Pong came to the world the same year I was born, 1972. The rice of video games and home consoles have been a great part of my 70s - 80s childhood. Industrial and graphic design from your childhood have a special place in your mind. In my case, this means Donkey Kong, Back to the Future's Delorean, plastic, strong colours, Michael Knight talking through his watch with KITT.
Knowing the story behind a piece of work always adds a lot of value. Like knowing the story behind a painting in the museum; it gets much more interesting when knowing what happened in the world at that time, the artists life and what (s)he tried to express. This is the same when reading magazines like Retro Gamer with articles with game developers telling about their creations of the past.
Then the Raspberry Pi came along. This wonderful and very small device allows me to have a giant library of retro games at my fingertips. You even can get a full blown retro game emulator software, RetroPie for free. Similar to having an elaborate library (books, comics, music, movies), you now can have/play all game masterpieces.
Since I love building stuff, I decided to make my own retro game console, and this is how it went:
I would like the cabinet to have an 70s - 80s look and feel. Back to the Future's Delorean or KITT have this typical 80's high tech look. Slightly cheesy but still very much "from the future" for people with an 70s-80s childhood. Also the typical Sony industrial design from the 80s is something hard to not like; slightly nerdy, metal-ish, cool, tech.
So in the end, I decided to go with the one on the lower left. The screen should sit on an angle below the surface, so you can use the cabinet while sitting on a chair in front. The surface will be one plexiglass sheet, 5 mm thick. This allows me to use paper for the graphic design that sits underneath.
MeasurementsI made a (rough) line drawing of the cabinet. Mostly to make sure the hardware inside would fit. If you would like to use these drawings for your own project, keep in mind that the measurements basically are based on the monitor (the size and angle). I can recommend to start out with the sides and place the monitor (and other hardware you would like to build in) on top of that. Play around with various angles and then base your final measurements on that.
Sawing & Routing
I use MDF to build the cabinet. MDF has pros (light weight, cheap, easy to saw and route) and cons (easy to damage, soft). At the top of each side, I used a router to make a slot on each side for the plexiglass sheet to slide in.
Test test test
Whenever possible during the construction process, test whatever you can. Crepe-tape is strong enough to keep the various MDF plates in place. Watch out when sliding plexiglass over surfaces, it scratches very easily. Keep the protecting foil on the plexiglass as long as possible.
I "test" many times during a construction process, there are always little things that just carry out differently or you simply forgot in the design phase.
For the control panel, I need to drill holes for the buttons, joystick and speakers. I need to make sure that the holes in the plexiglass match the ones in the wood below. I used a hole-saw. Make sure to tape both sides of the plexiglass with crepe-tape to avoid ugly edges and drill with slow speed to avoid the plexiglass from melting.
I use a bench drill to make sure the holes are perpendicular. If you have the space, I really recommend buying one (cheap!). The one I have is nothing special but it every time is a giant help. If you have a cheap one as mine, you can actually change the drilling speed, here is how.
I first drill through the plexiglass with the wood underneath, so the centre drill of the hole-saw makes a mark in the MDF plate. I wait with drilling through the MDF though. Having the centre holes in the MDF allows me to drill it separately (more convenient).
I'm a great fan of re-using materials. I took an old PC power supply and took the back off (saw).
The Raspberry Pi is powered by a mini-USB cable, but a typical phone charger is too weak. Since I needed normal power outlets for the screen and speakers, I bought a power strip at Ikea, offering normal power outlets and USB that can power devices up to 2.5A (lucky!)
I mounted it in such fashion that it is squeezed in, allowing me to take it out when needed easily.
Now things start to take shape, glue-time! Invest in good glue-clamps (multiple sizes), again, they're cheap and a giant help!
Another golden-tip: buy these (don't know what those are called in English):
It basically is a nut, but it becomes "part of a material". I use them to fix the bottom plate to the console, allowing me to take it apart in a later stage easily.
Front panel prints
I created a design for the front panels using Adobe Illustrator. Since I'm from the 70s, a nut-wood dashboard is still the coolest thing I can think of. As a name, I looked at many old console names, and figured that "Retro Master Vision GX" would make sense.
The blue goes very well with the red buttons and joystick. After booting up Retropie, I realised that this colour scheme is used in the start up screen, very lucky. However I just found out that you can create your own splash screen, so here it is:
After cutting the holes, I glued the paper using spray mount (removeable).
I spray painted the cabinet (anthracite).
The sides of the side-panels I used edgebanding (applied by ironing). This not only gives a strong edge to the MDF, it also fortified the top edge with the slot (these tend to be weak when they are close to the edge of MDF)
The coolest bit of the entire project: feeling very clever and technical while wiring the buttons, joystick and speakers.
I bought a Sanwa joystick + buttons kit with USB interface. I have little experience with joysticks, so I read a bunch of arcade controls reviews and figured the Sanwa joystick is the one I would like (and it does!) The manual that comes with the arcade control kit isn't too comprehensive though (it is in black and white, while using colour coded wires). In the end, I used Joystick Tester 3.2 (free) to make sure the wires were connected to the right buttons, great help!
For the speakers, I took some old PC speakers apart (you need an amplifier). I replaced the speakers with some heavier ones to improve the sound.
For the screen I used an old 17" flat screen (got it from my work, thanks IO Interactive). I took off all of the plastic housing, which wasn't too pretty to look at.