Bavi_H's Blog

Arcade machine at work

by Bavi_H, 10/08/2006

My work recently put a Dream Arcades cocktail table in the break room. It's basically a Windows computer inside a cocktail table with arcade controls on it. When loaded with game programs and setup to use the controls properly, it's basically a coinless arcade machine with multiple games to choose from. I was really excited when I first saw it, but it's turned out to less fun than I had expected.

The machine only has a handful of games on it. The games are actually stored in a few "retro collection" programs from various arcade and console manufacturers, so they're all legal. But the selection is small and none of the games seemed interesting to me.

A list on the Dream Arcades website shows the games that should be on the machine, but it seems whoever set up this machine might not have installed all the right programs. At one point, I remember one of the menus had several games grayed out with a note saying they weren't installed.

Another drawback is the only controls available are the arcade controls. There is no access to a keyboard or mouse or even a power switch. The actual computer is locked inside the cabinet with only the power cord coming out the bottom. It is easy to get the computer stuck on the Windows desktop or an error message with no obvious way to get out. (Unless you know about the advanced controls I discovered below.)

So most of the time, the machine is either

Sometimes, though, the machine is on one of the game menus and ready to use. So far, the most fun I have had with it is playing 5 minutes of Asteroids. I was able to put my initials in the high score table, and then I quit and reloaded the game to check if my initials were remembered. They were.

Two players and four players

On the Dream Arcades website, you'll see they have two versions of their two-player cocktail table: one has both players' controls on the front control panel (for "wide-screen" games), the other has the players' controls on separate sides of the table (for "tall-screen" games that flip between players). The four player table combines the controls from both the two-player tables.

I read an online review that the side-by-side controls are too close together to be comfortable for two players to use. But I have only used the machine solo so far. From what I remember, most of the included games were one-player or two-players-take-turns games, so there might not be much need to have two players at the controls together.

Although the four player table has enough controls for a four player game, I doubt it would work well. The two players on either end of the table have their joysticks' up position pointing into the sides of the screen. If four people are playing Gauntlet, say, and a player on one of the sides of the table pushes their joystick in its up position, does the character move up on the screen, or in the same direction as the joystick points into the screen? And I imagine the view of the game world and game text is a little impaired by viewing it from the side of the screen.

The four player table is probably best considered a combination of both their two player tables, allowing play of two-player wide-screen and tall-screen flip games on the same machine. In fact, the Dream Arcades website only refers to it as a "four player" table on one page, everywhere else it's called a "three-sided" table. Maybe they're de-emphasizing its suitability for four player games.


The machine at work is a four-player model. The controls for players 1 and 2 are on a control panel on the front. Players 3 and 4 have control panels on the left and right sides of the machine respectively.

Each player has a joystick, a start button (a white button labeled with 1 to 4 people icons), 6 action buttons (black buttons with no labels), and an "insert coin" button (a black button on the side of the control panel). There is also a red and a blue button in the middle of the front control panel, and a red and a blue button on the left control panel.

I was familiar with MAME and had read about arcade-style controls for computers before. So I already knew that the controls were basically sending keyboard presses to the computer. And I knew about the "insert coin" buttons. But I didn't know what the red and blue buttons were for and none of the buttons were labeled.

The first few times I tried to use the machine it was either off or not in the proper game menu. So I investigated the buttons online. The Dream Arcades website doesn't have any documentation available, only an e-mail address for technical support. But I did find some clues. Dream Arcades' order pages mention that the red and blue buttons are equivalent to Esc and Enter.

Eventually, I was able to play with the machine in its normal menu and game mode. Based on the Esc and Enter clue, the red and blue buttons were easy enough to figure out. When on a menu screen, you use the Player 1 joystick and the blue button to select and load a game. When inside a game, you use the red button to quit back to the menu.

I wonder how many people at work have figured out the controls. Things like pushing a button to "insert a coin" (especially when the button is easily overlooked on the side of the control panel) or pushing the joystick left then right to "type OK to continue" are not obvious. I suspect people randomly pushing buttons to figure out the controls may be one of the reasons the computer is often in a strange screen.

Advanced controls

The Dream Arcades website also mentioned that their arcade machines use the Ultimarc Mini-PAC, a small circuit board that the buttons and joysticks are wired to, and which has a keyboard port to send out the appropriate key presses.

The Ultimarc website has lots of hard-to-reach pages that don't seem to be linked very well. You can only find the actual Mini-PAC page from a link on one of the order pages. In any case, the Mini-PAC seems to only handle enough controls for two players. Since the cocktail table at work has controls for four players, I suspect it really uses the I-PAC4, one of Ultimarc's similar control boards. [Update: It probably uses two Mini-PAC boards, see Updates below.]

From the various pages describing the I-PAC4 and similar boards, I discovered they have a built in "shift key" feature: one of the buttons can be used as a modifier button to access a set of second functions on the rest of the controls. It is even set up so if you use the shift key by itself, it can function normally as an action button. (If you hold the shift key and press another button, it activates the appropriate second function. However, if you use the shift key by itself, once the shift key is released, the board knows you didn't want the shift function so it quickly sends the normal action key.)

The list of key assignments shown on the Ultimarc website didn't seem to match what was setup on the machine at work. (I don't know if Dream Arcades programs a different assignment set by default, or if whoever purchased and setup the machine reassigned them.) However, the default shift key was the same -- the Player 1 Start button -- and I was able to experiment and find some useful controls.

Much to my delight, I discovered controls to move and click the mouse pointer. (I noticed a little mouse icon in the system tray and realized the machine is setup with the MouseKeys accessibility feature of Windows that lets you control the mouse pointer with the keyboard.) Other shift key combinations did strange things like open the Find Files box or Windows Explorer. I listed the most useful combinations in the summary below.

Summary of controls

Basic controls

(When in a menu of games or a full-screen game)

To do thisuse this control
Choose a game in the menuPlayer 1 joystick
Load the selected game from the menublue button
Insert coin during a gameblack buttons on sides of control panels
Start a game from the game title screenwhite buttons with 1 to 4 people icons
Quit a game back to the menured button

If asked to "type OK to continue", push the Player 1 joystick left then right.

Advanced controls

(When in other programs or windows)

Note: these controls work on the machine at my work, but I don't know if they're the defaults for these machines or if someone reprogrammed this machine.

To do thisuse this control
Move the mouse pointerPlayer 1 Start + joystick
Click the mousePlayer 1 Start + lower left action button

To generate this keypressuse this control
Arrow keysPlayer 1 joystick
TabPlayer 1 Start + lower middle action button
Esc or Cancelred button
Enterblue button

Further exploration

Now that I know how to use the mouse, I'm able to explore the desktop icons and Start Menu. I can start the game menus myself when the machine is left on the desktop, or close any random windows if someone had been unsuccessfully experimenting with the controls. It's still possible for the machine to get stuck on an error screen, but being able to use the mouse provides a lot more control than I had originally.

However, I still haven't found any interesting games on it yet. I'm only able to play with the machine during my breaks. It's still turned off a lot of the time and sometimes someone else is using it.

Maybe I'll find a game on it I like. What I'd really enjoy is a game of Bubble Bobble, but I don't know if it is legally available, and I doubt my work would be willing to install illegal MAME ROMs. [Or maybe they are, see Updates below.]


Dream Arcades
Manufacturer of upright and cocktail arcade cabinets for computers.

Three-sided Arcade (Pre-built)
Dream Arcades' four player cocktail table. This page also shows the list of included games.

Three-sided Arcade (Kit)
The build-it-yourself kit version of the four player table.

Manufacturer of control boards that wire to arcade controls and provide a keyboard port to send key commands to a computer.

This control board comes with a wiring harness.

These control boards have screw terminals for manual wiring.

I-PAC key assignments
The default key codes sent by the various input connections on the I-PAC boards.


Because the Ultimarc Mini-PAC only has enough controls for two players, I originally suspected Dream Arcades' four-player table used the Ultimarc I-PAC4 instead. However, after further playing around with the controls on the four-player table at work, I discovered both the Player 1 Start and the Player 3 Start buttons act as shift keys. So, the machine probably uses two Mini-PAC boards connected in serial.

As previously mentioned, the machine includes various "retro collection" software from arcade and console manufacturers, so its games are legal. The machine also includes MAME, but it only comes with a few ROMs whose copyright holders have granted permission for them to be distributed. I doubted my work would be willing to install illegal ROMs on their break-room machine. However, someone has recently installed the four-player arcade game The Simpsons in the MAME menu. We'll see if the library of games continues to grow.