We’ve seen a lot of arcade machine builds here on Hackaday. Seriously, a lot. Even more so since the Raspberry Pi took over the world and made it so you didn’t have to cannibalize an old laptop to build one anymore. It’s one of those projects with huge appeal: either you’re somebody who’s built their own arcade, or you’re somebody who wishes they had. But even after seeing all these builds, we occasionally come across a specimen that deserves special recognition.
[Al Linke] recently wrote in to tell us about his arcade build, which we think you’ll agree is worth a closer look. The core build is actually a modification of a previously published design, but what makes this one unique is the addition of a programmable LED matrix in the top that actually shows the logo and artwork for whatever game you’re currently playing. This display really helps sell the overall look, and instantly makes the experience that much more authentic. Sure you don’t need the marquee of your home arcade machine to show era-appropriate artwork…but we know you want it to.
So how does one interface their Raspberry Pi with this beautiful 64×32 LED marquee display? Well it just so happens that [Al] is in the business of making cool LED displays, and even has a couple successful Kickstarter campaigns under his belt to prove it. He’s developed a board that lets you easily connect up to low-cost HUB75 LED panels such as the one used in the arcade. It’s been a few years since we’ve last seen a project that tackled these specific LED displays, and it’s encouraging to see how far things have come since then.
Even if you’re somehow not in love with the LED marquee, this build really does stand on its own as a fantastic example of a desktop arcade machine. [Al] went to great length to document his build, including putting together several videos during different phases of construction. If you’re curious about the start of the art for home arcade builds, this project would be a pretty good one to use as a barometer.
At this point we’ve seen a good number of desktop-sized arcade cabinets, and while they’ve naturally all been impressive in their own ways, they do tend to follow a pretty familiar formula. Cut the side panels out of MDF (or just buy a frame kit), stick a Raspberry Pi and an old LCD monitor in there, and then figure out how to control the thing. Maybe a couple strategically placed stickers and blinking LEDs to add a few extra horsepower, but nothing too surprising.
[Andy Riley] had seen plenty of builds like that, and he wasn’t having any of it. With the heart of an old laptop and bones made of IKEA cutting boards, his build is proof positive that there’s always more than one way to approach a problem that most would consider “solved” already. From the start, he set out to design and build a miniature arcade cabinet that didn’t look and feel like all the other ones he’d seen floating around online, and we think you’ll agree he delivered in a big way.
Powering the arcade with an old laptop is really a brilliant idea, especially since you can pick up older models for a song now that they’re considered nearly disposable by many users. As long as it doesn’t have a cracked display, you’ll get a nice sized LCD panel and potentially a rather powerful computer to drive it. Certainly the graphical capabilities of even the crustiest of used laptops will run circles around the Raspberry Pi, and of course it opens the possibility of playing contemporary PC games. As [Andy] shows in his detailed write-up, using a laptop does take more custom work than settling for the Pi, but we think the advantages make a compelling case for putting in the effort.
Of course, that’s only half the equation. Arguably the most impressive aspect of this build is the cabinet itself, which is made out of a couple IKEA bamboo cutting boards. [Andy] used his not inconsiderable woodworking skills, in addition to some pretty serious power tools, to turn the affordable kitchen accessories into a furniture-grade piece that really stands out from the norm. Even if you aren’t normally too keen on working with dead trees, his step-by-step explanations and pictures are a fascinating look at true craftsman at work.
If you’re more concerned with playing Galaga than the finer points of varnish application, you can always just turbocharge the old iCade and be done with it. But we think there’s something to be said for an arcade cabinet that could legitimately pass as a family heirloom.
How do you preserve high scores in an old arcade cabinet when disconnecting the power? Is it possible to inject new high scores into a pinball machine? It was the b-plot of an episode of Seinfield, so it has to be worth doing, leading [matthew venn] down the rabbit hole of FPGAs and memory maps to create new high scores in a pinball machine.
The machine in question for this experiment is Doctor Who from Williams, which, despite being a Doctor Who pinball machine isn’t that great of a machine. Still, daleks. This machine is powered by a Motorola 68B09E running at 2MHz, with 8kB of RAM at address 0x0000. This RAM backed up with a few AA batteries, and luckily is in a DIP socket, allowing [matthew] to fab a board loaded up with an FPGA development board that goes between the CPU and RAM.
The basic technique for intercepting and writing a new high score for this pinball machine comes from the incredible [sprite_tm] who is tweeting high scores from a 1943 cabinet. The idea is simple: just have an FPGA look at one specific memory address, and send some data to a computer when the data at that address is updated. For the Doctor Who pinball machine, this is slightly harder than it sounds: the data isn’t stored in hex, but packed BCD. After a little bit of work, though, [matthew] was able to write new high scores from a Python script running on a laptop. All the code (and a few more details) are over on a Github
Extending arcade games by tapping into address and data lines isn’t something we see a lot of, but it has been done, most famously with the Church of Robotron. Here, a few MAME hacks turn a game of Robotron into a Church for the faithful to fully commit themselves to the savior of the world, due to arrive in 66 years and save the remaining humans from the robot apocalypse. This hack of a Doctor Who pinball machine goes beyond a modded version of MAME, and if we’re ever going to make a real chapel with a real game of Robotron, these are the techniques we’re going to use.
Games like Pong are legendary, not only in the sense that they are classic hours fun but also that they have a great potential for makers in stretching their learning legs. In an attempt at recreating the original paddle games like Pong and Tennis etc, [Grant Searle] has gone into the depths of emulating the AY-2-8500 chip using an Arduino.
For the uninitiated, the AY-3-8500 chip was the original game silicon that powered Ball & Paddle that could be played on the domestic television. Running at 2 MHz, it presented a 500 ns pixel width and operated to a maximum of 12 Volts. The equivalent of the AY-3-8500 is the TMS1965NLA manufactured by Texas Instruments for those who would be interested.
[Grant Searle] does a brilliant job of going into the details of the original chip as well as the PAL and NTSC versions of the device. This analysis will come in handy should anyone choose to make a better version. He talks about the intricacies of redrawing the screen for the static elements as well as the ball that bounces around the screen. The author presents details on ball traversal, resolution, 2K memory limit and its workarounds.
Then there are details on the sound and the breadboard version of the prototype that makes the whole write-up worth one’s time. If you don’t fancy the analog paddles and would rather use a wireless modern-day touch, check out Playing Pong with Micro:bits
The days are getting shorter and the nights are a little cooler, which can only mean one thing: it’s officially time to start devising the trials you’ll put the neighborhood children through this Halloween. For [Randall Hendricks], that means building a new candy dispensing machine to make sure the kids have to work for their sugary reward. After all, where’s the challenge in just walking up and taking some candy from a bowl? These kids need to build character.
[Randall] writes in to share his early work on this year’s candy contraption which he’s based on a popular arcade game called “Goal Line Rush”. In this skill based game a disc with various prizes spins slowly inside the machine, and the player has a button that will extend an arm from the rear of the disc. The trick is getting the timing right to push the prize off the disc and into the chute. Replace the prizes with some empty calorie balls of high fructose corn syrup, and you get the idea.
There’s still plenty of time before All Hallows’ Eve, so the machine is understandably still a bit rough. He hasn’t started the enclosure yet, and at this point is still finalizing the mechanics. But this early peek looks very promising, and in the video after the break you can see how the machine doles out the goodies.
The disc is rotated by a high torque motor, and the aluminum extrusion arm is actuated with a gear motor and custom chain drive. Some 3D printed hardware, a couple limit switches, and a pair of relays make for a fairly straightforward way of pushing the rod out when the player presses the button on the front of the cabinet.
As if you already weren’t agonizing over whether or not you should build your own arcade cabinet, add this one to the list of compelling reasons why you should dedicate an unreasonable amount of physical space to playing games you’ve probably already got emulated on your phone. [Rodrigo] writes in to show off his project to add some flair to the lighted buttons on his arcade controller. (Google Translate)
The wiring for this project is about as easy as you’d expect: the buttons connect to the digital inputs on the Arduino, and the LEDs on the digital outputs. When the Arduino code sees the button getting pressed, it brings the corresponding LED pin high and starts a fade out timer using the SoftPWM library by [Brett Hagman].
It’s worth noting that the actual USB interface is being done with a stand-alone controller, so the Arduino here is being used purely to drive the lighting effects. The more critical reader might argue that you could do both with a single microcontroller, but [Rodrigo] was in a classic “Use what you’ve got” situation, and already had a USB controller on hand.
We’ve all had the heartbreak of ordering something online, only to have it arrive in less than mint condition. Such are the risks of plying the global marketplace, only more so for used gear, which seems to be a special target for the wrath of sadistic custom agents and package handlers all along the supply chain.
This cruel fate befell a vintage Vectrex game console ordered by [Senile Data Systems]; the case was cracked and the CRT was an imploded mass of shards. Disappointing, to say the least, but not fatal, as he was able to make a working console from the remains of the Vectrex and an old IBM monitor. The Google translation is a little rough, but from what we can gather, the Vectrex, a vector-graphics console from the early 80s with such hits as MineStorm, Star Castle, and Clean Sweep, was in decent shape apart from the CRT. So with an old IBM 5151 green phosphor monitor, complete with a burned-in menu bar, was recruited to stand in for the damaged components. The Vectrex guts, including the long-gone CRT’s deflection yoke assembly, were transplanted to the new case. A little room was made for the original game cartridges, a new controller was fashioned from a Nintendo candy tin, and pretty soon those classic games were streaking and smearing across the long-persistence phosphors. We have to admit the video below looks pretty trippy.