Introduction: Back to the Arcade by JDRamos
I present to you my arcade project.
A project I started back in 2013 when for my birthday my father offered me an old arcade cabinet, bought from a vendor that still installs and manages them at coffee shops. It was an old arcade with problems on the monitor, from which I only wanted to use the wooden cabinet and re-do technically with a technology that I could easily manage and maintain.
From the very beginning I decided to name it and decorate it inspired on the Back to the Future trilogy. The dates on the marquee panel all have meaning to me... My birth date in 78 (including the hour on which I was born :-)), the date on which I got the arcade and a date in the future when I'm 100 years and will be still playing on this arcade :-)
During the project I also decided to construct a flux capacitor replica, just because buying one would cost several hundred of dollars and I thought "I'm sure I can build one".
My inspiration and source of information was the Internet. There are lots and lots of pages on how to build an arcade, on how to set up Mame and Hyperspin (more on that later), on how to connect joysticks and buttons to a computer, etc, etc.. Google it!
During the next pages I detail the main aspects of the strategy that I've followed.
It was not a project that I documented thinking on sharing with others, rather something that I documented for the fun of the construction project. Nevertheless it, I share it today with you just for the fun. Enjoy!!!
João Diogo Ramos
PS1 - Everything works on the arcade, even the coin dispenser mechanism.
PS2 - I am also an enthusiastic collector of Sinclair and Timex computers from the eighties. If you want to see some of my other projects, take a look here: Spectrum Computers (Sinclair, Timex, etc...)
Step 1: The Final Result
In the introduction you saw the final result I achieved with the arcade, including the boot sequence...
The arcade is powered by a personal computer that I bought used in my company (cost me 2€ :-) ) and is running Windows XP as operating system and the Multi-Arcade Machine Emulation (MAME) emulator with the Hyperspin fronted.
In the boot sequence I've intercalated the hyperspin video with some lines/sounds from the Back to the Future movie.
The Windows XP was customized in a way that does not display any message or screen during the boot process. The only things that shows that there is a computer running behind the scenes is the initial boot screen (that gives access to the BIOS) and the screen that displays which hard drives are connected.
But before we go in detail on how all of this was achieved, let's take a look and enjoy some of the games...
Step 2: The Original Cabinet
First things first...
The arcade I bough was this one...
Notice the speakers on the top, screwing the marquee, something I was decide to correct on my version!
Also the white color did not fancy me for such a cult object... it had to be black!
Step 3: Dismantle and Document All Those Wires
To make sure I could understand how things were wired I had to start by dismantling the arcade and document as much as I could. The buttons/joystick was obviously a crucial part.
I dismantle it all to have it cleaned or even replace any broken parts, oil anything that could need it, etc...
Remember that such arcades were used at coffees when it was still possible and even incentivized that people smoke while using them
Step 4: Painting Work
I bought some mate black paint in an hardware store and painted it with a very soft roller thing that gave an amazing finish. I also bought some acrylic black paint, good to be applied directly over rusty parts and used it for all metals just to play safe.
Notice that I had already opened the new holes for the speakers in a more or less hidden place, beneath the joystick area. The speakers used were conventional computer speakers that I dismantled and applied on the cabinet. The sound control and even power button are now available beneath the joystick and buttons area.
Step 5: Monitor
The monitor was something that from the very beginning I had decided I wanted to replace by a computer screen.
There will be a lot of people saying this is not the best option because it changes the original look&feel of the gaming experience and because of the size of the monitor.
I've searched for the biggest CRT monitors that I could and got some 22" monitor (not sure of the size now). I got one for 20€ and another one offered but a flat version of the same monitor. I stored the flat screen and used the other one.
Regarding the reason I did this, it was because of simplicity.
1) The original arcade monitor was not working and had to go.
2) To connect a TV set to the arcade and plug it to a PC computer you have to use a specialized VGA card (like the ArcadeVGA) that uses a frequency adequate for TV sets, something that most computer graphic cards can't do. The alternative is to use some software that adapts this situation, but that means that you can only see the image after the computer boots entirely.
As I wanted to reduce cost as much as possible, I went for the computer monitor which was straightforward to connect.
To secure the monitor on the wooden cabinet you need at least one friend. It is heavy and hard to put in place. Additionally there babies are dangerous, at least I hate to deal with high voltage devices like monitors. Stay safe!
Step 6: Joystick and Buttons
I decided to add some buttons to the arcade. The vendor had provided lots of buttons to play around, choose colors, etc...
The joysticks work as 4 directional switches, just like any fire button.
The simple way to connect all of this to a computer is to buy an interface where you plug each individual switch that then gets mapped to a key on a keyboard. People can also use a controller from an old keyboard but sometimes that is harder and originates ghosting (i.e. when there is a small number of keys that you can press at the same time), so I decided to buy the I-PAC 2 interface from Ultimarc: https://www.ultimarc.com/ipac.html
You basically connect each microswitch to a pin on this interface and then use a cable to connect to the PS2 or USB port on the computer. Simple as that...
There is software to configure the keys and MAME itself works by defining which keyboard keys do the intended actions on the emulator.
Step 7: Flux Capacitor
I was seeing Back to the Future for the 357 time (more or less :-) ) and I thought, why don't I put a working flux capacitor on my arcade!?!??! It would be nice...
I googled to find out if there was such an object and obviously there was. But it was expensive... $300 for a light sequencer and that I wanted to incorporate on the coin bucket area... I decided to try to build one which became a project inside the main project.
I found several instructions on the internet and basically I had to construct the electronic circuit to sequence the leds and then create the cosmetic using some gardening hose and some painted plastic tube. By looking at pictures from the movie I've built my replica of the flux capacitor.
In terms of the electronic circuit, I believe I followed a project from the instructables site but it is no longer available. Nevertheless, anyone with acceptable skills in electronics or if you visit a shop where you can buy chips, leds and such, they can easily tell you what to build. I've included a variable resistor on the circuit that I've installed beneath the joystick panel and this way I can control the speed of the light of the flux capacitor as you can see on the video.
Step 8: Artwork
The final touch would be the artwork customized to my theme of the Back to the Arcade. Luckily I have very good friends in several areas.
I challenged a top-notch designer that is a friend of mine to draw the artwork according to my intentions. We did in an amazing way!
Additionally, another good friend that was a printing and advertisement company printed the materials and taught me how to apply them.
Notice that on the joystick area, because the original acrylic was burned from cigar ashes in a way that I could not restore it, so we decided to apply the artwork directly on top of the acrylic which is not common but nevertheless gave a very good finish that still looks amazing after a few years. This way I reduced the cost of buying that expensive acrylic.
Step 9: Now, Play the Game!
So, an amazing project on which I spent several weekends working on...
My background is in computer science and I also like electronics and electricity so it was a project that allowed me to use my knowledge to create something that I like a lot. Everyone that visits my house becomes quite impressed with the arcade. The only thing I may correct in the future is to replace the monitor by a bigger one, probably a TV set with all the complication that will add.
In terms of cost, I remember that I spent around 50€ on the flux capacitor replica components. I spent around 100€ on the arcade cabinet. Then the computer, monitor, iPac interface, etc... Then paintings, printing of the artwork, etc... It was a project that costed me around 400€ plus all the time that I spent working on it.
Now it is time to enjoy it playing some games! :-)
Hope you liked it.