Review by Kevin Steele
Setting up a MAME cabinet, especially one that is going to run on DOS, can sometimes be a frustrating exercise in bug hunting and driver snafus. Getting everything working well together is difficult, and the problems are even compounded further when you have an arcade monitor, or try to add other emulators besides MAME.
Wouldn't it be great if there were a menu-driven, pop-it-in-and-go solution for setting up a cab's software? Wouldn't it be great if you could just load a CD, reboot your computer, and within minutes have a fully installed and ready-to-go system?
I agree, such a CD would be great. Too bad it isn't here, at least not yet. Omnicade is a collaborative effort to create a self-installing CD that would automatically configure your computer's hard drive for MAME gaming, including installing such goodies as ArcadeOS, AdvanceMenu, arcade monitor support, hard drive partitioning, and more.
The scope of Omnicade's ambitions is impressive — the CD includes support for four languages (French, English, Italian, and Spanish), support for arcade monitors, AdvanceMenu and ArcadeOS, emulators for SuperNES, NES, MegaDrive/Genesis, MasterSys, GameGear, Atari 2600, Amiga, and the Amstrad CPC, even MP3 players such as DAMP and Mpxplay, and a jukebox program.
Installation Begins Smoothly
The installation program is entirely menu driven, giving you multiple-choice lists to choose everything during the installation. Unfortunately, this is where I ran into my first problem with the Omnicade CD — only the numeric keypad is active. No other keys need apply. This seemed strange, until I realized that the CD was using a French version of DOS during the installation, and it's apparently hard-wired for the French keyboard layout (which is different from the QWERTY layout familiar to Americans and Brits).
Once I asked around and found out that only the numeric keypad could be used (and only when in num lock mode), I finally got the installation process underway. I answered questions about what sound card I had, whether I wanted CD-ROM support, what resolution I wanted to run at, and more. Things seemed to be running smoothly.
Then Things Began to Fall Apart
Too smoothly, it seems. The installation completed, and a French DOS message appeared, telling me to press any key to continue. When I did, the system promptly shut down. Rebooting, all I was greeted with was a message to “Press any key to Reboot.” Pressing any key did indeed reboot the machine, after which I was presented again with the message to “Press any key to reboot.”
I tried to reinstall the Omnicade CD a number of times, with the same results each time. I tried large partitions, small partitions, FAT and FAT32 partitions — every time, the installation would seem to complete, and I'd be left with a system that could only display “Press any key to Reboot” over and over again.
Laurent, the author of Omnicade (aka “La Wappe” according to the Omnicade site) tried to help with the problems. He was very prompt in replying to my questions, but we really didn't make much progress.
Eventually I switched to an older hard drive (a 40Gb Maxtor), and I was finally able to successfully install Omnicade. I have no idea why one hard drive would work, and another just choke. Both hard drives work perfectly for other OS installations and use.
Running The Installation
With the older hard drive, I finally achieved success of a sort with installing, and at last got to see the Omnicade boot screen. I chose the “menu” option during installation, which installs both ArcadeOS and AdvanceMenu, and provides a boot menu to choose between them. Unfortunately, the boot menu still accepts only the numeric keypad for entering numbers, which my SlikStik controller does not send when you press the coin or player start buttons.
In another setback, I could not get sound working properly with the built-in sound on my motherboard, and ArcadeOS would simply display an error and then shut down the computer. AdvanceMenu worked a bit better, but even though I thought I had configured everything properly, some video modes were messed up and I had no sound. I tried several different sound card options, and none worked.
I'd love to say I had a lot of fun with the Omnicade, but it just plain didn't work on my system. Considering the complexity of what it is attempting to do, I suspect others may have similar problems to mine. It's a great idea, but it's still what I would consider to be “beta” software. It may just be that there are too many possible hardware combinations out there to ensure that it will install and run on all systems.
One final note: the site is mercilessly annoying when you go to download the distribution CD. To download without first becoming a “club member” (meaning you must call a special pay-per-call phone number to contribute), you must first click on the “I don't help the team but I want to download” button, then wade through a pop up window pleading for money, the click on the “No no, I confirm I don't want to help you!!” button. I can understand the need for obtaining financing to keep things going, but I did not like this technique.
Unfortunately, at this time I cannot recommend the Omnicade CD. With time it may turn into a great utility for MAME cabinet builders, but at the present time I just don't feel it's ready for prime time. Still, if you're trying to set up an arcade system, you might want to give it a try — it's free, and you may just have better luck than I did.