Scripting MAME via Lua


It is now possible to externally drive MAME via Lua scripts. This feature initially appeared in version 0.148, when a minimal Lua engine was implemented. Today, the Lua interface is rich enough to let you inspect and manipulate devices’ state, access CPU registers, read and write memory, and draw a custom HUD on screen.

Internally, MAME makes extensive use of Sol3 to implement this feature. The idea is to transparently expose as many of the useful internals as possible.

Finally, a warning: the Lua API is not yet declared stable and may suddenly change without prior notice. However, we expose methods to let you know at runtime which API version you are running against, and most of the objects support runtime you can introspection.


The API is not yet complete, but this is a partial list of capabilities currently available to Lua scripts:

  • session information (app version, current emulated system, ROM details)

  • session control (starting, pausing, resetting, stopping)

  • event hooks (on frame painting and on user events)

  • device introspection (device tree listing, memory and register enumeration)

  • screen introspection (screens listing, screen details, frame counting)

  • screen overlay drawing (text, lines, boxes on multiple screens)

  • memory read/write (8/16/32/64 bits, signed and unsigned)

  • register and state control (state enumeration, get and set)

Many of the classes are documented on the Lua class reference page.


MAME supports external scripting via Lua (>= 5.3) scripts, either entered at the interactive console or loaded as a file. To reach the console, enable the console plugin (e.g. run MAME with -plugin console) and you will be greeted with a [MAME]> prompt where you can enter Lua script interactively.

To load a whole script at once, store it in a plain text file and pass it using -autoboot_script. Please note that script loading may be delayed (a few seconds by default), but you can override the default with the -autoboot_delay option.

To control the execution of your code, you can use a loop-based or event-based approach. The former is not encouraged as it is resource-intensive and makes control flow unnecessarily complex. Instead, we suggest to register custom hooks to be invoked on specific events (e.g. at each frame rendering).


Let’s first run MAME in a terminal to reach the Lua console:

$ mame -console YOUR_ROM
       /|  /|    /|     /|  /|    _______
      / | / |   / |    / | / |   /      /
     /  |/  |  /  |   /  |/  |  /  ____/
    /       | /   |  /       | /  /_
   /        |/    | /        |/  __/
  /  /|  /|    /| |/  /|  /|    /____
 /  / | / |   / |    / | / |        /
/ _/  |/  /  /  |___/  |/  /_______/
         /  /
        / _/

mame 0.227
Copyright (C) Nicola Salmoria and the MAME team

Lua 5.3
Copyright (C), PUC-Rio


At this point, your game is probably running in demo mode, let’s pause it:

[MAME]> emu.pause()

Even without textual feedback on the console, you’ll notice the game is now paused. In general, commands are quiet and only print back error messages.

You can check at runtime which version of MAME you are running, with:

[MAME]> print(emu.app_name() .. " " .. emu.app_version())
mame 0.227

We now start exploring screen related methods. First, let's enumerate available screens:

[MAME]> for tag, screen in pairs(manager.machine.screens) do print(tag) end

manager.machine is the running machine object for your current emulation session. We will be using this frequently. screens is a device enumerator that yields all emulated screens in the system; most arcade games only have one main screen. In our case, the main and only screen is tagged as :screen, and we can further inspect it:

[MAME]> -- keep a reference to the main screen in a variable
[MAME]> s = manager.machine.screens[":screen"]
[MAME]> print(s.width .. "x" .. s.height)

We have several methods to draw a HUD on the screen composed of lines, boxes and text:

[MAME]> -- we define a HUD-drawing function, and then call it
[MAME]> function draw_hud()
[MAME]>> s:draw_text(40, 40, "foo") -- (x0, y0, msg)
[MAME]>> s:draw_box(20, 20, 80, 80, 0xff00ffff, 0) -- (x0, y0, x1, y1, line-color, fill-color)
[MAME]>> s:draw_line(20, 20, 80, 80, 0xff00ffff) -- (x0, y0, x1, y1, line-color)
[MAME]>> end
[MAME]> draw_hud()

This will draw some useless art on the screen. However, when resuming the game, your HUD needs to be refreshed otherwise it will just disappear. In order to do this, you have to register your hook to be called on every frame repaint:

[MAME]> emu.register_frame_done(draw_hud, "frame")

All colors are specified in ARGB format (eight bits per channel), while screen origin (0,0) normally corresponds to the top-left corner.

Similarly to screens, you can inspect all the devices attached to a machine:

[MAME]> for tag, device in pairs(manager.machine.devices) do print(tag) end

On some of them, you can also inspect and manipulate memory and state:

[MAME]> cpu = manager.machine.devices[":maincpu"]
[MAME]> -- enumerate, read and write state registers
[MAME]> for k, v in pairs(cpu.state) do print(k) end
[MAME]> print(cpu.state["D0"].value)
[MAME]> cpu.state["D0"].value = 255
[MAME]> print(cpu.state["D0"].value)
[MAME]> -- inspect memory
[MAME]> for name, space in pairs(cpu.spaces) do print(name) end
[MAME]> mem = cpu.spaces["program"]
[MAME]> print(mem:read_i8(0xc000))