It’s time to add another family of emulated older technology to the Internet Archive.
The vast majority of platforms within what we call The Emularity happens because of the work of MAME Team, which has spent over 25 years adding support for tens of thousands of machines, platforms, and tools to their breathtaking system. The amount of arcade machines and computers they now cover is so huge, a site exists just to keep track of what they don’t emulate… yet.
While we have an excellent family of emulators assisting MAME in making programs work in the browser, the vast majority of the items in our Internet Arcade (and Turbo Edition), Console Living Room, and Handheld History collections mostly have MAME to thank.
And now another can as well: The Calculator Drawer.
The Calculator Drawer is smaller than these other collections, but they possess a hearty collection of graphing and simple Calculators, emulated in MAME and with an additional layer of presenting the calculator itself, as a clickable graphical object, which you can then do math and graphing on. (You also need to turn many of them on, so look for the “ON” button to get things going.)
If Graphing Calculators were not a part of your childhood or previous life, they may be a bit of a steep climb to get to understand. If you still want to mess around with them, a stash of manuals for most of the models in the collection has been provided.
So, go forth and literally multiply.
However, if you wish to stick around a little bit longer…
The main reason you can do this wonderful “click on an image of a calculator as if it was a real object inside the browser” is because of a feature in MAME called MAME ARTWORK. It is one of a couple solutions to a major problem in emulation, especially of handheld devices, or tools like synthesizers or plastic toys.
The problem is that the actual “emulated” part of many of these machines are a tiny set of LED lights, or a line of LCD numbers, which is where all the circuitry presents its output, while the vast majority of the item is a static piece of metal or plastic with paint, labels and physical heft to the item. Compare, for example, the output of The Little Professor, emulated:
…to what the actual form factor of The Little Professor was:
We can all agree that while one could make the keys for 0-9, OFF, ON and so on “work” on a keyboard input, it would be so much nicer if a representation of the Little Professor calculator was on the screen to type into, pressing keys by a touchscreen or via a mouse (while leaving the keyboard option active).
MAME has two different ways it can render an emulated device that needs “additional” drawing to augment the part of itself that’s reflecting the screen or lights of the device.
One is to have the MAME system itself do a line-drawing of the interface the machine is using. That is, actual vector-based drawing of the buttons, screen and other decorations to help users understand what they’re looking at. To provide a counter-example of The Little Professor, here’s a Chess-Master Diamond system in the plastic realm:
…and here’s what you’ll see when you boot it up in the MAME system:
..definitely pretty sweet, for sure!
And while it’s very nice this option exists, there’s something compelling about a photograph of an original item being shown on-screen along with interactivity, and the best part is how it doesn’t require a deep lore of programming.
It’s called The MAME Artwork System, and while it’s not completely easy to get a hang of, it’s been refined since being introduced in 2006, and it could use help.
There are some amazing efforts that have been done to make these “layout” files for items emulated by MAME, with the best clearinghouse for seeing this work at Mr. Do’s Arcade. By leafing through the collection of artwork made so far, you can see how much better the interface is with a graphical addition. There’s over 1,400 different systems that have gotten the Artwork Treatment, a major success.
But that’s still a tiny percentage of the systems that need to time, focus, and skills of volunteers to make them come alive in this way.
People are often inspired to want to help emulation efforts, since they’re the future of software’s history, but it can be daunting to find a place in, to ramp up to the mass of intricacies and standards of a decades-long project. But perhaps, out there, is someone, maybe even you, who would find it a delight to help acquire excellent photographs of vintage hardware, and collaborate on designing the layout files for them.
This effort will allow us to add more calculators, devices, and hardware out of MAME to be playable at the Internet Archive, and you’ll join the immortal names of the creation of this longstanding project.
Until then… enjoy the Calculators.