Popcade Cabinet

Posted on September 29, 2013


Joshua Axelrod unveiled his miniature MAME arcade cabinet at the New York MakerFaire, and it’s a beauty. He was inspired by the size of Jürgen Müller’s Asteroids Mini, and decided to expand its roster by making it a MAME machine modeled on the classic Williams Joust cabinet, capable of playing nearly any classic arcade game. Popcade is about three feet tall and thirteen inches wide, perfect to fit in a house or apartment without eating up an entire room.

Aside from spot-on design, the thing that makes Popcade stand out is the marquee and bezel art. Axelrod created files for a number of classic games; selecting a game from the main menu changes the marquee screen up top, and loads the bezel art around the game on the main screen. Each game feels like you’re playing a dedicated cabinet (aside from the Joust bird on the side, and the “Flap” label on the button).

Of course, Asteroids is one of the games, which caught our eye at MakerFaire. The Popcade is the perfect size for a small child, so Axelrod’s own children are learning about the classics.


You can buy your own Popcade at the Popcade website. It comes without game ROMs, but will run like a charm when you install them separately.

Space Rocks on Antique Oscillograph

Posted on September 26, 2013


The folks at Brooklyn hackerspace NYC Resistor rescued a 1940s DuMont Labs 208B cathode ray oscillograph from the side of the road, and Trammell Hudson is driving it to do fun things with a microcontroller.

First up, he used this vector-based Asteroids font library to create a authentic 1940s-era Twitter client displayed on the classic scope.

But the pièce de résistance is Space Rocks, a version of you-know-what that runs on this hypnotic vector display. It’s presented as a “serious astronomical simulations and training system…”

While the Delta-V of the simulator space craft was optimistic for its era, the basic acceleration, velocity and position model is reasonably accurate. If the ship passes too closely to one of the space rocks, it is destroyed and the simulation restarts. Once the ship runs out of fuel (measured in hexadecimal in the upper left corner since the CPU can’t perform a DIV/MOD operation fast enough to display decimal numbers), it is stranded and unable to continue its mission.

Space Rocks runs off a Teesny board with code that’s available here. It has made public appearances at the NYC Resistor show in June, and at NYC MakerFaire in August. Check out the writeup on the NYCR blog for video and more.

Asteroids: The Movie

Posted on August 19, 2013

Extremely Decent beats Hollywood to the punch.

Human Asteroids

Posted on May 30, 2013

Just when we thought there couldn’t be anything cooler in the world of Asteroids, there’s this:

It’s Human Asteroids, a project by Two Bit Circus for their proposed STEAM Carnival, designed to turn kids on to Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math.

Human Asteroids uses a Microsoft Kinect to track the player in a rolling chair, who becomes the spaceship. Asteroids are projected on the ground with lasers, and the player fires with a smartphone.

The player in the video is Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari.

The STEAM Carnival has a Kickstarter campaign going until midnight on June 2, 2013. If successful (and at the time of writing, they’re close), they plan to take the Carnival on the road at several major west coast American cities.

[UPDATE] This story has been making the rounds today, and Two Bit Circus has just passed its fundraising goal of $100,000, with two days still to go.

Asteroid Belt

Posted on May 16, 2013


Makers, behold: the Asteroid Belt.

An Australian known as cunning_fellow has made an LCD belt buckle that plays “Rock Blaster” (wink, wink). The whole project is extremely well-documented on instructables.com.

In the FAQs, he writes:

Q: It costs more to build than a RasPi and only runs at 16Mhz. Why did you bother?
A: If you don’t understand already there is little I can do to help you.

Read all about it at http://www.instructables.com/id/The-Asteroid-Belt/

Thanks to our friends at Adafruit for tipping us off.

See more Asteroids fashion in the archives.


Asteroids Videos

Posted on April 10, 2013

People have been posting technical videos about Atari Asteroids on YouTube lately.

Here are (1) an arcade Asteroids Y-vector test point hooked up to an oscilloscope, (2) a short clip of an Asteroids machine with a vector glitch, and (3) a page-turn review of an Atari Asteroids operations manual and schematic.

Asteroids Mini

Posted on March 10, 2013

Here’s the goal: having an Asteroids arcade machine at home, with authentic electronics and true vector display, but which isn’t the size of a refrigerator. Jürgen Müller in Hamburg, Germany, has built just that.

His half-scale Asteroids cabinet uses an original Asteroids game PCB and 9″ vector monitor from a broken Vectrex, housed in a custom-built cabinet. He also built a custom XY driver circuit to bring the Vectrex display up to the drawing speed required by Asteroids.

The project is well-documented on Müller’s website: http://www.e-basteln.de/asteroids/asteroids_intro.html

Election 2012: The Candidates on Asteroids

Posted on October 10, 2012

It’s the 2012 U.S. presidential race, and one topic is glaringly absent from the public discourse: where do the candidates stand on asteroids?

Let’s look at the incumbent’s record. Two years ago, at the “Conference on the American Space Program for the 21st Century” at Kennedy Space Center, President Obama said that by 2025, “We’ll start by sending astronauts to an asteroid for the first time in history.”

Watch here (it’s cued up to the good part):

Perhaps the most important goal set by any U.S. president in recent history.

Well, Mitt?

Both candidates recently answered 14 questions about science, asked by ScienceDebate.org. Steven Salzberg at Forbes has a good review.

Romney on space: “A strong and successful NASA does not require more funding, it needs clearer priorities. I will ensure that NASA has practical and sustainable missions.”

Salzburg says, “If I worked for NASA, I’d be worried.”

Meanwhile, Obama re-states his goals for a manned mission to an asteroid: “This exciting work will lead us to important new discoveries and take us to destinations we would have never visited.”

Now why should the U.S. voter care about asteroids? Aside from the obvious (blowing them up for entertainment), reasons include Learning Things, Getting Stuff, and Saving the Planet.

So to conclude, President Obama appears stronger on asteroids than Romney; however, both candidates trail woefully behind Scotland for inspired plans about asteroids — specifically, blowing them up. Read about that here.

Video Game Showdown: Old School vs. New School

Posted on September 14, 2012

The folks at Rocket Jump made this. Spoiler: Asteroids kick ass.

Atari Dives Into HTML5 With Microsoft, Offers SDK

Posted on September 03, 2012

Atari is taking a new direction with its online activities, last week revealing a revamped online arcade and partnership with Microsoft.

atari.com/arcade currently offers eight classic titles: Combat, Lunar Lander, Missile Command, Pong, Super Breakout, Yars’ Revenge, Centipede, and of course, Asteroids. The interface is a slick example of what you can do with HTML5 and a multi-touch device, being released as a showcase for Internet Explorer 10 and the Windows 8 Tablet. It works just as well on any other HTM5-capable browser or tablet, but you get ads.

Atari worked with gskinner.com on this project, who re-imagined and re-built the classic titles from scratch, using their CreateJS suite of Javascript libraries and tools. The resulting games vary in design: Pong has a clean arena look, Centipede renders you as a garden gnome defending your turf, and so on.

For Asteroids, they kept close to the original vectorgraphic style: the ship looks the same (although a color), the asteroids are different shapes but the same idea, and the lasers are nice, simple dots. The result is not too bubbly or over-complicated as modern games can be, and yet isn’t trying to make you feel like you’re playing on a lousy old TV. Thumbs-up from us.

The game play is nice and smooth, as is everything on the site. On a computer, you navigate with W-A-S-D or arrow keys, and fire with the spacebar. On a tablet, controls hover over the graphics. The action is basically the same as the arcade, with two differences: you can hold down the fire button to charge up and get more punch out of your laser, and there is no friction. In other versions of Asteroids, you eventually slow down after hitting the thrust button. Here you do not: you have to spin around and reverse-thrust to slow down. This takes a little getting used to, but it’s more like the real experience of shooting asteroids in friction-free space. Clearly based on NASA’s asteroid-shooting training simulators.

The big news with the new Atari Arcade isn’t Asteroids, though — it’s the open invitation to developers. The existing classic games are a showcase, with the idea that anyone can create, distribute, and profit off their own games in the arcade (pending approval). It’s not Facebook (the Asteroids Online app seems to have disappeared). It’s not iTunes (although the latest update of the Atari Classics app is pretty good if you’ve got iOS, and Asteroids Gunner is going strong). Atari Arcade is now creating its own online platform, which can be a go-to game site with the space for user involvement.

Atari has been searching for its identity since becoming active again in the last few years, and this feels like a good fit.

Microsoft has also been developing an increasingly maker-friendly image in recent years, most notably with the whole XBox Kinect story. When the Kinect depth-sensing camera was initially released in November of 2010, open source hardware company Adafruit offered a $1,000 bounty to the first person to create an open source driver. Microsoft said they didn’t condone tampering with their stuff. Adafruit upped the reward to $2,000. Microsoft said, no, really, don’t do that. Adafruit said $3,000, and by that time someone had figured it out. Soon there was an explosion of creative projects in all fields by clever individuals using the Kinect for something other than games. It holds the world record for fastest selling consumer electronics device. Microsoft relaxed its anti-hacker stance (although technically the device wasn’t hacked, in that the USB output is unencrypted, although it all depends on your definition of hacked). And then by June of the next year, Microsoft had come full-circle and released a Software Developer Kit for the Kinect. Microsoft realized that there was a market here, and it earned them major maker cred.

We’ve heard reports of Atari founder Nolan Bushnell-sitings at MakerFaire and various tinker-tech hacker spaces. It seems like a good move to share the fun.

With all this in mind, the Atari Arcade developer page is worth a visit. There is documentation about how they created the games in the arcade, with snippets of code. At GitHub you can download the whole Atari Arcade SDK, including CreateJS and the Atari Arcade Repository.

The classic games are fun to play, but it’s the tip of the iceberg. We look forward to seeing where this goes.