4 projects for building an open source arcade

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You may have heard the news recently that the MAME project has been licensed under the GPL version 2.

MAME, which originally stood for Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator, is probably the largest and most complete game emulation systems ever created, with the ability to emulate many original gaming systems, largely from the 80s and 90s. While primarily developed for Windows, MAME also compiles easily for Linux, and can be ported to other operating systems as well.

MAME has saved countless vintage games which relied upon unique hardware from disappearing when the long since discontinued circuit boards reach their end of life and were beyond repair. While there are some unanswered legal questions around using commercial ROMs for MAME, there are certainly many games which have been unambiguously placed into public distribution by their original authors.

But MAME is not the only open arcade project out there. Let’s take a look at a few other projects that the arcade enthusiast might want to take on.

Play a new arcade game

Just because many of us associate arcade games with the golden era of physical arcade machines stealing away our quarters one by one doesn’t mean there aren’t still many great new arcade genre games being produced. Here are five you might want to check out, all open source.

  • Chaos Projectile is an action game side scroller where you run and shoot enemies in a world inspired by ancient Egypt.
  • Taisei is an open source clone of Touhou, a shooter game set in a Japanese-folklore based world, written in c.
  • Epic Inventor is a side scrolling action role playing game, written in Java.
  • Duckmarines is a remake of ChuChu Rocket, a party game originally written for the Sega Dreamcast.
  • Savage Wheels is a car crashing arcade game for two to four players battling it out in a demolition derby.

Enjoy the arcade in your browser

Want to enjoy the world of arcade games without worrying about installing new software on your computer? Fortunately, due to their small footprints, minimal effects, and a number of open source game libraries, many arcade games are written in HTML5 and JavaScript and able to be run directly from your web browser. Here are five of our favorites.

  • Ceros Snake is a fun and fast-paced remake of the classic game Snake.
  • Ski Free is a remake of the obstacle (and yeti) avoidance game made popular in the early nineties.
  • Survivor is a remake of the space shooting game originally made for the Atari and Commodore 64.
  • Executive Man is a remake of the classic NES game MegaMan, with a few minor modifications to make it easier to play with touch controls.
  • Custom Tetris is the classic game of Tetris with a twist; play attacker, picking pieces, or defender, placing those pieces on the board.

Like these games? Many more similar games can be found in this epic curated list on GitHub, itself available under a CC BY-NC-SA license.

Use your Raspberry Pi for arcade gaming

Have you ever wanted an ultra portable arcade gaming device, or just want to build an arcade emulator for your home entertainment center on the cheap? Fortunately, the Raspberry Pi packs all of the computing power needed to run many arcade games inside of an emulator system.

While there are many ways to do it, perhaps the easiest is to use a specialized distribution which already packs all of the necessary software. The RetroPie Project, licensed under the GPLv3, brings together all of the elements you need to be able to play, including a base Linux operating system, a number of emulators, and an easy-to-use front end.

Build your own arcade cabinet

Finally, the ultimate in arcade-recreation is to build your own arcade cabinet. No computer is going to fully recreate the experience of standing upright at a dedicated arcade machine, lights flashing, music blasting, hands resting comfortably on physical buttons and a joystick.

There are a huge number of plan sets out there for the enterprising do-it-yourselfer with some basic carpentry skills to build a dedicated arcade cabinet. Many of these plans are freely available for you to copy, modify, and remix based on your own needs and skill level. A few good sources for arcade cabinet plans include ArcadeCab.com, the Easy Cab on Instructables, and LuSiD’s arcade cabinet. While woodworking plans are often distributed for free, the design documents themselves do not always have an explicit license, so be sure to check with the creator before publishing a direct derivative if you are unsure.

Jason Baker
Former Red Hatter. Now a consultant and aspiring entrepreneur. Map nerd, maker, and enthusiastic installer of open source desktop and self-hosted software.

1 Comment

I'm sort of glad I just learned about the RetroPie Project, otherwise my dissertation might have been over before it started.

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