Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Let me clear my throat -- First post!

It was already halfway into the 48-hour LAN-party where we were showcasing our arcade machine, and we were still trying to make it work. Carting in the machine at the start of the party had provoked several ohhh!s and ahhh!s among the fragging population, but by now the small but persistent posse that buzzed around our stand had stopped asking when it would be ready to play. It was looking bad. The control panel was not working the way it should. The keyboard encoder between the control panel and the linux box running the arcade emulator was sending nothing but gibberish. Maybe we mixed up the labelling of the wires before we soldered them from the encoder onto the control panel. I was nervous, since soldering the encoder had been my job. If it really was the wiring itself that was screwed up, it would be very difficult to get the machine up and running that day.

So we each took one end of the multimeter. I put the probe to the control panel in the front of the arcade machine, while Étienne closed the loop to the encoder in the back, going over all the switches in the buttons and joysticks, one at a time. It was hot and we were dripping sweat -- behind me 300 gamers and their bling-bling PCs were heating up the badly ventilated area.

This was all starting to look like one hugely embarassing failure. How did we get ourselves into this mess?

It all started a few years ago when Étienne found himself temporarily without a job and decided to give himself one, building a cocktail cabinet with a MAME emulator. The PC was running Windows and he used a TV rather than an arcade screen, and this being his first major woodworking project, some things may have been built a bit wonky... But the blue and yellow cocktail cabinet was a humongous hit at my birthday party and later it sold on eBay to a guy in the States who bought it as a present for his son. Pretty cool :)

For the following projects, to avoid much of the woodworking and in order to obtain original arcade screens, he bought old machines for restauration from Denis @ Amusement911 here in Montréal who had helped us with the crating and shipping of the cocktail cabinet. After the cocktail cabinet, many of Étienne's friends have been drawn into the vortex. One friend offered storage and a backyard to work, other friends did much of the work involved cleaning up the machines or taking part in side projects. Even his girlfriend (me...) got the bug and started investing serious time drilling and painting, and designing sideart and this website. The months preceding the LAN-party we'd worked hard the both of us every weekend, sanding and painting in our friend's backyard, getting our Retro Invaders machine ready. By the time the weekend of the LAN party came around, we were still almost ready. But not quite.

So there we were, the three of us -- Étienne, our friend Martin and I -- tired and sweating in the t-shirts we'd had printed for the occasion, and feeling hopelessly un-ready and out of place with the competitively fragging gamers. The LAN-party was hosted in a highschool, not a college like we had thought, and there seemed to be a generation gaping between us (early thirties) and the average age of the participants.

We checked all the wires between the encoder and the control panel, and they all seemed to be ok, but the control panel still was not behaving. After spending some time swearing at the thing and trying things out, Étienne found out that the cable plugged into the encoder was flipped around. Tried it out right side up with StreetFighter and then it just worked!! Whooo! We were in business!

After that, everything started turning around. The tune of StreetFighter worked like a magnet, and soon enough people started playing it in between their CounterStrike competitions. We held a competition of our own, with Martin as the host, and the winner won a small Capcom figurine. Raph showed up as well and set up an SNES emulator on a PC we had on the side, where people could try out the SNES controllers he had made. Two girls were drooling over the blinking CounterStrike figures we had for sale, and that every visitor to our stand had been ignoring. "So cute!!" Finally, I thought, I guess it takes a girl to understand that they're meant to attach to your cell phone (they blink when you receive a call). They bought a handful of them.

We left the party with our head buzzing. We hadn't sold as much as we thought we would, because the kind of people who came to that LAN-party weren't really our target audience. But still we had a steady group of regulars, and we even had a couple of people who were interested in having us at their own shows or events, so for sure you'll be seeing us again in gaming events in Montréal!


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very nice Machine.
Denis (911)

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