We love to get the thoughts of fellow enthusiasts especially those with intriguing retrogaming-inspired projects. Our resident Neo Geo expert Anthony caught up with Chris Merchant who’s taken it upon himself to construct an actual, accurate as possible, MVS unit. Enjoy.
Chris, welcome to Arcade Attack! Please tell us a little about yourself.
I am the youngest of four brothers and I have fond memories of us gathering around the living room TV playing Atari 2600. Being the youngest I would mostly watch, but had the occasional go on Pole Position, I distinctly remember how stiff the joysticks were on that console. My own first console was a NES Deluxe set, which included R.O.B. It must have been 1987, I remember going to a department store (Debenhams) with my Mum and oldest brother, we didn’t have a car then so we travelled by bus. Seeing the release display in the department store, I was amazed, it was R.O.B that made me want the system, my brother picked up an Amstrad CPC 464, I remember it being a difficult journey home with some hefty boxes.
I’ve been hooked on gaming ever since. Fun fact I actually won the regional Blockbuster Video Gaming championship in 1997, attending a final in London at the Trocadero, hosted by Dominik Diamond of GamesMaster fame.
How did you become familiar with Neo-Geo and what was the first game that you ever played for it?
Neo Geo was almost mythical when I was a child. It was something I had read about, seen in adverts of gaming magazines, people would say they knew a friend of a friend who owned one, but most people in my area had never actually seen one, let alone touched one. The system was just cost prohibitive, I didn’t come from an affluent background, there was no way we could justify that cost per game.
My first SNK game would have been Fatal Fury (Mega Drive port), not Neo Geo I know, but that was certainly my first SNK game I played and it was great, it filled a void on the Mega Drive at the time for a decent fighter game (I still have it tucked away in my collection). King of Monsters would have been my first actual Neo Geo game (albeit through emulation) that game would feature heavily on the shows I watched and I just loved the concept and the look, I wasn’t disappointed when I got to play, but I also wasn’t very good at it either.
According to your AtariAge forum posting, you wanted to construct a Neo-Geo MVS replica unit from the ground up. That’s amazing to say the least. Would you care to explain how the concept came about?
For a number of years I had wanted to own an arcade cabinet. In recent years, Arcade1up appeared with their cabinets and it piqued my interest again, but they weren’t entirely right, I would have to pull it apart and mod it to hell to get something I wanted. Then recently I saw the Unico/SNK 3/4 scale cabinet, I thought this is it, it’s Neo Geo, it has the iconic styling. Unfortunately again, once videos of the review units landed I went through the same process as with the Arcade1Up. I was actually contemplating putting a MVS board in one of the Unico units.
Through desire, and frustration the process began, I decided I would be better off building what I wanted, to suit my needs. I had decided that I wanted real hardware, I wanted to experience these games exactly as they were released and through a CRT. For me there was no off the shelf option. I wanted to have something as authentic and in keeping with the original as I personal could manage, that became the drive behind my build.
What tools and materials were needed for you to help build your cabinet?
Everything I used to build this cabinet is easily available from any hardware store. The cabinet is built from 18mm (3/4”) MDF board. The majority of supporting members inside were cut from the same boards to minimise material costs.
I am not a man with many tools. I don’t have a workshop, nor do I have access to one. I had access to two small collapsible workbenches (saw horses would work also). I laid a large board on top and this became my working area. I used a plunge track saw for making long straight cuts across the board and router for template cutting/slot cutting and rounding over certain pieces.
Everything else was standard hand tools, drill/driver etc..,. Nothing fancy.
For years, we tried to find the blueprints of any MVS unit off the internet, but found nothing in our research. What steps were needed for you to believe that these were correct enough to start your project?
I’m glad you brought this up. I couldn’t find anything anywhere either. I hunted the internet high and low and couldn’t find a thing. It felt that there was simply nothing to be found.
I had began to give up, thinking that the project might not be possible without something to work from. Ever determined I continued to search, reading through many different forums. Most threads were years old and nothing ever came of their hunt for dimensions or plans.
I managed to find several threads on various forums which detailed the overall dimensions of the cabinet (HxWxD), they all differed slightly, but generally were in the same ballpark. Alongside the dimensions I managed to get hold of some side images of the cabinet and used some scaling and overlay techniques to pull the dimensions and angles. There were quite a few revisions before I was finally happy with all the angles and lines of the layout.
Unfortunately this didn’t answer any questions regarding the inside or about how certain panels interacted with each other, like how the bezel meets with the speaker panel. How the control panel is fitted/hinged or locked in place, how the marquee was fitted and accessed for changing mini marquees. I spent countless hours researching forums and videos to find just a glimpse of these areas.
It all took some time until I was absolutely convinced I had everything covered and that this project was indeed feasible. The control panel in particular, as the original follows some nice 90 degree angles, but is constructed from metal plate. A limitation of my build was that I had to construct the control panel from MDF board. I was adamant about having my control panel look just like the real deal, regardless of what I made it from. Thankfully I’m very pleased with the end result and think it certainly does look like the real thing.
How many hours were dedicated for your unit all together?
It’s hard to put a definitive number to this. I began the whole process in late August this year. Design and research certainly accounted for more that half of the hours spent I would say. I would estimate I am in excess of 150hrs spent on this. I was lucky enough to have some spare annual leave with work so when constructing I could easily put in 12hours a day building this over a couple of weeks.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of your unit over SNK’s models?
Disadvantages, it’s not entirely original, as much as I have built it to replicate, it is not a real SNK MVS cabinet, there are parts I have done my upmost to reproduce, such as the control panel, but I have been forced to use different materials, simply because I don’t have the facility to cut and bend metal.
Advantages, my cabinet was designed with a modular/flat pack construction in mind. It was always intended to be kept in an upstairs room in our house. Carrying a full size cabinet up the stairs would be a nightmare. I was able to deconstruct and reconstruct it in the room with ease – think Ikea.
As I built the cabinet I know every inch of it, and I know that every joint, fitting, fixture is exactly as I intended it. The old/original cabinets have been around for some time, and it certainly can be argued that they were never built to last as many years as they have, knowing that my unit hasn’t been used and abused, and that it is something I have accomplished are big advantages to me, knowing that my children will get lots of fun and enjoyment out of something I created really strikes a chord with me.
Do you already have a library of games for your MVS unit ? What games do you have that are ready to be played?
I’ve have to hold my hands and and admit that I have somewhat shortcut by installing a Terraonion Neo SD Pro for the MVS. As we all know the Neo Geo library can be quite costly to collect for. I wanted to be able to use the unit upon completing so thought this was the most cost effective way to get started. I do intend on buying up my favourite games over time to build a collection.
At present, as a family we have found great fun in playing ‘winner stays on’ with Twinkle Star Sprites. I love this game, and so do my children, it’s simple, easy to pick up and play and makes for some good competitive fun. Puzzle Bobble – Bust A Move and Metal Slug (obviously) have all made an appearance. I’m hoping to use the Neo SD Pro to explore some of the more obscure titles that I hadn’t played or previously heard of. I’m keen to get more time in on non-fighters too, such as Shock Troopers, Pulstar, Blazing Star, Nightmare in the Dark, Windjammers. The Neo Geo has a more diverse game catalogue than perhaps many people really give it credit for.
Would you ever consider selling these amazing units to the public?
It’s not something I had considered beforehand, I am flattered that you ask the question.
In principal I am not against the idea, but logistics and costs would have to be seriously considered, there are elements I would perhaps fine tune before I felt comfortable.
What other gaming project ideas do you have?
I have a few ideas spinning around in my head. Part of my MVS build was to allow it to become a bit of a retrogaming hub in my home. I wanted to facilitate connectivity for my other gaming consoles, including Mega Drive, NES, Capcom CPS 1 & 2. I am keen to make use of the cabinet and its CRT to cater for all of these elements within my collection, but wish to do it discreetly and considerately.
I would also like to build a dedicated light gun cabinet, it would most likely have to be bespoke in design, but would love to have it running a catalogue of light gun games from Time Crisis, Virtua Cop, House of the Dead etc…
What does SNK and the NEO-GEO brand mean to you today?
SNK and Neo Geo will always hold a certain nostalgia for me, I’ve not followed any of their more recent forays in gaming, that said I am intrigued what direction the company may move in over the next couple of years, especially the 2021 unveiling of a new piece of hardware.
I am also a big Sega fan, always have been, as the gaming landscape has changed I feel SNK and Sega have both become shadows of their former selves, and fans, like myself are always hopeful they will one day make an empowered return to form.
If you could share a few drinks with a video game character, who would you choose and why?
Reiko Nagase, I feel she could probably do with a break from the fume filled start line of the Ridge Racer series, and would welcome putting down the ‘Start’ board to have a swift half.
Adrian & Anthony