The SNK Neo Geo is somewhat of a holy grail among retrogaming enthusiasts. Launched in 1990 as both an arcade board and home console with nearly identical hardware, its capabilities put its Sega and Nintendo contemporaries to shame. The AES home console in particular is highly valued by collectors, with consoles running the better part of a thousand dollars and some games breaking the $10000 mark on the used market. Fortunately, despite increasing in value somewhat in recent years, the MVS arcade boards and cartridges are still reasonably affordable.
This is one of those projects that I kind of had in the back of my mind for a long time. It took me the better part of a decade to go from having the idea to actually building it: I first had the notion back in high school, in the late 2000s or early 2010s, and didn’t actually build it until 2020.
Why the name? In an era of extremely professional hobbyist projects built with manufactured PCBs and 3D printing and CNC machining, this one is built oldschool with comparatively primitive techniques. Mostly this was due to lack of access but I chose to make it a point of pride rather than a point of derision.
I did all the wiring and most of the conceptual work, but my father was responsible for most of the woodwork and detail case design. As an aside, it turns out I am quite allergic to wood.
I went with a somewhat unusual design. It’s a “tower” style with a Neo Geo MV1B board on one side and all the ports and wiring on the other, and a T-shaped plywood “midframe” in between. In retrospect it would have been easier to use a top-loading MV1C and would have made a smaller console, too. I really do like the distinctive look of this, though.
One of the design goals was to build something small and well-integrated, because I wanted to take this to parties and events and such. Of course none of that would be happening in 2020. The end product is rather large and heavy, although so are the cartridges.
Overall, though, I’m happy with how this turned out. The end product is unique and looks good, as well as having an undeniable presence to it. The modular construction of both the electronics and chassis made maintenance and changes easy. It was a frustrating experience at times, but it was also a lot of fun. I haven’t done a lot of hardware hackery in recent years and it was a refreshing change of pace.
There are, of course, flaws and deficiencies. There are some issues with video noise, the cooling fan is kind of loud, the controller ports aren’t deep enough and it needs some decals. More importantly, the controllers I have are kind of lame. I converted them from knockoff SNES controllers and they just don’t have the unique appeal the console itself has.
I do plan to address some of the issues in the future, but for now, I’m just going to enjoy playing Puzzle Bobble and Metal Slug!