April 4th, 2013


Getcher Motor Runnin'....

So, I've been thinking and dreaming of my own arcade game.

But those things are expensive.  $6,000 brand new for the cheapest model.  You can find Pac-Man machines for $500 with a little digging, but those are used so you don't know how long before a problem develops.  Then you are either searching for what single component has gone tits up or paying someone to do it.

When I was a kid, I wanted my own arcade game then, too.  And they were still expensive then.  So I came up with what I thought was a clever solution -- build it as an electronic game in an arcade cabinet.  You can get those things for $20!  Just wire it up and there you go!

Last year, I started thinking about it again, and picked up some books and components for making logic circuits.  I hoped that maybe, just maybe, I could figure something out.  Didn't have to be a great game, just something I could build and be proud of.  I was even tempted to try one of those Simon games I hate so much, just to have something.

I told the coders about this, and they asked, "Why don't you just use an Arduino?"

What's that?

"It's a micro controller.  Basically, it's a very limited and simplified computer.  The Arduino is great."

How tough are they to work with?

"You know C++, right?"


"You'll have no trouble with this."

Try ScienceAround Christmas time, I picked up an Arduino Uno and some more components.  I've finally begun experimenting.  Programming it is actually quite easy -- it's literally just C with a handful of specific instructions.  Have to trick it into doing separate loops, but it's not like I haven't handled anything tougher.

So the few things I've tried have made me realize my dream of having my own arcade game is not only completely within my reach now, but I can do something better than what I was settling for originally.  My goal is to have the thing built and ready by Christmas.

The game itself is going to be called Digital Dirtbike.  It's a simple game controlled with one button, a jump button.  Side view.  Obstacles come at you, and you jump over them.  Not sure if I'll make it clear a certain number and it recalls your best time, or how many you can clear in a set time.  Still working on that.

But being a compulsive overachiever, this naturally is not enough.  So I have set very specific objectives that must be met for this project to be considered a success.

1)  How low can I go?  How cheap can I get?  What will be the final cost?  It MUST be under $500, because, at that price, you might as well just buy a Pac-Man machine.  It must be cost-effective.

2)  It must seem like a solid arcade game.  One guy built a cabinet for his MAME unit using PVC pipe and glued-together poster board.  From a cost-saving standpoint, it's great.  From a presentable standpoint, it eats.  I'm using pressboard, the kind they make shelving out of.  It's already cut to the proper width (a cabaret cabinet is roughly five feet high by two feet deep by a foot and a half wide), and I can make the cabinet with three eight-foot chunks, one more for the bezel, and a piece of scrap countertop for the control console.  Total cost of materials -- $85, and that includes tax.  It may be a Walmart version of an arcade game, but it still qualifies.

3)  It can only use standard parts.  Everything in there has to be easily replaceable and repairable.  I'm not going to live forever, and if I leave this to someone (or if I decide to make something similar as a gift -- trust me, I know people who would find this all kinds of rad), I want them to have no trouble fixing it themselves even if they have no electronics knowledge whatsoever.

4)  Has to have some sort of coin acceptor.  I will have a "free play" trigger, but this is nostalgia.  With the move to card readers, I miss the sound of a coin going in a slot and the clink when it hits the pile.

5)  Most important -- it has to be self-contained.  I want a unit that can be powered by four D cell batteries, so that I don't have to worry about positioning it near an outlet and can even take it on the road with me, say, to conventions or New Year's parties or whatever.

Using parts I have laying around the lab, and knowing where to find Arduino Uno boards on the cheap, I'm guessing I can bring the entire thing in for somewhere between $150 and $200.  It's nowhere close to ready, I'm still experimenting and learning.  But seeing what some other people have done with their Arduinos, my design should be feasible.

So, can Peter G build his electronic arcade game, with no background in electronics or woodworking, bring it in for under $500, have it ready by Christmas, and not drive himself insane doing it?

Kirk Whoa Shit

Join me, and we'll find out together.