the general emulation scene since before it was a scene
(1993-1994), but I didn't start actively working on arcade emulation until
about mid-1997 (note the Y2K compliant answer ;). Personally, I think there
have been a tremendous number of highlights - the sheer depth and breadth of
MAME emulation, the continued advances to accuracy and speed made on
everything from Atari2600 to N64 emulation, the introduction of Retrocade
and Raine, the discovery and preservation of rare/prototype arcade games and
cartridges, and the continued proof that it's silly to say "it can't be
done" to an emulator author. :) Heck, I'm even glad to see the number of
emulation authors that are transitioning into the professional game
industry, it's always nice to see that at some level game companies respect
the abilities learned from emulation.
As for "lowlights", there's unfortunately been plenty there too - the IDSA
crackdown, the Sony and Nintendo lawsuits, the resultant merging of ROM
preservation with ROMZ sites, and all of the sad sad people that have nothin
g better to do than to harrass and criticize emulator authors.
3. What were your major goals once you got started? And what are
your major goals now, what keeps you going?
I would have to say my original goal was knowledge. I was astounded to find
out how similar arcade game design and computer design were, and I was
equally pleased to discover how easy it was to get arcade game schematics.
I just wanted to learn how the darn things worked. :) I also wanted to
learn about emulation development in general. After having written a
semi-functional miserably slow Apple II emulator, I decided it was time to
learn how to do it right. I don't think either of those goals have changed
with time, but I also wouldn't have stuck with it for this long if it wasn't
just so much fun! There's always a thrill every time I get another game
working, no matter how good or bad the game is. And I've worked on some
pretty bad ones. ;) It's also a *lot* of fun working with the MAME team,
Neil Bradley, and everybody else that I've come into contact with. There's
a TON of talent out there, and I enjoy getting the chance to work with them!
4. What emulation projects have you been involved with in one
way or another?
Well, there was the never-released GoldenApple, a never-released Zelda clone
(though I suppose that was "simulation" instead of "emulation", since I was
writing it from scratch), MAME, MESS, ummm, guess that's about it.
Hopefully over the coming year I'll get the chance to get a little involved
with Retrocade too. Oh, and of course my current semi-emulation project,
5. Out of those, which one has been the most challenging and
They've all been equally challenging and rewarding, but in different ways.
GoldenApple was difficult because I was learning Mac coding and emulation at
the same time, Zelda was difficult because I would have to spend hours
staring at the TV trying to verify monster movement algorithms and pixel
colors for graphics accuracy, and MAME because you either have to guess
blindly when no schematics are available, or else you have to guess blindly
because schematics are available but they just don't make any sense. ;)
When I finish Pac-X though, I think that will be the most rewarding project
to date, since I will have designed and written it myself, and I'm
discovering 3D coding might not be quite as easy as it looks. ;)
6. Tell us about Pac-X, how did that originate?
The idea began to form last Thanksgiving. I've wanted to work on an
original project for quite some time now, and I've also wanted to move out
of the business software industry into professional game development. These
interests sort of intersect at me needing to learn DirectX and Direct3D. So
I decided I would write a little game as a learning exercise and a sort of
"portfolio". I didn't think anybody else in the world would be interested
in it, but I wanted to do something that *I* liked. Well, Pac-Man is cool.
He had a song written about him, a cartoon on TV, he even made the cover of
Time magazine. So I started thinking about what would happen if you mixed
Pac-Man and 3D graphics. I had actually seen this done many many years ago
on the Apple II, with ummm, less than spectacular graphics and gameplay. I
decided that 3D Pac-Man wasn't quite enough, it needed to use emulation
underneath it so that all the original quirks, gameplay, and patterns would
still be there. Thus, Pac-X was born.
7. What has been the response so far from the first version of
Eerily quiet. There have been over 1000 downloads, but less than 5
responses. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. ;) The one
thing that hasn't seemed to happen yet is that nobody is "hacking around"
with the game. Howie, my play-tester, kept suggesting new layouts for my
screen. I got tired of trying all his suggestions (just teasing Howie), so
I moved all the graphics layout settings into the INI file. This way,
people could just change the background graphics and on-screen layout
themselves if they wanted. I was hoping people would come up with new
layouts and graphics that I could post on my page as "alternate layout
paks". Apparently, everybody must be happy with what I've got. :)
8. How are the new features coming along? What should we expect
to see in the next release?
Well, I had to back-track a little bit. Originally I was planning on
keeping Pac-X in 8-bit graphics and playing little palette games.
Unfortunately, as soon as I began to add in 3-D graphics, I discovered that
the *only* way to use hardware 3-D acceleration is to move to 16-bit
graphics. So I had to run back through all my graphics code and convert it.
Consequently, I'm only beginning to touch 3-D now. I'll probably have a new
release within a week or so containing the 16-bit graphics and a spinning 3D
logo in the center, just so that people know I'm still working on it and to
make it clear where the 3D graphics will go. :) After that, it will
probably be at least a few weeks before I have anything remotely resembling
a maze being drawn.
9. Are you working on any projects other than Pac-X?
Nope. I've got tons of ideas, but I'm lucky if I've even got free time to
work on Pac-X! I take breaks from Pac-X to work on MAME drivers, but that's
10. What would you like to say to the Emulation fans out there?
Thanks for your support! It's certainly a LOT more rewarding to work on
these projects knowing that there are other people out there that enjoy
them. Keep gaming!
A huge Thanks go to Mike Balfour for taking the
time to answer these questions. He did so in a very prompt manner I might
add. I hope you guys liked this InterView and I thank you for reading!
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