In our last edition of D.I.Y. (Daddy It Yourself) we talked about the PC and software that will be making all of the magic happen. Continuing where we left off last week we’re going to pick up with the monitor (easy) and the control panel (not hard but very involved). So let’s dive right in!
Tossing out the old tube monitor was bitter-sweet in that I hated to trash something that was part of my nostalgic childhood but at the same time it was blown and even in its best days it wouldn’t necessarily look as clear, colorful, and be nearly as energy efficient as an LED TV. Now, if you’re restoring a particular game and its cabinet, then getting the original type of tube is always best for an authentic restoration.
At this point you need to make a major decision on your setup. Are you going to hang your monitor horizontally/landscape (aka your living room TV) or vertically/portrait (aka on its side)? The advantage of going vertical is that most classic arcade games (Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Galaga, Frogger, 1941, etc) were made for a vertical screen. For those of you who are specifically wanting the 4:3 games like TMNT, Double Dragon, Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, etc, you can still play those games in a 4:3 aspect ratio which will just put black bars on the top and bottom and on a 24″ monitor the size is actually really good. If you hang the monitor horizontally (aka your living room TV, c’mon already) those 4:3 games obviously still look good but the vertical games become very, very small, almost painfully small. So that’s why I personally decided to go vertical but if you want you can Google which games are vertical so you can see if that’s important to you.
My wife and I had bought a 24″ LED on Groupon for $70 with the intention of using it in our bedroom (no, not for that reason, I know) but there was only one problem, we never used it. So, when I was hunting for a monitor, my wife suggested I just use that one. I went and checked and it did indeed have a VGA input but for shits and giggles I tried using a VGA-to-component wire unfortunately for whatever reason it didn’t want to work. The advantage of getting a monitor that has a VGA input, besides that it’s guaranteed to work with a computer, is that there should be something called ‘PC Setting’ where if the computer isn’t used after a determined set of time, or when you turn the computer off, it automatically turns the screen off. When something moves on the screen or the computer turns on, the screen comes back on. The major benefit to this is when you put a bezel in front of the screen there is a great chance the remote cannot trigger the screen on/off so having this setting is convenient and very practical.
To hang the monitor I got a small mount for $10 (here) and bolted it to a thin, square piece of plywood (at Home Depot for $4). I screwed L brackets ($2) to the inside of the cabinet to allow the plywood with the monitor on it to sit up against it nice and snug. The two keys here are to make sure the screws that go into the brackets are not long enough to pop out the outside of the cabinet and that the front of the monitor doesn’t come out past where the bezel and glass will lie.
My bezel didn’t hide all of the surrounding portion of the monitor so I bought black poster board for a $1 and cut out a rectangle the same size of the actual screen so that it only showed the display and not the plastic portion around it (where the brand name typically is).
My cabinet came with a great metal control panel so I went with wiring an all new configuration myself but you don’t have to do that. You pretty much have two options when it comes to what you’re going to use as a control panel:
1. Wire Everything yourself
- Customizable (layout, colors, type, etc)
- Looks authentic
- More time consuming because of having to learn the process (but it’s easy)
2. Buy a plug-and-play controller like an X-arcade
- Easy to order
- Saves time
- More expensive
- Less customizable
- Aesthetically less appealing (and this is a fact if you are a gamer who appreciates authenticity)
If you wire it yourself you’ll undoubtedly want to get an overlay to continue the overall theme of the cabinet and hide any unused holes as well as cover up the wood or metal of the panel. The best option is to print it from a place like Game On Grafix where they will print your custom designs, which I opted for (pictured right), or they can provide options to choose from, if you’re less design-inclined. No matter which direction you go, everything prints to fit your specific size needed and all for just $45. They’ll even add adhesive to the back and laminate it for free.
Once overlaid you don’t necessarily need anything to protect it, because the quality of the lamination is so good, but if you’re like me, and want to add that extra defense from scratches and dings (and kids, wives, drunk friends and whoever else doesn’t respect the cabinet like you do), you’re going to want to get something to lay over it. I opted for plexiglass rather than lexan because I had a ton of it from old storm windows that I took out when I put new windows in my house….plus it’s more cost efficient for any of you who were wondering. However, everyone says they opted for lexan because it’s not as brittle as plexiglass when you cut it or drill into it but that’s because they don’t know what they’re doing. I’m going to share with you three HUGE tips when it comes to working with plexiglass that will save you the hours of research I had to do to finally come across effective solutions.
- Score the plexiglass with an actual plexiglass scoring tool. It’s better than any razor or box cutter you could use.
- When you go to split the plexiglass at the point of scoring DO NOT put it on the edge of a table and try to put pressure on the one side…THAT DOES NOT WORK. The problem with that method is that you are only putting pressure on one side and that opens up the opportunity for the scored line you made to split into the part you are trying to preserve which causes it to crack. What you have to do is put a broom handle (or something of similar shape and length) directly under the part you scored and then push down on both sides of the scored line at the same time with equal pressure. That will split the piece nearly perfectly and if there is any issue it typically leaves a little attached outside the part your needing (which can be filed or lightly sanded away).
- When you have the plexiglass in the shape you need you’ll now want to bolt it to the control panel to see where the holes are that need drilled out. DO NOT USE A 1⅛” HOLE SAW TO MAKE THE HOLES. The best tool is a step drill that goes to 1⅛” or a little bigger. I got this one for $10 on Amazon here. Instead of cutting the plexiglass directly, it first burrows out a small portion then widens out to the desired size. I didn’t get one crack and you shouldn’t either.
Now, I mentioned above that you’ll need to bolt the plexiglass on, you can either use the original bolts that came with the control panel but if yours are anything like mine you’ll want to get new ones due to rust and discoloring. I needed size #10-24 carriage bolts and one thing I found out quick was that Home Depot didn’t carry those and Amazon sold them for a lot of money. I tried out my local, small, specialty hardware store and they had exactly what I needed for $.17 each…not too shabby if you ask me.
Now the fun part. How do you imagine your button and joystick layout looking like? My wife and I have always identified ourselves with our favorite colors, green and blue, so we knew we wanted to go with that…plus it looked good in the Tron theme we decided on. Pictured here is how we laid out player 1 and 2’s buttons as well as the credit button (plain white) and the one/two player buttons. You can purchase all of these for $40 on eBay here. These specific ones are Happ buttons which I prefer over the more clicky sounding buttons that have LED’s in them. However, if you want even less clicky sounding buttons and ones that are more authentic feeling make sure you get the leaf types rather than micro switches. Also, the joysticks pictured are fine for now because they’re 4-8 directional joysticks but I may eventually swap them out for Zippy style ones (they’re the ones with the ball on top like a lot of games had in the ghost of arcades past).
Next is picking out what you are going to wire everything into that will plug into the PC. I chose to do a 2-player setup and I wanted it to be USB so I chose the I-PAC 2 controller (found here). It is plug-and-play USB, worked with no set up needed in Windows XP and it only cost $39. All the wiring you see here comes with more than enough wire and clamps and all for just $15.
The actual wiring is really easy and you can learn everything you need from YouTube no problem. Also, use it as an opportunity to show your kid(s) how these things work. My son really enjoyed watching me wire it up mostly because of all the colors but also he has a huge interest on how things work.
That concludes this portion of the show. It’ll be more than enough to keep you occupied but it really is some of the most satisfying parts because you start to see the fruits of your labor come together. Meanwhile, keep working on your PC and software, shit needs gettin’ done!