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.]

No comments:

Post a Comment