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InterView with Phil Stroffolino - January 18,1999 by JoseQ
Phil Stroffolino has contributed numerous drivers to the biggestemulator of them all, MAME. Games like Double Dragon, Renegade, RollingThunder and the System16 series come to mind and we think of the hardwork involved in making those classic games work. Of course, we wereinterested in having Phil InterViewed so that you too could learn alittle more about this great MAME developer. You'll be glad to learnabout his future projects for MAME, a couple of great games comingour way. So, without further ado, here is an InterView with PhilStroffolino.

1. Could you introduce yourself and tell us about how you got into Emulationand MAMEDEV?

The first emulator I was exposed to was Marat Fayzullin's fMSX. I had neverheard of this computer (it wasn't available in the United States), but it wasstill an amazing thing to see in action. To my delight, Konami and Namco hadproduced many excellent arcade ports for it.
As it turned out, the MSX was very similar hardware-wise to the Colecovisionconsole from the early eighties. I sent Marat some hardware specs, made someROM images available to him, and literally overnight he had the first versionof ColEm up and running! Talk about magic... My bulky Colecovision and cartsare now safely tucked away in storage.
Thinking back, Marat was really ahead of his time. His emulators were opensource and written with portability in mind. I studied the resources he madeavailable at his site (source code, and one of the first "how to write anemulator" documents) to learn how these emulators worked.
Soon afterwards, I learned about MacMAME and could barely believe it. I keptthinking I was in a dream, about to wake up. I was in shock when I saw GreenBeret (Rush 'n Attack) working, and played it to the end even with the badcolors and sound. Around this time, I first began to get into collectingarcade games.

2. What did you have as previous programming experience?

I have a degree in Computer Science, work fulltime as a programmer, and writeshareware games as a hobby.Outside of MAME, I've done a few standalone emulators and ports, the mostsignificant being a TRS80 Color Computer Emulator for the Macintosh.

3. How do you select the games you want to work on? Is itmostly gaming tastes, hardware specs, or anything in particular?

I'd say nostalgia is for me by far the biggest factor. There are still dozensof arcade games I remember fondly from my teenage years that haven't beenemulated. These are the games that I'm always drawn to first. Tiger Road,Gladiator, and Renegade are great examples. I played them a lot in HighSchool.
Emulation isn't just about preservation. It's a great alternative for PCBowners. It's fun playing a game in an original cabinet (because of the niceartwork), but I'd just as soon run games on a fast PC, with a crisp monitor,responsive joypad, and nice speakers. MAME offers features that can enhancethe gameplaying experience, including high score saving, input configuration,the ability to pause, and the cheat system.
I keep most of my PCBs in storage. They are bulky and sometimes tricky tohook up (several are non-JAMMA). Most importantly, once a game I own isemulated, I don't have to worry about the PCB going bad.

4. What has been the most difficult part of developing a particulardriver and what driver was it?

Protection for me is one of the most frustrating things to encounter whenworking on a game driver. You can't imagine how happy I was when the JapaneseRenegade bootleg (aka Kunio Kun) became available. Even with ample help fromCarlos Alberto Lozano Baides (a very smart guy) I'd just about torn out allmy hair trying to get the US version of Renegade to work properly. I evensacrificed a working PCB in hopes of getting the MCU code dumped.One of the nicest things about working on MAME is the spirit of cooperation.There are many specialists, and chances are if you are interested in aparticular game, several other developers are, too. By freely sharinginformation, MAME developers tend to get games get emulated much more quicklythan when programmers work in isolation.

5. You have contributed with System 16 drivers for MAME. Is addingother Sega games simpler once you have a good driver up and running?

Certainly. Thierry Lescot did the hardest part, reverse-engineering the arcadehardware, and later Mirko Buffoni developed the original set of MAME driverswith his blessing. There had actually been a number of efforts to port theDOS-based System16 code to the Mac, but it was beastly work and none of theseefforts got too far off the ground (although Brad Oliver came pretty close).
My initial goal with MAME's System16 support was to experiment with videodriver optimizations, and fix the buggy/missing music and graphics for theoriginal set of supported games (Shinobi, Altered Beast, Golden Axe, AlienSyndrome). Nao was very supportive, giving me detailed information when I raninto problems.
The other games which were added around this time were almost an afterthought.I plan to make time to return to them sometime soon, and give them along-overdue polishing.

6. What got you to start working on Rolling Thunder for MAME?

Rolling Thunder is a game that blew me away when I first saw it in the arcade.This game came out way back in 1986, can you believe it? I can't think of anygame from that era even close to it, in terms of playability, graphics, andsound. Anyway, Jimmy Hamm's emulator (even in beta) was impressive, but it'snot portable (Mac owners are out of luck) and had some minor glitches, so Ihad big incentive to get it working in MAME. Without Jimmy's help, it wouldhave taken a lot longer to get up and running. I'm very grateful to him.

7. Do you think that the complete hardware set will soon be emulatedfor this game?

You mean perfect Rolling Thunder emulation? Sure! It's almost there already.But perhaps more interestingly, there are nearly a dozen other games that runon the same hardware (Namco86 board).

8. What type of games / hardware do you plan to be working in thefollowing months?

Some games I'm working with off and on include (in no particular order):

  • SNK games from the mid-80s
  • Downtown
  • Dynamite Duke
  • PitFighter
  • Kageki
  • Legend of Kage
  • Dark Adventure
  • Samurai (Taito)
  • Empire City
  • Phelios

    9. Is there anything about MAME that you would like to change if youcould go back to the beginning and propose it?

    "Save State" feature would have been easier to implement if Nicola had itas a goal from the beginning.
    I also wish that graphics decoding had been done in a way that would allow ROMsto be loaded and processed one at a time. This would reduce RAM requirementsand also make it easier to unpack Gfx ROMs for certain games.
    MAME's architecture is flexible, and the core is always evolving. There areplenty of things we have now, that would have sped up development if they werein place from the beginning (i.e. the full-featured debugger).

    10. What is your feeling about those endless versions of MAME outthere, pMAME, aMAME, NeoMAME, Neo-FreeMAME, etc? Do you think thatby splitting MAME there would be other benefits than a quicker download?

    If people find pMAME or aMAME works better for them, great.I don't understand the appeal of NeoMAME. Anyone who plays only NeoGeo gamesis really missing out, in my opinion.I see even less point to Neo-FreeMAME. I mean, unlike NeoMAME, theapplication size isn't significantly smaller, and it's no faster.

    11. Any thoughts on the current state of the Emulation scene as opposedto the past year, or what you think await us?

    There are over 3000 arcade games out there, less than half of which have beenemulated. I think the most exciting times are yet to come.There are a lot of games which aren't yet emulated because of encryption.The newer Konami ones come to mind (Crime Fighters, Haunted Castle, Simpsons,etc.) It's very likely that a clever emulation author will make a breakthroughhere. Sound samples will hopefully become a thing of the past, even for the oldgames where samples have traditionally been used.Simulations of pre-CPU 1970's arcade games may begin to pop up.New CPU cores will appear.Hopefully dynamic recompilation will make an appearance in open-sourcefree emulators as well.

    We thank Phil Stroffolino for his time inanswering these questions, and for all his precious work in MAME.His additions to the emulator has certainly been awaited by many,and the same goes for his next projects! I certainly can't wait tosee Empire City, Pit Fighter and The Legend of Kage again! Kudos toPhil and the whole MAME Team for what is undoubtedly the most popularemulator of all time. If you want to nominate another MAMEDEV to beInterViewed, just drop me a noteand I'll look into it.

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