Arcade Online Bonanza

Pat Pilcher satiates his spacies nostalgia with an online resource.

arcade machinesPEOPLE OF A certain age will look back and smile at the mention of Galaga, Frogger and Rally-X.

Back in the day personal computers were low res machines whose audio capabilities consisted of the odd beep.

If you wanted half decent video gaming, it was on ya bike to the spacies parlour with a pocket full of 20 cent pieces.

The video arcade was a pretty exciting place. Arcade game machines were usually stand-up beasts in wooden cabinets. Built to last, they consisted of a coin-slot screen and joy stick.

If you were somewhere posh, chances were that you’d find a table top arcade machine. These resembled a bulked up coffee table with a glass top over the screen. This was particularly handy as you could rest a pint on the machine while gaming.

Sadly, the glory days or arcade gaming weren’t going to last forever. The unstoppable march of technology soon saw PCs giving arcade game machines a real run for their game tokens.
The video games console market also re-ignited thanks to Sony’s PlayStation and Nintendo’s N64. Soon, there were better games available at home, and spending money on spacies became less and less popular.

Now arcade gaming is on the verge of extinction. Worn arcade machines are still found in a few lone takeaways, or the games room of cashed-up collectors.

For the rest of us there is also a booming arcade emulator scene. The principle underpinning emulators is pretty straightforward.

Space-Invaders-Fridge-MagnetsQuad-core CPUs, 3D acceleration and cheap storage have seen a sharp rise in the capabilities of the humble PC.
Most arcade machines used sub-5Mhz CPUs and pretty basic graphics hardware. Because of this, they’re not too difficult to emulate on a PC.

Thanks to the wonders of the interweb, emulators also became dead easy to get hold of. Those wanting a blast down video arcade lane only had to track down soft images of arcade game ROMs.

Meanwhile, back in the present, things have got easier still. Tracking down emulators and ROMs too much grief? No problem. Now you can access and play retro arcade titles using nothing more than a web browser.

Arcade games may be on the scrapheap of history but the Internet Archive has gathered up an impressive collection of over 900 arcade titles.

They run on the JavaScript MESS emulator which executes the ROMs in a web browser. After a bit of testing I can say that on my middling Ultrabook spec, 64 bit Firefox offers the smoothest emulation. Controls are usually a keyboard (or gamepad) and the games will run in a window or full screen.
Patience is often needed. There’s nothing to tell you which keys control what and some of the emulated graphics can be ropey. There’s often no sound.

But oh, the memories! Getting my ass kicked in old-school games such as Bosconia transported me back to the days of big hair, synth pop bands, Sony Walkmans and Radio With Pictures. Their graphics may be basic, but the gameplay is brilliant. Check out the Internet Archive’s arcade game collection here. PAT PILCHER

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