jdodson: What interested you to getting into hacking the Raspberry Pi?
Douglas Welcome: Honestly it was the price! I have always been tinkering with electronics and was doing a little coding, but when I first started hearing wind of this $35 computer I couldn’t help but get one and... Read All Douglas Welcome and I are friends from way back in the 90’s(if you can image that far back). Our friendship shared a mutual affinity for music and various geekery so when I saw a recent post of his about his project the RetroProjecto I reached out to him to talk about it. The RetroProject is a retrofitted 16mm Craig film editor with a Raspberry Pi added in it to run retro games.
jdodson: What interested you to getting into hacking the Raspberry Pi?
Douglas Welcome: Honestly it was the price! I have always been tinkering with electronics and was doing a little coding, but when I first started hearing wind of this $35 computer I couldn’t help but get one and start dreaming how I could use it. With the HDMI capabilities, a media center for my home TV was the obvious first project. No more setting the laptop up half open next to the TV and plugging an HDMI cable into it for Netflix! The next project was setting a Raspberry Pi with an external hard driveup as a home server, which still isn’t entirely off the ground. thanks to moving a couple of times since then. Most recently was this retro arcade project.
jdodson: From start to finish about how long did it take you to convert the RetroProjecto into it’s final video game playing form?
Douglas Welcome: It probably took about 4-5 months, but that was putting in a few hours here and there, then letting it sit for a week because you have to order the next part. Then you get around to ordering ordering the next part, only to find a new challenge, which takes a few more days to figure out. Then you break the part you ordered and have to get another one...
jdodson: So you were out walking and saw the Craig Projecto-Editor lying in the street or out in a dumpster? Hard to imagine someone would throw something so awesome out.
Douglas Welcome: I know! Capitol Hill is a eclectic community. Young families, Senators, lobbyists, group houses full of interns and Hill staffers, you name it. You have these old houses blocks from Congress and the Supreme Court that as recent at 15 years ago sold for pennies. It was a pretty rough neighborhood. Now the neighborhood is in major gentrification mode and so folks with $$$ are buying these old homes up, gutting them and turning them into ultra-chic row homes. That was the story of the place I walked by. They had emptied out the basement planning to remodel it, and the previously owners were probably an older family that had been there for years. There were old corded drills and other tools piled up on the curb, a long with the Craig Projecto-Editor. A memorial to a man-cave I suppose…
jdodson: So you were out and found the Craig and picked it up, which was the right thing to do obviously but how did you get inspired to turn it into a full retro system?
Douglas Welcome: The enclosure was just dying to be some kind of computer or arcade. Originally I had plans to turn it into a synth (I am a musician as well) or some other project in the home the would require a “terminal” of some kind. But I was in grad school with little time, and retro arcades are a pretty well documented project, so it seemed like the path of least resistance. Plus everybody loves retro video games!
jdodson: Did you try editing some 16mm film on it before you converted it?
Douglas Welcome: I wish! I don’t have any old film so I wasn’t able to see how it would have worked.
jdodson: What are some of your favorite old games you like coming back to now?
Douglas Welcome: Funny how you said “coming back to!” Honestly, I was never much of a cutting-edge gamer and never have owned a real console. My parents were those kind that never let me own a Nintendo and so I would play for hours when over at the neighbors or something. I am a little younger, so the Nintendo 64 was the big console of my childhood. I remember going to Blockbuster and actually renting consoles for sleepovers and such.
You know though, it really is a small world. I realized this is the shower the other day (where I do all my important thinking), but it was you, Jon, who introduced me to emulators and roms when I was in middle school back 1997 or so. Suddenly I had all these classic NES games at my fingertips that I wasn’t allowed play and suddenly the internet was an AMAZING place. You also introduced me to Napster, but that is another story…
That said, back to your question. Obviously the classics, like Super Mario Bros., Punch-Out!, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Zelda. I also played a bunch of SNES games, and I loved NBA Jam (BOOM-SHAKA-LAKA). One of the stranger titles I find pretty hilarious is Spiritual Warfare. As a child of 80’s/90’s American Evangelicalism, it's not hard to see how something like this was made. You basically go around and throw “Fruits of the Spirit” at evil businessmen, gangsters and Hare Krishnas, converting them into little praying angels or something. The final boss is apparently Satan, which I guess is appropriate considering the context. Oh, and you have to answer annoying Bible quiz questions from a snarky, bow-tie wearing Sunday school teacher about lusting after women and murder. You know, kids stuff.
jdodson: I had that game and I honestly still have a special place in my heart for it. It’s one of the better Zelda clones i’ve played and I actually made it to hell many times to kill Satan. Honestly I don’t get how Doom got so much grief when you were essentially killing demons and zombies when I was doing it years earlier on the NES. But yeah, I don’t really believe much of that anymore either but it’s a fun game and I still have the original NES game cart. Last year at Portland Retro Gaming Expo I bought some original Spiritual Warfare and Bible Adventures stickers which was a really fun find.
Douglas Welcome: Stickers! That’s rad! Like I said, because I didn’t actually own a console as a kid, so it was less a nostalgic feeling about actually playing the game and rather more about a childhood where games like Spiritual Warfare were commercially viable because ya know, Sunday School, Jerry Falwell, etc.
jdodson: What are some of the better old game titles that play well with the RetroProjecto’s build aesthetic? For some reason Fallout seems to be coming to mind.
Douglas Welcome: Aww Man! I have yet to play Fallout on here but it is definitely on my list. Honestly, because of the resolution of the screen, anything better than 16 bit or so gets pretty rough to see, and because I am running all this on an older Raspberry Pi, it couldn’t handle the processing anyways.
Honestly anything close to arcade style seems appropriate. It's a cool thing to show to friends, so any game where you have to take turns works well for a social setting.
jdodson: Have you thought about any upcoming projects you’d like to work on now that this has turned out as well as it has?
Douglas Welcome: I really want to pick up that synth project I had originally intended. If you haven’t seen Critter and Guitari’s Organelle, definitely check it out. A really cool concept for musical instrument that blurs the line between hardware and software. At $500 though, I am thinking I can build something a lot more economically with a Raspberry Pi running PureData and still use all the patches being developed for the Organelle community. I just have to find a good enclosure…