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Entries in VNC (1)

We want our iPad arcade, not excuses!

 

The second we saw Think Geek's inspired April Fool's joke we knew it was time for a mission! As Think Geek so beautifully demonstrated, the iPad is perfectly suited to bringing back many arcade classics. Call us nerds if you like, but the classic 70's and 80's arcade games are a heritage worth preserving, a record of the origins of today's games that needs to be preserved for future generations.

MAME (Multi Arcade Machine Emulator) has been the bastion arcade preservation for the last ten years, in short, MAME emulates the hardware of thousands of older arcade cabinets. MAME is a collection of code so important as to warrant a prominent place on any new computing format. So just where is iPhone OS MAME?

This is where we get angry like Angry Birds!

Apple don't allow machine emulation on the App Store. We can understand the reasoning behind this, but it would be nice to see some consistency. For example, Sega's Sonic 1 and Sonic 2 iPhone games are both Sega Mega Drive (Sega Genesis in the U.S.) emulators that run the original Sonic code. So if Apple won't allow MAME on the App Store why do they allow Sonic?

Sadly we don't ever envisage the day when we will be able to purchase MAME from the App Store and load up our own arcade ROM files, build our own virtual arcade just as Think Geek proposed.

Two possible solutions

We propose two solutions, both very different but both perfectly viable.

Solution 1. Involves Apple Game Center, a social gaming component that will arrive with iPhones OS 4 later in the year. Apple could provide a full license and optimised version of the MAME code as part of Game Center. Publishers who hold the rights to those gaming classics could then submit their code (basically the very same ROM images that already work with other version of MAME) for inclusion in Game Center. The obvious way for publishers to make money from these old classic is via Apple's brand new iAd service. This way everybody wins. Apple gets to keep control of its platform, publishers get to make even more money from games that have long since paid for themselves and we get to relive our misspent youth playing 4 player Gauntlet.

Solution 2. This is perhaps the most elegant solution as it requires no new technology and would almost certainly be allow into the App Store. We'll start with a simple explanation and then move on to more technical details.

We call this solution 'Cloud MAME'. Cloud MAME would require two components, Cloud MAME Server and Cloud MAME App. Cloud MAME Server would be a modified version of the existing MAME application running on Windows, Mac OS X or Lunix. Instead of displaying the game screen into a local monitor, Cloud MAME Server would stream the display across a local or wide area network. Cloud MAME App would be an iPad app that receives this display image and renders it in near realtime on the iPad display. It would also stream the player controls responses back up to the server. In essence, it would act like any VNC server/client solution, thereby avoiding all licensing issues.

The real key here -- the thing that makes this solution so workable -- is the display resolution of these classic arcade games. Seen below is the actual display image taken from an early 1980's arcade game. On the left is the full uncompressed image which weighs it at a good 576k per frame. On the right is a compressed version that totals just 3.5k per frame!

There is zero degradation in quality because the compression used is PNG-8 a popular web standard that allows for pin sharp images with very specific graphic attributes. In this case that specific attribute is the confined palate of just 32 colours, enough colours to perfectly simulate thousands of arcade games. 

Obviously we need a large number of these frames every second in order to get the authentic feel of the original arcade game. Most games require 60 frames per second. Using the PNG-8 standard it's possible to stream 60 frames per second for a total bandwidth 'cost' of just 210k. That's an easy target for most home networks or internet connections. Network response time will also factor in the overall perform, but if OnLive can stream HD high end PC games across the internet, surely Mario stands a good chance of making it through the pipes?

We'd love to see a developer attempt just such a solution. The tools are freely available and the concept isn't rocket science. So how about it creative iPad developers, surely it's worth a shot?

Further Reading:

Draw your own games!

Let the Wookie win!

Polygon pushing power.

Mass Effect 2 for the iPad?