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Today, you can play games almost anywhere.  At home, you can whip out an Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, Playstation 3, or even game on a PC.  On the go, you can be entertained by games on your phone or a hand held system.  But many years ago, such a luxury could not be imagined by most.  Back then, gamers congregated at the corner store or specially purposed arcades to play the latest releases from Atari, Williams Electronics, or Midway.

The legacy of the arcade has become a romanticized vision left only in the minds of those who lived it and preserved in movies and music from the heyday of such places. Songs like “PacMan Fever” remind us of how much arcades meant to their patrons.


Arcade games are different from other old games because most arcade cabinets had hardware designed specifically for the game. The NES in comparison had the hardware in the console and the cartridges held Read Only Memory which would tell the console what to do and display for the game. This makes emulation easier for such systems.

Diligent programmers would not be hindered by such things though. There is a free, open source emulator for old arcade games available called the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator, commonly shortened to MAME.

You can get MAME here. Just click on “Latest Releases“ then download the Windows binary for your system, either 64 bit or 32 bit. After the download completes, start the executable and select the directory where you want the files to be extracted. The prompt should look like this.

old arcade games

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When that completes, you’re ready to start using MAME, but first, you need to download some ROMs to play.

There an many places to get ROMs, my favorite is ROM World. After you have gone through the list of games they have there and have downloaded your favorites, move them into the “roms” folder in your MAME extraction like so.

old arcade games

Remember not to unzip them, just leave them as they are.

Next, double click on the “mameapp“ for 32-bit or “vmame64” for 64-bit in the MAME extraction.  The following dialog should pop up.

play old arcade games on pc

Note, if the lower part of the prompt is red when a game is highlighted, then there is a good chance that the ROM may not work because the developer has not finished it. If it is green, then you’re likely good to go.  Go to the old arcade game you want to play and press enter.

The game might take a second to start up because you are now emulating the cabinet’s hardware and it is acting as if it is starting for the first time or so. The screen may also flash with some strange messages or images, just let it do its thing until you get to the game’s splash screen.

Now you are ready to play. Press F5 to add a credit (like inserting a coin into a real machine) and press the 1 key for one player mode. The arrow keys will act as your joystick and LCtrl will be your button for simple old games that had just one button. For games with more than one, LAlt will be button two, and Space will be button three. Here I am playing Berzerk, one of my personal favorites.

You have the option to remap the buttons as you want so that you’re most comfortable when you play. Instructions can be found here. You can even use a gamepad or a joystick to better simulate the arcade experience.

MAME is a great program to get back to the video game’s roots. Old arcade games are fun for a quick game to pick up and play. MAME makes enjoying them easy, simple, and free.

Do you have any favorite arcade games or know of another arcade emulator? Let us know in the comments below.

  1. idic
    March 14, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    Hi,
    isn't it easier to play online games on a website like http://highscoregaming.net/. But I have to admit there are classic games which will be fun playing. Doesn' t matter how old the are :).

    Cheers idic

  2. idic
    March 14, 2010 at 5:46 am

    Hi,
    isn't it easier to play online games on a website like http://highscoregaming.net/. But I have to admit there are classic games which will be fun playing. Doesn' t matter how old the are :).

    Cheers idic

  3. deska
    March 4, 2010 at 6:22 am

    I'm amused that you're playing an Atari 2600 game. I'm disturbed that I recognized it. I'm even more disturbed if I ID'd it wrong. :)

    • Mike Fagan
      March 22, 2010 at 1:50 pm

      Haha, Berzerk was released for the Atari 2600, but I have to say, the arcade version is vastly superior.

  4. Mike Fagan
    March 3, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    There a a few available on MAME's website from companies that have released the right. Check them out at http://mamedev.org/roms/

  5. Mike Fagan
    March 3, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    http://www.dosgames.com/ is a good one.

  6. Gary Bjornberg
    February 27, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    here is an older game i find fun its called Cardoza's Casino it has a number of slots & video poker,Roullet & black jack
    i bought the game disc years ago & was tlod it would be on line.

  7. ClockworkBastard
    February 26, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    I think every game still have their own copyrights, so if you'll mount an arcade machine based on a MAME - you'll pay for it hard $) But I don't think that if you'll run 20 yo ROMs on your home computer - cops will brake in

    DP was me ;)

    And Paultx
    http://www.homeoftheunderdogs.net/
    and
    http://www.old-games.ru/
    Скачать means download ;)
    Good luck и удачи

    • Mike Fagan
      March 3, 2010 at 8:36 am

      This gets into some moral gray area, so I'm just gonna shut my ears, Haha

  8. Teddy H Craig
    February 26, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    Is there a way to legally obtain the rights to use the ROMS, besides owning the original arcade boards for the games, so you can use them on MAME without copyright issues? Are there any ROMS that have copyrights which have expired? Just curious.

    • Mike Fagan
      March 3, 2010 at 8:35 am

      There a a few available on MAME's website from companies that have released the right. Check them out at http://mamedev.org/roms/

    • Paultx
      March 3, 2010 at 8:56 am

      Thanks, Mike and ClockworkBastard!

  9. ClockworkBastard
    February 26, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    I think every game still have their own copyrights, so if you'll mount an arcade machine based on a MAME - you'll pay for it hard $) But I don't think that if you'll run 20 yo ROMs on your home computer - cops will brake in

    DP was me ;)

    And Paultx
    http://www.homeoftheunderdogs....
    and
    http://www.old-games.ru/
    Скачать means download ;)
    Good luck и удачи

  10. Paultx
    February 26, 2010 at 9:55 am

    BTW do you guys know a great site where I can try to find one old favorite DOS game? And I don't mean Google, of course...

  11. DP
    February 22, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    That's stealing! How about a family of all of these 70 years old programmers? Piracy piracy! =)))

  12. Chickenwuss
    February 21, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    If you want to play the emulator with a much closer, arcade experience, you can try converting your desktop PC into an Arcade Machine. It requires some investment and DIY workaround, but once done, you can have your very own arcade machine in your home. Best of all, you can program it with whatever games you want.

    • Mike Fagan
      March 3, 2010 at 8:33 am

      That's a great idea. MAME machines are great, and even though the require some investment, it is much less than you'd imagine.

  13. Peter
    February 21, 2010 at 1:28 am

    Or you could do a bit-torrent search for mame roms and you will find 1000's of the old classics from the 70s to the 90s and more

    • Mike Fagan
      February 21, 2010 at 9:57 am

      That's true. There is a very dedicated community, so ROMs are plentiful.

  14. Sander de Groot
    February 20, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    Just thought I'd say... for Nintendo Gameboy (and Color and Advance) ROMs, the best emulator is probably Visual Boy Advance. For Nintendo 64 ROMs, my favorite is Project64.

    • Mike Fagan
      February 21, 2010 at 9:55 am

      Both of those are great ones, maybe you'll even see an article about them some day, hint hint.

  15. uttaradhaka
    February 20, 2010 at 5:18 pm

    Thank you very much for this. I've been searching for something like this for my brother.. Again, you get things here that aren't available anywhere else!!! Great job.

    • Mike Fagan
      February 21, 2010 at 9:54 am

      Thanks for the support, glad i could help!

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