Video Arcade: Intro

The youth entertainment business has always been a matter of evolution. They get bored easily, and what was fun last week is obsolete the next. But what about for the older crowd? Their attention spans are higher, and some of these obsolete, youth-targetted trends become timeless classics and passtimes; hobbies and business.

You’ve seen me post before about pinball machines, the collection, the reparation, of these machines that long ago lived in arcades, abused and unmaintained. When technology began to evolve, and interest declined, there was a successor that pushed the bounds of existing entertainment, that captivated the youth, helped children reach bankruptcy hundreds of times before the age of 16. This phenomenon, ladies and gentlemen, was the video arcade.

The video arcade was unique because it took away the physics from the game: there was no ball that could get stuck, nothing mechanical that could break down. It was like watching a television program, completely artificially generated, but that you were in control of. Funny to think back to how the original video games like Asteroids, Space Invaders and Frogger were so popular, in a society where computer generated graphics can be almost on par with real life, whilst creating the fantastical.

For the collector, there is a great variety of machines to choose from. Some were much more popular than others, naturally (just as Halo Reach outsold Cabella’s Outdoor Adventure, haha!), which made for a lot of in-demand classics (Street Fighter, Space Invaders). But because there were so many games, it becomes very expensive to build an arcade. When each machine costs upwards of $550 (even in the $1000s), to have a collection of the great games is only feasible for either the obsessed or the rich. Or at least, that’s how it was until the personal computer became as prevalent as the television.

Software was developed that allows the emulation of different types of arcade hardware (the software we used is called MAME32). This allows desktop computers to create a virtual 8-bit microprocessor, enabling the operation of the ROM software files that were on the actual arcade machines! Thanks to the Internet, and the vast amount of technologically inclined folks, there are incredible libraries of ROM images online, with all the great arcade games (although the legality of these files might be in question, read: copyright laws).

Now, all that is needed is a desktop computer to play all these games, in a single machine! To make it complete, all your need to do is buy and gut a (or build your own) video arcade cabinet, install a computer, monitor, and the traditional joysticks and microswitch buttons, and voilà! A fully functional, one-zillion-in-one, video arcade machine!

In the coming week, I will be photographically documenting our build process. I will do my best to outline materials, and possibly sources of software, and provide insight into what and what not to do.

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Sunday, November 28th, 2010 arcade, computers, electronics, projects


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