Shocking as it may seem when you consider the urbane pinnacle of sophistication your humble author appears today, but I was once a snot-nosed punk kid running around wasting his youth in quarter arcades. The 80's were like that; for the price of a quarter you could get the latest and greatest in computer gaming, but machines in the home were these primitive stone age coal-fired devices where the best you could get was something you programmed yourself in BASIC. So, to the arcades I went whenever I got the chance. How did I ever turn out level?
I was recently thrilled to discover XMAME. XMAME is the Unix/Linux port of MAME, the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator. It installs and runs without a hitch on an average Linux setup, and may even have a package ready for your system. But getting XMAME isn't enough; you need ROMs. Some ROMs come with the software in packages that I've tried.
ROMs are the machine code from the original games. Thus, this isn't a clone or re-creation of the game but the original game itself, with the same sound, graphics, and play.
It's the question of the legality of ROMs for which a term like "gray area" was coined. I'm going to dodge most of the debate by saying (a) legality this, legality that, but what's moral? (b) In the case of abandoned or orphaned classic games, which have no modern equivalents available through any means, and in the interest of historic preservation, yes, I think ROMs are morally OK. But I still won't link directly (dodge, dodge) to ROM download sites; just Google "MAME ROMs" and you'll find a ton of these sites.
To the aging geek gamer such as myself, the experience of reliving a classic game not seen for 20 years is indescribable. It's a rush, no doubt. If you, too, dwelled in arcades for the better part of your youth, you'd be denying yourself a ton of joy not to download and try it.
I'll do a little HOWTO for the basics in part 2.