have fun with an ol d ipad

Turn an iPad into a time ma­chine to play clas­sic 1980s games

Mac Format - - LOVE YOUR MAC -

he first gen­er­a­tion iPad isn’t en­tirely ob­so­lete just yet; it won’t run YouTube’s app any more, but you can still use the mo­bile ver­sion of the site (m.youtube.com) in Sa­fari, and the iPad’s okay for a lot of other sites and email, too.

The real prob­lem is apps. The orig­i­nal iPad can’t be up­dated past iOS 5.1.1, rul­ing out a lot of things in the App Store, es­pe­cially games.

Mid­way Ar­cade is a very wor­thy ex­cep­tion. It’s a col­lec­tion of 1980s coin-op games faith­fully recre­ated on the iPad. For 79p, you get the solid gold clas­sics Joust, Ram­page and De­fender (plus some medi­ocre filler games), and for an­other 79p you can un­lock a sin­gle­player ver­sion of Gaunt­let, which is in­cred­i­ble value. These are ar­cade-per­fect con­ver­sions and, amaz­ingly, they only need iOS 4.3 or bet­ter to run. How­ever, there is a catch: the on-screen joy­stick con­trols make the games to­tally un­playable. Now, you can buy a phys­i­cal iPad joy­stick for about £9 on Ama­zon. It works by means of a con­duc­tive foam pad on the base that sim­u­lates a fin­ger touch as you tilt the joy­stick left and right. This is bet­ter, but it’s still un­playable be­cause the suc­tion cup that holds the joy­stick against the screen grad­u­ally creeps dur­ing play, un­til the phys­i­cal joy­stick is no longer cor­rectly aligned with the on-screen con­trol area. By ‘grad­u­ally’, I mean within about 15 sec­onds.

Fix­ing the joy­stick

My idea is to put a sheet of clear acrylic over that cor­ner of the screen, with a hole in it for the joy­stick. This will stop the joy­stick base

from slid­ing rel­a­tive to the screen, while still al­low­ing it to tilt freely. The acrylic won’t cover the rest of the screen, so I can still hit the vir­tual but­tons and, be­ing trans­par­ent, it shouldn’t get in the way of the ac­tion. To hold the acrylic in place I need a frame around the iPad, and if I’m do­ing that, I may as well put it on a slight tilt to make play more com­fort­able.

The ‘proper’ way to de­sign this would be to use CAD soft­ware to draw a 3D model and use this to make a tem­plate for cutting out each piece with a ta­ble saw or laser cut­ter, but I don’t have the car­pen­try equip­ment, skill or pa­tience for any of that. So I made a pro­to­type out of card­board, just cutting and sel­l­otap­ing bits to­gether un­til it looked about right. Then I used the card­board pro­to­type to make flat card­board tem­plates, drew round them with a pen­cil on a sheet of 5mm MDF, and then cut it with a hand saw on my kitchen ta­ble. (Sure, the ta­ble ac­quired a few ex­tra gouges in the process, but I choose to be­lieve that these bat­tle scars just add char­ac­ter.)

The ba­sic de­sign is an open-sided box. The slop­ing side pieces each have an­other smaller piece on the inside with the same slope, so that the iPad rests on them like a shelf. At the front, a length of wooden batten re­in­forces the inside cor­ners to stop the iPad slid­ing for­wards. The sides and bot­tom were screwed to the batten with coun­ter­sunk, 15mm chip­board screws, and all the wooden pieces were also glued with PVA ad­he­sive.

Melted acrylic

I bought the acrylic as a 5mm thick A4 sheet (£7 on Ama­zon) and cut the hole us­ing the 32mm hole saw at­tach­ment for my drill. To cut out the rounded cor­ner shape, I used my Dremel with the router drill bit. Cutting acrylic tends to gen­er­ate enough heat to ac­tu­ally melt the plas­tic, which cre­ates a wide fringe of melted shav­ings stuck to the cut edges, but if you’re quick you can pull them off with your fin­gers be­fore they set hard again, and save your­self a lot of fil­ing af­ter­wards.

The Mark 1 ver­sion of my iPad ar­cade cab­i­net just had this sin­gle layer of acrylic hot-glued to the cor­ner of the MDF box. But I found this still al­lowed too much play for the joy­stick base. So, I cut a sec­ond col­lar from acrylic and glued it on top of the acrylic plat­form to cre­ate a deeper well for the joy­stick. This still al­lows enough move­ment to regis­ter in the game but makes it much harder for the base to come un­stuck dur­ing fran­tic gam­ing ses­sions.

At this point the de­fi­cien­cies in my car­pen­try skills were pretty ap­par­ent from the rough cor­ners and small gaps ev­ery­where. I ‘fixed’ this us­ing some bath­room tile grout whitener that I had ly­ing around. Skim­ming over all the joints with this filled in the gaps nicely and cov­ered over the screws as well. Once it had dried, I gave it a quick sand with fine sand­pa­per. To pretty it up a lit­tle, I ap­plied a coat

I don’t have the tools, skill or pa­tience to do this the ‘proper’ way

of grey spray primer (af­ter care­fully mask­ing off the acrylic sec­tion, of course) and then two coats of black spray paint.

Ar­cade per­fect?

The end re­sult still isn’t quite as good as an orig­i­nal ar­cade cab­i­net, ob­vi­ously. The screen is a lit­tle smaller than the orig­i­nal CRT dis­play, and the on-screen con­trols cover a bit of the play area as well. My acrylic joy­stick bracket cov­ers a cor­ner of the screen en­tirely, so you have to slide the iPad out of the box to reach the ‘back’ but­ton in that cor­ner if you want to change game. It’s also very easy to knock the sleep/wake but­ton when slid­ing in the iPad. I may cut small slots into the sides to cater for this, and the head­phone and charg­ing ports. Over­all, I’m quite happy with it. The hard­ware cost was un­der £25, and con­struc­tion kept me busy for a cou­ple of happy af­ter­noons. De­fender is still a bit too twitchy a game for a makeshift cab­i­net like this. Its Hy­per­space but­ton is easy to miss with­out the tac­tile feed­back of a phys­i­cal but­ton, but Joust and Gaunt­let are sur­pris­ingly fun to play, and this might just give me enough of a fix to keep me from any rash eBay pur­chases any time soon.

Con­struc­tion kept me busy for a cou­ple of happy af­ter­noons

The quick re­ac­tions needed to play De­fender are still bet­ter on an orig­i­nal cab­i­net, though our home-made one’s joy­stick still works bet­ter than vir­tual con­trols.

Mod­ern Pac-Man games are de­signed to work well with a touch­screen, but only a joy­stick gives a feel­ing of au­then­tic­ity in the orig­i­nal.

In Ram­page, you play a mon­ster that’s try­ing to knock down cities across North Amer­ica!

35 years later, Joust is still bril­liant fun to play – with the right joy­stick rather than touch­screen con­trols.

The translu­cent acrylic joy­stick mount still lets you see the ac­tion on the screen un­der­neath.

Try­ing to feel your way around eight-po­si­tion di­rec­tional con­trols on a touch­screen is an ex­er­cise in frus­tra­tion.

Game se­lec­tion in Mid­way Ar­cade even goes so far as to recre­ate the cab­i­net de­signs in a vir­tual ar­cade.

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