Find Legal, Free MAME ROMs

Find Legal, Free MAME ROMs

Keep your classic gaming on the up-and-up and on the cheap.

I'll level with you here: this ain't gonna be the longest hack in the book. There's not much in the way of homebrew MAME development, and for good reasonstrictly speaking, there is no such platform as "MAME." Since the program is by definition a collection of emulators that run specific arcade games, it's not exactly an attractive environment to developers. Plus, by and large, people aren't downloading MAME to play games that were never out in the arcade in the first place. However, there are indeed a few MAME homebrews and even arcade titles that have entered the realm of freeware. So let's check 'em out.

Freeware Arcade ROMs

In general, publishers want to hold onto the rights to their classic properties, mostly so that when the time comes they can re-release them as part of a retro game compilation [Hack #16]. But in a few cases, the rights holders have given their permission for the games to be freely distributed. ROMs for the following three arcade games are available at the miscellaneous downloads section on (


A charming action game in which the player, controlling a beaker-shaped alien, must run around on a grid collecting balls while avoiding enemies and electricity-charged grid squares, Gridlee was planned for a 1982 arcade release but never saw the light of day. Designed by Howard Delman, a former Atari engineer who developed the vector-graphics display used in such classic titles as Lunar Lander and Asteroids, it was originally planned for release by the company Videa, which Delman started with former Atari colleagues Ed Rotberg and Roger Hector. The three have since authorized the game's free distribution.

If you're simply interested in checking out Gridlee without going through the trouble of setting up MAME, there is a standalone Gridlee emulator and ROM download available at

Robby Roto

Created by Gorf designer Jay Fenton, Robby Roto actually did make it into arcades, courtesy of Bally/Midway. The reason you don't find this interesting combination of Dig Dug and Pac-Man in either of the Midway Arcade Treasures compilations [Hack #16] is because of a clause in Fenton's contractafter the game went out of print, the rights reverted back to him. In 1999, he authorized the free distribution of the ROM.

In the years since leaving Midway, Jay Fenton has identified as transgender, changing his name to Jamie Faye Fenton. A 1999 Next Generation Online interview with Fenton said that the number of male-to-female transgender individuals in game design was in the double digits. Read the interview and more at

Poly Play

In Soviet Russia, game plays you! Now we know the real reason East Germans were scrambling to get over the Berlin Wallthey were trying to get away from what was apparently the only arcade game developed in Communist Eastern Europe, Poly Play. True to its name, Poly Play is a collection of different imitations of popular games developed by capitalist pigdog swine; inferior takes on Pac-Man and Carnival join four other games as depressingly dreary as the country that spawned them. Since the company (and the government that propped it up) no longer exist, the ROM can be downloaded with little fear of reprisal.

Immediately after Ronald Reagan ripped off his shirt (exposing his massive biceps) and took sledgehammer in hand to smash down the Wall, most of the thousand or so Poly Play machines that had been manufactured were destroyed. About three survive, making it one of the rarest arcade games in existence. More at

Homebrew MAME ROMs

Despite what I said earlier in the hack, some homebrew authors have indeed shouldered the responsibility of writing original (or semi-original) games that run on the various systems emulated by MAME. Most of these can be found at PDRoms (

Mine Sweeper

A version of the classic puzzle game programmed to run on Sega arcade hardware. Specifically, it uses the hardware from the in-house "test game" Dottori Kun ( to produce a simple, monochromatic experience.

Neo no Panepon

Another variation of another classic puzzle game, Neo no Panepon mimics the gameplay of the classic Nintendo-developed puzzler Panel de Pon (known as Tetris Attack or Pokémon Puzzle League in its U.S. incarnations) developed for the Neo Geo. It will also run in standalone Neo Geo emulators like NeoRAGE.


Yepit's the classic video tennis game with a snazzy Neo Geo-styled facelift. Like Neo no Panepon, it will run in standalone NG emulators as well as under MAME.


Wait, another take on a ubiquitous puzzle game for SNK arcade hardware? Yes, but this time it's not the Neo Geoit's a popular falling-blocks puzzler designed for SNK's 1981-vintage Vanguard arcade hardware. The source code is available at author Norbert Kehrer's web site (

Various Tech Demonstrations

A few tech demosnon-interactive screens full of colorful text displays that do little more than demonstrate that the hacker in question is indeed able to get a small program up and running on obscure hardwareare available at PDRoms and elsewhere.

All games for the Neo Geo system share a common BIOS ROM that was embedded in the hardware and contained information that each game used. This ROM, with the name, must be in your \mame\roms\ directory for any Neo Geo game to run. Since it is a copyrighted file, neither I nor the official MAME site can offer it for download.

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