Back in the saddle

It is unlikely that any of us will ever forget 2020/21 – two years which have seen the worst nightmares of science fiction plague stories largely come true. Some have weathered the storm better than others, some will not have weathered the storm at all, but all of us have been changed by it. As I write this there is light at the end of the tunnel – only history will be able to say whether we are at the beginning of the end, or merely the end of the beginning, but there is hope on the horizon.

On a personal level, the start of the pandemic found me desperately searching for a place to call home before the world shut up shop. We moved in two days before the UK entered full lockdown for the first time.

Now, there were stresses over the coming months, for me as well as the rest of the world, but there were benefits too. A chance to appreciate the slowing down of time, to fall back to the centre of ourselves and to concentrate on the most important things in life.

So, as well as building Lego arcade machines (See The Blockcade for more) I was also building a home, an Ikea delivery here, a Facebook marketplace freebie there, print-out-and-frame posters everywhere else… And, in a move to appease my inner librarian, a chance to sort through what remained of my record, game, book and arcade collections, decide what was worth saving, move on what was no longer needed and, literally, get my house in order.

Which, eventually, led me to my poor old Space Invaders cocktail. I’ve owned this for over 20 years and, frankly, it was never really that great to begin with – added to a few years spent in storage units and friends garages and well… Let’s just say that it wasn’t looking too healthy

Poor old thing

Well, what else was I doing with my time?

I had one of those 60-in-1 game boards, so at least I wasn’t starting completely from scratch. The monitor, an old and repurposed Microvitec Cub had always been slightly problematic, so that seemed to be the best place to start. I pulled it out, cleaned up the boards as much as possible and adjusted what could be adjusted. The results were… Not great, but sort of servicable.

You’d have paid good money for that 3D effect in 1980

But, we were up and running – it worked, it was playable, even if the display had some “issues” (don’t we all) and I had 60 games (if 15 variations of Pac Man is your idea of fun) to choose from. More importantly, I hadn’t actually had to spend any money on it, so that was a win:win

And that limped along on that basis for a few months, until the inevitable happened and the monitor started crapping out (even more so). It was long overdue, it had literally been held in place with cardboard when I bought it twenty odd years ago, so I can’t really complain.

So, that was the cue to finally get my act together, find a few quid and once and for all get this – my first machine, and the lone survivor of Arcade Nirvana – up and running as well as she deserves.

I’ve always been a bit scared of monitors, they carry a hefty shock if you’re not careful – which might explain why I’ve always been a bit wary of replacing this one, but a quick shout out at the forums over at ukvac.com popped up a couple of fellow collectors who were willing to help – one with a free monitor (that, unfortunately, turned out to incomplete) and another who had a surplus stock of NOS (New Old Stock – unused, but original) monitors that he was willing sell on at cost. I gladly took him up on his offer, and with a bit of a tidy up and a tiny bit of swearing I managed to get the new one mounted in my poor beleaguered Spacies. I turned it on (not without some trepidation), stood well back and…

Now, that’s better

Success!

Of course, at this point I start noticing all the other little problems with the machine – the joystick and buttons (none original) were stiff and unresponsive, and that 60-in-1 board, while convenient was… Well, a bit rubbish really.

I replaced the joystick and player one controls with a Sanwa clone stick I had lying around from a PC USB kit, and a bit of asking around threw up a product called Pi2Jamma – which does exactly what it says on the tin, allows you to plug a Raspberry Pi mini computer straight into a JAMMA (arcade) harness. I had a Raspberry Pi hanging around doing not very much, so it seemed rude not to jump in. I won’t dwell on the setup process – it really is as simple as downloading a couple of images from the above website and plugging it in.

Just needs a pint of Mild to complete the look

So, as we crawl out of the pandemic, or this part of it at least, I can look outwards for the first time in a long while and concentrate on building a life outside the house, knowing that my little corner of late 1970’s Britain is waiting for me when I get home.

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