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Author Topic: first bartop build in progress  (Read 635 times)

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first bartop build in progress
« on: May 23, 2022, 10:45:10 am »
Hi, I'm a new member of this forum.

So, first some introduction about me. I'm from Germany, spend my teenage years playing a lot of arcade games. Unfortunately, my limited money went to computers. So, the cabinets of pacman, donkey kong, frogger ... were always impressive, but I didn't use them often. In the last years, I thought about having my own "arcade machine" (not explicite a special one, just a cloudy idea).

Some month ago, my wife told my children (4+6 years), they could ask daddy, to play the game "pacman" (a cutting board graphic) together. So, I had two challenges: 1. Translate the "wife" language to my mother longue (woman sometimes have different meanings to words :) ). 2. As a responsible parent, give my children an authentic view to the golden years of arcade games.

After thinking a while, I got the solution: We need an arcade cabinet.

So, I started to plan immediately. Of course, not for my own fun, just to fulfill the wishes of my family.  :D

Defining the goal:
- able to play arcade games of the 80s (s. above)
- game types: platformers, some shooters (asteroids, galaga, ...)
- no need for: fight games (mortal combat, ...), late  colorblasting games (where the emulation needs a lot of performance)
- an "101% perfect" repro of an original cabinet / game is not necessary: I'm not pedantic (and would like to "finish" the project)
- it would be nice to play 2-player games sometimes for parties
- I would like to reuse available electrical parts when it's acceptable
- space for such a toy is limited, so it should be compact
- it shouldn't be too expensive (yes, I know ... for this reason, this point has no number written down)

First rough plan:
- a raspberry 3b (owning one, that's currently not in use) for emulation.
- an 17' Iiyama (waiting for reuse, too) as display (yes, it's an TN-Panel, but reuse an alternative 14' CRT-TV, is very small for 2 players and the connection to the raspi is much more difficult)
- retropie seems to be a "fast success" item
- a bartop is compact
- I will build the case by myself (woodwork: I just build a foldable white painted plywood computer workplace 2 years ago with success; art design: well, this will be a challenge, but an acceptable one)   

First steps:
- reading a lot in this fantastic forum (thank you very much for these great descriptions of builds, special topics, how-tos, ...; I also like the friendly kind of communication here!!!)
- finding the "benderama" bartop for inspiration: very nice silhouette when folded; looks well-usable when unfoleded; space saving

First tests:
- I installed retropie on the rasperry and used an old logitech gamepad to check, if the games can run successful (the games run better than the gamepad with the little bit buggy digital-UP switch :-O )
- running the setup with my 24' main monitor was no problem
- running the same setup with our state-of-the-art TV, became a problem: first I thought, I forgot, how to play donkey kong (each barrel jump was a problem with the big delay), then I understood the meaning of "gaming mode" for new TVs ... 8-)

Design thoughts:
- I don't like a theme which is based on a special game: even, if it's donky kong (my favorite teenage game), it looks wrong, when pacman or galaga is on screen
- Some people are using a big collection of arcade game heros for side art and marquee. For me(!), this is too confusing and unsteady for the eyes.
- I really like the clean (retro) futuristic style with "just" some lines as side-arts. But even if such clean style is my favorite in my rooms, it somehow seems not to be "the 80s" in my memory.
- first style idea: "ARCADE FEVER": neon & sprayed style, some big 80s "cult objects" for side-art and marquee, the marquee logo with blue neon "ARCADE" in TRON style and a red sprayed "FEVER" text. So the left side is blue and the right side red. (I saw this kind of left side/right side for some star wars and fight-game inspired builds)

A very draft pic to get an idea of the design (the "cult objects" are also just quick and dirty created graphic placeholder):


When I started to apply this to a very basic 3D-scenary, my brain starts to rotate. The idea feels right. My skills could be good enough to bring the idea into a printable file. There are a lot of good "cult objects" to select from. With a disco ball graphic in one corner of the side-art, I could have some light rays all over the side "connecting" the single "cult objects" together. With a mainly transparent marquee, I could somehow install some small disco balls into the marquee for a special light effect. Ah, no, this would maybe disturb the players. Better create a transparent dome at the backside of the marquee. There, a bigger disco ball would fit and illuminate the wall behind the bartop ... STOP!!!! (no I wasn't drunk nor had some illegal substances :-) Did I tell you, that my brain starts to rotate quicker and quicker and ...)

One step back. The idea of the 80s is perfect for me, but I'm currently not sure, if the different objects will be to unsteady. After again looking at the "benderama", the word "ghetto blaster" came to my mind and suddently the idea of the outer design become clear.

Again a draft(!) pic (this time glued to a Blender3D model with "real" dimensions):


After feeling okay about the first idea of neon and blue/red I ordered a controls set at amazon (blue/red, 2 joysticks, 20 LED-buttons (with 3-cable connection), 2 zero delay USB-connectors). I was a little bit surprise to see the name "sanwa" at the transparent plastic plate at the joystick bottom. First I didn't understand the meaning of some yellow transparent octagone, but then I found the "sanwa" octagone joystick limiter and understood.

I set up a CP for test purpose. Just a piece of wood for holding joysticks and buttons, and left and right some stand to avoid destroying the electrics and have a first hint about the right angle of placing the CP. It's 60cm long, which seems to be a comfortable size for two players and a 17' display. (When my wife see the CP prototype, I asked me, who will have more fun with arcade games, me or the kids? That's no question. Of course, I just sacrifies myself to give my children the absolute best environment of arcade gaming ... :D :D :D )

Currently, there are a lot of topics, I didn't focused:
- In addition to the joystick buttons, I "need" some buttons for "coin", "1 player", "2 player", "administration", ... . But how many buttons are "neccessary" and would it be a good idea just to use the same buttons like the joystick ones (there are enough buttons left, but I was builds with smaller (and different coloured) ones.
- How many joystick buttons are necessary? Currently, the test layout has 6 buttons (2x3 in a circular order) for each player, but it looks like this is too much. I just use one button for the games and a second one for retropie navigation. So, I maybe could drop some buttons to avoid confusion. I have to to some research or get some hints from the forum, when which number of buttons are needed.
- In history, I used the right hand for the joystick and the left hand for the button(s). All builds seems to have the buttons on the wrong means right side. I did the same in my test CP. It feels different and I have to think about it.
- (not so currently): I know the pros and cons of MDF, plywood, laminated chipwood ... . But what kind of wood will be the best for me? I  think, a combination of MDF (for weight and stability) and laminated chipwood (for easier surface handling) could match.

Okay, for a first text, it's become a little bit to long. So I end with a ...

to be continued ...


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Re: first bartop build in progress
« Reply #1 on: May 23, 2022, 11:44:30 am »

A foldable bartop is an ambitious project.  I am pretty sure you need to tell a raspberry pi to output to 4K and that the default retropie setting is 1080p which is why things slow to a crawl on a 4K monitor.  I ran into this issue a while back.

As someone who has built a bartop... I'm not a huge fan of the form factor.  It takes up way more space than you think it will because you need a table or counter to put it on.  Yours is going to fold up so you could put it in the closet I suppose when not in use but in that case I bet you wouldn't play it as much.  Lots of people here (myself included) who want something compact but can still play all your favorite 80s games have built a "Tully" (named for a former member here), which is really an Atari cabaret style cabinet that has the controls at counter height but a very small footprint.  You get the added benefit os being able to use a PC instead of a raspberry pi, which is way better.  Just something to think about.

Good luck and take lots of pictures of your progress.   :cheers:


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Re: first bartop build in progress
« Reply #2 on: May 24, 2022, 05:22:40 am »
Thanks for the reply of an very experienced member! (btw. great builds, but I will not show my daughter the "Bella's" to avoid she captures MY project and  my first build has to be pink :) )

The problem about the TV was just with the first tests. I first assume a resolution problem, too, but using the "gaming mode" did the job. Normally I wouldn't write this detail, but for me, it takes a little bit longer to find the solution. And now, there is one more site for searches.

I searched for "Tullys". It seems these are just single player ones, different from my 2 player idea.

Is the footprint at ground really smaller? In comparion pics, it just looks, that standard build (or 3/4 ones) just have additional two "balconies" for CP and marquee, which take space in the air.

My biggest problem is to find a permanent place (which would be the optimum, of course). Best available option would be outsice under a glass roof without side shielding, but the german weather (rainy) would be negative for wood and electrics. Or, if the kids leave home, but I think, they will not accept this with 4 and 6 years ...  :laugh: especially, if there is an arcade machine at home, then ...  :laugh: :laugh: :laugh:

Why is using a PC "way better"? In my few(!) gaming tests, the raspi seems to be "good enough". In my leftover box there would be more powerful hardware like a phenom 940 or a j3455 also, but I cannot see the advantage.

I will think about the shape options for the build again. (I even try to find some foldable standard size builds, but all I got was some foldable bartop foot which combined gave a "real" size machine.)


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Re: first bartop build in progress
« Reply #3 on: June 24, 2022, 11:33:43 am »
my project made slow progress. I still will do a bartop, but I will drop the folding feature. (It will not save much space, but the difficulty grows.)

I made a control panel mock to test
  • 2 player distance (okay for a space saving variant)
  • the button layout (a common one vs an own idea (ugly, I know now))
  • and how disturbing a 'wall' at both sides of the CP is (not very disturbing)

The CP mock has been made with the professional help of my 4 year old son (sawing, drilling, ...). So please do not think about the quality. ('Unfortunately, he will not be able to help, building the final version.' ;D)

I played a lot with my artwork. Again, a lot of bad ideas, but now there is one, which looks nice for me. I added 2 Blender-made pics, but somehow, Blender smooth the red marquee side far too much. The original PNG of the "ARCADE" text looks sharp white with a red neon glow effect.