These overlays (sometimes known as bezels) display art on top of the game you're playing. To use them, you need a PC or Raspberry Pi (or other compatible system) running some version of MAME and the associated game software, as well as a widescreen (16x9) monitor mounted vertically. To display the overlay while playing a game, download the artwork file for that game overlay (it must have the same filename as the game), place it in the Artwork folder within your MAME directory and launch the game. (For instance, the software for the game Magic Sword is called msword.zip, so it requires a file in the Artwork directory also called msword.zip.)
All overlays are 4K resolution (2160 x 3840), and listed dimensions are for the game screen, relative to a 4K vertical monitor. The actual game screen size will depend on the resolution of your monitor.
Most of the overlays include multiple presets that let you choose the size of the game screen, access a "dark" version designed to look more like a dark arcade, and sometimes other options. To choose a preset, press Tab while running the game to bring up the MAME menu, select Video Options, and select a preset from the list.
Some overlays include Curved presets designed with a curved screen port, to better simulate the look of a CRT monitor. These presets work best if you are using a geometry shader that adds a curved look to the game screen. For an optimal experience, you may need to adjust your shaders to match the curvature of the screen shape in the overlay. If you are not using a geometry shader, you are using a shader that adds a curved bezel, or if you prefer a rectangular screen port, choose a Straight preset where applicable.
Building on the success of Asteroids, Atari upped the ante with Asteroids Deluxe, which brought several new gameplay elements into the mix. Chief among them was a fix to a well-known exploit that allowed players to play for long periods by exploiting the saucers' inability to shoot across the screen boundary, as well as the addition of a shield, new "killer satellites" and a colorful painted backdrop that added additional depth to the one-color, 2D gameplay. MAME does a good job of simulating the backdrop, but you may need to adjust the vector graphics contrast to suit your taste.
Battlezone was a highly advanced game for its time, featuring a true 3D wireframe battleground and a cabinet with realistic tank-like controls and a periscope-like viewfinder – the fact that the gameplay mechanics were relatively simple didn't detract from its appeal in arcades. Players drive a tank around a sparse landscape filled with 3D primitives and enemy tanks, firing at enemies and moving two joysticks in the direction of the tank's treads (so to turn, you must push one forward and one back). The game's success helped pave the way for other 3D Atari titles, including the popular Star Wars, and the US Army was so impressed it commissioned a variant, The Bradley Trainer.
Black Widow was a conversion kit for Gravitar, which wasn’t a huge hit when it was released, and it plays like sort of a cross between Tempest and Robotron: 2084. Players control a spider who shoots the bugs crawling in its web to turn them into dollar sign-shaped “grubsteaks” (you know, like spiders do), using one joystick for movement and the other for firing. Some bugs lay eggs, which hatch into more annoying bugs, while others explode or fly around, Galaga-style, and yet another large bug called the Bug Slayer roams around and competes with you to clear out the tasty intruders. The game’s colorful vector graphics set it apart from a lot of games of its time, and it’s actually pretty addictive.
This somewhat experimental, not-quite-a-gun game started out as a four-player shooter called International Team Laser, but switched directions to this two-player version instead. Blasted pits one or two military snipers against evil cyborgs intent on wreaking havoc in... an apartment building, for some reason. It is not a gun game, but instead uses a joystick that moves a targeting reticle, providing both a zoomed-in sniper view and a wider view to take out your enemies. You must shoot the glowing red sweet spot on the various cyborgs, with a particular emphasis on the floating "cybornetic balls," before they can shoot back. The original cabinet used gun-shaped joysticks, which are reproduced in some of the included presets, if you're into that sort of thing.
Blaster is a strangely psychedelic title from legend Eugene Jarvis that continues the story of Robotron: 2084 within a unique mashup experience. The game is a first-person space shooter that sends you in search of a lost outpost known as Paradise, following the destruction of the human race by the Robotrons (so, it starts on a high note). Your quest takes you through several distinct stages, including what is essentially a first-person Galaga, a psuedo-3D landscape filled with arches and giant robots, a vaguely Defender-like sequence, and more. It's a satisfying, if somewhat rudimentary, pre-3D space shooter experience that still holds up today, primarily for its over-the-top sensory overload visuals. The original cabinet used a 49-way optical joystick, best emulated with an analog joystick, but works fine with a standard 8-way joystick.
Blasteroids is an example – like Smash TV, Rampage World Tour and Strike Force – of a later arcade game that updated a popular early 80s formula with improved graphics and more complex gameplay. Blasteroids takes the basic premise and gameplay of Asteroids and adds elements that were in vogue in the late 80s – pre-rendered 3D graphics, powerups, branching level structures and boss fights. These additions add more depth to the gameplay, but they also make it a fair bit easier to get into early on, as you can take multiple hits and replenish your shield in addition to grabbing more powerful weapons. The game also adds the ability to transform your ship into three different types (focusing on speed, armor or firepower) and allows two players to team up, including the ability to dock your ships together into a more powerful ship. Though you could argue these updates overcomplicate a game concept that has a certain purity and simplicity, Blasteroids has enough polish and a gentle enough difficulty curve that it’s fun even for people who don’t love Asteroids.
Blood Brothers takes the gameplay mechanics of Cabal and transports them to the Wild West, charging a cowboy and Indian team with hunting down outlaw Big Bad John. The core mechanic combines a simplified over-the-shoulder run-and-gun style mechanic with shooting gallery controls – players aim with an on-screen reticle which moves while firing, allowing both character movement and aiming. Additional buttons throw dynamite and perform a rolling dodge to avoid an increasing volley of enemy shots. Though simple, the enjoyable gameplay loop and little touches like the player's end-of-stage victory dance give Blood Brothers an enduring charm.
Boot Hill took the head-to-head action of early arcade games like Pong and transformed it into a simple but effective two player combat game. Itself a sequel to Gun Fight (adapted from Taito's Western Gun), the game updated its predecessor's concept with a colorful illustrated backdrop that added visual appeal and a feeling of depth, and two-axis movement, which added tactical depth to the game. The game uses two joysticks, one for movement and one for aiming and firing, a control scheme that was unusually deep for its era. Moving wagons and cacti provide a small amount of cover, but ultimately it's just two cowboys, and this town isn't big enough for both of them.
Break on thru to the other side (of the destroyed bridge) in BreakThru, the 1986 driving/shooting/jumping game from Data East. BreakThru challenges you to fight your way through five stages of enemy lines to recover your stolen PK430 aircraft, driving an armed and armored supercar through miles of highly militarized terrain. The game's key attraction is the car's ability to jump over obstacles, including huge avalanches, missing bridge sections, islands and more – just try not to dwell on the weird physics of the car's jump animation. Occasional falling powerups grant you brief weapon upgrades, but the combination of the swerving/dodging/jumping action and the game's rudimentary shooter mechanics make your car feel relatively fragile. You have to admire that slick 80s logo though.
The arcade translation of Choplifter was a relatively rare instance of a home computer game being ported to arcades rather than the other way around. The original was a popular game for the Apple II, featuring relatively simple graphics and straightforward gameplay common to computer games in 1982. The 1985 Sega arcade translation added more colorful graphics and fast-paced action, and also dramatically raised the difficulty level, with air- and ground-based enemies bombarding you from the first seconds of the game, making it a very different experience from the almost relaxed pace of the original. Whether because of or despite this, Choplifter found arcade success, though it is perhaps still best known as an early computer game hit.
The first game by Eugene Jarvis and one of the most iconic and popular arcade games of all time, Defender's relatively simple concept masks its high level of difficulty. Players control a ship trying to rescue humanoids on a planet's surface from capture by aliens, while avoiding their increasingly aggressive attacks. Development of the game began as Williams was chasing the success of Space Invaders and Asteroids, but ended up introducing numerous new concepts and ideas to arcade games that influenced an entire generation of games, including more complex control schemes, scrolling environments, multiple competing objectives and more challenging gameplay. Defender was followed by sequel Stargate the same year, which added various new enemies and mechanics.
Best not to ask why someone would visit a place called "The Planet of the Robot Monsters" in the first place, and thus need to escape from it, but in fairness, the brochure was a bit vague. A pulp comic book sci-fi adventure that makes up in gameplay what it lacks in tastefulness, EPRoM used a "hall effect" joystick that allows players to move and shoot in many different directions. It works best with an analog joystick, but also works fine with a standard 8-way stick. We reproduced the most fun version of this cabinet, which had an enormous graphic header to go with its enormous screen bezel (this overlay includes a Large version with less bezel and more blastin').
An overlooked classic, Food Fight challenges Charlie Chuck to reach his ice cream treat on each level before it melts, while being pursued by several aggressive chefs who try to demonstrate healthier eating habits by pelting him with produce. Inspired somewhat by Robotron: 2084, the game's primary gimmick is the ability to pick up the colorful food strewn about each level and toss it at the chefs in self-defense. Food Fight featured a tour de force in emerging new tech from Atari at the time, showing off hardware that would go on to power Gauntlet with state-of-the-art sprite handling abilities and a unique action replay mode. Sadly, its sales numbers didn't quite match the expectations of publisher Atari, who wanted Charlie Chuck to compete with popular mascots like Donkey Kong and Pac-Man, but its charming presentation and gameplay (and even the fonts) make it a snackable treat. (Note that the original game used an analog joystick which rotates your aim while moving, requiring some fine tuning to emulate properly.)
The success of Galaxian led the way to Galaga, a sequel that improved upon its predecessor in every way and became one of the defining hits of the early 80s. Galaga's bug-like alien attackers are larger and more lifelike that the Galaxian invaders, and the added level of skill and reflexes required to defeat them consistently made the game a popular proving ground in 80s arcades. Each wave features several distinct phases – the alien fly-in, a brief pause and then a constant series of diving attacks – but the highlight is the opportunity to allow your ship to be captured via tractor beam and, if you time it right, recaptured to double your firepower. This unique risk-reward mechanism, along with intermittent challenge waves that reward skillful gameplay, added an irresistible and addictive quality that kept gamers coming back and the quarters rolling in.
Released by Namco (and manufactured in the US by Midway) as a response to the runaway success of Taito's Space Invaders, Galaxian upped the ante by adding the novel mechanic of dive bombing aliens, which added both visual appeal and heightened tension. Compared to the former's columns of predictably marching alien rows, the aliens of Galaxian were fast, unpredictable and aggressive, not to mention colorful and vibrantly realized for a 1979 arcade game. Not only do the aliens attack your ship directly, but for the high score-chasing masses of the 80s, how you killed them mattered – destroying the flagship and its escorts yields significant extra points. Galaxian's success led the way to Galaga, which became an even greater phenomenon.
Gravitar expanded upon the basic concept of Lunar Lander while adding a series of increasingly devious level designs, ground-based turrets, alien attackers and boss-like reactor levels, in addition to color vector graphics. The control scheme and cabinet design are essentially the same as Asteroids and Space Duel, though Gravitar didn’t sell as well, at least partially because of its brutal level of difficulty. Black Widow was released as a conversion kit for Gravitar, and in fact used the same PCB with updated ROM chips.
Conceived as a sequel to Missile Command, Liberator flipped the concept to put players in charge of a squadron of space fighters assigned to protect the denizens of a series of planets from the occupying Malaglon Army. From the planet’s surface, the enemy launches missiles that arc toward your ships much like the missiles in Missile Command, and you destroy them (and the bases they launch from, and other flying enemies) in much the same way. You can activate temporary shields around your ships, and you lose when all four ships are destroyed. The centerpiece of the visuals is a rotating planet that must have looked cool in 1982. Liberator struggled to find an audience, even with the help of the tie-in Atari Force comic book series from DC Comics, and ultimately faded into obscurity (but you can play it right now).
Millipede added lots of new legs (and bugs) to the Centipede formula, which significantly alter the gameplay while making it overall feel a bit more sophisticated (and amping up the difficulty). Similarly to the original, you try to stop the progress of a constantly advancing millipede through a field of mushrooms, while contending with a variety of other bugs getting in your business. For our (fake) quarters, there’s really no reason to go back to Centipede, as every aspect of the experience is improved. This overlay reproduces the cabinet pretty faithfully, including the black void that the screen floats in – the MAME version includes a preset with scratches to give it a bit more definition. The MAME version also includes interactive buttons (the famous Atari volcano buttons blink when inserting coins) and a larger screen size if you want to get really up close and personal with the bugs.
Moon Patrol, developed by Irem and released in North America by Williams, is an engaging sci-fi experience that is both challenging and surprisingly chill. Taking the wheel as a Luna City police officer patrolling the beat of Sector Nine, players must contend with driving obstacles in the form of boulders and craters, and flying enemies that fire dangerous projectiles, with shooting, jumping and speed all factors in their success. But the increasingly menacing landscape scrolls by at a relatively gentle pace, courtesy of novel parallax scrolling graphics, and the visuals are cheerful enough that it never feels overwhelming. Ported to countless platforms, Moon Patrol played best in the arcade, where the cacophony of other machines and the smell of pizza (if it was a Chuck E. Cheese) transported you to a place far away.
Licensed by Phoenix, Arizona-based Amstar to manufacturer Centuri, Phoenix expanded upon the highly popular "invading aliens" format with a wider and more varied range of challenges. Players first fight invading waves of bird-like creatures, which start in formations and dive in patterns, before moving on to larger and more dangerous birds and finally fighting a boss-like alien spaceship that players must shoot through in stages to defeat. Though it lacks the fluid grace of contemporaries like Galaga, the game makes up for it with a degree of complexity and variety not found in most similar games.
Red Baron, released the same year and using the same basic cabinet design and control stick as Battlezone, used similar 3D vector graphics to create a believable dogfighting experience. Though not exactly accurate from a simulation perspective (you cannot crash into the ground, though you can crash into mountains), the game features a variety of airborne and ground-based enemies to defeat, most notably biplanes that do their best to take you down first. Red Baron includes an adaptive difficulty setting that was designed to adjust to the average player skill of its arcade location (but it doesn't know you're playing on a computer 40 years later, and we won't tell).
Robotron: 2084 was part of a string of hits for legendary game designer Eugene Jarvis, and is fondly remembered today as one of the great American games of the golden age of arcades. Created by Jarvis and Larry DeMar at their company Vid Kidz following the success of Jarvis' Defender, Robotron is set in the titular year as robots have taken over the world, and the player must race to save the last human family from their digital clutches. The twin-stick control scheme, a product of necessity as Jarvis had broken his wrist during development and could not easily push buttons, is the game's defining feature, and makes it possible to navigate the growing chaos as the player shoots enemies, picks up the humans and avoids enemy fire. The game's simple concept and challenging gameplay made it a hit in the 80s and kept it in the hearts of many gamers ever since.
One of the first games released under the Bally Midway label, Satan's Hollow centered around the somewhat edgy (for the '80s) concept of fighting Satan's minions in "the Hollow" (because hell was presumably one step too far). The gameplay is reminiscent of Galaga, with the addition of a shield and the ability to drag segments across the playfield to build a bridge over a lava pit, which enables you to fight Satan himself (who is actually not terribly impressive). The original cabinet featured a translucent red flight stick that glowed next to the black light embedded in the front of the control panel.
Space Duel was the “true” sequel to Asteroids, adding a variety of novel features, the most notable being two-player simultaneous play. Atari had the genius (or insane?) idea of linking the two players’ ships together, creating the opportunity for both concentrated firepower and outright mayhem, as one player can thrust and send the tethered ship careening across the screen (early examples of both realistic physics and video game trolling). Space Duel also replaced the asteroids with colorful shapes that change across the levels, and added aggressive alien attackers (including some that “play catch” with their projectiles), shields and bonus levels. (One thing to note: you’ll need to have a Select button mapped as this game has you press Select to choose the game type and then Start to actually start the game.)
An often (and criminally) overlooked reimagining of the Defender concept, Strike Force updates the side-scrolling gameplay of its predecessor with vastly improved graphics and surprisingly deep gameplay. As humanity's last hope against the incursion of the lizard-like Saurians, Strike Force sends one or two pilots to rescue colonists and exterminate aliens on a series of planets, upgrading their weapons and deploying helpful space marines along the way. As you work your way across the galaxy liberating planets, you'll find a wide range of weaponry and upgrades and eventually chaotic boss battles.
This overlay features numerous options, including two cabinet styles (as the game was released under both the Williams and Midway labels with very different styling) and options with and without a control panel, including new bezel designs designed by Vertical Arcade in the spirit of the original cabinet. If you haven't tried it, you're missing out!
Tempest brought a number of key innovations to arcades in 1981 – it was one of the first arcade games to feature full color vector graphics, it featured a wide range of level designs and it made use of a convincing 3D perspective, among other things. Though visualized in the cabinet's art with terrifying aliens crawling out of a space portal, the game itself is simple and geometric, with abstract shapes that represent the game's protagonist and enemies. Tempest was fairly intimidating to many arcade-goers in 1981, but it has endured as one of Atari's high points and a classic that continues to be sought after decades later.
Though Time Pilot doesn't have much of a story to speak of, its time travel concept gives it enough of a hook to carry its relatively simple gameplay. Perhaps a bit reminiscent of the 1980 movie The Final Countdown in concept and inspired by Bosconian in gameplay, the game sends the pilot of a high-tech plane through various eras in time to battle the best aircraft each period has to offer, from biplanes to helicopters to jets to eventually UFOs (because you travel all the way to 2001 if you're good enough). Time Pilot was the first game designed by Yoshiki Okamoto, who secretly worked on the game after being told to develop a driving game and went on to create Gyruss before he joined Capcom, where he was a key contributor to the Street Fighter series and was responsible for hits such as 1942, Final Fight and Resident Evil.
Take to the skies and slowly sink the enemy's ships with the flaming wrecks of their planes, with or without a wingman, in this challenging shooting game. The mechanics of Two Tigers take some practice, as you must shoot down enemy planes or drop bombs in the same spot several times in order to punch enough holes in the ship to sink it, before the ship sails off for calmer waters. Fortunately your lives are unlimited (you lose after two ships escape) and the enemy planes mostly don't notice you're there (though you can be killed by enemy fire and some planes). The game includes a dogfight mode in which the players take turns trying to shoot each other down. Note that there are three buttons – shoot, speed (accelerate) and bomb.
Xybots was one of our favorites of this period, with a dungeon-like pseudo-3D maze filled with robots to shoot (though it also featured one of Atari's biggest sins of this era, the ever-decreasing player health, because apparently both the space heroes of Xybots and the fantasy squad of Gauntlet had some terrible wasting disease that required constant eating). Nonetheless, it's easy to get into while being challenging in later levels, and it plays great on MAME without a fancy twisty joystick (if you have 3 buttons in a row, just map the center button to Fire and the first and third buttons to rotate). Don't get neutralized!