This is the story of my three front-ends and their impact on the community. A small piece of emulation history from my perspective. Everything I write beyond this point is a truthful account, but remember it's from my perspective. If I offend anyone by this I apologize. This writing is merely here to document a turning point in the concept of the windows font-end.
With that being said, on with the story.....
Around early 1999 I was well into the MAME craze and in the process of setting up my cabinet. I was old school, so I remembered when mame was your last resort and you used multiple emulators for speed. Back then virtually all emulators had command line support and the front-end to have was game launcher. Well now that had changed. All of the newer emulators coming out had their own gui and weren't very front-end friendly. It made for a very difficult multi-emulator cab setup. I looked and looked and only found a few front-ends that supported more than mame. These front-ends, unfortunately looked very much like a windows application, and thus were unsuitable for an arcade cab setup.
A few months later a spark of hope arrived. Ed showed up on b.y.o.a.c with some screenshots of his new front-end ArcadeFx. It was beautiful, just what I was looking for. No out-dated, pixilated menus, it looked like a full-fledged gui. But, it wasn't ready, so I waited, and waited, and waited.... ArcadeFx was in the w.i.p for several months. I kept in contact with it's progress via it's message board and started asking questions in the meantime. It turns out that this front-end was only going to support mame, would be primarily designed for a vga monitor, and have mostly mouse-driven menus. Needless to say I was a little disappointed, but I was still impressed by it's style so I waited some more. Eventually we all decided that AFx must have been some kind of hoax and we wrote it off. So, finally fed up, and with a year and a half of programming experience under my belt, I decided to make a front-end myself.
I really hated to steal AFx's design, but I really liked the screen, flyer, marquee display setup (which is now standard) so I stole the idea and based my gui around the screenshots. I added a cabinet screenshot as well. I also decided that these new windows emus needed to be supported, so I tried something that hadn't been thought of yet and sent "simulated key presses" to the emus to auto navigate their menus. It wasn't 100% percent reliable but it worked so I was happy.
On November 30, 2001 at midnight, Raging Dragon was officially released to the public. For the record, it was the first front-end publicly released that supported the modern windows emulators and used the new "AFx-style" layout. It was full of bugs and very fugly, but it was the only multi emu front-end worth getting for about a month or two. I say this because something quite wonderful happened after it's launch. It got people excited about interfaces again! The veteran fe developers suddenly started development again and new upstarts started making their own rd-like front-ends. Even the once thought dead AFx was released! Even better is the fact that I actually got some communication going between the different developers. This is the best part as this open sharing of information still goes on today. I've met a lot of nice people and have been able to contribute to a lot of projects because of this. It's actually one of the only reasons that I still do this.
Everyone will tell you that I'm by no means modest, but I'm still not arrogant enough to think that in the history of the emulation community I'll be much more than a footnote, if that. But if I do get my footnote I want to be remembered for lighting a fire under everyone's a$$es and getting the users talking with developers and developers talking with each other. It took a rather selfish hobby and started turning it into an open community again.
Ok enough of my self-glorifying b.s. on with the story.....
Well as I said everyone had a fe at this point. Thus the winter of 2001 became the time of the front-end wars. Actually it was more of friendly competition, but we still liked to compete. The three main apps at the time were mine, Emulaxian, and AFx. All had similar features, but each had it's strong point. Emulaxian went with the "lets make it flashy approach" and blew us out of the park with it's slick flash design. AFx decided to go with the "do one thing right" path and became a very stable, very pretty mame front-end. I decided to go with the "lets make it do everything" approach and added support for as many emus and as many features as possible. Another footnote for the record books is that Raging Dragon was the first fully skinnable windows front end. Skins became a main selling point as it matured. Needless to say this was a very fun and exciting time.
Unfortunately as time went on this became less fun and more work. I was constantly fixing bugs and trying to add support for the newest emu. The limitations of my original engine were beginning to show and a slew of afx/rd clones were popping up and thus making my work seem less important. Eventually each release contained more bugs then features and I knew it was time to quit. On May 20th, 2002 Raging Dragon officially died.
After having some down time, I began to look at the old rd code and realized it's singular design flaw. Rd was setup in such a way that it had to be constantly updated (by me no less) in order to stay current with the emus of the day. So I started from scratch and using rd as a template, I designed a modular system similar to the old game launcher, which I loved so much, but with the added feature of supporting windows emus and additional artwork. Also the modular design makes it's launching features compatible with other popular front-ends and thus extends their functionality.
And so Lazarus was born.....
Lazarus was a good front-end. It still is, but I wanted to resolve two major issues that had always plagued my programs. The first problem is if I add an external control to the program, the user is required to download it and install it on their computer. At first this wasn’t an issue, but by the time I added 3d model support, real media support and intro videos, it became a total mess to install. The other problem was more of a personal issue. I felt that graphically speaking, Lazarus had gone as far as it could go.
So I decided to overhaul the graphics system to Direct-X and fix both problems at the same time. The result is Dragon King, which is my attempt to re-capture the “old school” flair of Raging Dragon and still keep all of the good ideas added into Lazarus. Although it’s still in very early stages, I feel it will set another standard for emulator front ends to come once it is in full swing.