GBA SP Mini Arcade [Project]
Ok...so this is my Gamboy Advance SP project page, inspired by the little mini arcade seen here. Although I think it's an incredibly cute and cool little thing, I also think it's a bit gimmicky and more of a novelty than a proper playable mini arcade. The whole thing strikes me as a bit over engineered. I would much rather have something that looked slightly less arcade like but you could actually enjoy playing (that joystick looks like it would start to piss me off after about 5 seconds). The thing that strikes me about the GBA SP is that it's all ready Arcade shaped, you could do nothing but build an arcade shaped wooden box around it and you would all ready have a pretty convincing looking mini arcade, without going to effort that this guy took of stripping the entire GBA down to it's component parts and then rewiring them all back together in a new. Just seems like a lot of unnecessary work to me, plus the more you change the bigger the chance of things going wrong and not working. So my brief for this project is -
- To make the most arcade like thing possible with the least amount of work
- Playability is priority no 1, Form will be decided by function
- Finished design should have the least amount of modifications to the doner GBA as humanly possible ( Don't fix what ain't broke)
- Ideally the finished design should be so simple that even someone with no electronics experience could buy it as a kit and along with a £5-£10 GBA SP off eBay could build their own playable mini arcade
The Goal here was just to do exactly what I said in the intro and build an arcade shaped box that I can pop the Gameboy straight in and see how it all feels, and then just take it from there. Didn't an awefull lot of measuring or designing other than to work out the dimensions of the GBA. Sometimes you just gotta make some mistakes to get some info about what needs to be done.
The Joystick is just an idea that came to me and is made from a piercing bar screwed straight into the pad. Obviously it's far too short ( my wiffe wouldn't give me her tongue bar to use) but it does work surprisingly well. The feel is very positive and clicky. Definitely something I can work with so will be no need to go to the hassle and expense of buying and wiring an external joystick. The holes in the side are to access the L & R buttons. So with simple prototype 1 out of the way, what have I learned -
- Well the cabinet is both too tall and too short. Played at a breakfast bar, the screen is at the right height for viewing but controls feel too high.
- Played at a coffee table from the sofa the controls feel ok but the screen is now at the wrong height and angle. Screen needs angling back much more and/or the hood shortening.
- The access holes to the L & R buttons works well when using the GBA with the normal pad (which is surprisingly comfy to use) but not so great with the joystick. Not sure how much of a problem this is gonna be as most classic games don't use the L & R buttons at all or only need access for menu functions and the like but Games like Street fighter will require good access to be able to play the Game properly.
- Didn't think to leave any access holes for power and volume switches
This time around I decided to go with more of a bar top style arcade cabinet which might not have the novelty factor but is much more practical in terms of playability and stability. The screen has also been tilted right back for optimised viewing angle when playing
Next thing I did was add holes for L & R button access (which I forgot) and create a front panel cover. I am still quite struck on the Idea of trying not to have to modify the GBA in anyway but am staring to think this might not be realistic. With the cover on it's clear that some modification will have to take place, the buttons are far too small, particularly the start and select, and the L & R button access holes aren't the best but am still undecided about how important this is. It may be that the solution could be mechanical rather than electronic.
(one wierd thing i did notice is that the screen is mounted slightly off center in GBA SP - if you look really carefully the screen bezzle is fatter on the left than on the right)
One thing I am really impressed with is how well the joystick works. People tackling this kind of project seem to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to find and install a suitable mini joystick. Mini arcade buttons are really easy to find, but joysticks it seems ....not so much. Seems like a total waste if time to me as this method just works so well. The micro switches in the GBA are nice and clicky and give a really nice positive feel. All i needed to do was find a longer shaft to use. After trawling through the spare piercings tub and not finding anything exactly the right size I started digging through my tool box to see if there was anything in there I could use.
After testing all manner of screws and bolts I eventually stumbled across these, they're shafts from my Dremmel bits. The one I eventually used is the shaft for the rotary cutting disc attachments. The shaft is the perfect diameter and length (or it was when I cut it down a bit) and it has a threaded center which is perfect for my needs. It's topped off with the plastic toggle cap from am electric guitar (Think Les Paul style pick up switch.
So now what i need to do is refine the shape slightly and work out what I am gonna do with the buttons. The L and R buttons will need a better solutiion than the holes cut in the side and the A / B buttons will definitely need making bigger. But do i use an electronic solution i.e wire and solder external buttons. Or do i find a mechanical solution such as modifying the existing buttons or using a mechanism to depress them from a different location ?
First thing to do was alter - Prototype  to check the new shape works...............
...................Then build a new sturdier frame for GBA SP to sit on.
Buttons & wood grain 
Wood grain Prototype [test]
So where it's at...du dum dum! Fairly happy with the basic form and aesthetics now, just need to decide what to do about the controls. Ideally I would like some mechanical solutions to altering the buttons as I would like this to be something that could be made in the form of a kit. Not sure how possible/practical this is going to be at the moment It may be that to get something that really works as a proper usable mini arcade, soldering in external buttons (particularly the L/R buttons) might be the only practical solution.
Came to the conclusion that Most GBA Games that would make good Classic arcade don't really use the L & R buttons and in the few cases where they are used it's just for accessing menu functions and the like so aren't needed all the time. So basically my plan is to carry on with this design as something that can be sold as is, or as a kit, for someone to put their own GBA SP in and have a proper functioning mini arcade. So to that end my focus now is on allowing access to all the GBA's controls (L&R, start/select, volume, power, charging ports, cartridge slot, etc) without any electronic modification. So that means adding access holes to the cabinet that actually work and look good. If I am going to make a modern arcade cabinet like " Street fighter" or "Mortal Kombat" etc. That is going to require a more custom approach to the button layout and I will handle that as a separate one off / custom project.
So......the immediate goal is to build yet another cradle, this time with access holes for the power and volume and also solve the L & R button access problem while still maintaining the cool aesthetics. Also need to make note of all the measurements and angles so I can create a template in illustrator so I can potentially use the cutting machine to precision cut any future prototypes and save me a lot of time.
Cardboard Colour laminates - Tests
Prototype [3a] L & R's
Decided to try and create some sliding panels for the L & R button access. This way they can be hidden completely if not needed. Accessed quickly if required for minor / infrequent menu functions. Or left fully exposed for playing games that require them constantly. They actually work really well and the whole unit can be picked up and held comfortably in the same manner as you would a standard GBA SP for playing less arcadey games.
So...what now [?] [12/02/2014]
Actually pretty happy with this. The next step will be to try and build one more cardboard one using the computer template I have created and my little cutting machine. Have had to move the position of some of the joints slightly to accommodate where the L & R sliders are positioned but other than that it's pretty perfect. After that it will be time to build the first one from wood.