Wed. Mar 22nd, 2023
Unemulated: Eleven classic arcade games you can't play at home

Even with the small resurgence of arcades these days, the long-term decline of the American arcade means that there is an entire generation of people who have had little opportunity to play any of the thousands of coin-operated games in their own cabinets. Even those who remember the golden age of arcades of the ’70s and ’80s probably only had a chance to try a relative handful of games available at their local haunts.

For people who want to preserve this vanishing piece of gaming history, or experience cabinets they never had access to, Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator (MAME) is a godsend. It is one of the most ambitious emulation projects ever, spanning tens of thousands of games with a wide variety of hardware, programming, and controls. Legal issues aside, MAME ensures that future generations can at least play and study these games without having to track down an obsolete case or circuit board.

But as extensive as MAME is, there are some arcade games that remain unplayable (or functionally unplayable) without access to the original arcade hardware. That fact came as a relief this week with news that developer Mitchell Corporation finally sold the rights to its back catalog. That back catalog includes an obscure shooting game from 2002 Gamsharawhich has never been successfully emulated or ported to a home console, meaning few people have ever played it.

As it turns out, there are hundreds of these unemulated games floating around, as well documented by sites like unMAMEd and System 16. For some of these unemulated games, the MAME community just hasn’t gotten around to coding specific emulation support, or has found emulation too difficult. For others, there’s no known digital ROM dump of the original hardware, mostly because that hardware is only available in a few existing prototype boards floating around. Then there’s a third category of games that can technically be emulated by MAME or other emulators, but can’t really be experienced without the highly specialized controllers or display hardware built into the original cabinets.

We’ve done some research on games that fall into all three of these categories and came up with a list of 11 intriguing arcade rarities that you should leave and search to play. At a time when it seems like every form of entertainment has been digitized and made available for download on the web, these remain some of gaming’s rarest experiences.

Computer room

The very first coin-operated arcade game, released months earlier Pong in 1971, remains surprisingly unparalleled to this day. That’s partly because Computer room ran on wired integrated circuits – like many 1970s arcade games – and not modern microprocessor ROMs (controversial 1976 game death race is in a similar boat and remains unmatched).

While MAME ignores most of these pre-microchip games, the DICE (Discrete Integrated Circuit Emulator) project provides accurate recreations of early classics such as Pong And Break out through emulation. But DICE still hasn’t been able to crack Computer room, because of the complicated hardware configuration. As one commenter wrote on the project’s Work In Progress blog, “DICE currently only emulates some board games. A lot more code is needed before DICE can handle games that use multiple boards, including Computer room or a board rack setup like India 800. It may take a while to emulate multiple hardware board games.”

If you want to experience Computer room without tracking down one of its signature glittery cabinets, the best thing to do is try one of the many simulations, coded from scratch to get as close to the arcade game as possible (or to Space warthe original PDP-1 game that inspired it).

Crazy Otto

Of all the Pac-Man hacks out there, many of which are mimicked on MAME, Crazy Otto is undoubtedly the most important. The game started as a conversion kit for the original Pac man created by General Computer Corporation (GCC), which added new mazes, faster gameplay, and a funny looking main character “Pac-Man-with-legs”. Crazy Otto however, was discontinued quite soon after its launch due to a related lawsuit with Atari. Instead of giving up, GCC took their game to American Pac man distributor Midway, who liked it so much they bought the rights and turned it into a little game now known as Miss Pac-Man.

While there are still a few rare test site prototypes of it Crazy Otto in the wild, the ROM file was never dumped for emulation purposes. GCC reportedly considered releasing the game’s ROM in 2010, but that promise never materialized. For now, your best chance at playing this historic rarity is by hoping to find it at a show like California Extreme or PAX.

Cute fat

There are some games we’re glad never got the MAME treatment, and this obscure 2002 title from Korean company Wecom is one of them. A post on sums up the ridiculous premise:

A girl named Cutey Fatty weighs more than 100 kg, but she really wants to become a supermodel. So she has to lose weight while battling her favorite food in town. Her enemies are hamburgers, chocolate chip cookies and ice creams and so on. She should defeat the enemies and lose weight by getting vegetables and fruits in each stage. As the game plays, the scale will indicate her real-time weights and make it easier for her to lose weight with intense exercise if she finds a secret door. And Toto, her beautiful dog, helps to defeat the enemies.

With a concept like that, perhaps it’s better that the cabinet never seems to have come out of Korea, either in PC or console ports (although a version was reportedly planned for the obscure GamePark 32 handheld). If you really want to play a game like that, it’s the premise behind Konami’s Famicom title Yume Penguin Monogatari is just as ridiculous.

Marble Madness 2: Marble Man

Anyone who has had the pleasure of playing the original Marble madness on a trackball-equipped arcade cabinet know it’s one of gaming’s truly unique classics. After the release of the original game in 1984 and many subsequent home ports, a declining Atari Games finally got around to creating a sequel in 1991, with more levels, new enemies, new obstacles, and third player support. A handful of prototypes made it through site testing, but underperformed next to the slick street fighter clones that were popular at the time. Atari eventually scrapped the Marble man project to work on his own fighting game, Hood guards.

In the decades since, collectors have gone to great lengths to track down the prototype boards and cabinets for the game. Yet the game is so rare that none of the 7,617 members of the Video Arcade Preservation Society have it in their collection. And while the prototypes sometimes show up at shows like California Extreme, the ROM has yet to be ditched.

By akfire1

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