Recycled computers as Scratch! arcade machines — Pt 1

DIY arcade machines is something we’ve done before here at The Edge, in the past we’ve run MAME on a  Raspberry Pi to create an compact all in one solution. This time around the machines were intended to showcase games made by participants in a workshop, as well as playback a video. This rules out using MAME and Pi’s, and brings us into the world of Scratch! This series of blog posts is a (mostly) non-technical, slightly rambling explanation of getting my bit of the project up and running. While there is plenty of information around building a DIY arcade machine, we think the approach we’ve taken with Scratch! is worth documenting and putting out there for others to use and build upon. We’ll be posting an exacting how-to with instructions on building your own arcade machine when the dust has settled.

While running the Creative Community Computing (CCC) program, I’ve become The Edge’s resident hardware/linux tinkerer so I was tasked with pulling together hardware and software for the build. I started with a small desktop from our store, a Dell Optiplex 780. While definitely not a recent machine, the hardware requirement for the workshop were simple and this five-year-old computer is up to the task. The next step was to choose an Operating System (OS). The  arcade machines had to double as the workshop machines which would be used to create the Scratch! animations. With the CCC program based on open source software, starting from a creative linux based OS made sense. In this case we used Ubuntu Studio 13.01. Once the creative workshops were done, we would switch to using a USB stick for the Arcade OS. The idea being – no USB plugged in – workshop computer – USB plugged in – instant Scratch! Arcade Machine! Viola!

The workshop OS was installed in a short CCC workshop, run for a group of Korean students on a flying tour of The Edge. The machines worked a treat and were taken down to Access Arts Logan where the Scratch! game workshops were being run. The Arcade OS was not such a straight forward process. To begin with, we were trying to get scratch to do something unnatural — run as an offline game player only. Sounds straight forward, but what happens when you remove the mouse and keyboard from the equation, using only traditional stick and button arcade controls? And you want to play back videos? On a linux system? From a Live USB stick?

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