... James Surine

By Roloff de Jeu



So the Gameboy Camera received the prestigious "Toy of the Year" award in the Netherlands. Don't make us laugh! Why not get a real camera and a play real games! Steep price? Well save up, paper boy! No games for your digital camera? Sure there are. Get it MAMED.

James Surine is the brave soul who made gaming available for happy-snap instant jpeggers that have some time to kill. James got interested in Digital Cameras and got himself a Kodak DC265, a camera that runs under a programmable Operating System, Digita. This of course with some influence from his employee, FlashPoint (The company responsible for the Digita OS). To put his programming skills to the test and see what the possibilities and limitations of the camera were, he first ported the Multipac Macintosh Pac-Man emulator. Then after some free hours and weekends of compiling and debugging James managed to get the whole Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator to run on Digita with sound and full-color graphics! The results of this can be downloaded on his web page and have been by many enthusiasts. His unusual but awesome port has been featured in many online and offline magazines (WIRED, Pocket Magazine from France, Famitsu Wave from Japan, Next Generation, Edge from the UK..) Nevertheless, DP's Roloff could come up with some unasked questions and was honored to interview James.



DP: When did you get into classic gaming? Has it been with you since you were a kid, or did you pick it up recently?


James Surine: Well I've been in it since I was a kid learning how to program the Apple II computers. I guess I never really left. I wrote a simple file converter program for Apple // emulators some years ago called easy convert, and I also wrote a simple Pac-Man desk accessory simulation for the Apple II GS. That's about all the public stuff I've done before MAMED. I own a couple of full-sized arcades as well. I also have quite a few consoles with carts and CDs and I have many PC and Mac video games, but I don't play them nearly as much as I would like to. I like Turok and Quake but I also like Xevious and Donkey Kong.


DP: Can you give an estimate of people playing MAMED and MESSD?


James Surine: I don't have accurate counts, but on my new web site I should be able to get better data [80000 hits]. My guess is that there are about 1000-2000 active downloaders now, since I get that many more hits when I post an update. I suspect between 5000-10000 people have actually tried it at least once. It sure caused quite a stir when it was first released [Oct 23, 1999].


DP: Are the interfaces of the camera's still in the way of good emulation play


James Surine: I don't really make much use of the camera functions, I try to take over the system as much as possible. I still have to allow a little OS processing so that button HW (hardware) can be processed. I can understand the difficulties the MAME CE people are having with their OS.


DP: Any chance of the manufacturers putting more buttons on the cameras as the number of apps and uses for them grow? Would a USB joystick/joypad-like device be an option?


James Surine: The problem with adding a USB device is that it requires a USB master. Most portable devices do not come with HW that supports being a USB master. There is some primitive support for USB master on Kodak's HW but it requires a great deal of code to support it. I would probably look at adding a serial or PS2 type device first since serial doesn't require anything special. It would definitely be nice to be able to add attachments to the camera for this sort of thing.


DP: Disregarding price and availability, and it's quality in taking pictures, which current camera is the ultimate game console, and why?


James Surine: Well, digital cameras are not designed with multi-use in mind, hopefully that will change in the future, the Kodak ones seem to be about the best for this application. They have the nicest joypad, fit in your hand well and have reasonably good buttons, and they come with sound. Manufactures of these kinds of devices need to make their devices able to do multiple things, i.e. a camera used as a game console or an MP3 player. They could] design the device for the primary function but don't preclude its use for something else, spend the extra few dollars for the HW and design to do good sound or heavy use joypad and buttons, etc. Sell it as a camera but if you do it right you can also sell it as an MP3 player and game console or anything people come up with. People will spend the extra bucks for the added functionality. But you must have an OS that is accessible for to people to program.


DP: Have you ever had official reactions from the manufacturers? Are all of them as exited and supportive about the many applications being written, or do some of them see it as hacking?


James Surine: Most of them don't really understand what MAMED is or how it can help them sell more cameras. What response I have gotten from camera manufactures has been positive though. I bet I received over 100 e-mails from people buying a Kodak DC290 for Christmas just because it ran MAMED.


DP: Did you hook up your Digita to a TV and play MAMED yet and what was the result?


James Surine: You can, just insert the AV jack, normally you use the display rotated cause most games are rotated, but you can adjust that with the menus. The problem then becomes the screen is clipped on the top and bottom when you play the game vertical. I added a hi-res interlaced mode to double the vertical resolution so you can see the whole screen when you play these games vertical. It still has a little trouble switching back to the LCD after you remove the AV jack.


DP: You succeeded recently in porting MESS for Digita. About the only console not supported in MESS is the ATARI 2600, my favorite. Any chance of you porting the STELLA emulator? I mean there's a console that really seems appropriate to port!

James Surine: Actually MESS has code for the Atari 2600 but is not stable or functional enough to enable in the core yet. I chose both MAME and MESS because it gives the most bang for the buck. Basically I could do one port and get everything that is supported by these two great emulators. There may be faster and better emulators of particular machines but I don't have the time to port them all. I suspect MAME and MESS will outlive any other existing emulator because of their future potential, existing emulators or their descendants will probably eventually be rolled into MAME and MESS or its descendant's. I will leave it up to someone else to attempt ports of these more specialized emulators.


DP: What are you working on now, any goals for the not-too-distant future?


James Surine: I'm trying to get MAME and MESS up and running on the DCAM processor-based camera's, the Minolta 1500 EX and the HP C500 Photosmart. The MAME sound core also changed quite a bit and I have to recode. I'd like to do a port of DOOM sometime and also it would be nice to have a keyboard of some kind attached to the serial port to run MESS. I'd also like to help some others develop code for the camera. Two people have already successfully compiled my multipac source using the gcc compiler available on the internet for free.



MAMED and MESSD run on the following available cams: Kodak DC220, 260, 265 and 290, Minolta Dimage 1500 EX and 1500 3D and HP's C500 Photosmart.


Check out James Surwine's brand new domain with MAME and MESS for Digita-enabled cameras at http://digita.mamed.net  to read more and download the most recent versions.



Easy Convert Apple II emulators self-published released
Pac-Man desk accessory simulation Apple II GS self-published released
Multipac Macintosh Pac-Man emu Digitia OS self-published released
MAMED Digitia OS self-published released
MESSD Digitia OS self-published released

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