How much does it cost to make your own mini Neo Geo bartop?


The STARFORCE PI is an all-in-one multiplatform console, which has a tiny powerhouse at its core that keeps the size modest and portable, and makes killer emulation possible of almost any arcade and console platform before 2000. However, the use of original hardware is generally seen as more appealing. From a personal investment stance, a good bartop mod takes quite a bit of money, time, insight, patience, trial and error. So I thought it would be best to explore not only the emulation possibilities, but the original hardware modding option and contrast them on ease of use, build, flexibility, quality and, most importantly, price.


When making a bartop arcade, your builds are defined by the size of your PCB, which generally contains only one game and are rather large compared to console cartridges. This was not a concern for manufacturers, as they were housed in big game cabinets, but it doesn’t allow for much miniaturization. Later arcade systems, like the Neo Geo MVS and PolyGame Master, allowed owners to change game cartridges easily, and were relatively small. This seems perfect for a bartop build, so I went for the smallest system I could find, which was the Neo Geo MV-1C top loader. I finally decided on the MV-1B side loader as it works better in the case I have for it (anyone want to buy a MV-1C?)


Around this board I will build the STARFORCE NEO, which should be small and light enough to move around the house when needed without getting a hernia. I also want a good videoscreen in there, with solid audio, and I want to be able to connect an extra Neo Geo controller to it for 2-player gaming.

After finishing the first STARFORCE PI campaign I started to make a list of things I needed for this build, and ordered them over the Xmas holidays. It took a while, but I finally collected everything last Friday, connected it up Saturday night and tested it out, and the results were promising:


Click to enlarge

Gameplay is very good, I’m using a Neo Geo gamepad to play the yellow multicart visible on the left. You can also see I’ve added an additional HDMI-out (in case you want to play on a larger screen), a sharp little 8-9″ screen with 4:3 ratio, and I even added a scanline generator for maximum authenticity. As with the STARFORCE PI: if I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do it right!

Now all I have to do is cram it into the very cool and mysterious case I have for it, and make it pretty. So stay tuned, folks, it’s about to get REAL old-school!


A New Hope


This year the STARFORCE PI Awakens!

With your help of course – our plan in the next few months will involve designing and prototyping the 3D models necessary for production, giving you a more rounded impression of the finished product. Afterwards, a pre-ordering campaign of 100 STARFORCE PI units will start! This pilot batch will also include some review and dev units, for tech journals and blogs, which allow us to showcase the system. People can try it out themselves, and generally gain a more concrete impression of the system. We’ll also be able to give early versions to our software partners, so we can start solid optimization of emulation platforms to release with the system.

There will be some practical changes made with this STARFORCE PI compared to those presented in the Kickstarter Campaign:

Injection Molding will be replaced by Laser Sintering (more appropriate for small volume, but higher per-unit cost).

Rather than offering RasPi B+ or 2, we want to switch to RasPi Zero, to offset increased per-unit case costs. Its performance ranks between the B+ and 2, so a good compromise.

It was clear most backers preferred the SANWA Joystick option, so we’ll put SANWA controls in as standard!

Some benefits of a smaller volume means we don’t have the rather large overhead and initial investment that comes from large volume production, assembly and testing. This should save us some money, but it does mean we have to switch to Laser Sintering, which generally makes the case 3-4 times more expensive than an injection mold case. Also, with the reduction of overhead and using the RasPi Zero, we should be able to switch from generic controls to SANWA controls without raising the pricepoint. This is a very preliminary estimate though; please don’t see this as a hard promise just yet. Our priorities are to keep the general function and esthetic of the console the same, as well as the price.


The STARFORCE NEO – A Neo Geo Mini Videogame System

So how much would it cost to have original arcade hardware with a portable formfactor?

As I’ve mentioned in one of my videos, Bartop mods can be bulky and expensive. During the coming months we’ll be in the 3D model development stage of the SFP production prototype, so there’s little for me to build. I thought it’d be good to compare a decent portable arcade system that emulates several consoles (STARFORCE PI) versus a decent portable arcade mod with original hardware from the Neo Geo MVS. So I’m going to build the STARFORCE NEO – A Neo Geo Mini Videogame System.

I won’t give you too many spoilers, but I can tell you it’ll be quite a bit bigger than the SFP and that it’s built around an original Neo Geo MV1C board, and it will be… Glorious.