Despite all the incredible advancements made in video game technology over the last few decades, the 8-bit classics never seem to go out of style. Even if you weren’t old enough to experience these games when they were new, it’s impossible not to be impressed by what the early video game pioneers were able to do with such meager hardware. They’re a reminder of what can be accomplished with dedication and technical mastery.
If you’d like to put a little retro inspiration on your desk, take a look at this fantastic 16 x 16 LED matrix put together by [Josh Gerdes]. While it’s obviously not the only thing you could use it for, the display certainly seems particularly adept at showing old school video game sprites in all their pixelated glory. There’s something about the internal 3D printed grid that gives the sprites a three dimensional look, while the diffused glow reminds us of nights spent hunched over a flickering CRT.
The best part might be how easy it is to put one of these together for yourself. You’ve probably got most of what you need in the parts bin; essentially it’s just a WS2812B strip long enough to liberate 256 LEDs from and a microcontroller to drive them. [Josh] used an Arduino Nano, but anything compatible with the FastLED library would be a drop-in replacement. You’ll also need a 3D printer to run off the grid, and something to put the whole thing into. The 12×12 shadowbox used here looks great, but we imagine clever folks such as yourselves could make do with whatever might be laying around if you can’t nip off to the arts and crafts store right now.
In fact, he’s put not one but four arcade games into the controller. The board that [Taylor] liberated from the miniature game system can actually be switched between the onboard games by shorting out different pads on the PCB. Normally this would be done during manufacture with a zero-ohm resistor, but in this case, he’s wired the pads out to a strip of membrane keypad liberated from an LED remote control. By holding a different button while powering on the system, the user can select which of the games they want to boot into.
The original buttons and directional pad have been preserved, and in the video after the break, [Taylor] shows how he wires them into the arcade PCB. The Start and Select buttons had to go since that’s where the tiny color LCD goes now, but they wouldn’t have been used in any of these games anyway. With the addition of a small battery pack and charge controller, this build is a clever way to take several classic arcade titles with you on the go.
We’re used to games consoles in which the same hardware plays a variety of different games, but if we were to peer inside arcade cabinets of an older vintage we’d find custom boards unique to every game. Some boards from the same manufacturers shared common hardware traits even if they weren’t identical though, and [twistedsymphony] has taken advantage of this to make one vintage Taito game — Gun & Frontier — run on the hardware for another, Ah Eikou no Koshien. It’s a fascinating tale across a forum thread, that’s well worth a read even if you will never touch a vintage arcade board.
We might expect that the tool of choice would be a logic analyser or similar, but unexpectedly the solution to this hack was found in MAME. The arcade emulator conceals a wealth of information about these boards, from which you can discover their differences and try out possible solutions. The hardware hacks are surprisingly straightforward, a few bodge wires and an extra address line for a larger ROM. A programmable logic array required dumping and rewriting to fix a graphics corruption issue and a little bit of ROM tweaking after emulating a controller problem in MAME was required, but it seems that yes, one game can run on another. Certainly less painful than the Taito hack that required a chip to be decapped.
Custom arcade machines have always been a fairly common project in the hacker and maker circles, but they’ve really taken off with the advent of the Raspberry Pi and turn-key controller kits. With all the internals neatly sorted, the only thing you need to figure out is the cabinet itself. Unfortunately, that’s often the trickiest part. Without proper woodworking tools, or ideally a CNC router, it can be tough going to build a decent looking cabinet out of the traditional MDF panels.
But if you’re willing to leave wood behind, [Gerrit Gazic] might have a solution for you. This bartop arcade, which he calls the simplyRetro D8, uses a fully 3D printed cabinet. He’s gone through the trouble of designing it so there are no visible screw holes, so it looks like the whole thing was hewn from a chunk of pure synthwave ore. He notes that this can make the assembly somewhat tricky in a few spots, but we think it’s a worthy compromise.
Given the squat profile of the simplyRetro, the internals are packed in a bit tighter than we’re accustomed to seeing in a arcade build. But there’s still more than enough room for the Raspberry Pi, eight inch touch screen HDMI panel, and all the controls. To keep things as neat as possible, [Gerrit] even added integrated zip tie mount points; a worthwhile CAD tip that’s certainly not limited to arcade cabinets.
[Gerrit] has included not only the STL files for this design, but also the Fusion 360 Archive should you want to make any modifications. There’s also a complete Bill of Materials, as well as detailed instructions on how to pull it all together. If you’ve ever wanted your own arcade machine but felt a bit overwhelmed about figuring out all the nuances on your own, the simplyRetro could be the project you’ve been waiting for.
We generally cast a skeptical eye at projects that claim some kind of superlative. If you go on about the “World’s Smallest” widget, the chances are pretty good that someone will point to a yet smaller version of the same thing. But in the case of what’s touted as “The world’s smallest vector monitor”, we’re willing to take that chance.
If you’ve seen any of [Arcade Jason]’s projects before, you’ll no doubt have noticed his abiding affection for vector displays. We’re OK with that; after all, many of the best machines from the Golden Age of arcade games such as Asteroids and Tempest were based on vector graphics. None so small as the current work, though, based as it is on the CRT from an old camcorder’s viewfinder. The tube appears to be about 3/4″ (19 mm) in diameter, and while it still had some of its original circuitry, the deflection coils had to be removed. In their place, [Jason] used a ferrite toroid with two windings, one for vertical and one for horizontal. Those were driven directly by a two-channel push-pull audio amplifier to make patterns on the screen. Skip to 15:30 in the video below to see the display playing [Jerobeam Fenderson]’s “Oscilloscope Music”.
It’s a common sight in our community for a life-expired arcade cabinet to be repurposed as a MAME cabinet with an up-to-date screen and other internals. Many of us have had some fun pursuing high scores in a hackerspace somewhere, and even if they don’t have the screen burn and annoying need for cash of the originals they still deliver plenty of fun.
But if there’s one pleasure an adult can pursue that a kid in a 1980s arcade couldn’t, it’s a cool glass of beer. [Marcus Young] has brought together the two with his Barcaderator, a custom MAME cabinet with a beer tap on the side and a fridge for a keg in its base.
Beer tap built in!
Split cabinet detail
The MAME internals include a Lattepanda Alpha and an LED controller for those illuminated buttons. Where this build shines is in its custom cabinet, which instead of being an all-in-one unit takes the form of a base and top half that are detatchable. It appears to take its inspiration and build techniques from the world of flight cases. You can see the detail where the two halves come together in this image. The result should be of great interest to anyone who has struggled with moving an unwieldy traditional arcade cabinet.
This is we think the first beer/arcade combo to grace these pages. But we’ve had more than one arcade cabinet, and definitely quite a few kegs along the way.
It’s a build that’s remarkably accessible for even the inexperienced builder. Paper templates are used to cut out the plywood parts for the cabinet, and the electronic components are all off-the-shelf items. Assembly is readily achievable with high-school level woodworking and soldering skills. Like most similar builds, it relies on the Raspberry Pi running RetroPie, meaning you’ll never run out of games to play.
Where this project really shines, however, is the graphics. Cribbed from Mortal Kombat II and looking resplendent in purple, they’re key to making this cabinet a truly stunning piece. The attention to detail is excellent, too, with the marquee and screen getting acrylic overlays for that classic shine, as well as proper T-moulding being used to finish the edges.