The Gig of Ham

One geek's contributions to the series of tubes

Dec 6, 2015 - 6 minute read - Arcade

The Arcade Project

I love arcade games. Some of my favorites are S.T.U.N. Runner, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Sinistar, and Tempest. I like the fighting games like Street Fighter, King of Fighters, Mortal Kombat, etc but are not very good at them. Ten years ago, I worked for a video game company and my “boss” also very much liked Arcade games. So he brought is personal collection about 30 of them in to work and littered them about the office. It was AWESOME, but then went to space, and some unpleasantness occurred which caused him to leave the company and take his games with him. It was a huge blow to the morale at the company (which was not in a great place already) and I decided to fight back by building a MAME cabinet in the elevator lobby so we could play some of the great games we missed so much. It was modest, just an older PC, an X-Arcade Tankstick w/ Trackball, and..7 games. See, the company’s mangement chickened out and wouldn’t let me load the MAME romset onto the PC for a lot of hand-wavy reasons. I could only load games I bought at the store or were freeware. Not ideal, but we still had fun. But, it was incomplete. It needed a real cabinet, and more games.

I’ve wanted to build an arcade cabinet for a long time, and now I’m finally going to. My day job is having a huge conference here in Austin this July, and I want to have an arcade cabinet built and running for that. We have a large game night at every conference, and it’s a lot of fun. I introduced Space Team and Keep Talking and No One Explodes at the previous summit, to a lot of positive feedback (one of our community members is using KTaNOE as part of a training pack for first-tier on-call reps). So, I’ve decided to up my game and bring along an arcade too if possible. I’ve got a fair amount of work to do. Someday we’ll even have a real office, and the arcade will live there most of the time.

So, this post is mostly just to publicly shame myself into keeping up with the promise, having a place to bookmark links, and to start documenting progress. Many people have build cabinets before me, and this particular flare up of my obsession was fueled by this awesome build by a man in Houston: the NASA Arcade. It’s gorgeous, and I want one..with a few adjustments. So, here’s the major points outline:

  • multi-piece cabinet for portability (this is going to be moving somewhat frequently, and I don’t have a pickup anymore. I’m expecting at least the control panel, display portion, and base pedestal to be separate)
    • Display section
      • approx 30″ flat screen monitor (CRTs are lovely, but are power hogs, massive heat generators, and really really heavy) (min 1440p)
      • software controlled marquee
      • Second display to show supplemental info in menu, and control help while in game
      • May contain main PC, or may be in pedestal
      • Speakers mounted in bottom of marquee section
      • space shuttle/jet style ceiling controls between speakers for power, screenshot, exit game, etc. (aux controls)
    • Control panel section
      • control panel for 4 players – just game buttons. Aux controls and coin drops are elsewhere.
        • 4/8 way switchable fight stick and 10 buttons for P1 and P2
        • 4 way fight stick and 4 buttons for P3 and P4
      • Modular middle section of control panel for misc controls (Just trackball + spinner to start)
      • All buttons are illuminated with full software controlled color
    • Base pedestal
      • Coin drop buttons
      • holds extra control modules and pedals (eventually), has coin drop buttons
      • power supply
      • sub for sound system
      • may contain main control PC, or may be in display section
  • Custom front-end running on Linux (open source naturally) w/ web interface for comments, rating, control feedback, and enhancements (upload new screens for second display, marquee, etc)
  • Post 1.0 upgrades:
    • Multiple emulators (just MAME to start)
    • Light guns
    • USB controllers for P5 and P6, or for specific systems (NES, SNES, Genesis, etc)
    • Floor switches (ala Time Crisis style shooters)
    • Extra controls for pinball titles (side buttons, launch plunger)
    • More middle control modules:
      • Wheel/Yolk w/ buttons (for racing, S.T.U.N. Runner, Star Wars, etc) w/ floor pedals module
      • Full size analog joysticks w/ buttons

I’m not going to lie, it’s an ambitious task even with what I’ve made a MVP listed above. The hardest part will be the front end, but my god do all the Linux based front ends suck unless you only a few dozen games loaded. The Windows ones are a little better, but Windows:

Obviously, the Front End software will be open source. Once I come up with a great name (or have GitHub suggest one for me) I’ll post the link here to the WIP source. The plans will also be posted, once I find a reasonable piece of software to design them and print from. Hoping to have some of that done this weekend. The marquee and second display will be run via a Raspberry Pi 2, and the cabinet will have a small internal network for the Pi and the Linux PC to talk with eachother. I’m also thinking of putting a spot to hold a tablet on the side for submitting feedback and comments via the web interface. We’ll see how that goes.

Now, for the bookmarks in no particular order:


I just order a bunch of parts for the second display and marquee from Adafruit, so that will be fun to play with and see how much CPU time driving a 32×128 display takes on a Pi2. More updates to follow!