RB Retro Collecting Interview 007
I first stumbled on Daniel Gewargis on Twitter when he was showing off a multiplayer arcade setup of Sega’s Alien Front on a single display. I quickly noticed his Twitter feed is a treasure trove of ambitious arcade-at-home setups that he seems, from a distance, to put together with ease. Just a little while ago, we had another arcade-at-home collector interview with RetroEscape, so I felt like this topic would be a perfect follow-up.
Many of us Sega Dreamcast fans are well aware of Sega’s NAOMI arcade platform, which is essentially a more powerful version of the Dreamcast hardware. As you might expect, there are many games that overlap the library of the Dreamcast, but there are also some exclusives and some games that have different features and such. Also, there is the NAOMI 2 system that runs the arcade version of Virtua Fighter 4, Beach Spikers, Initial D, and a handful of other games while also supporting games from the original NAOMI system without any modifications.
Daniel has fine-tuned a compilation of standard Sega NAOMI hardware pieces along with some off-the-shelf parts and some software solutions, mounted on to a cryptocurrency mining frame to create what he calls the NAOMI Ark. Not only does the NAOMI Ark give him a rather organized “consolized” setup, but it’s also rather portable and is designed to let you swap in different types of controllers. This helps Daniel take the NAOMI Ark to his friends’ homes to share the arcade power and multiplayer fun. His Ark setup also is designed with HDMI Multi-Viewers in mind to do multiple player “screens” on a single large flat screen display.
If you’d like to try replicate the setup, he shares the parts list and build-out setup on this page.
As if the NAOMI Ark isn’t impressive enough, Daniel has created a handful of other arcade-at-home creations such as his 4X NAOMI “Swarm”, lots of custom controllers, and other things that just have to be seen to be believed. We will dig into some of them, but you might just need to browse his Twitter feed just to get the full effect.
- Name: Daniel
- Age: 41
- Collecting Timeframe: Originally a PC/Console gamer but started expanding into arcade equipment in the Spring of 2018.
How long have you been “consoling” arcade setups?
The latest round of arcade projects started in December of 2018. It was an evolution of tinkering for years with PC gaming rigs, emulation cabinets, even a flying/driving simulator until I started wading into arcade hardware and wanting to learn more about it.
It started with a Single NAOMI console setup. I later built the NAOMI Ark to support local multiplayer “Vs” games.
Do you remember what sparked this idea for you to go down this rabbit hole?
Being a big Midway and Sega fan from the 90’s and early 2000’s my first focus was putting together my favorites games I grew up playing.
I started with Mortal Kombat II and a NFL Blitz 99 cabinet that almost killed my friend and me moving them into the basement. From there, I would keep an eye out for cabinets for other games I liked or spares for the games that I had.
I learned more about the different architecture of each manufacturer and generation of hardware they used as well as industry standards or things that were unique to a manufacturer. You also learn who still makes new or quality reproductions of parts or where to look for NOS (New Old Stock) for certain items.
Eventually, with a greater understanding of how everything goes together and wanting to bring the experience with me when I visited friends and family I tried to build my first “portable” NAOMI Universal.
When you were new to configuring these arcade setups at home, what were the biggest challenges you ran into? Or things that worried you in advance, that weren’t so bad?
When I picked up my first two cabinets, my biggest worry is what I would do if something broke. Having never actually looked inside an arcade cabinet before they can be intimidating based on their size & amount of wiring.
Demystifying what is actually in a cabinet, and seeing for the most part how little there is goes a long way to make the idea of servicing them more manageable.
Another thing you pick up is the understanding that parts for popular games are more common as well as reproduction parts to help with builds/repairs. You may need to get creative on less common games especially if they have unique controls.
The biggest part that makes this hobby accessible, even in 2020, is the community. Through all the various forums, groups, etc there is an incredible amount of information available to get you started, troubleshoot an issue or ask a new question.
A couple decades after its initial release, what impresses you the most / or are you most grateful for about the NAOMI arcade hardware?
The NAOMI and, by extension, the Sega Dreamcast are an incredible arcade/home platform. Not only in the game library with many receiving faithful home ports but in the architecture itself. The NAOMI hardware looks like a beefed up Dreamcast (from a performance standpoint it is). Locally linked multiplayer via an optical network.
Games are interchangeable via a cartridge and later with an external GD-Rom or could even be transferred over an IP network. VGA video output is supported as well as a number of I/O cards that could be connected depending on the games and type of controls needed (flying/shooting/driving,etc). Even the control panel was a standard size in the universal cabinets to make them easy to swap out.
This all means that, with a handful of components, you can create a system that supports a vast game library. Another neat crossover item with the Dreamcast are the handful of games that support the VMU for transferring data between the arcade & home version of the game.
What segments of your collection and/or hardware are you most proud of?
Tough question…probably the bespoke controls I made for my 4 player Sega Outrigger setup. I modified four Sega Saturn Twinstick controllers, added trackballs and created a smaller version of the original Outrigger control panel overlay graphic.
They came out great and provide the same control scheme in the original game. This is an example of a game that was not as popular so I had to be creative.
So along with the custom controls panels I built the Sega NAOMI Swarm (Looks like a server rack with 4 NAOMI’s) which allows for 4 players to play at the same time. I built the enclosure out of wood with each of the NAOMI’s mounted to drawer rails so I can pull them out to service them like an IT server rack.
The Swarm has 4 Outrigger Cartridges and the IO boards connecting to the bespoke Outrigger controls. This Swarm was built specifically for Outrigger, while the Ark was designed to be more flexible so that it can play multiple game types by plugging in different control panels types depending on the game.
You in addition to the photo below, you can see a video of the Outrigger setup in action
What are the two or three pieces of hardware that you’ve been spending the most time with the last couple of years?
Creating more control panels (like Sega Monkey Ball and Virtual On) for use in the Ark.
I have also started using an application called OpenJVS so that I could connect USB steering wheels and pedals to the NAOMI to play additional games like Initial D3 & Alien Front. Without the hard-to-find original steering wheel, eq OpenJVS lets me map the original game controls to USB controller actions like turning or button presses. That means the same arcade setup can play even more games.
So which controllers do you have real/custom controller setups for and which ones do you opt to “emulate” And/or are there ones that you only emulate when making a “portable” version? Any other controllers outside of the Banana for Super Monkey Ball that you 3D print?
The Sega Outrigger controller setup was a good amount of work including graphic design to convert the Saturn Twinstick into a smaller version of the Outrigger Panel.
Although I own an 18 Wheeler & Crazy Taxi cab with the Ark and 2 Xbox360 wireless steering wheels I can also play:
- 2 player Sega Alien Front
- 2 player Initial D3 Export
The Sega Control panels that I can swap for use on the Ark based on the game being played:
- qty 2 – 6 button control panels for 2-4 player games that just need a classic joystick and buttons
- qty 2 – Cyber Troopers repro panels for 2 player Vs battles
- 2 player World Series 99 Baseball
- Virtua Golf panel
- 2 player Analog joystick 3 button panel
- Monkey ball panel
The base of the joysticks itself is a converted Sega Saturn ProStick Controller that I re-wired to use for a NAOMI.
Although I used the 3D printer for small parts before Monkeyball is the first control panel where I printed major components of parts that are very difficult to find today such as the banana itself and the joystick mounting plate.
For non-Sega “portable” my NFLBlitz2k setup also includes the game NBA Showtime. I also recently picked up a Neo Geo control panel to play games with a more arcade feel.
What is your process like for developing a new stick design? What technical considerations do you typically think about?
The process is typically the availability of original parts and how unique/expensive they are. Are they shared with other games to get more out of them…if originals are hard to find has someone in the community created a reproduction. Of course how much I like the game factors in as well especially if it will need some special/custom work.
We have mostly discussed NAOMI, but I’m curious if there’s other arcade systems you have done similar things with.
I mentioned earlier my love of Midway and NFL Blitz. I built a portable NFL Blitz 2K & NBA Showtime rig with original arcade controls and fit it into what looks like a control panel box. You just need to connect the HDMI and power cable. I call it the Blitz2k2Go and it is a lot of fun — especially for 4 player gaming.
What controllers setups do you find to be most satisfying?
I am big into the experience/immersion of the game so I love games that have unique control setups. The twin sticks for Cyber Sled or Virtual On. The HOTAS (Hands-On Throtle-and-Stick) setup for Sega Strike Fighter. The rifle/scope in Silent Scope..and many more. These control schemes made these games. Even with Blitz and NBA Showtime the 49-way stick instead of the traditional 8-way stick improves the overall experience of the game.
Which controller type (outside of a traditional joystick/button setup) do you end up using the most and/or with most different games?
Probably a Flight Stick & Throttle for Space/flight Sims. But a steering wheel would be up there too. If a game was originally built around a specific controller type, then I typically try to replicate it if possible. The Banana joystick I recently 3D printed and painted for a Sega Monkey Ball project is one of the best examples. [You can see a video here and also a components and work-in-progress photos]
What are the power requirements for your setups?. I’ve heard more modern Sega Boards have different requirements than most arcade boards. What power supply/supplies do you use and what if any customization have you done to fulfill those requirements.
Different arcade boards have different power needs but once you start getting into the late 90s and 2000’s the power supplies start getting closer to what you would have in your home PC which isn’t surprising as the hardware itself started adding components that you would typically use in a PC (for example HDD or optical drives).
In the NAOMI Ark setup I actually use 2 ATX power supplies that would normally be deployed in a PC but with an adapter that allows me to plug them into the Sega NAOMI hardware. Generally, you need to understand the power requirements of the arcade hardware and what the power supply is providing as some hardware can be more sensitive or less able to tolerate variances. Most modern arcade games are essentially PCs at this point
If you were to give advice to somebody that was considering this, what words of warning would you have and tips to consider?
First thing is understanding what you are looking to achieve. If it is a non-traditional control layout, are you looking to reproduce that? Is it single player or multiplayer meaning you may need multiple setups? Is emulation an option or are you looking for original hardware?
Understanding how popular/common the game you are going after or the platform it was based on is important to the cost or feasibility of finding what components you’ll need.
What types of games/items are you an absolute sucker for?
I generally love any type of multiplayer games with the more local players the better. 4-Player Sega Rally…8-Player Daytona…over the top arcade sports games are also a blast like NBA Jam/NFL Blitz.
Any particular items from your childhood that are still a crucial part of your collection?
The original Mortal Kombat arcade game blew my mind the first time I walked into the bowling alley arcade and saw it. I had my dad drive me to the same bowling alley the next week to pump my allowance into it yet again and I still love playing it today.
What types of items are the biggest collecting challenges for you?
One of the last (if not the last) arcade games made by Midway was Midway’s The Grid. It is an arena shooter with a trackball/analog stick for controls and a keypad to store your player information into and unlock hidden characters to play as (like Scorpion). It also supports 6 cabinets linked together for local multiplayer mayhem. I have one of the cabs and am actively looking for more.
One day I would love to have six of them, even though I have no clue where I could fit them. Thankfully, I live close to Galloping Ghost Arcade where there are six units on-location. The game is a blast, especially with multiple people playing. As it arrived towards the end of the arcade era and since it never received a home port it is a hunt for cabs or parts. It is somewhat playable in MAME bit with no multiplayer and obviously not the original controls.
With the Xbox, PS2 & XBox 360 they support LAN gaming similar to how PC’s can play each other over an IP network today. I created the “Link cart” to have 4 of each box (Xbox, PS2, Xbox360) to support 4 player Co-op gaming for the games they support and allow each player to play on their own screen. I have 4 universal steering wheels that work on Xbox & PS2 to support 4 player racing as well. HDMI Multiviewers are used to show multiple “screens” on a single display.
The “Dessert Cart” is a cart on wheels with many of my game systems on it that I typically keep out of sight. The beauty is in their design! Each cart has only a single power/HDMI/Ethernet cable coming out of it so that they can be easily disconnected and rolled away when not in use. The name came to be from rolling the cart into view during a game night (typically after we eat) so we can decide what game system & games we wanted to play.
— Daniel Gewargis (@Gewal) April 12, 2020
Which ones have been the biggest hits with you gaming participants?
- Xbox 360: Virtual On, Perfect Dark Zero, Gears of War 2, Aliens:Colonial Marines * Red Faction Guerilla
- Xbox: Steel Battalion, Halo 2, Project Gotham 2, Crimson Skies, Star Wars Republic Commando, Outrun 2 Coast 2 Coast
- PS2: Gran Turismo 4, Star Wars Battlefront 2, Twisted Metal Black, SOCOM II: US Navy SEALS
It seems like I’ve seen a lot of Virtual On in your setups, but on different platforms. I’ve enjoyed the Virtual On series, but I’m far from an expert on the series. Do you have a favorite and when do you decide to treat your friends to a different installment, and why?
In general the least liked of the series is Virtual On Force on the XBOX 360 since they changed some game mechanics/timing to make it playable with 4 players in a 2 vs 2 mode. Although that does change some core mechanics the ability for 4 players to play in a match is a fun experience.
I’ve seen your MAME/Virtual Table and it’s incredibly impressive. I’m sure we could have a more in-depth conversation about it in the future, but do you want to give a brief run-down of it to include this time around?
I was running out of room in my basement so I needed to get creative on how to play additional games I enjoy as well as some of my favorite pinball tables (Like Star Trek: TNG). I also have an upcoming project where I use that same setup for lightgun based games (Time Crisis, Lethal Enforcer, etc). The orientation and size of the system is meant to balance all those needs out & save space.
I just saw your Episode I Pod Racer post and I have to ask…
How long does it take you to come up with a new setup/configuration like this? From a distance, it seems like you put these together effortlessly 🙂
Are there certain things that become easier for you as you’ve done more projects?
Also, what type of iteration process do you go through for refining a setup for a particular game?
With everything else I already have, Episode 1 Racer took about 2 hours to set up. Half that time was testing out the controller scheme with the analog sticks on an Xbox One controller. Once I had something I liked I created a similar profile but with the 2 throttles. I have a generic controller profile for the motion platform based on simple controller movements so I re-used that.
Playing Star Wars Ep 1 Racer & trying to race with 2 USB throttles instead of a controller. Still tweaking since the game doesn't support this out of the box.
Only $10 on GOG/Steam and the GOG ver supports LAN multiplayer.
— Daniel Gewargis (@Gewal) September 22, 2020
Usually, the most time is spent on support for the dual screen/wide resolution and mapping the controls out. This version of the game had a video settings tool to set the resolution which worked without additional tweaking and other than the pod movement the buttons are pretty simple to map out.
I am upgrading my PC in the simulator to get it ready for the next generation of games including Star Wars Squadrons. We can do a follow-up, if you would like to cover that too.
Sounds great, lets plan on that!
Control mapping complete…motion chair also setup. The bass kicker rattles teeth especially when you enter the Star Destroyer's engine wash!
Time to try some dog fighting… pic.twitter.com/Te9k72a0Wf
— Daniel Gewargis (@Gewal) September 8, 2020
Thank you so much to Daniel for taking the time to talk with me and share his creations. I hope you find this conversation and his projects inspiring. I’m hoping it helps you think creatively about your collection and possibly innovate how you experience games. Don’t forget to look over the NAOMI Ark Parts List and details for more build info.