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      It's all about "emulation." (For the Newbie, that's convincing your big, fancy modern computer to behave like a clunky old arcade machine.) And with it, Mappy bounces once more, the Invaders thunder overhead, and that old boy PacMan chugs along eating up dots just like it was 1983.  And emulation will also bring your classic pinball machines back to life on a photorealistic table, all inside the PC!  I tried out the software to do this, and loved it. A "stand-alone" arcade box was the next logical step.

     Later, I would make some contacts and be able to find those classic arcade machines in their run down glory, ready to be made to live again.  Some hobbyists out there will spend fabulous amounts of money to get picture perfect decals, glass and trim to bring them back as they were, in fact, there is a whole industry out on the Internet manufacturing new art and parts for those classic games...if you want to pay some SERIOUS money for them.  (I used to think the people that restored classic cars were nuts before I mixed with Arcade enthusiasts!) But back then, I didn't have that option, and set out for a real challenge: to build a machine from the ground do the art, do the wiring, do the whole shebang. Thus was born TRON's Game Grid.

     I studied about twenty classic games on various websites before I decided that the bare bones of the Grid had to be that beautiful case from Defender, the multi-button screaming classic.  I found the dimensions of a Defender box on the web, and started planning. The case itself is made from 3/4" plywood, with the computer stored behind the fold-down "coinbox".

     The computer driving that first case was a modest Celron 333 with 32Meg in a used case; I picked up the motherboard/CPU on Ebay. The monitor was the most expensive part of the project, 19" hi-res color beauty that often outshines the original games. The video card was a vanilla cheapie; I don't play the 3d games of today on my arcade box, and it kept the overall cost of the project down.  (Later I linked it up the Grid into my home network, and it does make for some fun as a second termial for Star Wars multi-player games.)  But the thing that makes the years roll back is the control panel! 

   To the left you can see inside the main bay.  The left joystick and the buttons are hardwired into into the backside of an old computer keyboard, the kind that had actual solder connections, and real switches in the keys.  Some dedicated gamers dispense with the keyboard itself, and wire directly into the "matrix", the little brain in the keyboard.   My design lets me do set-up work on the computer with the case panel down, and then close up for gameplay.  On the Grid, the main stick was wired into a standard USB gamepad.  I studied another dozen home-brew machines to find the control panel layout I liked best, and ended up with one of my own, which allows most arcade games to run easily. 

Art for Art's Sake

Tron, that old Disney warhorse, seemed a perfect theme; nobody else had used it yet, and it was SO 80's. So I scoured the Internet for artwork, finding a whopping 2,282 hits from people who were as obsessed as myself with the old "inside the computer" movie. Control panel art was designed with PhotoShop and printed on white acidless stock with a Cannon BJC-4000 inkjet printer, and placed under the clear panel to show through. The side art I hand-painted myself, evoking the "Lightcycle" from the movie, with the front wheel being one of the two "flipper" buttons used in pinball-type games.  A second black button is ahead of this cycle, and is wired to the spacebar for the "TILT" function in video pinball!

     The marquee is an altered version of a three-panel .jpg file I found on the Web. I tried several kinds of media, and settled on bright white acidless glossy paper printed full color on the same high-res color inkjet. The 3 panels are mounted between two sheets of Plexiglas and lit from behind by a low-output 10" fluorescent tube.

     I didn't want to spend $100 on a real coinbox (and I wanted the space it would take for the PC) so I created one of my own. I spray-painted a metallic silver rectangle on the box front, and used special black-and-clear line art reproduced on a transparency ("Bartmess Amusements"!) over that. The panel is finished with a sheet of clear 1/8" Plexiglas, held in place by real metal screws. Two green pushbuttons allow the gamer to "enter coins" into the machine with the touch of a button.

Please Don't Play B-17!

     To really do the Grid justice, I included a $39.95 stereo speaker/subwoofer set, mounting the two speakers up at head level in the case, and the woofer down low. It cranks! But with all that power, there should be more we can do with it! You bet!

Music Match If you love oldies, and own a collection of CD's, there's yet another cool thing you can do with a MAME box:  put a BIG HONKING hard drive in it, and make it the jukebox you've always wanted! The program you need is called MusicMatch Jukebox, and it plays those cool new MP3 files in clean, digital stereo. 

     The program is configurable to a dozen different interfaces, from classy modern blue fluorescent to 50's diner Retro Chrome.  And to convert your own CD collection is simple: pop that 50's Doowop CD in your drive, and tell MusicMatch to get to it.  Come back in 30 minutes, and you have clean MP3's stored on your hard drive.  My box is full of classic Sinatra, bagpipes, and They Might Be Giants! It is worth noting that you can use Itunes or some more complex music player on your arcade, but Musicmatch is simpler for the novice and although it was sold to Yahoo and is no longer being updated, the link here will take you to somewhere you can still get it.

Pac Man     Some guys solve their mid-life crisis with a red sports car. For me, the way to bring back the days of my youth is to hit the basement and visit the old neighborhood arcade. There is nothing like punching a credit on your own gamebox, and blasting a few Space Invaders.  You should try it! 

     My love for arcading grew, and before long, I was off rebuilding other classic machines.  Click on PacMan to go back to the Arcade Page, and see the others!

The Wizard.................. 
The page last gimmicked by Andy Bartmess, AKA The Wizard, on 02/02/09
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