Produced by Pimoroni, a British company based in Sheffield, the Picade is an all singing and dancing tabletop arcade cabinet that can be put together in an afternoon. For £180 you get everything needed to build your own working cabinet (minus the Raspberry Pi) such as:
- Black powder-coated cabinet panels
- Picade PCB (Arduino compatible with stereo 2.8W amplifier) pre-loaded with the Picade software.
- LCD panel mount with protective overlay
- 8″ LCD panel & driver board
- 2x speakers
- 3.5mm stereo panel mounted headphone socket
- Attractive decals for the marquee and controls
- HDMI, audio, and USB cables
- A proper arcade joystick
- Twelve micro-switch arcade buttons
- Custom assembled wiring looms
- All other fixings, fastenings, nuts, and bolts
The kit is primarily geared towards users of the Raspberry Pi, but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t use it with a mini ITX board or Odroid. In fact the rear door on which you mount the logic board has markings for several different models of computer not just the Pi. Anticipating the needs of their customers, Pimoroni have designed the kit with the hacking and modding community in mind, something they do with a lot of their products.
In 2012 when Pimoroni began their Kickstarter for the Picade I had an opportunity to try a working unit, needless to say the experience was enough to leave me wanting one. It wasn’t until the early last year when I finally got one of their kits but sadly didn’t have any time to assemble it. So the kit sat waiting on my to do list till October came around, when finally my partner and I put it together over several evenings. Assembling the Picade is pretty straight forward so long as you follow the PDF guide provided on Pimoroni’s website. There is also a video guide but in my opinion it is in need of updating, as it led us astray more than once. In the end we resorted to consulting the PDF exclusively, my partner reading the instructions as I placed the pieces together. Contrary to what the video tutorial suggests, make sure to tighten all the screws and nuts using a screw driver, otherwise your cabinet will soon begin to wobble and come apart as mine did after a few plays of DigDug.
The black power coated finish of Picade really sets it off with an old arcade feel, the buttons and joystick are of good quality and fairly responsive to use. At some point I will likely swap them out for more 80s recessed style buttons, but for now they get the job done and look fine.
The Picade comes bundled with an 8” flat panel LCD screen. Originally the kit was available with a 12” panel but I understand supplies dried up and Pimoroni have been unable to source any more at a reasonable price. At first when I removed the panel from its packaging I thought it was mighty small and had some misgivings about its effectiveness for playing games on, but honesty I hadn’t need for concern. The 8” panel compliments the cabinet really well and once your in playing Pacman or Pole Position you really don’t notice it. The picture is clear, sharp and the colours a vibrant, my only regret is the absence of any scanlines, but that’s more a personal preference and something I can probably fix within the Retro Pie software.
With the cabinet built, it is just a case of flashing an SD card with the relevant Retro Pie image, which you can download via their website @ https://retropie.org.uk. Setup is relatively painless and straight forward and should see you up and running in no time at all. Something I did discovered on my first outing, is that RetroPie has more than one Mame emulator to choose from and some ROMs work better in one than they do the other. If you find like I did that a great many of your ROMs aren’t working, you may wish to try using the other Mame emulator. The reason this happens is down to the chipsets the Mame is running, different revisions can sometimes expect different files to be present within the ROM archive. Newer revisions tend to be more compatible but unfortunately the one available on Raspbian isn’t, which is why RetroPie comes with more then one Mame emulator. Swapping between the different versions can be as simple as copying your ROMsets to the appropriate folder on your SD card. It is also possible to change it from within Retropie, just after selecting your ROM the option appear on screen to change the default settings, this also includes which version of Mame is used to run the selected ROMset.
When put together, the Picade and Retro Pie compliment one another well and one can hardly imagine one without the other, both are polished and easily accessible products.
When I began to assemble the Picade, I knew from the get go that I wanted to design some custom cabinet art for it – something that harkened back to the days of my childhood with crazy neon colours and funky 8 bit sprites. One thing about the Picade is that the only decals that come with it are for the marque and the control panel, the sides of the cabinet are left alone. As pretty as the powder coating is, I couldn’t help feel there was something better to do with them, such as cover them up with something bright and retro! So I went about designing the art on my recently aqcuired 15” Powerbook G4. Anyone who says PPC has had its day can go suck a lemon as far as I’m concerned, as this laptop not only oozes style but clocking in at 1.55Ghz it runs Photoshop without breaking a sweat.
As you can probably see in the photos from an early stage there was a very distinct 80s theme going on. One thing I had to keep in mind was to make sure the decal art lined up with the side panels on the cabinet, as I wasn’t just contending with the outside edge of each panel but also the various screw holes and speaker grills that the decals would be covering.
The side art is protected by 1mm thick sheet of clear acrylic that has been cut out to the same shape and size of both MDF side panels. Eventually I plan on making the marquee backlit so that the Picade logo and colours are more vivid to the eye.
Hello dear reader! Did you miss us?
BMV is back for another year and I have a lot of fun articles I’d like to cover and maybe we can fit in a few interviews this year from people active in the community. I’m sorry the blog has been a bit quiet but I was away busily tinkering, working on my Atari Lynx video conversion, making an AmigaPi 1200 and several more USB tank mice for friends who wouldn’t stop pestering me for one after seeing the one I’d built I’ve also been playing with a Powerbook 180 and discovering the pitfalls of LCD tunnelling which the entire 100 series seems to suffer from.
Blasting away from 2016 is my Picade build which I finished just before Christmas, now in 2017 I put the finishing touches to the cabinet with some retro electric 80s art. Keep your eyes peeled as I’ll be offering up free cabinet decal art for anyone looking to deck out their Picade in proper 80s style!
It’s not often that I see a decent retro gaming event here in my home town, but on the rare occasions that it does happen, you can be certain that I’ll try to attend come hell or high water. The 29th and 30th of June saw the Games Britannia host an event at the Sheffield Millennium Galleries.
I have to confess, it isn’t the first place I would think of holding a retro computer show, as the venue is better known for its art display. To the credit of the organizers, it worked well, albeit with one small drawback. I thought the layout was a little too widely spread, the two key areas of the event being located at either end of building. If you have problems walking, this might have caused a problem getting around to see everything.
The main function room held a selection of tables, offering everything from electronic kits, books and novelty items. Venturing further in to the room, I found several tables displaying computers and consoles from the 80s and 90s: Spectrum +3, Amiga CD32, Sega Dreamcast to name but a few. It was disappointing not to see such gaming classics such as Pong on show, but given the age of hardware, it is understandable why collectors would be reluctant to let 100 strangers play around with a 30 year old console from their collection. It was surprising to see the original Xbox amongst the consoles on display. Released in 2001, I still find it hard to consider this console retro, even though so many other gamers seem to do so.
The encounter was slightly painful, given the recent death of my own beloved Xbox and my failure to rescue it from the jaws of oblivion. However, this didn’t stop me from enjoying a game of Outrun. Having only ever played this game on Commodore 64 and at the arcade in the 80’s & 90’s, I had never played the XBox version of this classic. After 10 minutes, I was sold. This is a game that needs, nay, demands to be in my games collection. Not only did it still feel like the original, but also retained some of the arcade feel. As I carried on around the room, I noticed another line of tables set up with familiar consoles such as the SNES, Sega Master system and Atari Jaguar. I discovered this was part of the 2014 Classic Gaming Championships, hosted by Replay Events.
Entry was free, contestants pit their skills against other gamers, playing games such as Super Smash TV, Tetris, Paperboy, California games and Tempest 2000. Not one to turn down a challenge or the opportunity to play computer games, I entered myself in to the tournament. I knew my Achilles heel would prove to be Tetris and Paperboy, two games I have never been able to master. Each player was assigned an observer, who made sure no cheating or bug exploitation took place. My observer was probably around the same age as the SNES I was playing on, so it came to no surprise when he revealed little to no previous knowledge of the consoles I was playing on. In fact my score might very well have been better, were it not for the fact we discussed gaming throughout my turn. Mostly he asked me questions, while I tried to give answers as I played. What was the most popular game on the Mega Drive?
Questions like that have been known to start brawls, everyone has a favourite, some might say Sonic, Streets of Rage or Street Fighter II. He seemed surprised to discover Street Fighter had been released first on the Mega Drive and SNES, having believed it was a recent game, released for the PSone and then the PS3 Network. It’s things like this that makes me grateful for Replay putting on events. Educating the average gamer about the history of games and consoles.
By the time I had finished, my score for Paperboy, Tetris and California games really had me wondering if I’d even be on the scoreboard. So you can imagine my surprise to see my name up in third place overall. My score on Tempest 2000 (103616) certainly attributed to this placement. Having only ever played the arcade version, I found the remake for the Atari Jaguar to be a real solid offering. Even the infamous Jaguar controllers did not seem to hamper by game play. By the end of the day, my position had slipped to 12th place overall, but am I sad? No not really, I had great time, playing games and hopefully enlightening another mind to the fun that can still be had with retro games.
On a Walkabout
While on my way to check out the Pimoroni table, I stopped by Appytimes, who were showing off their latest title “Zombie Piranha”. The demo on show was specially made for the Games Britannia event in Sheffield. Speaking to their representative, I discovered the games had been heavily influenced by 16bit games from the 90s. Anyone who plays “Zombie Piranha” will see this almost from the beginning, as there are hints from several different games peeking out. I couldn’t help but draw comparisons with James Pond and Ecco the Dolphin. The controls are simple, the difficulty is not too steep. All around well worth installing on your phone or tablet if your wanting a quick gaming session while waiting for the bus. At the time of writing, “Zombie Piranha” is still available for free download via Google Playstore.
By far the most interesting table at the event was that of Pimoroni, the Sheffield based company had come to the event with a bang. Showing off not just one but five working Picade units. Anyone who has been following my blog will know I have reviewed boards in the past in preparation for the up coming release of this awesome DIY arcade kit. Running PiMaMe, the model B RPi performs surprisingly well. In the time since I looked in to running Mame on the RPi, things have most certainly progressed. The Pi has gone from performance underdog to solid contender. So much that I plan to load PiMaMe on the BMV RPi to see what games will run and wont run.
Comprising of laser cut, powder coated MDF, customizable decals, original arcade hardware joystick & buttons, LCD screen and custom Arduino Leonardo. The Picade is the must have kit for anyone who has ever felt the urge to build their own arcade cabinet or put their Raspberry Pi to good use. However the Picade is not designed solely for the Raspberry Pi. Indeed, one only needs to look at the rear of the unit to find mounting holes for Odroid and mini ITX motherboards. Having only recently finished shipping units to their kickstarter backers, Pimoroni are now aiming their sights on selling the Picade commercially. Prices are still to be announced, but estimates place it around the £200 price range. Given everything that comes in the kit, BMV feels really buzzed about the future of the Picade.
Completed, the cabinets looks like baby versions of their full size cousins, right down to the clicky sound of the joystick and buttons. Forget using a USB joypad to play Pac-Man, the Picade offers a tactile arcade experience straight from the comfort of your living room. Designed with swappable graphics and mounting points for different boards. Pimoroni clearly foresee the needs of some customers to customise their units and apply their own unique mark. While I was using one, I also kept thinking what graphics I would use and if I could illuminate the banner above the screen. Seriously you can’t help yourself once you realise the dream of having your own arcade cabinet is less a dream and now more a reality.
Keep on geeking
Odroid X2 Android Motherboard
Not so long ago during a visit to Pimoroni, I was asked if I would like to test and review the ODROID X2 mother board; a Samsung powered quad core Arm A9 1.7Ghz micro board with 2Gb of ram, 6x USB 2.0 ports and 1xRJ-45 port.
Measuring in at only 90mmx94mm, the board is not much larger then the Raspberry Pi but to compare the two would be unfair. The ODROID costs £88 or 165,000 Korean Won compared to the RPi at less then half that. The RPi is an affordable, cheap computer platform, suitable for a whole host of low cost projects, but a desktop replacement it is not. The ODROID X2 would seem better suited as a micro PC or an in-car computer. Its quad core CPU has enough grunt to handle applications that would leave the RPi having a mental break down.
Last year I tried running a Mame emulator on my RPi with the hope of turning it in to a mini retro gaming box. My experience was less than thrilling, leading me to give up on the idea. So when the chance was offered to try another mini board with Mame, I have to admit I had some reservations. The X2 uses a micro HDMI port and a unusual .8mm power jack. Researching the specs, I ended up buying a Gemini joypad power supply and micro HDMI to HDMI adaptor from ebay. With all the parts needed to get the board working, I downloaded one of the Jellybean SDC card image files.
Up and Running
The X2 will only boot with a working OS installed on an SD card. Turn it on without one and the board will not post, sitting there, dumb to the world. To get the image on the memory card, you will need a computer with an SD card reader, so you can flash the image.
Flashing SD Cards And Booting Your OS
Ready to go SD cards can be purchased from com.odroid.com. If you did not get one when buying your X2 board, the following tutorial with guide you through preparing your own SD card.
1. First you will need an image file, found here “com.odroid.com/sigong/nf_file_board/nfile_board.php”
Choose the files appropriate to your board and follow the link to the image file.
2. When you have it downloaded, extract the file to your desktop. Insert your SD card in to your card reader and make a note of its drive letter, you will need it later.
3. Now download Win32DiskImager from “launchpad.net/win32-image-writer” and extract the file and run the program as Administrator.
4. Using Win32DiskImager, select the *.img file you extracted earlier.
5. Select the driver letter of your SD card in the device box, make sure your select the correct drive letter or you may wipe your hard drive!
6. Click “Write” and wait for the process to complete. Once the DiskImager has finished, exit the utility and remove your SD card from the reader.
7. Insert the card in to the Odroid and power on. If everything went according to plan, the board should boot up.
To write a disk image under Linux, you will need to follow the process below. Be aware I’m posting this as is. I wrote my SD card under Windows XP, so have no experience with the process below.
Copying an image to the SD Card in Linux (graphical interface)
If you are using Ubuntu and hesitate to use the terminal, you can use the ImageWriter tool (nice graphical user interface) to write the .img file to the SD card.
- Download a zipped image from this link or other mirrors
- Right click the zip file and select “Extract here”
- ATTENTION: As of this writing (15 June 2012), there is a bug in the ImageWriter program that causes it to fail if the filename of the image file or its path (i.e. all the names of any parent folders that you extract the image file into) contain any space characters. Before going any further, ensure that neither the file name of the image you’re using or the path contain any spaces (or other odd characters, for that matter). A bug has been opened for this issue: https://bugs.launchpad.net/usb-imagewriter/+bug/1013834 Once the issue is fixed, edit this page to advise people to use an updated/patched version of ImageWriter.
- Insert the SD card into your computer or connect the SD card reader with the SD card inside
- Install the ImageWriter tool from the Ubuntu Software Center
- Launch the ImageWriter tool (it needs your administrative password)
- Select the image file (example ODROID-X_31_07_2012.img) to be written to the SD card (note: because you started ImageWriter as administrator the starting point when selecting the image file is the administrator’s home folder so you need to change to your own home folder to select the image file)
- Select the target device to write the image to (your device will be something like “/dev/mmcblk0” or “/dev/sdc”)
- Click the “Write to device” button
- Wait for the process to finish and then insert the SD card in the ODROID
Mame and NEOGEO
Thankfully the hard days of finding a good emulator for Andoroid are behind us and now there are several to choose from. For the X2, I found MAME4droid and NeoDroid the pretty easy to set up and more importantly free to use.
MAME4droid was by for the easiest app to get working and the performance on the Odroid was nothing but remarkable. Street Fighter 2 playback was a steady 60fps with only the occasional drop to 30-40fps when a lot was going on. Had i not had the FPS showing in the top corner, I don’t think I honestly would have noticed. The sound was also perfect, unlike the RPi which struggles to offer good sound support. The Odroid handled it with ease and really pulled the rug from under my RPi Mame efforts. This was especially true when I came to play Bubble Bobble, which the RPi almost died trying to play with appalling FPS and stuttering audio. On the Odroid the game was silky smooth, the only thing missing was a proper joystick.
Not as easy to configure I found as MAME4droid, but from what i gather is one of the better free NeoGeo emulators out there, tho there is a paid version. One of the first hurdles I faced was actually running NeoGeo roms. The emulator seems almost allergic to some NeoGeo rom files and in other cases threw up errors regarding missing files names. Eventually I discovered what I believed to be the problem, the romset which comes with NEOdroid. Put simply, I think it is out of date and has one or two spelling errors such as when running Metal Slug, NEOdroid reports file 263-pg1.bin as missing. However a closer look of the Metal Slug archive revealed the existence of file 263-p1.bin but no 263-pg1.bin. This seems to be an on-going issue for many other online users as I found quite a number of threads on the subject. I also found a post by the author of NEOdroid, instructing users to use Mame roms with Neodroid and not NeoGeo roms. This has me a little confused, given that NEOdroid is meant to be a NeoGeo emulator. Okay I know the NeoGeo was basically an arcade unit in a console, but surely there are some differences between a real arcade cabinet and the console. I plan to try this app out a little more before writing it off, as it overall seems like a good emulator.
Eventually the Odroid will be installed in a Picade cabinet and connected to a proper joystick and hardware buttons. It will be interesting to see how well the android operating system handles the setup. So make sure you come back to see how i get on, making an android gaming cabinet.
Keep on geeking!
While I might not have been writing an awful lot over the past few months, that isn’t to say that the retro computer scene has not been rolling along happily.In an odd twist, the topic I’m posting about today is one I’m all to familiar with as I personally know the individuals behind it: Paul Beech and Jon Williamson from Pimoroni, the same guys who brought us the amazing Pibow case. These two nerds are at it once more and have come up with what is in my opinion, the coolest Raspberry Pi accessories to date. Step aside your SNES Laser gun and your 360 drum kit and make way for the Picade.
This little beastie comes in two flavours, mini and full. So depending on how much space you have, you can still engage in some vigorous joystick waggling (hey no puns!).
Just like the Pibow, the whole thing comes in kit form. Included is a construction manual, which will show you how to put the whole thing together in roughly and hour, with just a screw driver and a pair of pliers. If the Pibow is any indication, we can assume the Picade will be fairly simple to put together. Once the whole thing is complete the only other piece of kit you will need, will be your Rpi. Hook it up and start gaming like it’s 1989! Pacman anyone?
While I’ve yet to see one of these in action, I understand the performance is actually very reasonable, with the Rpi only faltering on the sound, which is a known issue with the Rpi and something that’s a work in progress as the drivers are developed.
With no word on prices yet, the Picade is sure to go down well with the Raspberry Pi community and Retro gamers alike.
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