Three steps into Aaron H. Mahler's house, there is no mistaking that this is a man who knows computers and who loves arcade games. His office, just off the foyer, hosts a desk with two computers and two PDAs, a Road King pinball machine, and a classic Pac-Man game rescued from the bistro at Sweet Briar College, where Mahler (pronounced "mailer") works as the director of network services. And in the middle of the room sits the toy that was worth flying to Virginia to see: an arcade machine with custom-built controls and a PC inside running software, called MAME, that allows it to play more than 2,200 classic video games with almost perfect fidelity. No quarters required.
I had read about MAME, the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator software project that enables a PC to mimic dozens of microchips used in arcade games. First released in 1997 by Nicola Salmoria, a programmer in Siena, Italy, the open-source project has since attracted some 100 hackers to work on improving it. I had even gone to www.mame.net and downloaded a copy, along with a few of the public-domain ROM (read-only memory) files that contain programs for individual games. Yet standing here in front of Mahler's universal arcade machine, I am amazed by the thing.
This article was originally published with the title The Infinite Arcade Machine.