A friend of mine, Michael Falk, recently created an arcade-style video game called Ms. Particle-Man for Alverno Presents Sexy Results, a post-modern variety show inspired by particle physics and the search for the elusive Higgs boson. The event was curated by Cedar Block and held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on Februrary 18, 2012. Ms. Particle-Man is a modern take on retro-style video games. The gameplay, graphics, and soundtrack recall classics of yore from the arcade, Atari, Commodore 64, and NES eras. The game is influenced by a variety of games, including Pong, Breakout, Asteroids, Ms. Pac-Man, Frogger, Donkey Kong, Pitfall!, and Super Mario Bros. The goal is simple: Discover the Higgs boson. The player controls Ms. Particle-Man in his/her search for the Higgs across three different collider worlds. Each collider ends with a showdown against an elementary particle. The player collides with each boss particle to discover new worlds, abilities, and eventually possibly even the Higgs boson itself.
In order to create an arcade-style experience Michael asked me to build a table-top cabinet to house the monitor and controls. We wanted to do this on a fairly low budget, so I chose a large piece of 3/4″ birch plywood that I already had in the garage. I started by cutting out holes for the monitor and trackball with a jigsaw. In order to make sure my cuts were straight, I measured the distance from the jigsaw blade to the edge of the jigsaw guard, which in my case was 1-3/8″. I then clamped a straight piece of wood 1-3/8″ from the line I wanted to cut, running parallel. The wood acted as a guide, keeping the jigsaw straight and not allowing me to cut in any further then I needed to. I used a spade to drill holes for the two push buttons, and routed out a shallow area so the trackball mounting plate would be flush with the top of the cabinet. I used the same guide setup for the router to make sure I did not cut away any wood outside of my target area.
I then used a jigsaw to cut out the pieces for the front, back, and sides. We wanted the cabinet to be around 5 to 12″ tall from the surface of the table it would sit on, and slope down towards the player. This would put it right around waist-height.
To bring out the color of the birch veneer I used a clear lacquer. I applied four coats to each piece with some light sanding in between. The finished wood looked great. I wanted to avoid seeing any screw heads on the exterior of the cabinet, so I ran some scrap wood along the joints between the sides, front, back, and top, and screwed into the interior face of the wood where the screws would not be seen.
We decided to use a monitor that we had laying around, however it turned out to be fairly heavy and bulky. Instead of mounting the monitor to the inside of the cabinet as I had originally planned, I built a separate stand for it using scrap wood. I matched the angle of the monitor stand to the angle of the cabinet, and measured the appropriate height to make sure it was flush with the interior face of the cabinet top. We added a standard VESA mount to the monitor stand so we could easily remove all of the components. The setup ended up working really well, as it allowed us access to the monitor controls before placing the shell of the arcade cabinet over the top.
In order to protect the monitor and the top of the cabinet from wear and tear I put a piece of plexiglass over the cabinet. Ace Hardware was able to cut the piece to the size I needed, and I was able to drill holes for the trackball and buttons using the top of the cabinet as a template. The holes had to be drilled very slowly in order to prevent chipping. We sanded down the edges of the plexiglass to make sure they were smooth, and attached it to the cabinet with a bolt in each corner.
The cables for the controls and monitor ran out of the back of the cabinet and connected to a computer that was stashed underneath the table. The final product worked out great, and was a big success at the Alverno show in February.
The game and cabinet will also be shown at the upcoming Midwest Gaming Classic this weekend. It is a great event full of new and classic arcade and table-top video game systems, as well as replacement parts for pinball and arcade machines. If you attend, which I highly recommend, please stop by and say hello, we will be in the Future Gaming Arcade area. We learned a lot from working on this project, and already have plans for future games and cabinets. To learn more about Ms. Particle-Man please visit the developer website where you can play the game for free in your browser. Ms. Particle-Man is also available for download in the App Store for iOS devices.