Thursday, 26 March 2009

Retrobution: Bits and bobs

Last update before the actual woodwork begins. The back panel of the machine will include a power on button, a reset button and two USB ports. I've taken the front panel of the Shuttle PC off of the case and that includes a panel which contains two USB ports, a firewire port and headphone/mic jacks. This panel will be attached to the back panel.

I also have plans to include an external VGA connection and of course, the power plug socket. Not 100% sure on how those bits will be handled as yet. For the power/reset buttons I ordered two LED-lit arcade buttons from Gremlin Solutions. They were simply soldered to the other end of the motherboard's power/reset/LED wiring block.

The blue button is the power button. It is lit when the PC is powered on. The orange button is the reset light, and is lit when there's hard drive activity. Looks very cool and works well.

For the marquee backlight, I found some white cold cathode units on eBay. Each kit includes two 300mm white catchodes, power inverter block, rocker switch and pass-through molex connector. 

I ordered two kits just in case, and I'm very impressed by how bright they are. They should do the job marvellously. I may only need two to light the marquee, and my current plan is to place thw other two inside the main body of the cab as a maintenance light kind of setup. Again, not 100% sure on the details.

I had another wacky idea as I was routing through some old junk and discovered an old Matrix Orbital 2x20 LCD USB display. There were all the rage for a while back in my PC case modding days and I bought this one to fit in a 5.25" drive bay. It can be controlled using some controller software and was used to display fan speeds, temperatures, in-game FPS and all that kind of thing.

As it was simply gathering dust, I've decided to put it to use in the cabinet. I wrote a Windows service application in .NET to control the display. The service receives controller messages via UDP from a separate command-line program which I call from Maximus Arcade. The display shows instructions when MA boots up and has a few pages' worth of information which scrolls on nicely.

When a game is started, the name of the game is passed to the service and the display dims a little and scrolls the name of the game for the time that the game is being played. When the user exits the game back to MA, the controller reverts to displaying instructions again. Simple, but effective and adds a little something extra to the cab. I'm planning on locating it beneath the screen behind the bezel.

Woodwork begins this weekend!

Monday, 23 March 2009

Retrobution: New Joysticks

As this is my first attempt at building a cabinet, I've decided to base it around the X-Arcade dual control panel I've had for years. This will let me get on with building my first cab without the fiddly aspect of building a custom control panel.

It is my intention to replace the X-Arcade with a custom panel down the line, and the cab's been designed with this intention in mind but for now, it's X-Arcade all the way.

However, the joysticks in the X-Arcade are not of the best quality and I felt that they needed to be changed to provide more comfortable controls. I did some research and found that, with a little filing down, the Sanwa JLW joysticks will be a perfect match. I ordered up some JLW-UM8s from Gremlin Solutions and this weekend, they were fitted into the X-Arcade.

On the left is the mess of wires inside the X-Arcade when it's first opened. On the right you can see a comparison shot of the Sanwa joystick and the X-Arcade joystick.

Both joysticks removed. The holes are routed into the base of the control panel, and the Sanwa mounting plates are around 6mm too long to fit in. However, all the mounting holes match up so it's just a case of filing down the excess. On the right, the Sanwa plates are mounted to the old X-Arcade stick base to use as a template for filing down.

The whole assembly is placed in the workmate and Dad uses the angle grinder to get most of the edge filed down.

Then, just a little more hand filing is required to get the perfect match. The joystick is then screwed back on to the mounting plate and is ready to be fitted to the panel!


Friday, 13 March 2009

Blog Overhaul

I did a little maintenance of this blog, just to keep things together. Over on the right there is my Wacky-Ideas-O-Meter. Because I have a habit of starting a project, blogging about it for a while then promptly abandoning it never to write about it again, I now have a space to keep track of the projects that have been started, and the progress I've made on them. Click the project name to see all relevant blog posts related to it.

I also dug up a backup of my old blog that was hosted on the Island Gamers server. I've added all of 2007's posts, and the two from 2006 when it all started. I did consider bringing over all the content from my ages-old Gamespot blog (started early 2006), but none of it is really worthwhile as it's all about old games.

Having read through some of 2007's posts, I've come to realise two things. One, My life has changed a hell of a lot in (less than) two years. Two, I used to be waaaaay into gaming. I mean - I still am (I spent three hours last night playing Peggle on XBLA) but I no longer follow the industry with such fervour. I guess I just don't really have the time any more.

This weekend will see the wrapping up of Origin: Unknown?. A few final tweaks to the mixes and we should be getting them off to mastering as of Monday, I hope. It's been a long road and I can't wait to get the album out there.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Retrobution: Sketchup

I got out my pad and pencil this weekend to draw a scale diagram of the cabinet. I really wanted to design everything on PC, but I've tried using the likes of Autocad and various 3D modellers in the past with no luck. Anyway, I was quite chuffed with my scale drawings, considering I'd not really done anything like it before:

Then, as I was browsing the forums over at BYOAC, I noticed a number of people that had been using Google Sketchup to prototype their cabinets on their PCs. "3D For Everyone", Google say. I thought I'd give it a go.

It really is that easy. Within a few hours I had pretty much the entire cab laid out, stuck together and textured up. If only woodwork was this easy. Here's the results:

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Retrobution: Frontend

Being a computery-electronicsy person more than a woodworky-DIY...y person, I'm working on all the PC related parts of the project before the cabinet is built. That said, I've got my dad on board now and he has some great ideas about the engineering aspects of the cab. A lot of the research is done: wood types, paint, rough dimensions, how to mount the screen, where to get perspex for the bezel and wire meshing for vent and speaker covers, what lights to use for the marquee, where to get the marquee printed and so on.

But until we have some decent weather, no cabinet making can go ahead so I can really concentrate on getting the internals working perfectly for now.

I'm using a frontend called Maximus Arcade to link all the emulators together. So far, I've got MAME (for arcade machines), WinUAE (Amiga), zSNES, Kega Fusion (Mega Drive), NEStopia and Future Pinball working from the frontend. I've based the theme of the frontend (and of the cab as a whole) on one of my favourite retro games, Gauntlet II. The following is a video of the machine booting and launching into Maximus Arcade.

As you can see, I've replaced the XP boot screen with a custom one, and Windows boots using Maximus as the shell rather than explorer.exe. Good stuff!

The next job is to replace the PC's power and reset buttons with some that can be mounted to the rear panel of the cabinet. For this job, I've ordered two transparent arcade panel buttons with LED mounting slots. The idea is to mount the PC's power LED in the power button, and the hard drive LED in the rest button. Hopefully the buttons will arrive today so we'll see if I can get that done tonight.

Here's a couple more shots of the guts of the system. In the first image, you can see the USB/Audio panel ready to be mounted on the back panel of the cabinet. The power/reset/LEDs are dangling ready for their modifications too.

Couple of shots of the frontend in action. I plan on replacing the standard joysticks in the X-Arcade unit with new ones, so I'm doing joystick research at the moment!

Monday, 2 March 2009


Can't believe it's March already. What's worse is that it's March and we're still a way off completing "Origin: Unknown?". Gav has seriously injured his back and has been ordered not to play bass. He was four songs away from finishing. This weekend, James stepped up and finished the bass recording because it's all dragging on just a little bit too long. Unfortunately, James managed to bag himself a cold so he couldn't finish off the song and a bit's worth of vocals that are left to do. It's so close yet still at least two weeks away if you count the time it'll take for mastering.

And so I've been forced to find myself another passtime, which brings me on to this entry's title. Yes, I can spell "retribution" - the title is a play on words. You see, I've somehow found myself getting back into emulation of old arcade and console games. Retro gaming, if you will. It was about 5 years ago that I first found out about MAME and the various ways of getting an arcade cabinet up and running with various emulators running games from many different systems. Back then I planned on building a full-sized upright cabinet but the idea soon fell by the wayside as I moved out and life took over. Now I have some spare time, I'm going to attempt to revisit the idea of cabinet building, albeit on a smaller scale. The project's name is Retrobution.

The plan is to build a "bartop" cabinet - essentially half an upright. See WeeCade for an example. My design is a little different from the WeeCade, with a larger screen tilted at much less of an angle. I'm not planning to build a custom control panel as I already have an X-Arcade dual stick controller and I intend to build the cabinet around that. I've already got the PC, the screen, controls, speakers, emulators all set up and running. Basically, everything bar the actual woodwork! My dad has offered to help with that part of things, so the next step is to build a full-size cardboard model to use as a template.

Here's a couple of pictures of the guts of the system:

That's a Shuttle SN41G butchered up and powered by an Antec PSU. The machine isn't all that great spec-wise, but it'll do for emulation. In the next update, I'll write a little about the frontend and post pictures of the screen.