You know how they say money can’t buy happiness? Clearly, those people have not spent a better part of their day at the rowdy arcade feeling all the highs of finally reaching the last stage of Space Invaders. If it isn’t clear enough, I love the arcade. The pixelated graphics where you can fight people to the death is my jam, the same way it is for Poh Keng Jian or KJ, more affectionately known at RetroCade.
Well, at RetroCade, you are not only able to relive those glory days, but you get to build a mini-console for yourself too. That way, you can take the fun of Street Fighter right home with you and play endless rounds of Bubble Bobble.
You’ll find KJ’s workshop amongst the quiet streets of Woodlands in a homely two-storey HDB unit that doubles up as his workspace. A homage to his love of all things retro, there’s an old-school jukebox at a corner of the room that’s flanked by a DIY pinball machine, while an impressive Ultraman action figure stands in a corner. It seems the 90s have not left at RetroCade, and I’m all for it.
Eager to get reacquainted with the likes of Pac-man and Tetris, I was eager to get to work on my gaming console.
You would think that building your gaming console from scratch would be a rather taxing and tedious process, but it isn’t. All you need is a little elbow grease, an electric drill, and you’re good to go. The thing is, KJ has gladly done the heavy lifting for you. It starts with a couple of pre-cut wooden panels, a Raspberry Pi board, speakers, and we’re in business.
What is a Raspberry Pi board, you might ask? Well, everything that makes these consoles work hinges on this cute board that sounds very much like a snack. This is a tiny board that functions as a computer and where you load all the arcade games, and KJ tells me you can just order it off the internet.
With a handy set of instructions, I was set to work. It was pretty easy, the parts fit seamlessly with each other, and you have to thank precise laser cutters for that.
You’ll start with the speakers, and then you’ll move on to attaching the screen. KJ gently guides me with fitting each piece properly, and the console is starting to come together. As we build, KJ tells me that all of this started as a hobby that stemmed from a strong desire to play those games again. With his designer background, KJ is also equipped with the skills to bring this project to life. It was tough at first since he was literally building it from scratch but with a couple of tries he pulled off his first gaming console.
You’d be surprised at how intuitive the process can be; when we get the main structure fixed, the next part probably has the most fun—the buttons. Yes, customisation is everything these days and given a chance to choose the colour of your gaming console? Yes, please.
While I was deciding between oranges and red, KJ and I talked about nostalgia and why these arcade games are making a comeback. “What differentiates arcade machines and mobile devices is the tactile feel,” KJ asserts, “the feedback that you get—the clicking”.
It’s true; there is something so satisfying about punching those buttons and shifting the joystick that a mobile phone just can’t replicate.
Still, I wonder how he feels about the current state of arcades and how the games have evolved. KJ is optimistic and supportive. “I think they have very cool stuff”, he continues, “these are great improvisations to old games”. He tells me about the giant space invaders set up he’d seen at VivoCity, and I can almost hear the speakers blaring a loud pew pew.
I suppose the most complicated part is right here, where you have a bit of wiring to fix up. With a seasoned hand, KJ assures me that this is rather basic, and most people can get it. A little twiddling here and there, you’ve got it.
Putting it all together
Of course, during this workshop, KJ is helping me every step of the way, so we get this done in record time. Usually, participants will take about three hours to assemble the parts themselves, but trust me, time will just fly by.
The speakers that we’ve built earlier go in with a few well-positioned extension wires as well. To truly make this project as retro as we can, KJ provides some cut-outs to make your console look as ‘authentic’ as possible. All that’s left to do is to power up the machine and voilà, it’s time to play Super Mario.
If you do take a look around the place, you’ll soon realise that this arcade console is not KJ’s only pet project. There are a bunch of different permutations of the console, from two-player versions to one fixed with a sewing machine to one that is only as tall as a ruler.
That’s not all, we have a vintage-looking jukebox that is fitted with a screen crooning the latest Ed Sheeran hit and a photobooth machine to take all those old-timey photos that scream nostalgia. It doesn’t stop there, a 3D machine whirls away quietly in a room for one of KJ’s latest projects.
The sense of creativity and playfulness abound right here in RetroCade. It’s a workshop in every sense of the word, experimenting and creating is welcomed. If you can dream it, you’re only a 3D print away from making it a reality. While we can’t return to those glory arcade days of yesteryear, there are places like RetroCade that cleverly marry the old and new to keep that Donkey Kong dream alive.
If you’re running out of weekend ideas, RetroCade will be unforgettable indeed. A 1-Player Machine workshop would set you back S$500, while a 2-Player Machine workshop S$900. It’s steep but think of all the fun you’ll have. These workshops are run based on availability, so make sure you Whatsapp the folks at RetroCade to book your slot. Yes, you can indeed buy a little pocket of happiness.
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Price: $ $ $
Our Rating: 4 / 5
Blk 166, Woodlands Street 13, Singapore 730166
Blk 166, Woodlands Street 13, Singapore 730166