From the late 1970s through to the mid-1980s, arcade gaming was booming, a true golden age during which great games were made, and millions would flock to halls to play the titles. The likes of Space Invaders, Asteroids, Frogger, Pac-Man, Mario, and Donkey Kong all spawned from this era of big machine gaming, but they wouldn’t have been able to do so without a few key bits of hardware.
Given the size of the arcade machines, the quality of the games made, and the ability to be a pay-as-you-go unit, it’s quite surprising how relatively rudimentary the hardware within these machines was – or still is today. Yet, it ushered in an entertainment revolution that remains prominent to this day.
Arcade cabinets and their hardware
With the control panel, coin slot, audio output, and power supply to one side, there were two key aspects of the hardware that made arcade machines function and, as a result, incredibly popular. Perhaps the main element of the arcade cabinet’s makeup was the printed circuit board. This PCB allowed the games to run on the unit, with the systems often created to hold game cartridges or, later, several game cartridges.
Your standard PCB doesn’t require wires, instead using conductive pathways to pass the current around the circuit. To make it function for an arcade unit, however, PCBWay prescribes getting switches, resistors, IC chips, diodes, capacitors, and transistors to enable functionality within a cabinet. With the game capable of being run, it then needs to feed into a display.
There were a few different kinds of display screens for arcade units, usually hitting around 280 resolution through raster graphics. Powering the monitors would invariably be cathode-ray-tube technology, but most modern recreations of classic machines have pivoted to LCD screens. As a result, VentureBeat reports that CRTs are set to go extinct in the coming years.
An enduring legacy built from arcade cabinet hardware
Perhaps the greatest legacy of the hardware powering arcade units is that it enabled people to play some of the earliest video games. These laid the building blocks for popular entertainment mediums to come. In fact, in the history of online gambling told by the Vegas online casino, the video game revolution of the 1980s from the arcades is seen as the kick-start to 1994’s licensed software before 1996’s first online casino.
Online casino games are widely accessible and very advanced, and much like the multi-billion video games industry, it owes its presence to the efforts of arcade hardware designers. PCBs are still used to this day, with 3D printing enabling new methods of creation, while HDI tech makes for denser and more compact PCBs that are now used in smartphones and personal computers – famously gaming-friendly devices.
You can get newly made arcade machines for your home from the brand Arcade1Up, but clearly, the best of what came from the 80s of arcade gaming was the games. Pac-Man, Mario Bros, Galaga, Donkey Kong, Frogger, and Gradius were all powerhouses at the arcade, and later, the 90s revival spurred by fighting games like Street Fighter II and Tekken III was still owed to the innovations made in the decades prior.
Arcade cabinets laid the foundations for modern gaming, with specialized PCBs and display being key to the rise of the increasingly popular and high-tech form of entertainment.