Why pay over the odds when you can build an accurate replica, and have fun doing it? For the latest issue of The MagPi Magazine, Rob Zwetsloot switches off his targeting computer to have a look.
Getting the arcade machine of your dreams gets a little harder every day, especially the older they are. Making one, however, is always possible if you have the right skills and a Raspberry Pi.
“My project was to build a replica, or as close as I could reasonably manage, of the Atari Star Wars arcade cabinet,” James Milroy tells us. “I really wanted to build a cockpit as that’s what I played on in the eighties, but sadly I didn’t have the room to house it, so the compromise was to build a stand-up cabinet instead.”
Even then, the standard cabinet has a lot of detail, and James really nailed the look of it. Why build it from scratch, though? “Initially, I had toyed with sourcing an original cabinet and restoring it, but soon gave up on that idea after finding it nigh on impossible to source a cabinet here in the UK,” James explains. “Almost all cabinets for sale were located in the USA, so they were out of the question due to the high cost of shipping. Atari only made just over 12,500 cabinets worldwide, so their rarity meant that they commanded top dollar, effectively putting them out of my price range. It was at this point that I decided that if it was going to happen, then I would have to make it myself.”
Making a cabinet is hard enough, but the control system would have to be an original Atari yoke. “The Atari yoke is considered the ‘holy grail’ of controllers and, again, is very hard to find,” James says. “My prayers were answered in October 2018 when a thread on a forum I was subscribed to popped up with a small Utah-based startup aiming to supply replica yokes at a realistic price to the arcade community. I grabbed two of these (one for my friend) and the project was on.”
When it came to actually emulating the game, for James there was only one choice: “My decision to go with a Raspberry Pi was a no-brainer really. I had previously made a bartop cabinet using a Raspberry Pi 3 and RetroPie/EmulationStation which I was really pleased with. So I had a platform that I already had experience with and knew was more than capable of emulating the one game I needed to run. Besides, the simplicity and low cost of the ecosystem for Raspberry Pi far outweighs the extra expense and effort required going down the PC route.”
With a custom build and emulation, authenticity of the gameplay experience could be a bit off. However, that’s not the case here. “I think that it plays just like the real arcade machine mainly due to the inclusion of the replica yoke controller, and adding your credit by pressing the button on the coin door,” says James. “Ideally a vector monitor or a CRT would go a long way to making it look just like the original, but a reasonable representation is possible on an LCD using shaders and anti-aliasing. Gameplay does seem to get really hard really quick, though; this could be due to an imperfect emulation, but is more likely due to my reactions having dulled somewhat in the last 38 years!”
Always in motion
While the current build is amazing as it is, James does have some ideas to improve it. “Overall, I’m really pleased with the way the cabinet has worked out,” he says. “I will be replacing Raspberry Pi 3B+ with a Raspberry Pi 4 to enable me to run a newer version of MAME which will hopefully offer a better emulation, sort some audio glitching I get with my current setup, and hopefully enable some graphical effects (such as bloom and glow) to make it look more like its running on a CRT.”
Get your copy of The Magpi #105 now!
You can grab the brand-new issue right now online from the Raspberry Pi Press store, or via our app on Android or iOS. You can also pick it up from supermarkets and newsagents, but make sure you do so safely while following all your local guidelines. There’s also a free PDF you can download.