Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Journey to MAME: Part 2 - Iny Meany Miny No

In part 1 I covered getting my X-Arcade, buying the tank stick to go with it, and picking a computer (on-hand) to power the whole thing. It's that last part that I ended with so I could pick it up here. When I left off these were my options for computing:

Pine64- A Pine64 is a small computer like that of a Raspberry Pi. The Pine64 was actually the first 64-bit entry into the realm of mini-computers beating the Raspberry Pi 3 by some months. I picked mine up through the Pine64 Kickstarter last year and just got it back in May. I didn't exactly know what I wanted to do with it, but I've had it in mind to use it for MAME emulation, or powering a multiple Jamma arcade cabinet, both ideas of which I back seated shortly after receiving the Pine64 board.

The Old Laptop in the Closet - In the back of the office closet lie some electronic items that currently have no home or use in our house. We hang on to them because they do have the potential to one day be useful again. About two years ago my father just dropped off an old Compaq laptop, explaining he had gotten a new one. My oldest son quickly claimed it to play Minecraft on, but within two months we took it away from him since he had downloaded numerous viruses and Trojans on to it in search of questionable Minecraft mods he saw on YouTube. One of these malicious items briefly screwed up the computers WiFi, and my wife spent days fixing it to get it up and working again, but after that it went into storage. Emulators don't exactly need a lot of computing power making the old WiFi capable Vista based computer a viable option.

The Old Laptop in the Closet 2 - Yes, there is a second back there an old one of mine that works but has some functionality issues. It's actually an old "movie laptop", which was a short lived fad in the late 00's, these where laptops with large screens, Dolby sound, and sub-woofers meant to act as on the go home theatre systems. I actually used it on a trip once and it was fairly impressive to watch DVD's on in a hotel room.  

My WiFi-less Laptop - My newest laptop fell victim to Windows 10, when a Windows 10 update in early 2016 screwed up both the WiFi and ethernet drivers, and it's been impossible to fix on my own since. I've considered bringing it in to be fixed, but between my phone, iPad, and Desktop I'm not sure how badly I need a laptop right now. Anyway, it has Windows 10 and is pretty fast, just the lack of WiFi that bothers me.

So it’s pretty clear I have a few different routes to go, but the ultimate end choice would have to be made based on the “front end system” for the cabinet itself. So what is a front end? Also how will I choose one, and the computer to run it?

A front end is a systems that collectively gathers together all the emulators, and associated ROM’s and puts them on the arcade cabinet in a user friendly manner. There are actually many of these out there, and they operate on a number of systems. With regards to X-Arcade they suggest Maximus Arcade as the front end, since the Tank Stick default setting is designed to work with it. Other options I also looked into where Retro Pi for the Rasberry Pi, and hopefully the Pine64, and Hyperspin. Hyperspin, and Maximus Arcade are both designed to optimally work on a Windows 7 or better PC.

Watching a few reviews on Maximus Arcade and based on the fact that it’s X-Arcade’s chosen front end I decided to give it a try using the “Old Laptop in the Closet 1” which I will refer to from this point on as the Compaq. Opening and powering on the old laptop I realized it had a few key issues, first we were uncertain of the password to switch between profiles, since it hadn’t been used in forever. Secondly, it has zero battery life, and seems to have some physical damage. With that said though at least it has WiFi and connecting to the internet wasn’t an issue, which allowed me to download Maximus Arcade.

Note on Maximus Arcade: Access to Maximus Arcade comes free with the purchase of a Tank Stick, or system. But, Maximus only sends the code out at the beginning of the month following purchase, and having bought my Tank Stick in mid-month I was going to have to wait, however Maximus does had a free thirty day trial to use in the interim.

To help me install Maximus I watched the YouTube videos they posted on their website to show how easy it was to install the front end. So with Maximus downloaded and my MAME emulator of choice also downloaded, I followed the videos simple instructions and… myself a weekend long headache. I watched the video over and over to see if I was missing something, but all I kept getting was an “invalid media location error”. I looked at X-Arcades website and the FAQ's there didn’t help, then I check other websites and nothing helped. The worst part was that the error itself didn’t really seem to have one simple fix, since just about every forum had some completely different fix for the error. In one forum I even saw a few other people with the same frustration over the error and lack of a defined fix. In frustration I put the old Compaq aside, and decided to forego Maximus as my operating system.    

Old Laptop in the Closet - No, Maximus Arcade - No

Next, I moved on to my Pine64 and the Pine64/Rasberry Pi direction was kind of where I wanted to go to begin with. Before my Pine64 could get up and running I would need a few things, like a power cord since apparently this couldn't come with it from the Kickstarter (don't get me started), and I would need a micro-SD. Also, I would need a USB hub for everything since the Pine64 only comes with 2 slots. The micro-SD, and hub could be easily found in stores, but the power cord was different. It has what is called a mini-USB end, which is pretty common and more than likely you have a few in your home, however the Pine64 like its Raspberry Pi counterpart needs 5V and minimum 2.5 Amp, to run properly. On most mini-USB’s 5 volts is common but 2.5 to 3 amps isn't, and the few spare I had on hand weren't powerful enough. So I bounced on to eBay and found a 3 Amp for about $4, and picked up a 64GB mini-SD as well for about $10. The mini-SD arrived right away and I began working on the Pine64 with the power cord from my sons Kano Rasberry Pi until my own cord arrived.

Now it came down to programming the Pine64. Sadly, the Pine64 can't use the same basic operating system as the Rasberry Pi, so my thought of using Retro Pi were very quickly dashed. So if your keeping score Retro Pi-No. However, the Android operating system does work with the Pine64, and I found uploading it to the mini-SD and then operating it on the Pine64 to be quick and painless, something I don't expect after the Maximus incident the weekend before. Android actually supports a version of Hyperspin, which was very good news. The caveat is that Hyperspin requires a lot of work to get up and running, so it was on to that.

At this point I began to watch a series of YouTube videos by Simply Austin, which are amazing step by step videos for getting Hyperspin up and running. It became pretty clear, pretty quickly that I was going to have to do a bulk of the work on my PC, and perhaps transfer it to the Pine64 via a flash drive later. This Hyperspin project would take about a week to work through since it was a matter of finding time to watch the videos and work on everything accordingly. Eventually, I reached a point when I felt Hyperspin was ready to run on the Pine64, and popped the flashdrive into it. Sadly, though all the work I had done via Windows 10, wouldn't transfer to the Android system. So not wishing to fight it or even start all over from the beginning, I decided I would transfer Hyperspin to one of the laptops.


I knew I would have a lot more work to do if I wanted to get Hyperspin to look really slick, and to be honest Hyperspin required a lot of alá carte background work just to get there. The aforementioned Maximus Arcade however came with a lot of Hyperspin’s features already in it and I decided to give Maximus a chance on a different computer, my desktop, to see if it would work. Much to my surprise and joy Maximus Arcade worked well on my desktop, and I made sure to do all my work on Maximus via the same flash drive my Hyperspin work was on so I could import the now working product to a different computer.

Hyperspin-No, Maximus Arcade - Yes?

So the big question quickly became what was different between my first try with Maximus and my second? My first thought was the first computer since the old Compaq had some odd things going on with the file directories that dated back to my father and his friend “optimizing” it. Than, I realized that in the process of doing the background programming for Hyperspin I might have corrected some Maximus issues as well. When I picked a MAME originally I went with MAMEUIFX which itself is almost a front end. But, this time around, for the sake of Hyperspin, I attached the ROM directory to MAMEUIFX, and ran a ROM audit. So now when I attached the emulator, and ROM directories to Maximus things flowed a little better. I won't say Maximus worked perfectly, it still required some various settings adjustments, and the forced scan, but the errors related to these were common, and had common fixes this time too.

I bought the huge Tank Stick up to my office made barely enough desk space, and plugged it in, to assure everything worked. With MAMEUIFX you have to tell it you are using an X-Arcade Tank Stick, and luckily a file can be attached to MAMEUIFX that allows it to recognize the Tank
Stick in its settings and that's really nice. I will admit even though the Tank Stick is defaulted for MAME, there were still a few issues I had to correct, but I'll get into that later. With MAMEUIFX, Maximus, and the Tank Stick working it was time to pick a laptop.

Back to The Old Laptop in the Closet 1, the Compaq. Perhaps with my new knowledge I could make this one work. I plugged it in, and suddenly there was a new issue. For a while I noticed the cooling fan for the microprocessor making a rubbing sound, but now it had gotten worse. Somewhere between my Dads abuse of the laptop, my son, and living in back of the closet, the plastic grating on the bottom of the laptop broke and began pushing into the fan. I tried to fix it, but at this point it's not fixable.

The Old Laptop in the Closet 1- No, again

My next choice was My WiFi-less Laptop, or as will call it the Toshiba. I like the fact that this was a newer more powerful Windows 10 computer, which should have the processing capabilities to work with fighting games like Marvel vs Capcom. Software wise everything worked, but there was as a different complication. Apparently, X-Arcade had issues with Windows 10 recognizing the arcade monitor and was telling customers to not allow their built-ins to upgrade to Windows 10. So it was no surprise that my Windows 10 laptop didn't recognize the X-Arcade monitor.

My Wifi-less Laptop- No

This left me with one last option, The Old Laptop in the Closet 2, or as I will call it the Acer. The Acer powered up without any issues or strange noises, and I had to dig deep as to why I didn't use this as a laptop anymore. Outside of the weight and missing “G” key, I couldn't remember. One issue did present itself was the fact that the Acer has WiFi, but it's browsers are all outdated and basically unusable. Besides that, the files transferred well and worked without issue, leading me to finally finding my laptop of choice. Testing it with the Tank Stick, everything worked well and it was now time to dig into the cabinet itself, and install the Tank Stick and computer.

I'll get into that next time, as well as taking a look at the inside of the X-Arcade cabinet.

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