Mame is a free, community run project to preserve arcade machines, consoles, handhelds and computer systems and their software through emulation. What Mame actually does is try to accurately simulate the internal hardware of it's supported systems based on analyzing real hardware, checking original schematics and using manufacturer documentation. A by-product of this is that it allows for accurate reproduction of the original software extracted from the original roms or media. This means that you get a 100% exact reproduction of the system, with original graphics, sound and more importantly gameplay!
Mame was started back in 1997 by Nicola Salmoria supporting just three games. These games were Lady Bug, Ms Pacman and Pengo. Now after 20 years of continual development, Mame supports tens of thousands games and new games are being added all the time. In 2015 the Mame development team integrated Mame's sister emulator MESS into it's source code, adding computer, console and handheld emulation to the arcade machines that it already supported. 2016 was also a pivotal year as the old, clunky user interface was finally replaced with a far more user friendly UI based on the frontend MEWUI.
Mame is a huge project. There are hundreds of people who regularly contribute to Mame. This ranges from the guys in the development team who do all the coding all the way through to the guys who make the support files and artwork. All this is motivated by the desire to preserve old computer and gaming hardware and is done completely for free. A complete history of Mame can be found here.
Mame is a "must have" program for any retrogamer! It allows you to re-play all the classic games that you loved so much, on your PC. You will find hundreds of familiar system manufacturers including Sega, Sony, Taito, Capcom, Atari, Konami and Nintendo. In the games list, you will find all the classic titles from these manufacturers which can be played exactly as they intended. With the huge diversity of games that Mame supports, there are many thousands of hours of gameplay to be had.
One of the good things is that you don't need a powerful machine to run many of the games or systems. However, some of the newer games require a pretty good specification and a DirectX 9.0c+ graphics card as they support 3D chips or use hard disk images. Even the fastest PC's available now won't play certain games at full speed. Mame's minimum requirements are listed here.
Mame isn't a PC exclusive as it has been ported to several other systems. These include Apple Mac, Linux, Raspberry Pi as well as other operating systems and smart devices. There are also several custom builds of Mame that refine or enhance what it does. What I will do is cover the standard Windows version of Mame and will try my best to make it easier to understand.
Rom and software images are a fundamental part of Mame. The complete set of supported rom, software and disk images needed for Mame take up over 3 terrabytes of space. Add all the media and support files as well and you'll pretty much fill a 4TB drive. This huge figure is rising all the time as each update adds more and more systems.
Mame is a brilliant resource that captures the nostalgia of retrogaming. If you're an old school arcader or a console fan or even if you've never used a classic system before, Mame has something for you!