Friday, September 29, 2006

Stage 21: Weekend Chores

Since I am in limbo while the bastards at Dell continue to drag their heels in shipping Mike Ward his new computer (and thus preventing me from seizing his old one for my cabinet), I have spent the last little while considering a few other things that need doing on my machine. Here's a list of some things I'm going to try and tackle this weekend in-between ribs and drinking:

1) Rewire marquee light
An easy affair, just needs to be spliced back onto a regulation power cord. That said, if I do manage to electrocute myself on Saturday, it's been a pleasure.

2) Start thinking about bezel design & construction
Now that I've settled upon a monitor, I can start thinking about the bezel. For those of you in the dark, the bezel is the covering that extends around the monitor. In the olden arcade days, it was covered with campy art and game instructions, kind of like this old-school Burger Time one:

I'm thinking for my cabinet, I will start basic - a nice basic black construction, with a sheet of cut plexiglass over the front to protect the comupter monitor from pawing by my grubby little friends. I can always add some artwork (or more likely some instructions) on it later

3) Start thinking about a new marquee design
As in love with the TETRIS thing that the cabinet's previous owner clearly printed off his home PC sometime in 1987, my machine definitely needs some new loving. Fortunately, there's a whole website devoted to just such a thing over at the aptly named Not sure which one I'm going for yet, but here's some ones I am leaning towards:

I really dig the crisp, sleek loof of the first two, but I have to admit having a soft-spot for the Tron-inspired third one as well. There's loads of other choices, and since I know so many artist-types, I am sure I could get a nice one done for me on the sly. I guess we'll wait and see.

Anyways, this should get me through the weekend. I'm definitely jonesing to get the software off my real PC and onto the MAME PC ASAP. Argh!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Stage 20: Monitoring the Situation

Saturday was indeed an eventful day around Halifax - I managed to actually get up and to PC Medic before the huge crush of Rolling Stones fans swarmed the Halifax Common and its surrounding neighborhoods which include my secret lair on Allan Street withiin its ranks.

After waiting a spell for some attention from the gabby clerk on the phone, I got to peek at the used 19" CRT monitor I had asked to be put aside for me. It was indeed a huge beast, but didn't seem to have as much screen size as I had imagined in my head. Maybe it was all the other used CRT monitors on the shelves around it, but I was definitely having second thoughts about laying out $100 for this thing.

After dutifully measuring the monitor and stroking my non-existent beard for a while, I finally agreed to take it. After explaining what I was using it for, some of the tech guys overheard me and hauled me into their office to check out their friend's arcade project website. I never got the URL, but this guy had clearly out a lot of work into his machine. He appeared to have functional coin-doors as well - I made a mental note to contact these dudes once I was at that stage. Muah ha ha.

Hailing a cab, I wrestled this monster monitor home and with some time to spare before I rocked out at the concert down the road, I hauled the TV out of the cabinet and took some comparison photos:

Here's a shot of my old 17" monitor on the left and the new 19" monitor on the right. You can definitely see the difference when these things are side by side.

Here's a shot of the cheap-ass TV that was in the cabinet on the left and the 19" monitor on the right. The monitor is clearly much smaller than the TV in screen size (approx. 1.5" smaller diagonal), but I was hoping the monitor's much clearer picture would make up for it. Presuming that this thing even fit into the cabinet at all.

Lucky for me, it did indeed fit like a glove, although I had pry off the rotational stand on the bottom of the monitor and unmount the joysticks in order to cram this thing into place. The flatter front surface area and rear VGA input will defintely make crafting the bezel an easier affair down the road. Of course, now I have a spare, almost new 19" TV kicking around. Hrm.

Firing up the cab and loading in some games, the resolution difference was amazing. The Maximus Arcade menu was crystal clear, and the details surrounding some of the figures in Street Fighter Turbo 2: Hyper Fighting, 1942 and Donkey Kong Jr. were great. Having seen this transformation from the functional but somewhat muddied figures the TV provided, I immediately felt 100x better about this investment. Yay!

So now I move onto my next task: Getting the new PC gear from that slacker Mike Ward.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Those Magnificent Bastards

Came across this while cruising my usual vidya game websites and blogs:The X-Arcade Tankstick

Yeah, it's a honking big Dual Joystick just like the one currently in my MAME cabinet, but it's much wider, heavier and has a trackball in the middle for playing games like Golden Tee Golf, Centipede, Missile Command and more.

Another shot, showing the size difference between this new beheomoth and my current setup:

Tankstick dimensions: 29.5" W x 13" L x 20lbs weight
Dual Joystick dimensions: 24.25" W x 11.25" L x 12lbs weight

That things is heavy as shit compared to my current stick. Apparently it also has an extra set of pinball buttons on each side, meaning a total of two buttons on the left and two on the right:
My Current Inkling: At $199.99 US, this thing is not cheap. Plus I'd be concerned about making this thing fit into my current setup, as it would almost certainly mean doing some cutting into the frame. On the other hand, I would like a trackball for my machine, and this would clearly be the easiest way to do it.

I'm gonna have to take some measurements and think about it. Right now, this would clearly rank as such on my Things To Do List for the machine:
1 - Get new monitor for machine (hopefully this Saturday)
2 - Get new PC for machine from Mike Ward (hopefully next week)
3 - Spend some $$$ making my machine look purdy (marquee, bezel, sanding, etc)
4 - Investigate this new bejesus controller of doom.
5 - Play the shit out of my machine.

Should make for an interesting dilemma. BTW, WTF is up with the name "Tankstick"? Man alive.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Stage 19: Cartoon Madness

I spent a decent couple of hours last night sorting through a massive 15.4GB torrent I had downloaded from a Top Secret Emulator Site. The torrent was a collection of Laser Disc arcade games, and to say this was a rare find would be the understatement of the year.

Laser disc games use the Daphne emulator instead of MAME. The idea is the same, but Daphne (named after the damsel in distress in Dragon's Lair) is made especially for these huge laser disc packs (some games are over 1.5GB in size), or actual laser discs if you happen to have them.

Besides what I would consider the "Big Three" of laser disc games, there were quite a few others I had never heard of. My thanks to The Dragon's Lair Project for their fine help in providing the links and images you will find in this section - for anyone trying to get laser disc games or emulators running, this is the place to do it.

** Working Games **

Dragon's Lair

Easily the most famous laser disc game ever created. Like many games that followed, players use the joystick to "guide" Dirk through various sticky situations. Control consisted of tapping the joystick in the right direction or hitting the massive "Sword" button at the right instance, else Dirk would face certain death. There was a Dragon's Lair cabinet at one of the gas stations in Parrsboro when I was a kid, and I certainly dumped my fair share of quarters into it. A genuine classic.

Space Ace

Another famous laser disc title, this game was almost a direct spinoff of Dragon's Lair, only set in the future and names changed. The controls and actions were the same, but this one had a choice for skill levels and was a little more comprehensible as a title. You could also choose several paths to follow in the game, which at the time was very cool. The campy voice acting in this title is amazing.

Cliff Hanger

The third in what I call the "big three" of laser disc games. This one was a bit of a departure, as the animation and gameplay were much different. The manga influence is obvious, and instead of a "Sword" or "Blaster" button, players had "Hands" and "Feet" action buttons, which had to be pressed at the right time to make the protagonist use his hands and feet accordingly. Surprisingly, there was one of these cabinets at the short-lived and super seedy arcade that was also in Parrsboro - man, for a miniscule town on the north shore of Nova Scotia, that joint sure did have some cool arcade games.


I had never seen this or any other of the games to follow until I sifted through this downloaded torrent. As near as I can tell, the gameplay and arcade interface consisted of a single giant red button marked "SHOOT". That's right, no joysticks. You basically follow the story along and fire off your gun at the right moment. Sounds kind of boring, but still very cool in a kitchy way.

Bega's Battle

This is the first laser disc/8-bit hybrid I ever came across. It mixed animated video backgrounds with overlaid 8-bit rendered sprites to form a strange mishmash of gaming types. Trippy gameplay to say the least.

Esh's Aurunmilla

This strange game with the stranger name appears to be a 100% shameless clone of Dragon's Lair and Space Ace combined. It has some guy named Don Davis flying a spaceship around, them boarding some asteroid to kill things with a sword. You can literally smell the '80s cheese coming off this title - the main character's voice is outstandingly terrible.

M.A.C.H. 3

As the name would suggest, this is a fighter combat title. It's a combination of live footage used as backgrounds with 8-bit sprites used as in-game objects, kind of like Bega's Battle. The plane looks a lot like the one from After Burner, so I am thinking they literally stole the model for it and used it in this game. Nice.

Road Blaster

It took all my cunning to get this game running (hey, that rhymes!), but it might have been worth it. Another combo game with real footage interspliced with computer generated objects, the purpose of this game appears to be to hurtle down a road and blast the crap out of things that get in your way. I'll need more time with this to pass further judgement, but so far it looks cool.

Super Don Quix-ote

Man, there's no shortage of freakin' Space Ace/Dragon's Lair clones, is there? This game is just about the exact same as those two games, only the main character appears a lot gayer and you have a porky little sidekick named Sancho. And the chick you have to save is way hotter than Daphne or Kimmy. Well, maybe not WAY hotter, but still. Gotta love the '80s babes.

Us vs. Them

I love the title - how can you not? Yet another mishmash of real footage and the best graphics 1984 could muster, the premise appears to be a jet sent out to blast the shit out of alien invaders. The gameplay seems a lot like M.A.C.H. 3, but there's more options, power-ups and an actual lifebar to track health. Fancy schmancy!

** So Close, Yet So Far Away **

Sadly, not all the games in the torrent were in working condition. A real shame, considering some of the nuggets that were in there:

Astron's Belt

Another real footage/cpu graphic montage game, the screens from this make it look like something out of a Buck Rogers blooper reel. I guess I can live without blowing up these particular alien menaces ... or CAN I?!

Freedom Fighter

As near as I can tell, outside of "the big three" this game is the most recognizable laser disc game there is. It's this close to working, and judging from the MPEG I have been delving into in my repair efforts, it looks like a pretty cool and original game. Apparently there's loads of slo-motion and freezeframe sections of the game, which is why it's so hard to emulate. Bastards!

Goal to Go

This game looks absolutely hilarious. Using footage of a real football game (a real, clearly staged for this game, football game), players have to choose plays and then hit the control stick at the right time to execute them properly. The game continues as long as players keep making first downs. This game is a ways off from working at all, but from what I can tell from the movie files within the pack, this has to be the worst laser disc footage ever conceived. So naturally I want this game to work ASAP. Whee!

Time Traveller

They had one of these machines at the Fairlanes Bowling Alley at the Halifax Shopping Centre when I was a kid. It was the world's first holographic video game, and at the time I thought it was the coolest shit I had ever seen - clearly I was delusional, but still, I wish this copy of that game came close to even remotely working. Sigh.

These are just a few of the laser disc games out there, there's loads of others I've never even heard of. Truly a relic of an era gone by, and one I am happy I'll be able to relive day after day on my arcade cabinet!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Stage 18: A View To A Kill

After about a solid week of limited testing with myself and some concerned friends (aka, people who want to play video games), it's become clear that the 19" television I picked up on the cheap from Canadian Tire wasn't going to cut it in the long run.

It works fine, but the resolution is really quite terrible, a fact exacerbated by the fact that I have my 17" computer monitor running a cloned display simultaneously off to the side for doing the text-heavy setup work, and everything is a lot crisper and nicer on it. It wasn't a big deal to me, but after a couple of "wow, too bad the main screen isn't that crisp" comments, I knew I had to track down a better alternative.

After some dabbling around the usual Halifax computer shop websites, I came across a tantalizing advert for some used CRT monitors at PC Medic. After some fun emails back and forth with their drones, I learned they had a 19" ViewQuest CRT monitor that I could take off their hands for a mere $99. After learning it was BEIGE (beige being the greatest color in the history of the universe) and that it measured about the same as the TV did (and thus would fit into the cabinet) I told them to hold it and that I'd come and collect on Saturday.

So it remains to be seen if this beast will indeed fit into the cabinet, and how much a difference it will actually make. Stay tuned for details.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Stage 17: Fall Makeover

Well my Maximus Arcade activation code has finally arrived! This means I can unlock the program and set about sorting and prepping the cabinet for real gameplay via the Front End! Wahoo!

But this gave me pause for thought - my current MAME PC was kind of a hunk of trash, and there are lingering doubts about its performance once I juice the crap out of it with 25GB of games and programs. Plus the HDD is only about 30GB total - if I ever wanted to expand this bastard, it'd be a pain in the arse.

Solution: Upgrade now! Muah ha ha!

I scoured various Halifax computer store websites, including Greenlyph, Century Computers, MysteryByte and PC Medic, and found a few snippets of what I actually needed. Most "upgrade kits" as they called them would set me back around $400, but would give me the new motherboard, processor, RAM increase and larger HDD that I clearly needed.

On a lark, I sent an email to some of my more tech-savvy friends to see if they might have an extra motherboard or something, and once again my nefarious poker connections have paid off.

Mike "Mental" Ward chimed in with the serendipitous news that he was about to upgrade his already fairly decent PC into something capable of destroying small cities with mere keystrokes, and was happy to broker a sale with me for exactly the components I needed.

After some terse negotiations during which the words "blowjob", "clown mask" and "magic beans" were uttered, we struck a deal for about the same $425 I was going to spend elsewhere. Yay!

Here's a Before & After breakdown:
Current: ECS K7S5A Pro (5 PCI, 1 AGP, 1 AMR, 2 SDR DIMM, 2 DDR DIMM, Audio)

Current: AMD Duron, 1.3 GHz
New: AMD 64 3200 processor, 2.01 GHz

Current: 1 x 256 MB PC133 SDRAM
New: 4 X 512 MB PC3200 DDR400 ram

Current: Maxtor 6E030L0 (30 GB, 7200 RPM, Ultra-ATA/133)
Western Digital WD2000JB SE (200GB, 7200 RPM, 8MB Buffer Serial ATA)

Other Odds & Ends
New case & power supply, a 16 X DVD drive and some kind of "universal card reader of dubious functionality" which sounds interesting.
It will be a few weeks before I get a hold of the new gear, as Ward is waiting for his new Dell to be delivered. Once I do get them, I might pull a switcheroo and swap some parts in my main PC as well. Who knows what crazed, perverse Frankencomputer I will end up with?!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Stage 16: Brace for Impact!

Stuck in a holding pattern as I await the activation of my Maximus Arcade Front End, I decided I needed to get my arcade in a more functional state for game testing and the like.

While the CPU, controls and display all work fine, the X-Arcade joystick was somewhat wobbly, as it was merely resting in the hole left vacant by the now trashed Tetris joysticks. My plan was to clamp these controls in place somehow to better resist the pulls and yanks on the joysticks from myself and over-zealous friends who would surely help me test this thing out.

I enlisted my pal Eric Miller to help me, as Eric is a knowledgable craftsman and has a decent selection of tools at his disposal. He dropped by the Labratory and after taking a few measurements (including a hilariously bad schematic drawn by yours truly), we hit the Canadian Tire around the corner for some tools and hardware.

The plan was simple: I was wary of actually drilling into the X-Arcade unit at this point, since the final design of the cabinet had not yet been decided. So we were going to attack a flat piece of wood under the contols to act as a "shelf" for the controls to sit on. This shelf would have a series of L-brackets on the outer lip to help prevent the controls from sliding forward. And two more larger L-brackets would be clamped down at the top of the controls, thus preventing the controls from tipping when leaned upon.

Of course, anytime I have money and walk into Canadian Tire I lose my mind and begin to purchase things I don't really need. So after a long time scrutinizing L-brackets and performing some imperial to metric conversions, I soon found myself with $50 worth of tools on top of the $8 in hardware we originally came to purchase, including some nice new Titanium drill bits and a dope multi-head screwdriver to replace the piece of shit that came with the tool set I had picked up months previous. Tools are fun, grunt grunt grunt.

Heading back home, we soon found a problem with the plan - both of Eric's batteries for his nifty cordless circular saw were dead as doornails. So it was back to Canadian Tire to buy a hand saw - sometimes, the basic shit is the best, it seems.

After cutting a piece of 1/2 inch plywood to fit, we soon had the shelf ready to go. We drilled a few holes and a few screws later the shelf was solid as can be, and the four brackets at the front worked like a charm. As a bonus, it could be pulled out when desired, which would surely help the refurbishing process down the line.

A couple more holes in the side and we soon had the two giant metal clamps ready to go as well. I had decided to coat the parts of the brackets that would be hugging the face of the control sticks with some rubber protectors to prevent scuffing. This threw our measurements off a little, but after some ratcheting of the bolts it was soon clear that these controls were not going anywhere in the near future. Huzzah! This wasn't the most asthetically pleasing arrangement, but it was a fine temporary measure to keep these controls rooted until I was ready for something more permanent.

So now with the controls firmly in place, I continue my quest to collect games together before installing the final version of Maximus Arcade and firing up the cabinet for real testing.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Stage 15: The Games Are Afoot

Pulling together all these games has been a lot easier than I thought it would be. Thank goodness there's a dedicated community out there for this kind of thing and they're a friendly bunch indeed, willing to share ideas and software.

Here's the game tally so far. I haven't weeded out a lot of the clones (copies of a same game for another region), so these numbers may come down a little. Also, I know there's a lot more games than this for each system, but many of them are unplayable garbage or nonsensical Japanese imports. I want my system to be as decluttered with stuff nobody will ever care about as possible.

Starting from the oldest to newest:

I did own a Pong machine, but really the Atari 2600 was the first "real" video game system I ever owned. So many classic games, so little graphical power. A true legend.

Total Working Games So Far: 850

I got my first Intellivision well after the thing was out of production, but I was still transfixed by the crazy disc controller and the hilarious games. I still have one of these in real life!

Total Working Games So Far: 260

Anyone who didn't have a NES as a kid is no true video game fan. All my real video game experiences as a kid happened right here.

Total Working Games So Far: 750

I never owned a SMS personally, but lots of my friends did. The color scheme on this thing was incredible, as was the futuristic light gun. Fwzzap!

Total Working Games So Far: 410

Very influential in my formative gaming years, this was the first taste of what video games were going to be like in the future. Good times indeed.

Total Working Games So Far: 780

The system that made Sonic a star. I didn't own one of these either, but I recall thinking the graphics were actually closing in on what they were like in the arcade. How naive I was, heh.

Total Working Games So Far: 860

The king of the mountain, and the real reason I started this damned project in the first place. Being able to play actual arcade game classics without having to pour untold amounts of quarters into the machine at some scummy bowling alley - man, that would be living.

Total Working Games So Far: Over 1,300

Made most famous for the Dragon's Lair series of games, these cartoon-driven video games were uncommon but unforgettable. The sheer size of their software (600mb and up) and their relative scarcity makes these games real gems to find.

Total Working Games So Far: 3

The search for more games continues, and soon I will bear down and get to work sorting out the useless games from the great ones. Gettings screenshots and marquees for all these games should also prove an interesting challenge.