Home Decorating With Tiny Arcade Cabinets

Thanks to the general miniaturization of electronics, the wide availability of cheap color LCD screens, and the fact that licensing decades old arcade games is something of a free-for-all, we can now purchase miniature clones of classic arcade cabinets for about $20 USD. In theory you could play these things, but given they’re less than 4 inches in height they end up being more of a desk novelty than anything. Especially since it seems like most of the effort went into making the cabinet itself; a classic example of “form over function”.

Unfortunately, if you want to buy these little arcade cabinets to use as decoration for your office or game room, they aren’t particularly well suited to the task. The “demo” mode where the game plays itself doesn’t last for very long, and even if it did, the game would chew through batteries at an alarming rate. [Travis] decided to tackle both issues head on by powering his Tiny Arcades over USB and locking them into demo mode.

The stock power for the Tiny Arcade comes from three AAA batteries, or 4.5 V. This made it easy enough to run over  5 V USB, and a four port USB charger is used to provide power to multiple machines at once. Forcing the game to stay in demo mode wasn’t much harder: a 555 timer was used to “push” the demo button with a frequency of every 10 seconds or so to keep the game up and running. A simple timer circuit was put together in the classic “dead bug” style, and sealed up with liquid rubber so it would play nice with the insides of the Tiny Arcade.

Since his little machines wouldn’t need their stock power switches anymore, [Travis] rewired the speaker lead through it. So now the machine stays on and in demo mode as long as it’s plugged into USB power, and you can flip the switch on the back to turn off the sounds. Perfect for sitting up on a shelf or the corner of your desk.

Usability issues not withstanding, there’s a pretty big (no pun intended) following for micro sized arcade cabinets. We’ve seen projects ranging from modding a Game Boy Advance to even tinier scratch builds.

19 thoughts on “Home Decorating With Tiny Arcade Cabinets

    1. I believe there is at least one of the models that has one of two different games depending on which solder bridge is connected. I saw it on a YouTube review – think it might have been Techmoan or Ashens.

      That model looked ripe picking for a jumper/switch to be added for easy external manipulation.

    2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vHlzo4yK2M

      This video shows the installation of a four position switch to select between the four games. Every arcade has all four programs on it which is set with a jumper on one of four sets of pads. I won’t pretend to understand the economics of it, but I would think it would be easy to justify the added cost of a button to cycle through games and be able to advertise that it has four games instead of one, even if the artwork doesn’t necessarily match.

      Doesn’t seem to be too much more you can do with this arcade. Not sure which microcontroller it is using. I haven’t taken one apart yet, but from photos online I don’t think it is a potted blob.

      The OG Tiny Arcade from Tiny Circuits, which this seems to be a cheaper copy of, seems much more hackable. Open source, Arduino compatable, lots more games, and I believe it is made in USA.

      1. “I won’t pretend to understand the economics of it, but I would think it would be easy to justify the added cost of a button to cycle through games and be able to advertise that it has four games instead of one, even if the artwork doesn’t necessarily match.”

        It’s the difference between selling somebody one unit and four. These things are easy sells at ~$20, but could you sell a 4-game unit for $80 to get the same profit? Probably not.

      2. Yah thats it. BUT you dont need a switch. you can run the wire to the joystick inputs and then use the 4 positions on the joystick to select the game you want to play before powering it up.

    3. Hey, yes I did this mod (thanks for posting the article Tom Nardi and if you see this, my name is Tavis not Travis).
      There is another mod you can do to make it able to play all 4 games by moving the joystick to one of the 4 positions before you power up the game and that will let you select all 4 games. All you have to do is wire the joystick pins to the game selection traces on the main board.

      1. What’s the display resolution? If it’s running copies of original game ROMs I wonder if it’d be possible to connect a bigger, higher resolution, display and use one of these as the guts of a custom 4 game ‘cocktail’ style cabinet, but built into a table with a top no thicker than a flat monitor.

        1. I was wondering this too. Although I don’t think the ROMs are original. PacMan seems too easy to me but I’m not 100% sure. It also feels like the game speeds up when going across a space where the dots are gone.

  1. This is some really nice work!
    I see the joystick-all game select hack has been covered-EXCELLENT!
    (Leave the stick in the middle for diagnostic mode Easter egg!)
    When I learned of that hack it really just boiled down to choosing the cabinet art I liked the best. (Space Invaders for me!)
    Other hacks I want to do on mine are to replace the LEDs in the marquee with ones from flicker votive candles to simulate failing tubes and tiny cigarette burn marks because that’s also how it was. -GOOD TIMES!!!

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