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Introduction: What is MAME?

In short, it is a program that runs on your computer that allows you to play all manner of coin-op video games, from the very earliest ones (Breakout, Pong) to some of the latest and greatest (Area 51, Mortal Kombat, etc). MAME stands for "Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator." What MAME does, in essence, is to mimic the original hardware that arcade games ran on (that is, the internal system boards) and fool the ROMs containing the game programs into thinking they are running on the original machine. What that means to you and I is that no longer is there a need to pump quarter after quarter into a stand-up cabinet to play the old favorites -- you can now play them on your computer.

MAME is particularly popular amongst the nostalgic thirty-something males like myself who grew up playing these things in arcades, laundromats and pizza parlors. In the following article, I will touch on several of the concepts and usage guidelines for MAME. I hope that it makes your gaming experience that much more fun. In this article, I will refer to the Windows version of MAME, which is called MAME32.

At last count, MAME was capable of playing over 3,000 individual games, although some of these are clones and bootlegs. Still, the number of unique games that can be played is extremely high.


MAME was a project started several years ago to duplicate the hardware used in video games on a computer platform. Nicola Salmoria of Italy was the original programmer of the project, but over time it has grown in scope and there are countless people contributing to the development of the program. The goal of MAME is to document the inner workings of the arcade machines that are now everywhere. This has a few very beneficial side effects:

  • The original game systems are documented and preserved for posterity.
  • Many games that would have been lost to history are still playable.

You see, the old machines will not last forever. Thanks to the MAME project, the game programs can continue to be enjoyed by enthusiasts the world over. On a personal note, I once worked for a vending company that sold and serviced arcade machines, and I can tell you from personal experience that some of the older systems are simply not repairable - the parts no longer exist.

Obtaining and Using MAME

MAME is free software. It is expressly forbidden in the license agreement to sell MAME; further, since you can download it from so many places on the Internet it would be silly to try. MAME comes in two parts: the actual program, which by itself will do nothing, and the ROM images for the games, which are not distributed with the emulator.

As noted above, this article refers to the version of MAME that runs under Windows. There are ports of MAME that exist and will run on nearly any platform around, from Linux to the Palm OS.


The official website for MAME is It is important to note, however, that MAME is intended to run in a DOS environment. If you don't know what DOS is, then despair not -- the Windows version is what we care about here. The latest Windows version can be found at You may have better luck looking somewhere else for the download; requires you to register to download from their site. Then again, you can always visit BugMeNot for a free login name and password.

I strongly recommend that you download MAME32. The DOS version requires a lot of extra work since you need to type in all of the commands that the program requires, including the ROM (game) name. Presenting even more of a challenge in that department is the fact that ROMs are not named the same as the games themselves, they all have cryptic DOS-style names that are hard to remember.

As a side note, there are versions of MAME that have been optimized for various processors. If you have an AMD Athlon, for example, you can seek out a version of MAME that has been compiled to take advantage of certain aspects of the Athlon chip. Likewise, there are also versions for Intel Pentium processors. These are not official releases but they should work identically to the release version of MAME, with the exception that they should run faster on the platform they are optimized for.

Again, MAME is free to download and use, so never pay for it.

Installing MAME32

MAME32 comes packaged as a 7Zip self-extracting file. Simply run the file and it will prompt you for a location to store the unpacked files. You can place the extracted files anywhere you like; I store mine in My Documents in a folder simply called - you guessed it - MAME.

MAME can be enhanced by downloading and using add-on or supplemental files, such as the original artwork, screen shots, game histories, and more. Although they are by no means necessary, these additional items can really enhance your MAME experience. If you have the space and time, they are worth the download.

The following is a list of the default directories or folders that exist under the MAME directory and their purpose. For supplemental files that enhance the MAME experience, visit the MAME download section.

  • artwork
    This is where you place the original artwork from the game cabinets - that is, the art that surrounded the display in the original game cabinet.
  • bkground
    This is where background images for MAME are placed. These are visible when you start the program and are viewing the game list. Images should be in the PNG format.
  • cabinets
    In this directory, place the images of the actual arcade cabinets. You can place a single file called here.
  • cfg
    This is where individual changeable settings for games are stored, along with the default settings after the first execution of MAME. For example, if you change the control settings for Gorf, there would be a file named gorf.cfg here.
  • cpanel
    Control panel layouts from the original consoles live here. These are relatively hard to find in respect to other supplemental MAME items, but I have made them available in the MAME download section as well.
  • ctrlr
    Stores the configuration files for different types of controllers, such as SlikStik and XArcade.
  • diff
    Stores hard disk difference files. Don't ask me what the hell these are; I don't use them.
  • docs
    By default this directory will contain four text files that explain some of the more advanced features of MAME and its use.
  • flyers
    In this directory you can place the file, which contains scanned copies of the original promotional flyers released with many of the games.
  • folders
    Customized views of the game list in the main MAME interface are stored here.
  • hi
    This is where high score files are kept. Not all games support this feature, but many do - so you don't lose your high scores every time you exit. Neat, huh?
  • icons
    In this directory, place the file. The icons are displayed next to the game title in the MAME interface.
  • ini
    Stores settings for changeable game parameters, such as display/sound changes that are different than the default (global) game options.
  • inp
    Game recordings live in this location. You can record a game you are playing, and later play that back if you choose.
  • marquees
    The file lives here. It contains images of the placard/marquee that adorned the original game cabinet.
  • memcard
    Memory card files for certain games live here.
  • nvram
    Stores system settings for certain games - such as dip switch settings, among others.
  • roms
    This is where the actual games themselves should be kept. They can either be in ZIP format or in individual folders; the name is all-important - never change the name of the ZIP file or the directory!
  • samples
    Some games require sound samples to run properly. These are stored here. See the downloads section for these files.
  • snap
    Snapshots of game screens are stored here. These are displayed in the main MAME interface. You can also save your own snapshots by pressing F12 during a game.
  • sta
    Saved game states are stored here. MAME allows you to save your place in a game by pressing Shift-F7 and then [a-z, 1-0]. Not all games support this feature.
  • titles
    Contains if added. These are snapshots of the game title screens that can be displayed in the MAME interface.

ROM Images

The ROM images for the games are available in many places. Please be aware that you are supposed to own the original in order to legally download the ROM image. This fact does not stop legions of people from downloading and playing the games anyway, but now you know.

My suggestion is to do a search with Google for the words MAME burner. There are many enthusiasts that maintain complete sets of ROMs for MAME and burn them for the cost of the media (and shipping). By getting the games this way, you will ensure that you have a complete, working set. Downloading them piecemeal from the web is much more difficult and typically results in non-working or failed games

Once you have obtained game ROMs, place them in the ROMS directory where you installed MAME. They can be left in zip file format as MAME can read these natively. MAME should identify the added game ROMs upon next start. If you have added the supplemental files, in particular the icon sets, then custom icons will be displayed for each game. Not all games have a custom icon but most do.

Setting default MAME options



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