Monday, October 30, 2006

Pacman Arcade Costume

After being invited to an 80's themed Halloween Party, I spent weeks (OK, minutes) trying to come up with a cool idea for a costume. Sure, I could go as He-man or Punky Brewster, but I wanted to make it something that had to be built, incorporated some technology and might be a bit of a challenge. What the heck was going to scratch my geek-itch?

Since I've been toying with the idea of making a MAME arcade cabinet, why not make one I could wear? Provided I could shoehorn my laptop into a mini arcade cabinet and still have room for my growing belly, I figured it would be pretty straight forward. And if I'm going to have to pick an arcade game from the 1980's, why not pick the one that really started the arcade craze? I'm referring to Pacman, of course (not that hack-job of a game, Mrs. Pacman). While the original and basically identical Japanese version (Puck-man) came out in 1979, the American version lists 1980 on it's attract screen. That was good enough for me.

While the project took me much longer to complete than expected, it really was a pretty straight forward build. For those interested, what follows is a quick "how to" guide. Of course, you can also just skip to the bottom to see some pictures.


3/4" x 1-1/2" Ferring Strips
1" and 1-1/2" Long Drywall Screws
1/8" Thick Plywood
Plastic Bathroom Corner Trim (slides on to the end of paneling)
1/2" Long Finishing Nails
Spray Paint

Step 1: Frame

I started off by measuring and cutting the side plywood panels. I did this so that I could use them as a template during the construction of the frame. I'm not going to bore you with the dimensions. Just make it to whatever size you feel looks good.

I next made the 2 square parts that would make the top and the bottom of the frame. The entire frame was assembled with the drywall screws (make sure to pre-drill the holes or else the wood will split). This thing was going to be nice and strong.

Using the plywood templates, I measured and cut the 4 main vertical frame supports. The 2 front supports were angled to line up with the angle of the soon-to-be screen. A few more drywall screws later and the frame was beginning to take shape.

After framing up most of the control panel area, it was time to figure out how the laptop would actually be secured to the frame. If I planned to run around a packed bar and drink beers all night, that thing needed to stay in place. I first made a little ledge for the laptop to sit on and then added a horizontal piece just above that and behind the laptop. This allowed me to lock the laptop into place by sliding the laptop down into the newly made slot. You can see in the picture that by this point, I'm already running the necessary software to play Pacman. A simple google of "MAME" will point you in the right direction.

With that done, it was time to finish the frame. That included making the marquee and finishing the pocket that the "Gravis Gamepad Pro" joystick would sit in. I decided to make the joystick removable, so people didn't need to be an inch away from me to play. The directional pad on the Gravis gamepad included a removable joystick ball but I replaced that with a larger wooden ball that I found at a craft store.

Step 2: Paneling and Trim

It was time to assemble the plywood panels and trim to the frame. The trim slid onto the edges of the paneling, which made the whole process pretty forgiving (I could hide my uneven cuts). I just had to make sure all the corners came together when I was done. I used the small finishing nails to secure the paneling and trim directly to the frame. In this picture, most of the panels and trim have already been installed.

Here's a close up of the pocket I made for the joystick. It was small enough so that the joystick could be wedged in pretty securely, yet allow for it to still be removed. It worked well enough but I would have used some kind of latch to lock the joystick in place had I had enough time to make one.

Step 3: Painting and Finishing Touches

The home stretch. It was time to paint the whole thing. I gave it a quick sand down and then put a nice layer of primer down. Next up was two and a half cans of sunshine yellow enamel paint. I learned the hard way why people generally wear masks when spray painting larger objects. Let's just say that I was blowing out yellow for a couple of days afterward. Three coats did the trick. It was time to install the plexiglas for the screen and marquee. I used a utility knife to cut the plexiglas and screws with washers to hold the pieces in place. The picture shows the marquee and screen installed, along with the screen's bezel. You can also see the yellow bungee chords I used for shoulder straps.

Only a few steps left. I found some Pacman cabinet art online and printed them off on a nice color laser printer. I also printed out a picture of a generic arcade machine coin door (no time to buy a real one, unfortunately). Some clear plastic laminate was used to cover the art, while double sided tape held them in place. I added a small, battery powered light for the marquee (it cost $5 at Walmart) and this job was done.

Here I am wearing the beast. While I tried to make it light as possible, the costume still pushes 30 lbs. Part of the problem was my cheapo 500 lb laptop but what are you going to do. I added some cloth around the bungee chords for additional padding. That helped to make wearing the contraption at least bearable but the straps were pretty ugly (Exposed duct tape? Boo!). It wouldn't have taken much effort to make the straps more presentable but it was already time to show the world...

We hit the North Avenue bars (in Milwaukee), where most were already bar-hopping with their costumes. There sure were a lot of mullets this year. Here I am outside the first bar, Vitucci's. While I didn't win any prizes, people seemed to like my costume. I had to sit (stand actually, since I couldn't sit) there while person after person "played me" but I didn't mind. That was the whole point of this whole thing, after all! And yes, there were many jokes made about people playing with my stick.

For those interested, you can find more pictures at the link below:

Pacman Costume Album

All in all, it was a fun project. With the Halloween parties complete, I'll be converting the costume over to a bar-top MAME machine, so this guy still has a lot of life left in him. If anyone has any questions, just leave them in the comment section and I'll be sure to answer them.


Anonymous Sean said...

Very creative. I love it.

6:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are a god amongst men

8:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was Ms. Pacman, not Mrs. Pacman. Ms. Pacman was referenced in a Scrubs episode recently when The Todd said "I'm going to sex that bow right off your head you bad, bad girl." (to Ms. Pacman, presumably).

8:38 PM  
Anonymous Kevin said...

That's awesome. I followed a link from only to see Vitucci's in your pic, which is weird, considering I live blocks away.

I didn't make it to North that night, but I'm sure it was a good time.

12:01 AM  
Blogger rluzinski said...

It was Ms. Pacman, not Mrs. Pacman.

And here I thought Mr. Pacman had made an honest woman out of her. To be fair, I guess they don't officially get married until act one. You got me!

12:06 AM  
Anonymous Mz PiMpCeSs said...

What a good idea not only is it entertaining 4 everyone but ur self u got to carry around a portable arcade game all nite and be played with lol ur a ledgend

2:31 AM  
Anonymous Katie said...

That is amazing!

5:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ingenious lol

10:22 AM  
Blogger James said...

Great stuff! Posted in today's news!

11:01 AM  
Anonymous RetroBlast! said...

Great stuff! Posted in today's news!

11:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

have fun playing with yourself?

11:43 AM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

You should totally enter this in the engadget costume contest to win a media center pc!

12:41 PM  
Blogger Little Rae said...

You're a freak, Russ.

1:40 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

this is the best post i've ever read in a Brewers blog.

5:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did girls grab your joystick all night?

6:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now I'm wondering how long before your laptop battery died.

7:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hehehehe not bad at all my friend

however, as to the shoulder straps paddings:

why not wear a dress or jacket with SHOULDER-PADS ? huh?

the 80's... remember?

good one nonetheless :=)

3:07 PM  
Anonymous Sidder said...

World class!

5:09 AM  
Anonymous Adam said...

Hello! I'm a freelancer for GamesMaster magazine (the UK's best-selling multiformat videogame magazine, to be awfully blurby for a moment), and I've just happened upon your ingenious costume, here. Would you like to feature in a small bit in our upcoming issue? There's a section called 'We Really Love Games' on our letters pages in which we interview someone who's elaborately made or done something related to videogames, and yon mobile Pac-Man would be utterly *perfect* for it.
It'd be around five jovial questions, followed by a photo or two. My email is - let me know if you're up for it. Thanks.

11:57 AM  
Blogger Dean said...

First of this is EinhornIsFinkle from and I followed your link here.

I just need to say that is a sweet costume.

It really caught my eye because me and my wife made these Pacman costumes from scratch Halloween 2005. I even mounted speakers inside of them and downloaded arcade sounds and played them as we walked around.

2:16 PM  
Anonymous David said...

Thanks for sharing your creative ideas. Thinking of doing up a DIY squidoo lens on homemade Halloween Costume. Your blog is inspirational.

11:22 PM  
Anonymous Online Casinos said...

Cool one! Man that costume may take effort but the result's cool and I like it! Awesome,man!

1:34 PM  

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