The SDLmame binary is an up-to-update compiled version of MAME that you can download and drop in any folder. Mine sits in /Applications/Games/<latest SDLmame version> If you’re using a recent Mac, and I mean like back to 2008 or something, you can grab the 64-bit binary, as OSX and Macs have been 64-bit happy for a while.
But the SDLmame alone is not enough. SDL Libraries are the key to making the above binary work, as they’re provide a layer that handles all the joystick, video and audio at the hardware level. This is just a folder that you install by dragging it into /Library/Frameworks in the root of your drive, so it’s available to all users. You can put it in ~/Library/Frameworks if you so desire. This may interfere with compiling Xcode stuff if you dev, so beware.
With the SDL frameworks you can use pretty much any joystick, so I use my Mad Catz fight sticks for me and the boy.
And finally, if you’re not a terminal happy cmd-line geek, and I’m not, you’ll need a front-end app. All a front-end app does is allow you to check buttons and select options, which is then written as the config file and variables are passed to the MAME app when launching a game. Personally, I’d go with QMC2 as it’s as nice as it gets, regularly updated, and works cross platform too, so I’ve had it running on Ubuntu just as well.
Download the disk image, install the package. You’ll need to dig around in the config to enable joysticks and tweak a few options if you need, but it’s ready to go off the bat. Select the location of your SDLmame folder, select your roms folder, off you go.
I have found that I need to trash the qmc2 folder in ~/Library/Application Support/ after some updates, so if you do have a problem, bin that and start again.
That’s it really. Not difficult to get set up, and you can stay up-to-date with the latest MAME versions.
Oh, and you’re on your own for roms…