Each year’s edition of Breakout at Turbine Kreuzberg features a handful of projects that are hardware-focused, with teams building tangible things in the physical, rather than the digital world. It comes as no surprise then that only two days after Senior Developers Marco Morais and João Ximenes announced their own project idea – building the “Turbine Arcade Machine” – more than 20 colleagues had already added their names to the list. “For me, it was the most appealing project during Breakout this year, because it gave me the chance to do something with my hands, instead of sitting in front of a computer. And honestly, I was so scared that I wouldn’t get a spot! It seemed like everyone was interested in joining,” says Thomas Kühnel, Co-CTO at Turbine Kreuzberg.
The project idea was pretty straightforward: building a completely hand-crafted arcade gaming machine using a RaspberryPi 4. While inspired by similar projects found online, the team ultimately decided to make some meaningful design changes to what they had seen before in order to make it more unique. With just five full days’ completion time until the final presentation, and with a construction phase looming that was difficult to fully grasp at first, the project presented challenges across the board. Even so, it was time to get started.
Since all project team members have a background in tech and software development, they already had a clear idea for the software part of the project. The biggest question mark was how to handle the necessary woodwork. “Luckily we had Thomas,” explains Marco Morais, voicing an opinion shared by the rest of the team. Even though it was his first larger woodwork project as well, everyone was astonished to see his acumen.
Luckily for anyone looking to build things at Turbine Kreuzberg, you can always count on the enthusiasm of founder and CHRO Peter Breuer – who jumped in to provide all the necessary materials, wood sheets and equipment. “The funny part was carrying the huge 70x350 cm plywood sheets to the office from Peter’s basement. It was just a ten minute walk, but they were insanely heavy and we needed three of them,” says Thomas Kühnel.
“Once we had the image of this monumental machine in mind, everyone was like, yes, let's actually build this big thing.”
– Thomas Kühnel
Setting Up the Software
To be able to run arcade games on RaspberryPi, the team decided to rely on the “retroPie” software. The individual games run as ROM files on a USB flash drive formatted to FAT32 (32gb card or under) for maximum compatibility. Part of the team tried to find and arrange all the games that other Turbinies had suggested on the agency Slack channel. “We needed to test the games before uploading just in case some of them didn’t work. When that happened, we needed to remove the faulty games and try different configurations – this was a bit of work,” says Ruben Manteigas.
Developer Ricardo Lucas specially designed a splash screen including logo and animation, and configured retroPie to show it to the player before each game start. “Of course, there was a point when retroPie simply broke down and it didn’t work at all. It was the biggest failure that we faced,” says Ruben Manteigas. Hardware troubles were also a setback, as connecting both controllers proved tricky. Still, problem solving was a fun task, despite being time consuming in a project already pressed for time.
”Before we built anything, we had a prototype made out of a cardboard box with joysticks, buttons and other controls. We tested the DIY arcade kit components while playing the games and configured the joysticks in order to find out a default layout based on the colors of the buttons – just as how it would have been in a typical arcade machine,” says Ruben Manteigas. They tested all of them step by step to see if each part was working.
“The most ironic part of the project was that we built, gathered, assembled, and tested the machine in the basement, but in the end, we were not able to bring it back upstairs, because it just wouldn’t fit through the door. So, we disassembled the whole machine and put it back together again upstairs. It was like IKEA,” says João Ximenes.
Want to try your hand at beating our highscores? The Turbocade Turbinator 2000 resides in Turbine Kreuzberg’s headquarters in Berlin, making for entertaining gaming nights, team lunches, and little breaks in between building really great software.