RetroBlast! Review: GameEx Front End and Home Theatre PC Software
Review by Jeff Smith
From the Website:
“GameEx is a graphical DirectX based front-end for MAME, Zinc, Daphne, PC Games, and all command line based emulators, along with being a complete Home Theatre PC solution, especially when gaming is a priority or important. The original goal was for it to be used on Windows XP Media Center and also Arcade Cabinets. It will run on any version of Windows 98SE, ME, 2000, and XP.”
This front-end is packed with features worth paying for. DVD & video support, Jukebox, Internet Radio, it even has the Weather! Let’s take a look at what you will need to get this amazing arcade utility to make you look good.
Look & Feel
GameEx Start Page
With the Default theme, GameEx looks much like Windows Media Center Edition, and if you like MCE, that is good. If you don’t, no problem! You can change the look to one of a dozen included Themes (downloadable), or create your own with the included Theme Editor. GameEx works great with only a control panel, and can also be set to use mouse, joystick, keyboard etc.
GameEx has an installation utility which allows you to easily integrate GameEx into your existing (Mame ™, Daphne, Zinc, etc.) Game PC. My favorite part is the “Download Emulators” addition. If you don’t have the latest versions of the emulators GameEx supports, no problem! GameEx’s Installer will actually go to the internet, fetch any or all from a long list of emulators, and install them in an Emulators folder. This is about as close to one-stop-shopping as I have found. Very nice! The Setup is extremely easy to use, letting you set all the details in the setup. The Configuration Utility allows you to tweak any settings after the initial setup is complete. Again, this is a really cool addition! All you need to have is your ROMs and extras in folders, and GameEx will fetch the Emulators for you! I wish I had this when I started a couple of years ago.
You will want something fast to take full advantage of all of GameEx’s features, but you can get by on just about any hardware that will run Windows XP Pro/Home. A newer, faster CPU with lots of memory, quality video card, and lots of hard drive space will make things look great. Windows XP Home or Pro is recommended, with all the latest, and, because GameEx relies heavily on DirectX and the .NET framework, you will want to be up to date on them as well, for which, Tom has thoughtfully included in the Installer, and links on the GameEx site.
You will want to have all the extras, like screen shots, videos, flyers, control panels and cabinet pictures for all your emulators and game sets. You can dial back the bling and tune it to fit your hardware tolerances—very thoughtful, as many home arcade enthusiasts are working with older machines and recycling them for family fun. If you don’t have those extras, GameEx has a CREATE SNAPS feature allowing you to create snapshots of the games and videos on your machine, though the process is time consuming.
The GameEx Configuration program is heavily documented and is logically arranged.
GameEx Configuration Main Screen
Many of the lines are filled in with sample paths so you can see what info the FE is looking for.
GameEx Configuration Setttings Screen
If you know your standard MAME™ switches and settings, you can enter them as well.
With the catver.ini file, you can filter the games with even more control, adding certain criteria to filter from the configuration menu. For example, you can hide adult content games, Mahjong games, etc. That way, if your kids resort the games list (by accident, right!) you can keep objectionable content from ever appearing.
One welcome feature in my game room is the “View Panel” feature which uses the controls.ini file and shows you what controls the currently selected game will use, displaying a typical MAME™ fighter panel.
View Panel Screen showing controls for currently selected game
Easy of Setup & Features
With the included Installer handling the main details, I found tweaking and adding emulators after-the-fact to be extremely easy. Another cool feature for registered users is Automatic Update. If your game PC has an internet connection, GameEx will automatically fetch and install updates for you, updating to the latest version and keeping all your settings—a very useful feature.
As a game launcher it does its job with flair. And as a complete entertainment system, it really shines. With DVD player functionality (you must have a DVD drive and/ video files on the HDD, and you must install your own player software like WinDVD or PowerDVD for the codec), a Jukebox (with Media Player play list support), an album art fetcher, visualizations, a Newsreader for RSS feeds, a Weather page (great for selling the spouse on why you need that arcade “thing” in the living room), and much more.
When I began testing GameEx as a video player, I dropped the ultimate Game Movie into the drive tray—Tron. Worked like a charm. I then tried to play a DivX version, and it didn’t recognize the file was there. After a quick e-mail to Tom, he added DivX to the supported files in the next update that very day! As a registered owner of GameEx, I can also play DVD files from my HDD. GameEx plays every game, emulator, video, and audio format I threw at it.
GameEx is a labor of love. It shows in the crisp design and in the fact that you can download and use this amazing front-end for personal home use, for free. That’s right! Free. Zero. Zilch. Nada. “GameEx is completely free for non-commercial use.” Merry Christmas! And it is not “CrippleWare”. There is a nag screen and the advanced features are unlocked with a small donation. The basic, and by basic, I mean extensive, free download is extremely easy to use. It looks great, you can customize the layouts with an included designer, and there is even downloadable Theme content component included!
Nag Screen Edition = FREE
*All graphics courtesy of Tom Speirs, GameEx Developer
Jeff is an ordained minister, writer, musician, and an avid video game hobbyist. He and his (very patient) wife Twyla live over a working arcade in New Jersey. His most recent arcade adventure was converting a salvaged arcade cabinet into a VH 5150 themed Jukebox/Game system with his nephew and brother-in-law.
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