At some point, every kid that grew up in the 80’s hanging out in arcades, at least once imagined actually owning their own arcade someday.  To me, even the mere thought of owning one – just a single arcade game – made me smile.  Once in a while, you’d meet someone whose family had one in their house, for one reason or another.  Maybe they owned a business, maybe they were an operator, but those rare times you’d see one in someone’s house always was a surreal, almost bizarre experience.  I loved that feeling of seeing something that technically didn’t belong there…and there it was…

Then were the times you’d go to a birthday party at an arcade, and the games were on free play.  A little taste of what it would be like to own one for yourself.  No rationing your quarters, no thinking twice about playing that game you’ve never tried before, just playing all those games over and over…

And then there was the “regular”; your retro gaming home-away-from-home where you felt comfortable, and dropped countless quarters.

For me, that was the arcade at Bonanza Lanes, the bowling alley I practically “grew up” in.  The arcade there was a small, narrow arcade, with the games packed in.  Stardust Arcade was born out of that idea, that concept, combined with the retro feel of a typical 8o’s-era bowling alley arcade.

It all started with that first game.  And after that second, and third, and fourth…one day it hit me.  If I wanted to take a game room seriously, I’d eventually need an “official” space to put them all.  So I decided that one day, I’d make an attempt at recreating the vibe of that arcade I spent so much time in.  When I would eventually have a home that was suitable to properly accommodate my crazy idea, my hobby would officially go to the next level.

In September of 2008 I began construction, with the arcade officially being completed on December 16, 2008.


Technical stuff

I quickly found out that building a gameroom was no easy task.  There were alot of unusual considerations that needed attention.  The ergonomic concerns of size and shape were one thing, but electrical, power, lighting, audio — these were major things that had to be well thought out and planned for well in advance, as this is not your ordinary room.

One of the first things I did was employ the use a Kill-a-watt meter to determine the amp draw of each individual game, as some games use more current than others.  Most games draw 1-1.5A, but vector games for example, can draw upwards of 2.5 to 3A (pinballs too).  Based on the data I collected, I fed two 20-amp dedicated circuits to that room.  For powering the 16 classics that fit into this room, 40 amps would comfortably power them all without without overloading any circuit, and also future-proof the room for any high-amp draw games that might get rotated in.  Lots of people power on their games in different ways, but I decided since I was starting from scratch, I decided wall switches would be the easiest.  I decided on a bank of four switches, powering a total of 12 wall outlets around the room, three outlets per switch.  This was an easy, elegant, kid-friendly solution.

The dimmable side lighting cans, and the black lights are also on their own switch, and circuit.

Each wall also has a separate outlet that is always hot, just in case I needed power for something without powering on any games.  The back wall also has a hot outlet up near the ceiling where the receiver & TV would eventually sit.


A Little Atmosphere

The exact “atmosphere” of the little bowling alley arcade escapes me, but I do remember it was dark.  Most bowling alleys were (and still are) plastered wall to wall in that garish neon-colored party carpeting.  Some of it I actually really like though.  Here, Peter Hirschberg and his Luna City Arcade was a huge inspiration to me; I avidly followed the construction of his amazing arcade on his blog.  As incredible as his arcade was, the thing that really stood out to me was that outer space-themed carpet that glowed under black light.  I figured regardless of what my little bowling alley arcade looked like, I wasn’t after creating a “museum”, but a tribute to it, however I would also make it my own, with a nod to Luna City.  So, black lights and Space Voyage carpet became part of the plan.



Music has always been important to me for various reasons, and frankly I like all types of music.  But the 80’s holds a special place in my heart and I realized that it would also be an very important, integral part of recreating the full effect of this crazy time machine.  But how to create a “radio station” feel, instead of CDs, or a repetitive loop of the same MP3s?

Enter internet radio.  There are dozens of stations for every genre of music, so an 80’s station would be the perfect solution.  By the time I completed the arcade, some early set-top streaming media devices were coming into the market.  I gave the Popcorn Hour a try, a Linux-based open source device that played internet radio (not all of them did).  It was cheap and worked well, although had some reliability issues but it did the job.

With advances in technology over the last few years, I’ve moved to to a Raspberry Pi device running RaspBMC, a version of XBMC, which is a free, open-source, streaming media player with a beautiful, user-friendly interface.  It fits the bill very nicely, and with its highly customizable interface……Stardust TV was born!

Why a streaming media device that requires a TV?  For 80’s music videos of course!

For the sound system, an old receiver was used, ceiling-mount speaker frames were painted black, and a volume control on the wall was installed.



So as you can see, since the arcade’s completion, it’s been an evolution of little things to give it more character.  I’ve added memorabilia from places I’ve visited such as Richie Knucklez’ arcade, events like the Kong Off, The Video Craze movie I was involved in, and lots of other people I’ve met along the way.  Other additions like posters, arcade flyers, a high score board, and the change machine make it seem more authentic, and adds to the fun of recreating the authentic feel of an 80’s arcade.

Overall this has been a really fun, rewarding hobby, with alot of friends and aquaintances made along the way.  Certain games may come and go as time marches on, but I can guarantee the feel of this room will never change, and will hopefully remind all its visitors of a time where things were just a little bit simpler…


If you actually made it this far, thanks for reading!  If you have any questions, feel free to ask me anything.

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