The first part of a Home Arcade Tutorial from our good friend, Vourbot. 

Hello! This is Vourbot checking with my report on what the younger set might call “What are those”, but what the folks my age call “The holy grail of transcendent, tactile, cyber-interface: the Arcade Machine”. In case you’re in the first batch, here’s what it is: It is a six-foot-tall wooden rectangle-ish sculpture. It has a glowing image at eye level. At hand level, there are some heavy levers and some large buttons that click away when manipulated, and it takes your whole forearm (in tiny amounts) to keep the high score when the heat gets turned up– which it does– which is what is generally special about these games. Actually, the whole genre actually devolved into just turning up the heat, physically– with gun and driving cabinets that, while still being games, mostly just shake your body.

Trust me, you want it. So I’m going to try and describe to the layman a piece or two from my personal collection– and here’s the thing: I’m a layman, and I’ve got this huge and varied arcade at my house. So read through this over and over until you feel like you could do the same.

GETTING THE CABINET

I get the wooden box by searching “amusement devices” in the yellow pages (and every city has this), and asking them, “do you have any trash cabinets”. Trust me–– THEY DO. You actually have to intercept them before they go in the trash.
COST: Aim for 50$ to free. Don’t pay 300$ unless it’s working and in pristine condition, in which case, it’ll probably break soon. It’s more fun to make them yourself on the cheap, I think.

DIFFICULTY: for an old, narrow (90’s-ish and earlier) cab, one six-foot-tall man barely has the strength to tip one into the back of their hatch-back, and then pull it back out at home. You need a hand truck to roll it around, but those will fit throughout your house OK with creative scooting.. If you get a newer cab (2000-ish or later), It might be just a few inches wider, but it’ll take two people to tip, might not fit in your hatchback, and will barely fit through some parts of your house (doors) --sometimes with creative doorknob removal and wall scrapes. Just think to yourself, “The ancient Egyptians did it, I can too”. Any later than that (Crazy Taxi vintage), and it’ll have wheels that glide it along, be almost totally un-tip-able, and might not fit at all through many doors. So those are a major undertaking. –But cabs that new begin to interface with modern computers, so it’s possible it'll have a VGA monitor installed, or maybe even an element of USB control. That’s cool.

HINTS: if your lucky, you’ll get a mouse nest in the bottom of the cab, or bits of arcade hardware to experiment with later. Sometimes garbage cabs are stripped, but USUALLY have a broken monitor, and then a body full of working parts. Or the reverse– a broken insides, and a working monitor (that’s very special). QUITE OFTEN, everything works, but something is unplugged or just needs to be wiggled.

Also, the more mouse nests in the bottom, the more likely to work. Hmm.. I wonder why?

GETTING THE DISPLAY

I search amazon for the cheapest TV possible, a flat screen that is unfortunately in the wide, modern aspect ratio. But no problem. It’s just as wide as the inside of the cab. The cardboard surround from the original screen harmlessly brings the aspect ratio back to old-timey 3x4. Note: if you should ever come across an original arcade monitor that works, it is like a rare jewel. So keep that. –However, you won’t be able to use it for anything but original arcade guts. Or, if your more adventuresome, for a hacked home console. *plus, if you ever want to sneak a modern game in there, the wide aspect ratio is fine. More details next.

COST: 100$ more or less.

DIFFICULTY: All displays are NOT the same. Here’s the fundamental differences with some rough stats that you have to consider for the future (and I don’t even know the exact numbers, just the basic classes).

320x240 resolution (It’s also called CGA)–– This is any arcade monitor or any old TV before the invention of the flat screen (unless it was designed to work on your home computer. It’s also the resolution of NES through PS1, and most arcade games during that time. It’s a resolution that computers won’t use, so all emulation is out the window, but most original arcade stuff needs this monitor. That’s why if you ever find a working one, it’s like gold. They’re expensive, rare, and perhaps unfixable in your city.

–––-The input that this kind of monitor accepts is either called RGB or RCA/coaxial. Only RGB looks great, and it is five individual wires (Red Green Blue Sync and Ground). This is what arcade monitors accept, and those five wires come right from the game PCB to a connector on the naked guts of the monitor. (Don’t shock yourself– the red suction cup on the back and a few other spots contain deadly voltage when it’s on… and possibly when it’s off, too.) If you do some research, you can find ways to get those five RGB wires out of old home consoles, but it can be easy, difficult, or impossible, based on the console. The others, RCA and coaxial look kind of bad up close. But not that bad, I suppose. That’s the easy way. Just stick your Nintendo in the cab with a TV and hook it up. Arcade hardware only uses RGB (so their monitors do too), old home consoles have to be hacked to get RGB, and they output crappy RCA or coaxial (as old TV’s do). Later consoles do Svideo, which is a little better (and goes to later old TV’s). Modern flat screen TV’s can show at this low 320x480 resolution, but computer monitors can't.

EGA (320x480 or something) and VGA (640x480 and higher– I’m just guessing) are what computers use– VGA for sure. There’s some EGA Arcade games, but nothing else. You might end up with a great arcade monitor only to realize that it’s EGA and worthless. But some arcade machines use VGA, which means it will plug right into your computer– and computers output RGB which looks beautiful, which is why emulation is cool– it makes your nintendo look sharp where nothing else will (Nintendo’s are hard to hack for RGB). Modern flat screens usually have a VGA input also (so they are basically all computer monitors).

Modern HDMI: this is my favorite modern video plug. It’s RGB, it conveys audio, too, it can even tell the TV when to turn on and off, and it’s small. I have cabs with Xbox 360’s in them with cheap modern flat screens through HDMI and it’s the best.

Alright, laypeople!

Old stuff equals: research, work, and a struggle to get the resolution sharp enough and low enough.

Arcade monitors equals: look great but are too rare and are difficult to interface with any home stuff.

Old TV’s interface with old home stuff, but look like crap.

Modern TV’s interface with computers and all modern games, and look beautiful– they might not look so hot with old home consoles, though ('cause they don't have RGB out).

Computer monitors (which modern TV’s also are) look great with computers! -which emulate old consoles. And, last but not least, you may find and arcade VGA monitor, which will effortlessly interface at rock bottom res that your computer will handle (which is still double the resolution that old games are programmed in), and will be old and break soon, but guess what? It is impossible to get an RGB display that has a 3x4 aspect ratio (not widescreen) any larger than 19 inches or so, flat or not, any other way!!! So these are the luckiest. Whoa Your not a layman anymore about that! I hope you’re not stupider! Or me, too! Gah!

I google the resolution of my garbage cab’s resolution first, before I decide which one to take home.

HINTS: If it’s the cheap TV from amazon (or the thrift store computer monitor),screw that guy into the cabinet any way you want. I like to drill and screws right through the very edge of the plastic of the actual TV. It’s tough. Don’t hit the electronics.
Make sure that, in the TV's settings menu, you turn off all special features and enhancements because they’ll all cause input delay. Some TV’s have a “video game mode” that does this.

Arcade monitors are the heaviest part of the things.

Arcade monitors have many knobs on the back for adjusting the picture. MANY times, simple knob adjustments will “fix” the discarded monitor. You are the artist, attempting to get the best image that the old and worn out thing can make.
Flat screens are light.

Now you’re too busy to pay attention any more. I’ll see you in the next article, where we’ll talk about throwing in the monster’s brains and fingertips!!!!!!!! Doesn’t the cabinet look awesome in your house, though!!!!!!!

-Vourbot

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