GotNext: Given your excellent past with Atari properties, it probably wasn't too hard to secure the rights to its catalogue. Did you have any difficulty getting the other games, like the Dragon Lair series?
Curt Vendel: Licensing is a tough avenue to pursue as many titles are locked up into exclusive license contracts, and/or vendors not wanting to see their games produced by 3rd parties, so its been a very uphill battle. Fortunately several companies do not have an issue to have their PC based software installed into a system so long as the games are unaltered, for Atari, Midway and Digital Leisure titles this was not a problem and their emulation is on par with the best of the emulators, so with some custom scripting on our end, we wrap the games into our scripts to create a seamless execution of these games, circumventing all of the menu's and prompts, giving the player a transparent delivery of their favorite games to the screen.
Namco posed a HUGE problem for us, when questioned on how we would load their games, it was explained how we bypassed the Starforce protection and directly loaded games by surgically executing only certain portions of the EXE file, this did NOT bode well and we were warned not to proceed any further or face a C&D and potential legal follow ups, so sorry that a certain little yellow circled dude chomping up blue ghosts is NOT going to be present on our machines.
However we have 19 (and potentially later 20 or more) Exidy titles licensed, these games have not legally seen the light of day in quite some time and we are proud to be able to offer them to the gaming public again. We are working on several other famous and sleeper hit arcade franchises that we really want to put back into gamers hands again to play.
GotNext: Among the incredible list of games included are Centipede and Millipede, is how difficult is it to connect a trackball for those games?
Curt Vendel: Not at all, currently to keep the pricing down to its $1799 price point, our first entry level arcade doesn't include a trackball, however the AI601 interface, our own custom device has a LOT of built in expansion to it, it can accept trackballs and/or spinners connected to it, plus it has the ability for up to 10 buttons in total per player so there is a lot of expansion built in, plus because our interface is USB you can have up to two of them per CPU so that greatly expands the possibilities.
We will be offering direct swap control panel upgrades to our customers if the really want a more capable control panel. Our next line of arcades will include more buttons and trackball controller built in, plus the ability to control game consoles such as PS2, Xbox and GameCube right from the control panel, so there are some very cool things in store in the coming months.
GotNext: The design of the Awecade is very sexy (reminds me a bit of Tron), but is appears to be practical as well. How user-friendly is it for at-home repairs?
Curt Vendel: The design from the start had to break the mold, while what I will term as the "Asteroids cabinet" style is classic, its getting a little boring and seeing the half dozen or more offerings out there that all look just the same, I really wanted something fresh, new and yet classic, the styling of the Awecades cabinet is that result. At the same time I consulted with a former arcade cabinet designer with nearly 30 years under his belt, from that we designed the cabinet internally to make assembly and serviceability easy - I won't get into the assembly side, but for the end user they can access both front and back areas of the arcade. On the back is a keyed 21" access panel that gives access to the rear connections of the monitor and access to the slide out "Electronics Tray" that contains the power supply, motherboard and hard drive that run the system, this completely slides out of the unit for servicing, testing and repairs. Also accessible is the surge suppressor power strip. I wanted to help protect user's investment in their machine, so this simple item goes a long way in helping to add an additional layer of protection to their product. Also of note on the back of the cabinet is a vent/handhold, the bottom rear of the cabinet has built in 4" fixed casters to allow the customer to tip the cabinet back and roll it into position or move it to another room, again this was done with the customer in mind, not everyone owns a hand truck, so we built one in.
Moving to the front of the cabinet, the control panel has 4 Allen screws to remove and comes off, the interface is attached underneath and can easily be disconnected from the control panel and has a single USB cable to the PC board, this makes replacement quick and easy. Once the control panel is removed, you can then remove several screws from the sides of the monitor bezel and remove the top bezel holder rail, and then remove the plexi glass panel to reveal the monitor. The monitor is also attached to a removal tray which (after removing the hold down screws) can be slide out of the front of the cabinet (the monitor is 95lbs, so it is definitely recommended that two people remove it for safety)
So the customer having easy access to all area's of the machine and making its components easy to remove and exchange was of top priority in the design. Many times its not so much what a person sees on the outside of a product that is important, but how it was thought-together to make it functional and serviceable, so these were factors that were all written down, reviewed, improved and implemented.
GotNext: How long and how many people does it take to manufacture each cabinet?
Curt Vendel: Two people can fully assembly a cabinet is approx 90 minutes. Technical assembly is another 1 hour in parallel and then the units go to be tighten down, all connections go through a checklist check, its then blown down, cleaned down and then burned in for 72 hours run, finally control panel check is down, the keys are then pulled, placed into the envelope with all discs and materials and the envelope is then taped in front of the monitor and the units are ready for wrap.
I'd say each unit in total has approx 5 man hours involved.
GotNext: Can the game list be upgraded?
Curt Vendel: Yes, we have hard coded specific USB thumb drives into the OS and we will make upgrade packs available in the coming months, hopefully around the holidays the first couple of packs will be available for purchase and we don't plan to price gouge at ridiculously high prices that other's do. So these add-on packs will make nice presents to existing owners looking to add more games.
GotNext: Tell us a bit more about the ambient sounds that can be activated while playing. Are they anything like Andy Hofle's great Arcade Ambience Project?
Curt Vendel: Basically when the system starts up the players ears are filled with the sounds of dozens upon dozens of arcade games being played in the background, we positioned the speakers into the top angled portion of the cabinet so the sound comes out to reflect off of the wall and ceiling and create a nice ambiance in the game room where the Awecade system is setup, Andy Hofle I am not familiar with, but I certainly know would like to find out more, who knows, maybe he'd be interested in contributing. That has been another value asset to us; we went out to the community, got a lot of input, feedback and hired a lot of people to contribute. Just as the Atari Flashback 2 was designed to be the product that would make me go "wow, I want that" Awesome Arcades is trying to create the home arcade that is designed not for arcade hardcore crowd which is far more demanding, but for the casual home game room owner who owns perhaps a nice game room with a pool table, Coke machine, maybe an air hockey table, but has been looking for the final piece to bring it all together and our arcades are the answer.
Also for companies with a break room where they are looking for give their employees a places to unwind and have some fun, these are the perfect product offering. Hardcore arcade enthusiasts may not like our control panel layout or perhaps they want a larger game selection, the system is still a great option for them as many hardcore arcade enthusiasts lack the skill and/or tools to build their own cabinets, install all of the necessary electronics and such, so they could always purchase one of Awecades, add more buttons/controls to the control panel and remove our HD and put in their own and then have the freedom and flexibility to make their Awesome Arcade even more Awesome :-)
We've decided to develop a Cocktail table product and we have a line of desktop PC/Mac/Linux control panels coming out shortly for PC gamers who are looking for more realistic gameplay on their computers. So there is a lot more in store in the coming months from us.
Many thanks to Mr. Vandel for taking the time to chat with us. For more information on Awesome Arcades and its products, be sure to check out its website.