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Nicola Salmoria InterViewed! - February 04,1999 by JoseQ
By far the most popular emulator, MAME, has beencarefully developed by an elite group of C programmers withone goal, to preserve our Arcade History. Going back to itsroots, when it was just one man, we find Nicola Salmoria,the foundation of what probably got you into the worldof emulation. With no needed introduction, Nicola answersa few questions to EmuViews about the past, the presentand the future of MAME and emulation. I'm certainly honoredand veryproud to present to you, an InterView with Nicola Salmoria:

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

I had seen a few home computer emulators in the past, like a Spectrumemulator for the Amiga, and later a C=64 emulator which ran at 100% speed ona 486, but I never did really used them apart from the occasional game atImpossible Mission.
What literally changed my life is the source for a very preliminary PacManemulator which I downloaded at the end of 1996 from the Arcade EmulationProgramming Repository page by Allard van der Bas. I knew nothing aboutarcade emulation at the time, I had no idea that arcade games were sosimilar 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 evenhave DJGPP installed on my system, I only had a really old version layingaround in some CD, so the very next day I downloaded everything I needed tocompile it and started poking around.

3. Can you tell us how did MAME come into existance? Did you expectit 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, notanother PacMan emlator, try doing something useful!"), so I did a few otherstandalone emulators based on the same skeleton: Pengo, Crazy Climber, LadyBug, Rally X come to mind. Most of the information came from the ArcadeEmulation Programming Repository, Lady Bug was the first I did entirely bymyself (and nowadays I know it has a very unusual sprite system, so I wasn'tlucky in my first choice).
After about a month, maintaining all those separate projects had become anightmare, 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 thisfast. When I started I knew absolutely nothing about arcade games.Everything I found was new for me, and there was very little informationavailable. But MAME was designed from the start to make it as easy aspossible to add new drivers, to be portable, and to encourage people tocontribute. That is what made it successful.

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

At the beginning, the main target was other programmers, and people owningnon-Wintel platforms. Even today, a very large portion of the contributionscome from Mac people.
The user base really started to explode after MAME got coverage in popularweb sites and on tv. Of course an increase in the user base is good becauseit increases the number of potential contributors - but it also brought in alot of people who don't care in the least about the technical aspect ofemulation, nor care about preservation of the old games; people who justwant 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 scenesince MAME got there? Has it been all for the better? What would youhave changed if you had the chance?

Let's face it: up to a few months ago, things had got blown way out ofproportion. When MAME was started, there were only a couple of sites whichhad ROMs for download (mostly to help collectors in repairing their boards).Most emulation sites were adamant about NOT offering ROMs to download, andexplaining the copyright issues involved. Soon afterwards, this all changed.All sites started carrying ROMs, and not only that, but ROMs "for" specificemulators - which is conceptually wrong, since the ROMs are just a verbatimcopy of what's on the original board, they are not "for" an emulator oranother. Again, this reinforced the "emulation == piracy" equation. In ashort while, sites carrying ROMs for games not supported by emulators almostcompletely disappeared. Everyone was just crazy about having all the ROMsneeded by the latest emulator immediately after it was released. Certain websites even publically criticized emulator authors for not telling them inadvance which ROMs were needed. It was all backwards, but since nobodycomplained, everybody got bolder and bolder until finally therepresentatives of the copyright holders just had to do something to bringpeople back in line. You can't keep such an high profile and get away withit for long.
I know that there are many arcade collectors which are mad at emulatorsbecause all the confusion generated by them has made it more difficult tofind ROM to repair broken boards. In part, they are right. But emulatorsalso caused a much stricter quality control in ROM dumps. If you look at howROM sites where in 1996, you'll see that there were a large amount ofcorrupt ROMs, incomplete archives, color PROMs were a rarity, anddocumentation often inaccurate. Now, ROMs might be harder to find, but onceyou get them, you have a very good chance of getting a 100% working andcomplete archive. Documentation and preservation. Those were the goals whichmade me start MAME. Those are the reasons why I am still leading the projectafter two years.

Historical research. Not piracy.

In 2050 or so, if the law isn't changed AGAIN to extend the copyright periodAGAIN (as if 75 years weren't enough), the games we are emulating will startbecoming public domain. The problem is, there will be absolutely nothingleft of them if we don't do something now. The hardware is not designed tolast 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 released75 years earlier... well, you badly need a reality check.
I strongly believe that the current copyright law is unfair, and I hope theturmoil which has been raised by emulation will help building awareness ofthe problem in the general public. Software cannot be considered likeliterature. The book has been there, substantially unmodified, for hundredsof years. Once a book is published, it will easily last for over a centuryif it isn't accidentally destroyed. How can that be put on the same levelwith computer software, where hardware is obsolete 6 months after it isproduced? Is it right for copyrights to last an order of magnitude longerthan the life expectancy of the hardware the software runs on? Even leavinghardware aside, software is stored on physical media which has a lifeexpectancy much shorter than a book. It HAS to be periodically backed up topreserve it (I don't remember the exact figures, but I think a printedCD-ROM should last something around 25 years). The law grants you the rightto 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 issueswill have to be addressed. Unfortunately, I have the feeling that they willbe addressed by further RESTRICTING individual rights (like severelylimiting freedom on the Internet). Yet again, if more people which share ourideas reach political power, things might turn differently. It's up to us tofight to make it happen.
If you think it isn't important, think how would be the world if allShakespeare plays had been destroyed at his time. Or, think about how wesadly 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 theyare part of our culture, part of our history, part of our lives, and theydeserve to be preserved for future generations to enjoy them, just like wedo with literature, music, movies, paintings, and every work of art which weproduce.

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

I am the project coordinator. I collect contributions from the developersand plug them into the official source tree. Of course I work on the codemyself 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, andin fact I'm always behind by a hundred or so messages - and whenever Irelease a new beta, there's someone who complains because his submissionwasn't included :-) Sorry folks, I try to do my best.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can't thank Nicola enoughfor taking the time out of his incredibly busy scheduleto answer these question. One question we might all haveright now is: "How does he do it?", and the answer to thatis very unknown. In the words of another MAMEDEV, Howie Cohen, "Nicola has a JAMMA socket in the back of his head". Whichwould explain many things. I hope you have enjoyed thisInterView 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
how do u make roms

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

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