NEW YORK CITY -- The "maker" movement has always paid homage to coin-op devices by readapting conventional equipment designs for new and unusual applications. This year's Maker Faire New York was no exception. It featured more than a dozen inventions inspired by vending and coin machines -- from do-it-yourself photobooths to a videogame that electronically controlled microorganisms -- among its 650 exhibits.
One of the highlights of Maker Faire, held in September in Flushing Meadows, Queens, was Josh Axelrod's miniature MAME arcade cabinet, which thrilled nonstop crowds. Called Popcade, it stands only three feet high and is a little over a foot wide, making it ideal for any home, including a studio apartment. Popcade was inspired by Jürgen Müller’s Asteroids Mini; Germany's Müller wanted to build an Asteroids game for the home that wasn't the size of a refrigerator, so he designed a half-scale cabinet that used an original Asteroids game PCB and a 9" vector monitor. Axelrod's modern MAME machine, however, can run just about any classic arcade game, including Asteroids, in an elegant replication of a Joust cabinet.
PHOTO: Josh Axelrod shows off his Popcade miniature arcade game. It employs a marquee monitor that displays artwork corresponding to the videogame being played. Popcade's name is derived from all things popular: pop culture, pop music, pop art, and so on.
By day, Axelrod, 40, is a product manager who designs apps for a premium movie cable channel based in New York City. Much of his free time is dedicated to his love of classic coin-op games. His personal collection includes such videos as Asteroids, Dig Dug, Donkey Kong Jr., Star Wars and Tempest, along with pinballs like the Black Knight, Dragon and Road Kings.
The coin machine enthusiast wanted to build a cabinet that recreated the excitement of going to an arcade during the golden age of videogames. "In addition to the games, I always loved the artwork on the game cabinets and I wanted to capture that, too," Axelrod told VT.
Axelrod's solution: Use a screen for the marquee so the header's visual matches the game being played. To do this, the inventor simply shrunk the entire cabinet down to fit the marquee monitor.
For Axelrod, designing the cabinet was like solving a Rubik's cube. "Changing one thing affected everything else," he said. "For example, sizing down the cabinet meant sizing down the width of the sides, which meant making sure I could find appropriately scaled T-molding. And I had to make sure that everything from the buttons and joysticks to the electronics inside would scale and fit."
Inside the Popcade cabinet is a Windows PC, with a dual-monitor graphics card, running MAME, along with a KADE keyboard encoder. (Cabinets do not ship with any games installed.) It also employs a Cambridge Soundworks two-speaker system with subwoofer.
"MAME natively supports dual monitors," Axelrod explained, "and I take advantage of that to display an image of the marquee for the currently selected game on the top monitor, a feature unique to Popcade."
As for the cabinet artwork, Axelrod said: "Joust was the obvious choice, as it's the archetypical Williams-style cabinet of the classic video era because of its two-joystick control panel, and it has outstanding artwork."
PHOTO: More than 75,000 people toured the two-day Maker Faire New York this fall. A good amount of them put Josh Axelrod's Popcade videogame system through its paces.
"Reaction to Popcade at Maker Faire was overwhelmingly positive," said Axelrod, who also received emails of praise from Joust programmer Bill Pfutzenreuter and Joust high-score holder Lonnie McDonald. "Kids and adults were lined up for two days straight to play games, and the very first question everyone asked was, 'can I buy one?' I was thrilled to help jumpstart the next generation of classic arcade gamers."
Popcade and its creator will be making appearances at collector shows like Allentown PinFest. In the meantime, Josh Axelrod can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, and the Popcade system can be purchased for home use for $2,500.
Popcade purchase includes:
» PC (MAME ready)
» Unique dual-monitor design
» Marquee/bezel package for more than 100 games
» Joust side art and control panel overlay
*Customers supply their own ROMs