Real Far Away From an Arcade in 1970s Japan

In an early sign of where things started to go wrong on this planet, some '70s and '80s arcade games acquired a habit of opening with a copyright prayer, by which I mean, an appeal to an entity that could never realistically intervene in the situation. It's a lot like writing a disclaimer on your forehead that your hairstyle is not to ever be seen outside the immediate environs of your skull. You'll run into this kind of magical thinking all the time on this world. These games hail from an era when such absurd lightning-in-a-bottle claims had less legal bite than they do today. But even now, controlling copyright is still as empty a prayer as controlling perception itself. I'm doing all this, for example, on one of the most locked-up software platforms in history. And still, I can have my way with it. And my way, in this review of the third row of my Cydia apps for a Time Walker's iPhone series, is to rescue the relevance to this planet of early video game history, by aiming you at the emulators of interfaces from the dawn of man/machine.

By this point in history, the 'rainbow' from Apple's crest, has fallen. MAME beams a broad spectrum of decades-old arcade games through nearly every type of computer or handheld you can name, except the iPhone. In fact, you could fill encyclopedias with the gaming knowledge that is excluded from this device by Apple's prohibition on emulators. There is certainly no performance argument for it. The 1983 vector game above, for example, plays great, and had me torquing my body in sync. (But the standard mame4iphone controls are not ideal for this one; it seems to have been coded with some sort of flightstick in mind.) So I used Cydia to install MAME to my jailbroken iPhone, then the Cydia version of 'Discover' to transfer my zipped ROMs to
on the iPhone. Then start mame4iphone, and play! If you don't have any ROMs, 'Googling' MAME v3.07 Beta 5 ROMs should turn some compatible collections up.

From M-4 to Space Invaders

Another fascinating game that you can play with mame4iphone, M-4 is essentially Space Invaders, only released a year earlier, in 1977, by Midway, before Taito turned it 90 degrees and replaced the mirror-image opponent with the now-famous drone armada. Even with a one-year head start and the same basic toolset, M-4 faded into obscurity, while Space Invaders seems to have inspired the first arcade gold-rush. Why? M-4 was, after all, a pretty smart machine for entertaining the human brain, presenting a single opponent that not only targets you through a reactive (i.e. player-destructible) shield, but evades your fire. Space Invaders dispensed with the evasion, instead borrowing Breakout's deep, if abstract, player-reactivity to graft onto its own, more concrete world of eroding shields and fungible enemy formations. In Space Invaders you are pitted consistently against the consequences of your own actions, rather than against just a half-competent AI. As it turns out, that's an even smarter way for a machine to attempt to entertain a human brain, as demonstrated by all the copycat hits that followed, from Asteroids and Missile Command, to Space Panic, Pac-Man, and even, Tetris.

In features, if not in proximity to the most seminal moments in game history, the Super Nintendo (SNES) emulator for the iPhone is more advanced. You can play in portrait mode, with a layout similar to MAME's, but also in landscape with the controller keys overlaid transparently (as above). I prefer landscape, though I wish they had positioned the game screen a little higher and the keys a tad lower. (It's not as hard as it looks to play with your thumbs covering a part of the screen, but considering the overall use of screen real estate, it just doesn't seem necessary.) The SNES emulator also has an array of options, most having to do with sacrificing stuff to make it faster. As with MAME, I found that turning off the sound produces the greatest uptick into playability. And also as with MAME, you can transfer your Googled SNES ROMs to your iPhone at

Super Mario World is the crowning glory of an alternate branch of games — which I call 'clockworks' — and which developed alongside the whole reactive branch rooted in Space Invaders. In a clockworks game, it's as if the 'periodically rotating' aspect of M-4's innovative shield undergoes runaway evolution, whereas the 'player-editable' aspect of it that was cultivated in Space Invaders, instead becomes vestigial, or even disappears, altogether. Player absorption is achieved by presenting a series of decisions made spatiotemporally complex by the cyclic movements of dangerous screen elements, like turtles that bounce to and fro, and platforms that raise and lower to different metronomes. Navigating clockwork was prefigured somewhat with Pac-Man's ghosts (though they are an attempt to seem intelligent so anticipating their routes feels like cheating), and then debuted as a distinct, unapologetic style in 1981 with Frogger and Donkey Kong, evolving into the Super Mario series to great acclaim, pitting humans all the while primarily against the undisguised gears of the machine. Kind of obvious now why this lineage succeeded best when paired with a radical concentration of 'cutesy' graphics. More than other interactive methods, a clockworks needs be humanised.

The one emulation test that didn't reward me with a fun and interesting experience was psx4iphone. The PlayStation is a much more advanced console than SNES, and a decade beyond most of my MAME ROMs. I ransacked my inherited collection and managed to turn up two PlayStation games: Tenchu, and Bushido Blade 2 (pictured). So after ripping them to .bin/.cue files with Toast for the Mac and transferring them to my iPhone at
I discovered that Tenchu didn't work (no video), and that Bushido Blade 2 worked but could not be made to play at an acceptable frame rate, with or without the music. Basically, this is a FAIL but I kept psx4iphone on my phone, and on this list, because both Tenchu and Bushido Blade 2 are fairly sophisticated 3D games, and I don't yet have any sidescrolling, PSX games in my possession on which to perform the test in 2D. If you have managed to make a PSX game play acceptably on the iPhone, which game was it? There is little reason not to venture into arcade (MAME) or console (SNES) history on the iPhone, but you'll likely not get much playability on the PSX front.

NEXT: FOURTH ROW - CoverFlow for your contacts,
and the best iPhone RSS reader.
Posted via Pixelpipe.

[Published originally at The Laroquod Experiment.]

Cydia Apps for a Time Walker's iPhone - SECOND ROW

This iPhone screenshot is from an episode of a TV show called Flashpoint, which I discovered on my hard drive, and with which I discovered that the most common video container in the world (anything ending in .AVI), is unplayable on this 'iPhone' handset! It took a little bit of screwing with to get right, but there is an MPlayer app on Cydia you can use to watch this forbidden format. With a few skips and jumps, and provided you don't sic it on anything too hi-rez, it works. But MPlayer expects you to upload its data to an oddly placed folder. I recommend setting this up not as a folder, but as an alias pointing somewhere inside the standard Media folder (just so it doesn't become too difficult to back up all your media at once). Here's how.

iFile to /var/mobile/Media

Use iFile to navigate to your /Media folder so that what you see is pretty similar to the above. (You may not yet have as many folders in there as I do.) This folder is where most of your jailbroken iPhone apps will look for files. You can get to it by various routes (because of preinstalled aliases, which display in iFile in blue), and they are, starting from the top: (1) /private/var/mobile/Media, (2) /var/mobile/Media, (3) /User/Media, and (4) ~/Media — all of those paths lead to the same /Media folder. Once you get there in iFile, tap 'Edit' in the top right corner, then tap the big '+' to create a new folder inside your /Media folder.

Create /MPlayer folder

Fill out the first two fields as shown above. (Case matters.) 'Directory' is a contemporary synonym for a Mac-style folder. The rest of the fields should default to what you see. Tap 'Create'.

iFile to /var

Tap the top left button a couple of times to navigate iFile back to the /var folder, and then tap 'Edit' and then '+' again.

Create /media alias

MPlayer ignores your /Media folder and instead looks for its files in /var/media. Fill out the screen as above to create an alias instead of a folder at /var/media and to point that alias toward the /User/Media/MPlayer folder that was just created two screenshots ago. Now tap 'Create' and exit iFile, and your MPlayer is set up. Just use Discover to transfer your AVIs to your /Media/MPlayer folder, and start MPlayer!

Start MPlayer

If you've done the setup and transfer right, your vids should show on MPlayer's list, like Flashpoint appears on this one.


Rather than rotating itself breathlessly with every jerk of your hand like a mental cat chasing a laser pointer, MPlayer opts to simply mix and match orientations in one view, and I have to say, I don't mind the result. It does everything it needs to do without much of a mode switch, which is actually superior to the built-in player. (Apple's screen reorientation acts like its got all the CPU power in the world, but the reality is it gets easily confused and stuck for long moments at forty-odd degree angles.) Run MemTest (that's fourth row, I'll be posting more on it soon) to clean your memory right before playing your video: it can help performance.


The most featured Cydia app is Cycorder, and for good reason: it does for creative video output what MPlayer does for input. You see, one of the video creators to whom access to the iPhone is officially denied is you, because Apple thinks the iPhone hardware's video capabilities are too poor for your tastes! Personally I find the results produce a visual feel that can be quite involving, and sometimes even a little eerie. (Both those links were, like the entirety of this article, written and captured entirely with this handset, and uploaded with Pixelpipe, which you can find in the App Store. And the 'PPVideoEnabler' app that patches Pixelpipe to read your Cycorder vids is available on Cydia.)


So, you're watching AVIs without conversion on the iPhone. It's not perfect but it basically works for most 350MB-or-below TV episodes. And you're lifestreaming video like you're a roving eye out of Max Headroom. Why not bust out of the same format prison, in sequential art? What you call, comic books. Pictured is just a smattering of comic book files discovered on my hard drive, and then, 'Discovered', via wifi, to my iPhone's /Media/Comic folder, where iComic (also on Cydia) looks for them.

iComic options

Select a .CBZ file. (Unfortunately, iComic doesn't do .CBRs yet, but the conversion process is fairly trivial.) Note that you have the option to skip to your last position, or pick pages from a list.

iComic portrait

In portrait mode, iComic just got completely out of my way like a movie player and immediately filled my screen with pure comic. Which transmogrified into pure frustration, when nothing I tapped or swiped appeared to turn the page, or even exit. I was stuck on page one! Turns out the controls are very simple, if not iPhone-intuitive. Tap bottom corners to page forward and back. Tap top left corner to return to the list. It's a bit picky about accuracy, which seems unnecessary. Anyway it looks great, and in landscape mode, you can even read it...

iComic landscape

Not too shabby. And you can pinch and squeeze to your heart's content. The actual comic book pictured, by the way, would likely not be accepted to the App Store, due to mature themes that appear to have bounced out this artist, and this one, and this one. So odious to me is the news of such barrings that I don't plan to submit Hypothesis to Apple at all, and will instead be looking into how to assimilate iComic and codistribute via the free culture the way these artists have done.


On free culture: there are hundreds of thousands of free eBook files out there in various formats, and though you aren't wholly prevented from accessing most of them without jailbreaking, you are still placed at an annoyingly far remove from whatever personal collection of .TXTs or .RTFs or .PDBs you already have. Besides, THEY ARE JUST TEXT. This really should not be that complicated: have a file, read a file. You can get back to that ideal by installing this Cydia app textReader, and then transferring your eBooks to the iPhone's /Media/textReader folder.

textReader portrait

Fonts are adjustable, and the app will do landscape, if you swing that way! But it does not read all formats. I seem to have inherited a lot of TomeRaider files, for example, and have yet to find a way to read them on this phone. 8(

NEXT: THIRD ROW - Google Reader, Classic Gaming
Posted via Pixelpipe.

[Published originally at The Laroquod Experiment.]