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Mike Balfour InterViewed! - February 23,1999 by JoseQ
Possibly one of the most overlooked MAME developers, Mike Balfourhas contributed over 20 MAME drivers and has made many contributionsto the scene. He has also been part of projects like GoldenApple andeven others you probably haven't even heard of. Recently he evenpublished his own semi-emulator which will put PacMan in a wholenew perspective everyone has yet to experience to the fullest. Ithink it's about time we put the mic on this long time MAME developer,and write up for you, an InterViewith Mike Balfour.

1. Can you state your name and how you became related toemulation?

Sure. I'm the not-so-famous Mike Balfour. My introduction to emulation wasTRS-80 and Apple II emulators for the PC several years ago. Since I grew upon these machines I was fascinated. I was also horrified that my belovedApple II was emulated on a PC, and not a Mac, so I started coding an AppleII emulator for the Mac ("GoldenApple"). The results were less thanspectacular. 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 inobscurity. 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 havebeen 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 untilabout mid-1997 (note the Y2K compliant answer ;). Personally, I think therehave been a tremendous number of highlights - the sheer depth and breadth ofMAME emulation, the continued advances to accuracy and speed made oneverything from Atari2600 to N64 emulation, the introduction of Retrocadeand Raine, the discovery and preservation of rare/prototype arcade games andcartridges, and the continued proof that it's silly to say "it can't bedone" to an emulator author. :) Heck, I'm even glad to see the number ofemulation authors that are transitioning into the professional gameindustry, it's always nice to see that at some level game companies respectthe abilities learned from emulation.As for "lowlights", there's unfortunately been plenty there too - the IDSAcrackdown, the Sony and Nintendo lawsuits, the resultant merging of ROMpreservation with ROMZ sites, and all of the sad sad people that have nothing better to do than to harrass and criticize emulator authors.

3. What were your major goals once you got started? And what areyour major goals now, what keeps you going?

I would have to say my original goal was knowledge. I was astounded to findout how similar arcade game design and computer design were, and I wasequally 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 tolearn about emulation development in general. After having written asemi-functional miserably slow Apple II emulator, I decided it was time tolearn how to do it right. I don't think either of those goals have changedwith time, but I also wouldn't have stuck with it for this long if it wasn'tjust so much fun! There's always a thrill every time I get another gameworking, no matter how good or bad the game is. And I've worked on somepretty 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'sa 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 oneway 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 waswriting 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 involvedwith Retrocade too. Oh, and of course my current semi-emulation project,Pac-X.

5. Out of those, which one has been the most challenging andself-rewarding?

They've all been equally challenging and rewarding, but in different ways.GoldenApple was difficult because I was learning Mac coding and emulation atthe same time, Zelda was difficult because I would have to spend hoursstaring at the TV trying to verify monster movement algorithms and pixelcolors for graphics accuracy, and MAME because you either have to guessblindly when no schematics are available, or else you have to guess blindlybecause 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 projectto date, since I will have designed and written it myself, and I'mdiscovering 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 anoriginal project for quite some time now, and I've also wanted to move outof the business software industry into professional game development. Theseinterests sort of intersect at me needing to learn DirectX and Direct3D. SoI 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 interestedin 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 ofTime magazine. So I started thinking about what would happen if you mixedPac-Man and 3D graphics. I had actually seen this done many many years agoon the Apple II, with ummm, less than spectacular graphics and gameplay. Idecided that 3D Pac-Man wasn't quite enough, it needed to use emulationunderneath it so that all the original quirks, gameplay, and patterns wouldstill be there. Thus, Pac-X was born.

7. What has been the response so far from the first version ofthe emulator?

Eerily quiet. There have been over 1000 downloads, but less than 5responses. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. ;) The onething 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 myscreen. I got tired of trying all his suggestions (just teasing Howie), soI moved all the graphics layout settings into the INI file. This way,people could just change the background graphics and on-screen layoutthemselves if they wanted. I was hoping people would come up with newlayouts and graphics that I could post on my page as "alternate layoutpaks". Apparently, everybody must be happy with what I've got. :)

8. How are the new features coming along? What should we expectto see in the next release?

Well, I had to back-track a little bit. Originally I was planning onkeeping 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 thatthe *only* way to use hardware 3-D acceleration is to move to 16-bitgraphics. 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 newrelease within a week or so containing the 16-bit graphics and a spinning 3Dlogo in the center, just so that people know I'm still working on it and tomake it clear where the 3D graphics will go. :) After that, it willprobably be at least a few weeks before I have anything remotely resemblinga 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 towork on Pac-X! I take breaks from Pac-X to work on MAME drivers, but that'sabout it.

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 onthese projects knowing that there are other people out there that enjoythem. Keep gaming!

A huge Thanks go to Mike Balfour for taking thetime to answer these questions. He did so in a very prompt manner I mightadd. I hope you guys liked this InterView and I thank you for reading!

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