Replacing X-Arcade Joystick with Mag-Stik Plus

Now that I have two arcade machines, one of the things I had been wanting to address was the controls on the MAME cabinet. It came with the X-Arcade Tank Stick, which on first glance and a casual play seems like a good deal. The more you play with it, however, the more you will realize that the buttons and joysticks are pretty crappy. The roller ball may be as well, but I don’t remember using it save one time.

The first step into upgrading the controls was to do a little research. For this, I googled and asked a couple Facebook arcade groups, and the one joystick that kept being mentioned as being very good was the Mag-Stik Plus. Continue reading

Neo Geo Puzzle Bobble/Bust-a-Move

After posting the photo’s to FaceBook and Twitter, people asked the same question: you’re wife let you have that in the house? In point of fact, it was my wife who found the “for sale” listing on a selling group on FaceBook for it. So yes, she did, and it’s all her fault!

The thing in question here is my new arcade machine: a Neo Geo Puzzle Bobble/Bust-a-Move cabinet. It was listed as working and good condition. The seller was asking $150.


My son, Cole, posing with the Neo Geo

I have never been a huge Neo Geo guy. Still, I don’t own an actual arcade cabinet, just my MAME cabinet, and that’s a headless one with a PC inside. I always wanted an actual arcade cabinet, and with the Neo Geo, I could always change the cartridge and, presto!, it’s a totally different game!

You can see the lighted marquee better in this photo

You can see the lighted marquee better in this photo


In the ad, the seller was asking $150/OBO/Trade. A few people offered him the $150 if he could deliver it, and another person offered $100. I was more interested in a trade, and offered up a Bluetooth speaker I don’t use. The speaker is worth more than his asking price, but I really didn’t expect he would do the trade. To my surprise, he did!

I enlisted the aid of Chad, a good friend, to help me move the Neo Geo. Chad was the best man in my wedding twelve years ago, and was the co-host of my original podcast. We had met twenty years ago while we both worked for the same company, and we spent many hours working together moving furniture. So much so, in fact, that to this day we barely need to verbally communicate when moving something big, bulky, or heavy. In this case, the Neo Geo is is all three of those things!

Did I mention that it was one of the coldest days of the year? And that we had almost two feet of snow on the ground? Or that the seller had not bothered to shovel his front walk? So yeah, not a fun time.

After almost multiple heart attacks, Chad and I got the Neo Geo in place in my house. Thanks, Chad! Free games for life for you!

We did check out the cabinet before I made the trade. It was dark in the sellers living room, where he had the machine running. The cabinet looked to be in really good shape, no water damage that I could see. He had the two keys for the coin doors. (Sadly, no keys for the rear door, so drilling that lock out and replacing it is in my near future, perhaps even this coming weekend.) The game played perfect. The screen, while a little dirty, was bright with no screen burn. The joysticks and buttons were all nice and working perfectly. In short, it looked for all intents and purposes like a great arcade machine.

Once back home, I spent an hour doing some cosmetic cleaning, including removing the plastic front to get at the monitor. WOW did that clean up well! After popping the front control panel open, a look inside made me very, very happy. This is one VERY clean arcade cabinet. While dirty inside, it’s in immaculate condition! There are a few blemishes to the outside of the cabinet, but nothing at all major. Easy fixes.

Puzzle Bobble is afun game. I have it on my MAME arcade, but playing it on the Neo Geo is better somehow. The joystick and buttons are way better than on my MAME, which has me considering upgrading my Tank Stick in the near future.

My plans are to paint the entire cabinet the Neo Geo red, replace the marquee to a red and white Neo Geo, and rotate some different game cartridges. The Neo Geo arcade machines are cartridge based, meaning an arcade owner, back in the day, just had to replace the game cartridge and marquee, and they had an all new game for people to play. That is/was a LOT less expensive than buying a new arcade machine!

I do think my first purchase will be a 161-in-1 cart. I know they are not the best, but it will allow me to play a lot of different games right off the bat. If one of those games becomes a favorite, I will hunt down and buy the original cartridge. Most can be had on ebay, although some can be quite pricey.

IMG_5821A moment, if you please, to thank the people in the “I Am A Classic Videogamer” page on FaceBook. When I first picked this game up, I posted the same photos you see here on that page. Almost 80 people “liked” my post, and a TON of people were quick to send me very helpful info, including Nick Lombardo, PocketBike Racing Tsmmr (that may not be his real name…), Jacques Morel, Rob Turner, Isaac Solomon, Rob Peloquin, Jason Branch, and more. I don’t really know any of these people, and to a person, they were helpful, encouraging, and very nice. A better bunch of people in a group I have never known. Thanks to them all! And if you are reading this because you have an interest in classic video gaming, join this group on FaceBook! Click here to learn more!

All in all, I am very happy with this machine. It is still sitting in my living room, as I have to do some major moves in my office to fit it in there next to my MAME arcade. It will be worth it, and eventually, I plan on having a few more full arcade machines join it. Four others, I think, would be a good number. What would those be? Mrs. Pac Man with the speed-up chip, Burger Time, Mr. Do!, and either Pac Man, Tempest, Donkey Kong, or Star Wars.

IF my wife will let me!


I wanted to change things up with my headless MAME arcade cabinet. First off, as my first post showed, I had it connected to my main video game screen, but to the left of it. I don’t enjoy playing games where I stand in one spot and look to the right. It’s not comfortable playing that way. Second, I didn’t have the space to position it correctly to use that screen, so buying another television to use was at the top of my things to do with the cabinet. And third, playing some arcade games on a horizontal TV sucks.

Moving the arcade cabinet was pointless until I addressed the need for a television. I saw a post on a local buy-sell-trade group on Facebook from someone selling a 32” Magnavox flat screen, and at a inexpensive price. Taking a chance, I picked up the Magnavox for $40. If didn’t come with a remote, so for another $7, I picked one up on ebay.

I didn’t want to just set this screen on top of my arcade cabinet. That would only solve two of my three issues. So my next purchase was on Amazon for the Cheetah Articulating Arm TV Wall Mount with a 20-Inch Extension. The big draw for me with the Cheetah was that you could also rotate the screen to a vertical orientation, thanks to the ball connector behind the mount itself.
Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 10.01.55 AM

Drilling some pilot holes, and some anchors, I installed the Cheetah on my wall at the level I wanted the television, then installed all the wiring I felt I would need. Finally, I installed the mount itself to the Magnavox, then connected it with the rest of the wall mount. A quick test showed it would be easy to rotate my screen 90’.

IMG_5801Because I play mostly vintage 1980s arcade titles, like Ms. PacMan, Mr. Do!, Burger Time, and the like, I set up the software to automatically show Maximum Arcade rotated 90’. The positive side of this is that I can now play those games on a vertical screen, more like they were in the actual arcade cabinets. The downside is I cannot get Maximum Arcade to fill the screen: it’s either smaller than the screen size, or too large.

This set up, at least for the time being, works well for me. While I would love to buy a few dedicated arcade cabinets, I simply don’t have the space in our home for one. I could fit one in if I did away with one of my gaming shelves, but I don’t want to do that, either. So for the time being, this is my set up, and it’s good enough for me to get my arcade fix.

The Buy

As I have said before, I loved my Atari 2600 growing up. I didn’t have a huge game collection, nor even all the games I wanted, but I had enough that it made a life-long lasting impression on me.

atarilogoSo yes, I have a soft spot for the Atari. I currently own four 2600’s, although one of them is a Mac computer now. (I will write about that eventually.) The one that has the most meaning for me was given to me by my Uncle Robert ten years ago. I was at his house, fixing a computer problem he was having, when I started to talk about how much I still liked video games, and that I was now looking back and trying to buy (on the cheap!) old video games that I had as a kid. Hearing this, Uncle Robert mentioned that he had an old Atari in the basement I was welcome to have. I accepted, and when he brought it out, it was an original 2600, and in the box. The manuals were in there, as well as a bunch of games.

Uncle Robert passed away almost two years ago now, so this Atari 2600 has even more meaning to me.

Talking about it, he told me he picked it up the weekend after Christmas when I, as a kid, brought mine to my grandparents house on Christmas day. (Again, that story is here.) So this Atari from my Uncle Robert was built right around the same time mine was, and was purchased from the same store that my parents picked mine up at.

My Atari died, I think, many years ago. I don’t actually remembering getting rid of it. I had it, and then I didn’t. That’s what happens when you grow up; you get rid of the things that meant so much to you as a younger child in an attempt to distance yourself from your younger self, to move beyond being just a kid to a teenager, then from teenager to adult. I don’t know the year I stopped caring about the Atari, but I do remember laughing at it as a teen. I was, by then, into Nintendo and Sega, and the Atari 2600 was a quant children’s toy I had outgrown. Had I the wisdom then as I do now, I would have boxed up many of the important things from my childhood and saved them for later in life.

So my “on display” Atari has special meaning to me, as does the console in general. That’s why, when out with my wife, I got excited when I saw an Atari box at a garage sale.

I don’t like going to garage sales. I feel strange walking up to some strangers house and picking through their stuff. Yeah, yeah, I know that’s what they want you to do. That’s why they are having a garage sale after all! But still, I don’t usually enjoy it. My wife, Julie, loves it. So do my younger kids. So on this nice, warm June day this past summer (2014, for those finding this years from now), I braked the car hard when I saw an Atari box sitting on the floor inside a garage, sitting by a table full of… stuff for sale.

I was out of the car in a flash. What I found was an Atari 2600, in the box, with controllers, power, converter, and tons of games. Not only that, but another Atari 2600 in a Sears Tele-Games box. For those who don’t remember, Sears started selling video games with the Atari Pong in 1975, but the product was not sold under the Atari name. Sears and Atari continued this relationship until 1983. This particular box, however, was the Rev A. “Heavy Sixer” model from 1977! The most sought after of the Atari 2600’s! In the box, however, was an all black “Darth Vader” 4-switch model from 1982, and not a big deal. No idea how a ‘Vader made its way into the Sears box, but there it was.

The woman I spoke with was eager to sell the old game systems. I asked how much for both systems, and she didn’t know. So she asked her husband. Julie, my wife, also found something she wanted for $15. We settled on $30 for everything, and so by my reckoning, I spent $20 on the two Atari’s and the games, and Julie spent $10 on what she wanted.

IMG_3736I was pumped! I promptly got home, opened the boxes, and laid them out on the floor to take a picture and share my find with a FaceBook group about older game collecting. The response was amazing from the group, and everyone agreed it was a great deal. One person, however, said he needed an Atari 2600 box for his collection, and asked how much I would sell him just the box. Jokingly, as I had stated how much I paid, I said $20. And he agreed! So I shipped the box, and the Sears one, off to the FaceBook collector, making my end cost effectually zero for the buy.

IMG_3735I don’t collect the boxes. If I find a game or system still in the box, great, but I don’t collect or display them. I could care less, honestly, about the packaging. For me, it’s all about the games, not the boxes.

Game collecting, when I first got into it ten years ago, was inexpensive. I picked up many vintage gaming systems for the cheap via ebay back in the day. Today is a different matter, as more people are into the hobby and prices have gone up. I don’t have every system I want (I’m looking at you, TurboGrafx-16 and 3DO), but I have a large collection that I didn’t spend much money on.

Vintage game hunting can be fun. There is even a YouTube series called The Game Chasers I enjoy dedicated to it, though they seem more interested in finding the super rare games, or being completist. Still, I enjoy the show, and while I wish they were into the Atari games, I enjoy their never-ending hunt for the rare NES game.

It’s not an expensive hobby, even with the recent price hike for vintage systems. It can be, if you buy retail or go after the rare games on ebay. But there are still many deals to be had, such as my Atari find here, and all you have to do is go out and look! And if you DO find something cool, let me know about it!

Of Joysticks and Roller(s)

Having a MAME Cabinet is great. Putting the legality issues aside for now, this is the best video game system I have ever owned. The reason is simple: unlimited games on a controller correct system.

For instance, I have owned Ms. Pac-Man on about every gaming system there is. Atari, NES, SNES, Xbox, PS1-2-3, Xbox 360, Wii… you name it, I have owned a copy of Ms. Pac-Man on it. But the biggest problem with each and every one of those has been the controller.

Growing up, I played a lot of arcade games, especially my favorites of the day: Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, BurgerTime, Donkey Kong, Dig Dug, and many others. All had one thing in common: the joystick. Playing those same games on, say, the NES control pad sucked. And while the Atari 2600 had a joystick, it sucked as well. (Too spongy.) These games demanded a proper joystick.

For years, I would occasionally look in at the MAME stuff, and even dabbled in it from time to time. But playing these games on a computer with a mouse, keyboard, or even a game controller was no better than on the NES. The only difference, really, was that in MAME, these games were the arcade games, not a port like the console games were. They were copied from the actual ROMs, so they were nearly identical.

(Side note: not all MAME ROMs are 100% accurate. In fact, most are not. There are times when an arcade used a special chip, or special hardware, and there is no real way to emulate those things on the computer. Still and all, the people who do work on these ROMs are amazing people and do wonderful work.)

So having an arcade means I can finally play games the way they were meant to be: with a real joystick!

Since my first post, dated mid-October, things have already changed with my MAME arcade. First, I have a dedicated monitor/screen for it. Second, said screen is on a wall-mount that allows me to rotate the screen vertically. Most arcade games were built with the monitor in the vertical position, so it was long, not wide. TVs all just the opposite. So being able to rotate the TV and set the MAME games to rotate 90-degrees brings an even truer arcade experience than before.

While I am not done “messing” with my arcade (I may never be), I spend most of my time with it playing games. A great feature on my MAME software is it allows me to tag a game as a Favorite, and that is a very selective list for me. With one button push, I bring up my favorite games, so I spend less time searching through over 10,000 games just to play a few rounds of BurgerTime. I initially added all the games I was most excited to play, of course, and now spend quite a bit of my time trying out some of the lesser known games. But finding those other fun games can be a challenge, and that’s where the internet comes in.

Just today, in fact, I was searching YouTube for information on an arcade game (I forget which one now) and in the suggested linked videos, I saw one that caught my eye. It was a three minute video showcasing a game I had never seen, or at least don’t remember. It was called Crush Roller, and it had some maze-like Pac-Man gameplay to it. Interesting! A quick look through my MAME library showed that I had Crush Roller.

What a fun game! And it made my Favorites list! Instead of eating dots to clear a maze, you are a paint brush and your job is to paint the maze. There are two… I don’t know what they are. (I’m not going to Google it to find out) They chase you around the maze. So far, I can (sometimes) get to the third maze, but no further. The bad guys in this game are SMART! Level 1 is not so bad, but after that, man these things are brutal! I am embedding the video below for you to see what it’s like. I love this game, but HATE the sound and music, so I play on mute:-)

So much fun…

*A reader let me know that this game was also called “Make Trax” by Williams Electronics, Inc. I looked at the screen shots from that game and yes, it is the same game.

Falling in Love Again – A GTA Story

It was the fall of 2002. Many of us were still dealing with the world that had changed a year before, when Terrorists struck on 9/11. That was an event that really did change everything, and none of us will forget where we were when it happened. In the face of 9/11, video games didn’t seem very important.

For me, I had pretty much stopped playing video games a few years before, around 1996-97. It was those years when my first marriage was starting to fall apart. When I moved out, I had left my Nintendo system with my Ex-wife, and my oldest daughter ended up playing with it.

Eventually, I met Julie, who I would marry in 2003, but for this story, we have to go back a year before, to 2002. That’s when I fell in love with video games again, and it was a passion that has stayed with me since.

I can’t remember what I was watching at the time. I remember where I was working, however, and that I was really starting to get into nostalgia. Nostalgia for the 1980’s, to be specific. The decade in which I turned 10 at the beginning and ended when I was 19. Almost every major “First” happened to me in that decade. And in 2002, at the age of Thirty-Two, I was looking back with a lot of fondness. Especially for the music of the time. I had a massive CD collection back then, and I had recently ripped all my CDs to MP3 to play on my new iPod. Many of the CDs I had were from the 80’s, and I was in nostalgia heaven.

As I said, I don’t remember what I was watching on the television at the time. I do remember seeing an ad for the first time, however, and it simply pushed all the right buttons for me. That ad, a 30-second spot, was for a video game called “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

The game, set in the mid-1980s, and featured a terrific sound track. It was the second of the modern GTA games, taking place in a fictional Vice City, which we all know is really Miami. In the above commercial, if you lived through the 80’s, there is an obvious “Miami Vice” meets “Scarface” vibe going on. Like I said, it hit all the right buttons for me.

The next Friday, I was at Toys R Us buying a PlayStation 2 and a copy of the game. I was not sure what to really expect, but the ad had done it’s job, and I was all in.

By Sunday, I had fallen back in love with video games. I was amazed by how much games had changed since I had last played. Mario, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Tempest, Zelda, they all seemed… tame compared to this! GTA: Vice City was a revelation. More art and movie than video game.

It was late, well past midnight, on that first Friday. I had completed quite a few missions in the game, but no where near enough to unlock the entire map. Rather than go on to the next mission, I decided I would just drive around in the game. I had stolen a convertible, and the sun was setting in the game. I was not on a mission, no police were chasing me. The song playing was “Crockett’s Theme”, followed by Broken Wings and then Four Little Diamonds. None of these songs, as I remember, were playing on the same radio station. And that was the thing! I could change the radio station, and DJ’s would be introducing the music, or crazy people chatting on Talk Radio!

The Outfields “Your Love” started playing!  I love this song!

The sun started to set in the game, whereas in the real world it had set almost twelve hours before. My hands were sore, my eyes a little blurry. And life could get no better, I thought, switching to another radio station. The song was already playing, about a quarter of the way into it. And there was Corey Hart belting out that he wears his Sunglasses at Night, so he can… do something.


Once the song ended, I saved the game and went to bed.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is a third-person game (that’s where you see your entire character from behind, rather than a first person shooter where you are in the characters head) that stars Tommy Vercetti, a former member of the Forelli gamily that comes home after serving fifteen years in jail. The mob boss fears that with Tommy coming home, there will be problems with other (mafia) families, so he kinda/sorta promotes Tommy and sends him to another city; Vice City.


The voice of Tommy Vercetti is none other than Ray Liotta, best known for his starring roll in GoodFellas. There is not a man alive with an ounce of testosterone who doesn’t love GoodFellas, and RockStar Games casting Ray in the staring roll in their video game cements their brilliance for all time.

More, it is this game, and that night, that cemented my passion for video games. While I think all the GTA games have been brilliant, some more than others, it was Vice City that drew me back into the fold. It was the game that, more than any other, opened my eyes to the fact that a video game can be so much more than what they had been in the 1980’s. They could be more akin to movies, or TV shows. They could be drama, action, mystery, or horror. They could be all those things, and so much more.

They could be, and are, art.