Gauntlet is a well-known arcade game from 1985 with many sequels and ports to more modern architectures such as Xbox and GameCube. Thanks to its popularity and relative age, the original arcade cabinet is well documented with the schematics available online. It was regarded as the most complex and ambitious hardware Atari had ever developed at the time it was released. In what can only be described as an absolute labor of love, [Alex] has recreated the arcade hardware on the Pipistrello FPGA board.
The project can actually play Gauntlet, Gauntlet II, and Vindicators II as they all ran on the same hardware. Four joysticks are supported so up to four players can play, though the EEPROM is emulated in RAM so high scores are reset when the device is powered down. The FPGA is almost out of space and can’t quite squeeze in the SRAM needed. So an SRAM expansion daughterboard is required; nothing a quick board run from our favorite purple PCB manufacturer can’t solve.
In the repo is an incredible write-up detailing the system, how it works, and the process of debugging it. This project also includes a complete simulation of the TMS5220 Voice Synthesis Processor, as Gauntlet was the first coin-operated arcade machine with a voice synthesizer. Getting the video correct was particularly tricky and it took several tries to get the color palette and motion looking right. Since [Alex] didn’t have access to an original Gauntlet arcade cabinet, they had to make do with MAME. After writing a test to make sure the FPGA was working correctly, there were differences between the MAME emulation and the FPGA output. To help out, [Colin Davies] came to the rescue. After [Colin] hooked up an original Gauntlet Arcade PCB with the motion test loaded up, the test showed that the FPGA had the correct behavior.
During development [Alex] actually simulated several frames of the game in ISIM (at a whopping 90 seconds per frame or 90 minutes per in-game second). Using ISIM allowed them to compare system state to MAME and validate the design much faster as they could better inspect the interworkings of the different modules. Using a clever trick of grabbing state from MAME after a few seconds, they primed the FPGA state and saved themselves a few hours of simulation.
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.
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.
[MelkorsGreatestHits] had an extra USB MAME board burning a hole in his parts bin, so he turned it into fuel for this far-out Kerbal Space Program controller. Cool your jets — no fully-functioning TI-99/4As were harmed in the making of this baby. Besides, this is a KAL 9000 from Kexas Instruments. See the badges?
After donating the usable parts deemed unnecessary for space exploration, [MelkorsGreatestHits] had even more room inside the case for the throng of toggles that make this controller so touchable. We love the two tiers of toggles here — the important ones are separated with 3D-printed Space Shuttle-style switch guards, and the super-important toggles have flip-up covers to protect them from errant flicks of the hand. The vintage embosser labels are an impressive touch, and make us wish we had one that stamps vertically.
[MelkorsGreatestHits] modeled the combo throttle/roll handle and the joystick after the Apollo 11 command module controls. Unfortunately, the MAME board didn’t like his 3-axis analog joystick, so both are 2-axis and give WASD control. Good enough to get to the Mün!
The project came about when [Patricio] was working on his Linux-based MAME cabinet, and realised there were limited software options to control his Ultimarc LED board. As the existing solutions lacked features, it was time to get coding.
LEDSpicer runs on Linux only, and requires compilation, but that’s not a huge hurdle for the average MAME fanatic. It comes with a wide variety of animations, as well as tools for creating attract modes and managing LEDs during gameplay. There are even audio-reactive modes available for your gaming pleasure. It’s open source too, so it’s easy to tinker with if there’s something you’d like to add yourself.
There’s a certain class of hardware only millennials will cherish. Those cheap ‘LCD Video Games’ from Tiger Electronics were sold in the toy aisle of your old department store. There was an MC Hammer video game. There was a Stargate video game. There was a Back To The Future video game. All of these used the same plastic enclosure, all of them had Up, Down, Left, Right, and two extra buttons, and all of them used a custom liquid crystal display. All of them were just slightly disappointing.
This is an effort from volunteers of the MAME team, who are now in the process of bringing these ‘LCD Video Games’ to the Internet Archive. Unlike other games which are just bits and bytes along with a few other relatively easily-digitized manuals and Peril Sensitive Sunglasses, preserving these games requires a complete teardown of the device. These are custom LCDs, after all. [Sean Riddle] and [hap] have been busy tearing apart these LCDs, vectorizing the segments (the game The Shadow is seen above), and preserving the art behind the LCD. It’s an immense amount of work, but the process has been refined somewhat over the years.
Some of these games, and some other earlier games featuring VFD and LED displays, are now hosted on the Internet Archive for anyone to play in a browser. The Handheld History collection joins the rest of the emulated games on the archive, with the hope they’ll be preserved for years to come.
[Glennzo] has a house with some odd interior design choices. The most glaring one is a living room/den complete with a green Jacuzzi hot tub straight out of the 1980s. The tub really didn’t fit with [Glennzo’s] plan to use the space as a bar and game room, so out came the Sawzall and demo hammer. The tub was in its own little alcove, possibly a converted closet. [Glennzo’s] turned the space into a restaurant style booth complete with a cocktail arcade table.
The fiberglass tub was relatively easy to cut up and remove. This left the wood framed tile tub surround. The surround was extended to become a booth seat. A bit of creative woodworking, some vinyl cushions, and the booth itself was ready. But what good is a booth without a table?
The cocktail table arcade machine is powered by a mini-tower running MAME. The monitor is an old 21″ LCD. The frame of the table is plywood and pine lumber, finished with stain and polyurethane. The illuminated buttons and interface came from an arcade control kit, which made wiring a snap. The table is topped off with a custom 3/8″ thick piece of glass.
The final product looks great and fits the room perfectly. Now [Glennzo] just needs a BarBot to finish off the perfect hacker and gamer paradise!