Franzis Retro Arcade Kit – tinkering with old-school Pong through the New Year
Franzis Retro Arcade Kit
During the Christmas holidays I was in Berlin. There I visited the famous Dussmann bookstore – 4 stories worth of books, Blu-ray’s, trinkets and electronic kits. The latter surprised me and I could not resist picking up a small DIY Pong Retro Arcade kit. It is essentially a long title for a kit that allows you to put together your own small 70s console that plays Pong. At 29.99 euros I decided not to look this horse in the mouth. It is produced by a company called Franzis, but an older version of the kit is also known as the Haynes Retro Arcade Kit.
Putting it together (soldering required)
The kit is not difficult to put together. The main component is the screen, which also contains the ATmega8 controller. The manual states that the user has to prepare 4 pieces of wire. Two of the wires connect to both potentiometers used as the arcade’s controls AND the ATmega8 controller. Essentially the ends connect the potentiometers while a exposed middle section is soldered to the controller. Frankly this was not immediately clear to me. I think the same result could have been had using separate wires from each potentiometer to the controller.
Anyway, besides the 4 wires another 2 firm wires are used to simulate a coin slot. You solder them to the controller as well. If a 50 euro cent coin is dropped through the slot on the top of the box a connection is made between the 2 firm pieces of wire and the arcade starts. Creating an appropriate shape so the coin will make a connection takes some tweaking. In any event, squeezing the wires together starts a game without the use of a coin. After about 20 minutes of light assembly and crossing my fingers the arcade was finished.
The console box
I found it neat how the packaging box itself is used as the console. You can see from the picture of the open box that the major components are placed in the plastic tray. The tray remains stuck to the top of the box by the two control knobs. The whole setup is elegant and has been a delight to understand. One minor caveat is the piezo disc you can see on the left (the circle with two wires attached). This is new to this version of the kit, it beeps when it is told to. The manual asks for the disc to be glued to the cardboard box. Yet such a permanent arrangement is not what I want. This causes the disc to slide about. After the tray is properly inserted the whole box can be closed by the click of small magnets inside the top cover. That feels delightfully Apple-like and ensures that repeated use won’t wear the box out.
The last page of the manual mentions the arcade can be potentially expanded through the unused connections on the circuit board. I am not sure with what though, maybe a better coin contact machine? Anyway, reprogramming the microcontroller is also possible. That seems more interesting as the current AI in the game is lousy.
This Retro Arcade kit may not be perfect, nor is it particularly challenging to put together. But I did have a lot of fun. It is simpler than the three robot kits that I own (MakeBlock, C-Control, Arduino). If you want to get into the maker, tinkerer world, but you’re not sure where to start than I can suggest this kit. I also saw a homemade transistor radio that looks equally fascinating. All you will need is a good soldering iron and a cheap multi-meter for when things don’t work out. After this little detour normal service will be resumed with a review of Hard Sun tomorrow.