CONSOLECADE
by Brent Santin

Close-up of Consolecade. The arcade controls.

You may know that I collect late 1970's and early 1980's video game systems. Well, in 1999 I came had come to three conclusions:

So, I decided that I would make a copy of an early arcade cabinet and put a few classic-system circuit boards inside. That way, I could play home versions of the early arcade games and have the 'experience' of real arcade controls. Since all the connections are wired internally, I don't have to fiddle with stray wires and television switches.

It would have been great to have made a MAME cabinet, but in 1999 I didn't have a spare Pentium computer lying around with a Multisync monitor, and used ones were still very expensive. I did, however, have several Commodore composite monitors and many spare classic gaming consoles which were in storage. Furthermore, I could pick up replacement classic systems for about $5 each at Thrift stores, so getting components was cheap and easy. Lastly, there's something cool about playing games from that era on the actual hardware chipsets, (rather than emulated).

Four-foot tall version of Consolecade - before base was added.When I first started this project, all I wanted to do was to mount an Intellivision in a cabinet. It would have worked, too, but for those darn 16-direction controllers. You need to have three seperate pins grounded on the controller for a simple 45 degree diagonal movement. If you only ground two, as with any normal 8-direction arcade joystick, you get directions like NNE, SEE, SSW and NWW....or something like that. Trying to figure out how to modify a normal arcade joystick to work with an Intellivision was not pleasant. I could have done it with some simple ICs AND/OR/NAND gates, but my knowledge in the field of digital electronics is rather rudimentary.  

In the end I decided to go with a ColecoVision and Atari 2600, which are both systems that use standard 8-direction controllers. Anyway, the reason you see THREE arcade buttons for each player on my Consolecade is because it was originally designed for the Intellivision, which has three seperate action buttons contacts in each controller.

The Consolecade originally housed a ColecoVision circuit board and an Atari 2600 circuit board. Besides being compatible with arcade joysticks, I chose these systems because, in their heyday, both had excellent translations of arcade games made for them. The ColecoVision has only a medium-sized library of cartridges, but most of these titles are of very high quality, with gameplay and graphics that are very close to the arcade originals (i.e. Donkey Kong Jr., Mr. Do, Galaxian, Pepper II, Venture, Looping, Mousetrap, etc.). The Atari 2600, while having blockier graphics, is famous for the sheer number of titles available. Therefore, by incorporating both systems into my Consolecade, I would be able to play most of the arcade games that were popular in the early 1980s.

Left side of Consolecade.  Note the cartridge slots and RF demoluator 'cable-box'.

Cartridges are inserted through two slots on the right side of the cabinet. A main power switch is also on this side. At the bottom is the faceplate of the cable-box. I tried doing seperate video/luma/audio hacks on the circuit boards of both video games, but it didn't work on the ColecoVision (although I followed the ColecoVision FAQ instructions). Instead I used the standard RF video outs on each system and use a cable convertor-box (channel selector) as an RF demodulator. This cable-box was another thrift store find. I bought it because it has separate audio/video outputs which feed the Commodore monitor (it takes a composite NTSC signal from each video game and splits it into separate video and audio signals).

Currently, one has to switch the cable-box to channel three every time one turns on the Consolecade (the channel the video games 'broadcast' on). This is slightly annoying, but not a problem. I have yet to find a dedicated RF-demodulator which could replace this box.  If you know of one I'd be ineterested to hear about it.

Interior of the Consolecade, as seen from behind.

What you don't see in any of these scans is the left side of the cabinet. On this side are switches that allow one to select which video game system to activate, which video signal should go to the the monitor, and which system the arcade controls should connect to.

At first, I wired the arcade controls to both the Colecovision and the Atari simultaneously. Since only one video game system could be powered on at a time, I didn't think that there would be a problem. However, this caused an electronic conflict which made the ColecoVision think that all directions and buttons were being pressed simultaneously. I tried using diodes to fix this, but that caused further problems for the Atari. I ended up mounting another switch on the left side of the cabinet with which the user can select the system that the joystick and buttons should control.

Close up of Player #1 controls

See the triangular arrangement of red, white and blue buttons above? The ColecoVision uses the lower two of these as left and right FIRE buttons, and the Atari uses only the red one as a FIRE button. The white button is used by the Atari 2600, but as a GAME SELECT switch. I don't mind having extra buttons, because if I ever do decide to add a MAME computer, it will need all the buttons it can get! The small, red, square button is a reset switch for both the Atari and the ColecoVision. There are two sets of controls, so that two people can play at once. This is especially good for games like Joust, Wizard of Wor and Mario Bros.!

The Colecovision uses the touch-tone telephone keypads for game selection and special in-game functions. I had to heavily modify these keypads internally to get them to work with the ColecoVision. What you don't see is that inside the control panel are two circuit boards from actual ColecoVision controllers. The buttons, keypad and joystick are all wired into these. I decided to use the actual circuit boards from real Coleco controllers because of the complex array of diodes the Coleco controllers require. It would have required a lot of work to reproduce these arrays.

Mario Bros. - Atari 2600 version!The control panel is made of plexiglass (perspex) back-coated with yellow paint and mounted on a wooden board. The monitor is hidden behind a black ply-wood sheet with a hole cut into it to expose only the CRT. Over top of this black 'bezel' is a tinted plexiglass sheet. When the machine is off, you can't see the darkened monitor behind the plexi-glass, so it gives the Consolecade a more profession look.

Under the 'marquee' is a concealed speaker and a volume knob.

I didn't find out about Sean Kelly's 'Classicade' until after I started designing my 'Consolecade'. I must say that I was given a great deal more inspiration once I saw his version. Sean was a little more sensible in using a factory-made arcade cabinet instead of building one. Next time (when I finally make a MAME machine) I'm going to buy an old non-functional arcade machine to use for the cabinet. It will save time and in the end it probaby will cost the same as building it from scratch. I think Sean's 'Classicade' has more consoles in it, but I'm not sure if they are all hooked up to the arcade controls. I can't see any keypads that the ColecoVision would use in his version (care to comment Sean?).

Oh...and you've probably noticed that in some of these photos my "Consolecade" looks only about four feet high! This was actually by design. I wanted it to be somewhat more portable than an actual arcade cabinet. My original plan was to make a mini-arcade machine which was more-or-less portable and could be put on a strong table. In the end it turned out to be almost full width and quite heavy. Recently, I have added a base which holds the cartridges of the two systems in a drawer, and raises the machine to the height of a real arcade cabinet.  In a way, having lots of room in the cabinet is a good thing - as I will be able to put a 20 inch TV or monitor in there when they start showing up in the Thrift stores (and with the advent of LCD TVs, I'm sure we'll start seeing them in the next few years).  The Amiga monitor in there right now is a 14" model.

Full height Consolcade with added base. Cartridge drawer in base of Consolecade.

So there you have it. A poor man's MAME cabinet? Actually, the ColecoVision ports of games like Pepper II, Galaxian, MouseTrap, Ladybug, Donkey Kong, Venture etc. are pretty darn close to the arcade versions! I also like ports of older arcade games like Missile Command, Berzerk, Outlaw, etc. and the Atari 2600 versions are pretty fun. Even later Atari releases like Jr. Pacman, Galaxian, Millipede, etc retain a lot of the feel of the arcade original, if not the graphics....

If anyone has any comments or questions about this Monsta, please feel free to ask. I've been so obsessed with it lately I'm glad it's done, but I love to blab about it...

I'm afraid I don't have any plans or instructions on how to built a similar machine. You need to know how to use a multimeter and a soldering iron to do a project like this.

In future I would like to improve the cabinet by adding some real arcade decals or artwork. I'd also like to add a coin-slot or even a screw on ash-tray (I don't smoke but I remember machines back in the 80's often had these little metal ash-trays attached to them)! I am trying to find decals for the sides and marquee, so if you know of any for sale or for trade, I would appreciate hearing about it. Of course, if you have any games or systems you don't want and would like to donate to me (for spare parts to keep this beast going) I would greaty appreciate it!

Note: In 2004 I replaced the Atari 2600 circuit board with an Atari 7800 circuit board.   This means that I can play all the original Atari 2600 games, plus the enhanced 7800 versions of Food Fight, Galaga, Ms. Pac Man, Donkey Kong Jr., Xevious, etc!  This was a wonderful upgrade to the Consolecade, as those 7800 arcade ports are very well done and are loads of fun!  The only difficult part was that I had to conduct some slight surgery on the 7800 circuit board to disable the "soft" power switch that system has.  I wanted the board to be powered up as soon as it received power from the wall.  Normally a 7800 waits until you hold down the power switch for 2 seconds before it turns on or resets.  This merely meant the removal and jumpering of a single transistor (many thanks to the Usenet Atari experts for telling me how this would be possible).

One small problem is that here in Ontario, Canada I hardly ever come across any Atari 7800s.  I would really like to have a backup 7800 circuit board.  So if you have one for sale or trade, please contact me.

I am tempted to mount a NES in there as well, as some of the arcade ports to the NES (Donkey Kong, Galaga, QIX etc.) are almost identical to the arcade originals! If anyone wants to send me a NES and some games (even just the circuit boards), you'll definitely get credit on this site - and I'll pay postage!

Please drop me a line or two if you'd like to chat about Classic video games (woodenflutes@yahoo.ca)

All the best!

Brent Santin
November 15th, 2002.


Back to Brent's Home Page