July 1st, 2008 by Ice Cream Jonsey

Polybius! In April of 2007 I decided, after owning a few games with interesting control schemes, that I really wanted a MAME cabinet. I had visions of playing all sorts of things on it, not just MAME – imagine a system where Lode Runner for DOS met NES Hockey for the, er, NES, and they all shared vodka tonics with a Genesis and Atari 800 emulator! They would be drunk, they would be friends, they would co-habitate. For just strictly MAME, I was gonna have it all: Push/Pull Spinner! Major Havoc Roller! Asteroids button layout! Defender button layout! And more!

(… Yeah, it was going to be “that” cab. One that looked like a Happ leaf factory exploded, and I just sort of placed a monitor around it.)

I put in a “wanted” post on Usenet for a cab. Jon eXidy wrote me back, and we agreed to meet up at the Rocky Mountain Pinball Showdown, which was going down that weekend, in Golden, CO. The cabinet was a former Egg Venture. Egg Venture was a gun game. I’ve never played it in emulation or anything. Further research also indicates that it was a kiddie game? I guess the point is that nobody destroyed a Centipede or Tempest cab for this whole enterprise to spring forth.

I was expecting something in tatters, as I thought most damaged cabinets were, but what I got was in really solid shape. There was no structural damage anywhere. The marquee lamp worked! This was going to be great.

The first thing I did was drill the holes for the control panel board. For the Major Havoc roller, you need to cut a square into some wood, which was hilariously beyond me, in practice. I cut the square too big, so I then had to attach some more wood & wood putty in there to fix it…. it was a mess, let’s just leave it at that. Here is Pinback’s artist’s impression of my plans for the control panel:

Yeah, thanks Pinner.  

I knew how I wanted the cabinet to look, so I put the control panel board aside and started painting the cab itself. I don’t like the look of those MAME cabs that try to cram a dozen different arcade characters into the marquee and side art, and I also consider myself fairly creative, so I decided upon reproducing a Polybius cabinet, that semi-famous arcade urban legend game. (Okay, semi-famous is sort of a stretch, but when it comes to arcade games we don’t have many myths.)

I then did a few things to get the exterior of the cab set. I primed it. (I had never primed anything before.) I painted it. (Aside from pitching in painting my own bedroom when I was eight, I had never painted anything on that scale before.) There is one black and white “photo” of a Polybius cabinet in the wild, and its marquee is based off the screenshot floating around. I put together a marquee file through Photoshop and sent it to Scott from I sent it as a Photoshop .psd file instead of a .ai file, which I am sure was a giant pain in the ass for him, but he’s totally cool and helped me out. He printed it and sent it to me, and up it went.

In the last year, I have had a webpage up called the Polybius Home Page. It’s just an attempt to catalog all the info people have on the myth. In that time, I’ve traded some e-mails with some awesome people and seen some amazing things (like the modern-day recreation of what one developer thinks the game would have been like) one of which was the Bius Titel font. Of course, I didn’t have that available when I made my marquee: I blew up the text in the original, “famous” screenshot, and smoothed it out.

… And that’s where it set, for an embarrassingly long time. The bulb for the marquee would light when plugged in, so I’d sometimes just run that for arcade ambience. Fast forward to a few months ago – I become aware of the Chinese copyright-busting 48-in-1 PCB. It plays a good number of games that I’d like to own, but can’t justify getting because of cost, and lack of room, and a lack of unique controls on the part of the games. The board was really coming down in price as well – I ended up paying around $90. I double-checked the wiring on what was now Polybius, and the thing was completely ready-to-go for JAMMA. I had forgotten about it because of my desire for MAME.

A 17″ computer CRT was originally used for the picture, but the CRT had too big an ass, and was always falling off the back of the cabinet. Happ was having on of their crazy sales for the Vision Pro, so I bought one of those. I then realized that it was 19″, and that Egg Venture took a 25″ horizontal monitor. Fuck!

I ended up taking every possible piece off the front of the cabinet and determined that you can just barely get a 19″ vertical monitor in a 25″ horizonal space and see everything. As you can see from the photo up top, I still need a second bezel since you can see the top brackets of the Vision Pro. The picture is great, however, and the bezel that is on there is behind a nicely-tinted piece of thick plexi.

I used some screw-on magnet brackets to keep the control panel nicely in place. I do still have to mount the monitor up top, certainly before I try to move it. With the way my games are aligned, you can see the side art to five games at most. This works out fine, since Mr. Do!, Zoo Keeper and Arkanoid don’t have side art at all. Polybius is one of the first games you see as you descend the stairs, and I think it fits in with the rest of them really well. The stickers on the side that say “POLYBIUS” were made from a gal on the Something Awful forum that makes cheap die-cut stickers. She does a great job – if I had to do them over again, I’d make the logo bigger and move it down a bit, but it is otherwise fine.

There are just a few buttons on the control panel I ended up going with. Dayna likes to play Galaga using her right hand to shoot, and I normally use my left, so I mirrored the two buttons and stuck the joystick in the middle. I have to say, it looks infinitely better than the monstrosity I had imagined. When guests come out, they can figure out what buttons shoots in most game with relative ease.

(This was also the cabinet used in the video I shot with the Milker, which you can see by going to the Polybius Home Page.)

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