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MAME Emulator Shown Running Well on New Apple TV

Earlier this month, developer James Addyman got his emulator, Provenance, working on the Apple TV Developer Kit provided to developers via lottery, and now developer Kevin Smith has gotten the popular MAME game emulator running on the device.

In the video below, a tvOS version of the MAME emulator is demonstrated on the fourth-generation Apple TV. For those unfamiliar with MAME, it stands for Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator. Over the years, several apps with the MAME code have snuck into the iOS App Store, letting people illicitly run old arcade games.

In the video, Smith shows several old arcade games running on the Apple TV, including Donkey Kong, Galaga, Street Fighter II, Raiden, and Metal Slug - Super Vehicle. All of the games are said to run well, though there are some lingering sound issues with a few of the titles.

The video's description includes some of the technical hurdles that had to be overcome to get the emulator working on tvOS.
I created a target for tvOS and set about getting the code to compile for arm64 (Mandatory for AppleTV), fixed a variety of compiler and linker errors. Removed code which was incompatible with tvOS frameworks and simplified code to work on tvOS. Added a basic icon compatible with tvOS. I added some tweaks to the source to allow the pause button to exit the game and supporting the resolution for the 1080p display.
While developers have been able to get emulators running on the developer versions of the fourth-generation Apple TV, which were handed out to help developers create Apple TV apps, emulators won't be available on the tvOS App Store. Apple doesn't allow emulators on iOS and will likely adopt the same policy for tvOS.

There is a possibility that emulators will be able to sneak into the tvOS App Store in the future, buried deep within legitimate apps, but as on iOS, such apps will only survive for hours before being pulled once discovered by Apple.

Related Roundups: Apple TV, tvOS 10
Tags: MAME, emulator
Buyer's Guide: Apple TV (Don't Buy)

Top Rated Comments

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18 months ago

They should really let it slide for Apple TV

Yeah, it's only copyright infringement. Surely all the companies that made the games will understand and will be perfectly okay with Apple letting it slide.
Rating: 10 Votes
18 months ago

Yeah, it's only copyright infringement. Surely all the companies that made the games will understand and will be perfectly okay with Apple letting it slide.

The companies themselves should just create their own emulators with a built-in store that takes in-app purchases and make available all of their titles for a fee, $.99 - $4.99 per title would be a fair price to pay to have "legal" access to titles you enjoyed playing as a child, or whatever.
Rating: 7 Votes
18 months ago
They should really let it slide for Apple TV
Rating: 6 Votes
18 months ago

Sure, classic games may be fun, but, to me, emulator is like a slap in awesome hardware's face.

Well when you give grandma (Apple) the keys to the Porsche (hardware), the hardware goes to waste anyway. See new AppleTV's restrictions.
Rating: 5 Votes
18 months ago
Some ROMs are considered abandonware, in that there's no recorded copyright holder anymore. Even for the copyrighted ROMs possession of the physical ROM may grant you the ability to "move" that to an emulator. That'd be a novel argument even if anyone bothered to sue (ie: is it the equivalent of "place shifting/time shifting?").
Rating: 4 Votes
18 months ago
Building one is simple. Getting it approved and into the App Store is the challenge.

Isn't sideloading thru Xcode now possible? My experience with emulator apps that sneak onto the store is problematic as once you switch to a new device it won't be restored or not compatible with the newer OS's. But, if the developers of emulators are not trying to profit off app sales can't they make the package available to sideload?

You can create apps for your own organization. So companies can make custom apps just for their employees to use.

I suppose someone could open source the emulator and then people would compile it themselves within Xcode and run it at home. Though I imagine it would be a nightmare. People struggle even with the simple jailbreaks already. Imagine a bunch of people with little technical knowledge attempting to compile such a program. There would be a billion support threads all over the internet when they hit a compiling error.
Rating: 4 Votes
18 months ago

There's no need to abide by Apple's rules as long as it isn't on the App Store. Besides, the app doesn't even download the ROMs, and the ROMs themselves are OK to have (note: this may still be a legal grey area, I can't remember right now) if you dump them yourself.

Yes, I bet 99% of users of Mame users have old arcade machines sitting in their garage.
Rating: 3 Votes
18 months ago

No, the person hosting the server is responsible for it. In the case of the App Store, that's Apple. Apple isn't going to host the ROMs.

Where are you going to get the ROMs from legally? The answer is no where. With perhaps a few rare exceptions, you can't legally get them.

Apple knows that anyone downloading the app can only get the ROMs illegally, so they block it.

The difference with Safari is there's a huge number of movies and photos which you can legally access on the internet. Uploading a video or picture is trivial - Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and YouTube are full of videos and pictures which people have uploaded. Anyone with a tiny bit of experience can throw together their own website.

Apple can't reasonably be expected to know what's legal from what isn't, but they know that it's perfectly reasonable to expect you to go and do legal things with the web browser.

Not so with ROMs. There are a few ROMs in the public domain, but nobody cares about them (besides, if the ROM is in the public domain, there's probably source code for the game in the public domain too, from which you can probably build a native executable with much better performance. So no emulator is needed.)

It has been discussed that there are legal roms out there. Assuming that "most roms people will download are illegal" is just silly. There are a handful of examples of publicly distributed works (and there are even folks that work on new NES games TODAY, as an example - maybe MAME too, in less familiar). So it's perfectly reasonable to expect people to do legal things with an emulator (if that's the argument we are to use about a web browser). An emulator (of hardware not using copyrighted software snippets) is never illegal and Apple is not responsible for what is done with said software. Period.

They also disallow torrent software for the same reason. Torrent software isn't by nature, illegal. See my comment about pornographic material as well. These things just don't go with Apple's philosophy and therefor Apple disallows them. It has nothing to do with legal matters (outside of maybe being in good standing with game developers).

I have to say I hate what freedoms have been taken from users, in general, with the smartphone. Telling me I can't install software without permission on a desktop OS would never fly. Unfortunately we have, more or less, allowed Apple to dictate what we can and can not install on our pocket computers.
Rating: 2 Votes
18 months ago

Yeah, it's only copyright infringement. Surely all the companies that made the games will understand and will be perfectly okay with Apple letting it slide.

Emulating software is not copyright infringement. The rom may be, though that's something of a gray area for older carts.

Regardless, apple isn't responsible for me logging into a website and downloading an illegal movie through safari despite that capability being very real. Neither should they be responsible for a person installing roms.

Simply put, this is just a stance they've taken. They also ban pornography from the AppStore, despite it being legal, simply because they want to.

I'm not terribly bothered either way, but this is more a matter of "not fitting with our ideals" than a matter of black and white copyright infringement.

This is cool but wouldn't it make more sense to build something that can be sold in the App Store? Looks like he might be spending 100+ of hours getting this to work so that he could play this on its own Atv. This guy is so talented he could be creating the next big game.

Some people do this just as a hobby. Some get hired based on the work they're able to demo, too. You're not wrong in your assessment, except that not everybody does everything for money. This guy may very well just be an enthusiast that likes to share his work with others interested in the same.
Rating: 2 Votes
18 months ago
It's a shame they won't allow it because these games, despite being so old, still hold their own against a lot of the Top 50 on the app store. Just goes to show; a good game is always a good game, no matter how old it is.
Encouraging that they run so well too!

Personally, i'm with jmh600cbr ('//') and i'll just wait for them to open source it and i'll compile and load it onto the ATV myself.
Rating: 2 Votes

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