The Concept – Home Made Arcade Machine.
Those who know me know I’m am a giant fan of old skool computing. Although I love the speed and capabilities of the latest technology, nothing beats the playability of the games from the 80’s. I still reminisce the days when you’d have 20 cents in your pocket and see the arcade machine at the petrol station or corner store. You’d glance over the title screens and make sure that your High Score was still there at the top and if not then the challenge was on and more coins went back into the machine.
My home PC is littered with Emulators for the Commodore 64, 128, Amiga, MAME etc but I have always found these frustrating to use with the keyboard and even more disastrous with modern style joysticks or games controller. The problem with modern day controller is that they are designed to cater for varying degrees of movement however the old skool games simply required up,down,left,right and fire. Although the keyboard provides you with the simple on/off functionality its just not the same. Always up for a new project I set about working out what would be involved in building my own Arcade Machine. I started looking at building a Jamma based machine (http://www.arcadegamingaustralia.com.au/) with an upright cabinet but although it would be really neat I didn’t think my wife would appreciate it sitting in the Living Room. I really needed something that was portable, that could be setup, enjoyed and then packed away. Mounting the Joystick and buttons in a box was the solution.
I was quite surprised to find that I could purchase Arcade Machine parts online quite cheaply so rather than build by own joystick body from scratch I was able to purchase an extremely robust joystick body for only $12.50AUD. http://www.ozstick.com.au/prod_joy.html
I immediately made my purchase of the Joystick body along with illuminated Arcade style buttons / micro-switches.
My next challenge was how to connect this to the PC in the simplest and cheapest way possible. Although I could build a custom board or modify a joystick controller it dawned on me that it should be simple enough to hack a keyboard and simply assign the micro-switches to key strokes.
I pulled apart the cheapest USB keyboard I could find and started to work out the switching mechanism. Using a multimeter I was able to trace the two points that intersect for any given keystroke. I decided that mapping the arrow and enter keys would be suitable for my left,right,up,down and fire requirements. This solution worked out even better than anticipated. I now had a very small and cheap controller for my project that allowed me to map any keys that I wanted including keys/buttons for Credits and Start. My little controller also is seen by the PC as a keyboard so I didn’t require any drivers and I could also grab 5 volts from the USB interface for lights.
My online order arrived by the following day (Thank you OzStick). All the parts were extremely simple to work with and assemble. As luck would have it I had a black set of shelves that I had broken up that were destined for the dump that I had saved. I mounted the Joystick body and buttons onto one of the boards from the shelving.
Next I simply wired the micro-switches for the axis and buttons to the pin combinations that gave me the keys I needed. The moment of truth came; I plugged the USB cord into the PC and Windows 7 recognised the interface as a keyboard. I opened notepad and was able to move the cursor left, right, up and down and the fire button resulted in an Enter key press so testing was complete.
The Arcade style buttons also come complete with LED lights and upon further inspection the LED lights even had a voltage limiting resistor so I soldered the LED lights to the 5V rail on the interface board and now my bunch of wires and switches was looking like a real Arcade machine.
I might be skilled with computers but unfortunately my skills with wood work leave a lot to be desired. I went about building a box to house my joystick and after many failed attempts, lots of swearing and several frustrating hours my Arcade Joystick was complete and ready for software.
Because we now had an interface that delivers left,right,up,down,Enter,5,1 we could use any software that allows us to map the keyboard. I played around a little with the NES emulator initially but MAME was the answer and gave me all the old favourites Galaga, Frogger etc. http://www.emulator-zone.com/
Once MAME was loaded I created icons for my favourites. The beauty of mapping the Joystick to the arrow keys was that I could now navigate my icons in Windows 7 using the joystick and use the fire button to launch the game.
The Final Product
I mapped the Yellow button at the front of my Arcade Joystick to key 5 for Credits, the Green button to key 1 for Player 1 Start and my project was complete and I could start playing the old classics.
Although the kids were initially puzzled by my addiction to the primitive graphics and sound it has now become a winner in our household and a great form of entertainment at parties and BBQs. It doesn’t take long before somebody brags of a High Score and then everybody is hell bent on beating it. The whole project only came to about $50 and provides hours of fun.