Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Justin Whitlock's Custom Arcade Cabinet Models



Ah, the video arcade.  It was the go to place for many a youngster (and adult) in the 70’s and 80’s.  A local hot spot with the thrill and excitement that would rival any nightclub you’ll find today.  It was where people of all ethnicities could go and bond over a common goal – playing video games.  The air was alive with the thrill and excitement over the next best game, and anticipation as gamers crowded around one another watching in anticipation as that one “legendary” player in your town got to a “kill” screen.

Today the arcade is a long lost memory that many older gamers wish they could revisit, and unfortunately an urban legend for many new generations of gamers.  The video arcade just doesn’t live and thrive in the same capacity that it did in the past.

Gaming has advanced well beyond oversized cabinets, and long since become a permanent staple in the majority of homes across the United States.  Gamers have created their own arcade experiences online with people across the globe using headsets, or keyboards.

But even with all these technical advancements that have pushed gaming to (what seems like) the limit, there are still many people out there who yearn to relive those fond days in a cramped, loud, and dark arcade.  The games in all their eight, sixteen and thirty-two bit glory, with mono channel sound pumping through a mini speaker on the front of the cabinet on full display, ready to accept your shiny quarter.  People like Justin Whitlock.

Justin is a gamer with many fond memories of the true arcade scene.  A gamer who loves his arcade cabinets so much that he found a way to not only incorporate it into his own personal hobby, but a small self-run business.

He has no toy company.  No employees to bring him concept designs.  No factory pumping out a conveyor belt of finished product, or stock to trade on the market.  No, Justin is a one man show, producing a product you won’t find in any stores.

Picture in your head your favorite video game arcade cabinet.  Now shrink it down to about four inches, and incorporate it into your favorite action figure line.  No, the games themselves don’t work, but the detail alone on each miniature arcade cabinet will leave you wishing they did.

Every nook and cranny of detail from the cabinet art to a screen shot are incorporated into each hand made piece.  The only thing that appears to be missing is a cord to plug it in.

What started out as a simple hobby for his own toy collection soon exploded into a side business that to this day keeps Justin busy day in and day out as he fulfills orders for his unique, hand-made pieces.

Justin took some time out of his incredibly busy schedule to tell us a little bit about how he came up with the idea for his mini arcade cabinets, and how he turned it into a very well off financial endeavor.

THE TOY BOX: Justin, thank you for taking the time to chat with us. We really love your miniature arcade cabinets, and can’t wait to add some to our own personal collections.

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: Thanks!

THE TOY BOX: Tell us how you came up with the idea, and took it from concept to visual.

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: Well, an acquaintance of mine had built something similar for his 12” G.I. Joes, a Galaga arcade. I liked it so much I thought “I need one of those for my Joes” so I did a little poking around my local hobby shop, found the materials I needed and built three pretty bad looking Galaga cabs (laughing). I posted some pics on hisstank.com and people started emailing me wanting to know If I could build them one too… then they began asking for other types, what I could build, etc. so after LONG hours of searching I started finding the images I needed to make other cabs. After about 6 months of building I was becoming more critical of how they looked, and guilty that I was taking money for less than perfect product.  I could do better, and I did.

I upgraded the labels I used, at first they were a regular label paper, but the ink would rub off after too much handling, un-acceptable. I discovered a material for doing the t-molding (my Pac-man originally didn’t have t-molding).  There are cabs out there that I really want to build, (The Last Star Fighter for example).  I have all the designs but no practical way of building them due to their complex parts or design.

THE TOY BOX: How long have you been designing and building these?

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: I started this in August of 2009.


THE TOY BOX: Did you initially start out with the idea to build and sell these, or was selling them more of an afterthought when people started taking notice of how great they are?

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: Selling never occurred to me. I built the Galaga cab to be a set piece in my on-line comic “Adventures from The Roll top” or “AFRT”, but as soon as I blogged about what I could make, a few weeks later I awoke to find forty-five emails asking if they could buy them.

THE TOY BOX: You probably don’t want to give away any of your “trade secrets”, but can you tell us a little bit about the materials used and the construction procedure for each arcade machine?

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: A few I suppose, most of the building is done with Basswood, it’s the same material that hobbyists use to made their radio controlled planes, sturdy yet easy to work with and very light. Some parts I carve from balsawood which is not sturdy at all, but it makes specialty parts easy to design then that part is covered with thin layers of basswood to make it stronger.

THE TOY BOX: Can you tell us about some of the materials you use for the detailed bits and pieces, such as the buttons and joysticks?

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: The joy sticks (I’m sure many have guessed) are pins used by seamstresses they are perfect. The rest is a mixture of polystyrene and elbow grease.

THE TOY BOX: Is every piece of a cabinet hand cut and hand assembled?

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: Absolutely, these are all hand crafted by me and me alone. I was approached once about injection molding but turned it down. The appeal for these (I feel) is their uniqueness.  When I say hand crafted I mean it, the boards are hand sanded, every side piece is hand drawn out from a stencil I made.  All the inner parts are individually measured then cut with a hobby knife, assembled, sanded again, painted, sanded again, painted again, stickers applied, details attached, and then shipped. It’s a long process which you are about to find out I believe (laughs).

(We sure are!)

THE TOY BOX: The artwork on the cabinets is amazing. Can you tell us a little bit about how each piece is obtained, and what materials are used?

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: That (at first) was the hardest part.  For a while I was just searching the web from place to place trying to find what I was looking for. Then stuff started coming to me.  I have a few friends now that send me artwork whenever they can and I of course trade with them whatever model they are sending images for.

THE TOY BOX: How long does it take to build a cabinet from concept to completion?

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: It takes about two to three hours to completely build one cab.  The wait time comes from painting. You can’t just paint the wood.  You have to paint it, sand it, paint, sand, paint, to get the finish to look right. One time I did the process for a week straight - Seven days of sanding then painting, by the time I stopped the wood looked like plastic it was so smooth.

THE TOY BOX: When complete, how tall is the average cabinet?

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: Anywhere from four to five inches tall depending on the type.  They were originally designed to fit normal sized action figures like Star Wars or G.I. Joe.
THE TOY BOX: How do you determine which cabinets to make?

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: At first it was a matter of what I had available to me.  Waves four, five, and six are perfect examples of me not finding what I want, and making what I can. By wave seven the door had opened up wide, and now I still have plenty of cabs I can build.  I have to put a hold on ones that I want to make because I only release in sets of five.

THE TOY BOX: How often do you release a new set?

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: When I can, or if my regulars press me for new cabs.  That happens often enough.

THE TOY BOX: How many mini cabinets have you created in total?

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: That’s a number I dare not calculate. No idea really.  About a thousand by now, I think.

THE TOY BOX: Later “waves” also have pinball machines. How did it come about that those were incorporated into the “series”?

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: Well, again it was what became available to me plus demand.  I was always asked for pinball cabs but I could never get the images, in fact I only have five right now so I hope I get more.

THE TOY BOX: Is the construction process of these more in depth, or take any longer than the arcade cabinets?

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: Not really, but all of the pieces are of different sizes so there’s a lot of measuring. With the arcades you have two sides and then the inside pieces are all the same width just different lengths. With the pinball cab, I think only four pieces share the same width.

THE TOY BOX: For those looking to get some of these great models from you, how much will it cost them on average per piece?

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: Most of the arcades are 25.00 to 30.00.  Others like the cockpit style cabs can be as much as 50.00 the price is determined not on how popular the game is, but by how much of a pain in the ass it is to make it (laughs).

THE TOY BOX: Do you offer any discounts for bulk buyers?

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: I used to.  Right now I’m about eight to ten weeks out on current orders, so the only discount I give is usually the “long wait discount” which I gave to a man who placed an order for all of my cabs.

 
THE TOY BOX: To help those out who may be looking to get some of these, or all of them, how can they get in touch with you?

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: Easy.  My email is t34bag@gmail.com (it was a joke a long time ago and I’ve been meaning to change it, but now everyone has it, so why bother).  I used to keep all the details on my Flickr site but apparently I was breaking some rules with that so I had to remove any information that dealt with selling my work. I would make a web site but I have no time.

THE TOY BOX: What’s the average wait time per order?

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: (sighs) I’m working on orders from August right now but that will be caught up quickly.  Most are waiting six to eight weeks.  Larger orders take longer. I would hire help, but I don’t trust anyone else to do the work.

THE TOY BOX: Do you take custom requests from buyers, or do you strictly focus on the cabinets that you want to make for your own personal collection?

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: If it’s something I can make I will try to work it into the next wave so that I’m not taking any extra time away from orders, but that’s the best I can do.

THE TOY BOX: With such a vast collection of personal mini arcade cabinets, is it safe to say you’re an avid fan of the arcade scene…Or at least in the past when they were more common?

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: I love arcades, I love video games in general, but I’m more of a traditional fan than a fan of the games you find in most arcades these days. The scene in the new Tron movie where Sam walks into his dad’s old arcade is one of my favorites.  Those were the social clubs I went to as a kid. It may come as a surprise, but I don’t own any of the cabinets I make. I can’t justify keeping any for myself right now when others are waiting.

THE TOY BOX: Do you own any full size arcade cabinets?

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: No (sighs). If I could have a few I would take Galaga, Star Wars cockpit style, and G.I. Joe

THE TOY BOX: Tell us a little more about you personally. What do you do when you’re not designing and building classic arcade miniatures?

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: Well, an average day for me is build all day then at night I’m a big “Call of Duty” guy. But right now I’m spending about four hours a night catching up on my new favorite show “Game of Thrones” I’m an old Colts fan so this season the colts and the Broncos are keeping me energized. But I would love more time to spend doing things with my wife and four kids. I would love to get back into writing my online comic again.

THE TOY BOX: We love comics! Tell us about your online comic, and where we can find it.

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: I knew you were going to ask that. They are on my Flickr account.  The story is finished, but I never did finish the panels to the weekly comics.  There are several short stories too.  The list of which order to read is on the notes section to the left of that page.  Here's a link:


THE TOY BOX: We noticed on your Flickr page that you have several photos of G.I. Joe toys. How large is your collection?

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: Not too big, almost all of what I own is in the pictures. I was only brought back into toy collecting when the new 25thanniversary G.I. Joe line was announced. Take note Hasbro, we want more 25thstuff (laughs).

THE TOY BOX: Do you collect any other toys?

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: Sure, if it’s a quality toy that looks awesome I get into it. I have a small spattering of Marvel, Star Wars, and Transformers on my desk and the new Ninja Turtles - Just the Turtles.  The rest of the figures in that series are not good.

THE TOY BOX: Does building and selling these cabinets pay all the bills, or is this just a hobby that happens to also provide a bit of cash on the side?

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: Well, that’s a complicated question. I call it fun money.  My wife is a full time executive, so her job covers all of our expenses, I am a stay at home dad with a hobby job, so it’s the money we use to get presents for the kids, pay for games, toys, etc.

THE TOY BOX: Would you continue to do this as a hobby if people stopped buying them?

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: No, it takes up way too much time.  There have been moments where I wanted to sell the whole enterprise, not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because I felt I can’t deliver these in a timely manner. This has gotten bigger than I can handle, but if people are willing to wait I will build them.

THE TOY BOX: Let’s play what if – If you were to sell, what number range is in your head? Who knows, you may just get an offer from one of our readers.

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: That's a hard question.  I suppose if I were to sell, it would be for no less than 25,000 - Considering what I've done to master this craft and the fact that the orders NEVER stop coming in.  I just don't know, it would have to be to someone who could handle it.

THE TOY BOX: Another “What If” – What if someone bought the enterprise from you, but still wanted to retain you as an employee/consultant.

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: Hmmm another good question.  Could a work for the man/woman who now controls my creation?  For the right price... did that sound dirty?   It did to me (laughs).

THE TOY BOX: We’re really intrigued with the possibilities of selling your entire franchise (so to speak). What would come with that purchase? Would it include an introduction to your contacts that have provided artwork in the past? We’ll stop asking “What if” questions now.

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: I'm an honor bound man.  If I were to sell the price would include all of my research, templates, knowledge and supplies, what supplies to buy where to buy them, and at least a couple days of hard training plus my entire purchase history for the last three years if needed.

THE TOY BOX: Can you tell us what future arcade cabinets and pinball machines are in the works?

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: Oh yeah.  I finally got a hold of images for the six player X-Men arcade (shouts yay).  SPACE PARANOIDS is on the way as well as Operation Wolf, and I’m building a Spy Hunter cockpit cab today.


THE TOY BOX: These are from your upcoming Wave twelve, and they are available for purchase now?

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: Absolutely.  All orders are on a first in first out basis.  I make all my cabs available for sale.  The earlier you order the quicker it will get to you.  Wave twelve won't ship any earlier than March but having your order in early is a smart idea

THE TOY BOX: Can we expect to see you around for many more years, pumping out more and more new models, or is this something that you foresee in the near future as coming to an end (for either personal or professional reasons)?

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: I imagine I'll eventually come to a point where I won't have any new cabs to make so I'll just keep making old ones.  To stop making these would be to give up my fun money, and since my wife doesn't give me an allowance, I'm not sure I have a choice.

THE TOY BOX: We wish you the best of luck in your endeavors, and really look forward to seeing all the great things you produce in the future. Thank you.

JUSTIN WHITLOCK: Thanks, it was my pleasure.
 

We personally are standing in line for our first couple of sets of custom arcade cabinet models from Justin, and will post photos as soon as we have them.  The wait time may seem excessive to some buyers, but we feel it’s safe to say that the quality and overall product will be worth the wait.  Keep in mind that these are all hand-made pieces, done one at a time to ensure utmost satisfaction to you, the customer.

With twelve waves out, it may take some time, and a fair amount of money to catch up to the current series, so if you’re interested, starting sooner than later is highly recommended.  As Justin said, his orders are fulfilled on a first come, first serve basis.

For those of you interested, you can contact Justin directly via e-mail.  That address once again is t34bag@gmail.com.  We’ve gone ahead and included a full list of the twelve waves available.

Wave 1

Pac-Man
Ms. Pac-Man
Galaga
Tempest
Gravatar
Robotron
Defender
Dragon’s Lair
Gauntlet
Donkey Kong

Wave 2

Asteroids
Millipede
Asteroids Deluxe
Sinistar
Spy Hunter (upright)
Galaxian
Joust                     
Dig Dug
Burger Time
Terminator 2 (shooter)

Wave 3

Centipede
Donkey Kong Jr.
Street Fighter 2
Star Wars (cockpit)
Mortal Kombat 2

Wave 4

Star Wars (upright)
Lunar Lander
Missile Command
Mario Bros.
Aliens

Wave 5

Teenage mutant Ninja Turtles
Crystal Castles
Cloak& Dagger
Killer Instinct
Black Widow

Wave 6

Pac-Mania
Marble Madness
Food Fight
Quantum
Mortal Kombat I

Wave 7

Warlords (cocktail)
Captain A. & the Avengers
Space Ace
Gauntlet II
GI Joe

Wave 8

Donkey Kong 2
Donkey Kong 3
Popeye
Super Mario vs. Uni-System
Black Tiger

Wave 9

Rally X
Q-bert
Zoo Keeper
Rolling Thunder
Xevious

Wave 10

Rush’n Attack
Space Invaders
Indiana Jones Pinball
Tron
Frogger

Wave 11

Attack from Mars Pinball
Street Fighter II Champ Ed
Moon Patrol
Simpsons
Spy Hunter (cockpit)

Wave 12

Operation Wolf
Outrun (upright)
X-Men
Star Gate
Space paranoids
 
Contact Justin directly for pricing and availability.  More photos are available on his website at;
 

***Editor’s Note***

The Toy Box and its representatives and affiliates are in no way or form affiliated with Justin Whitlock or his custom made cabinets.  Any transactions made for the purchase of his arcade cabinet models (or any other goods and/or services) are done so directly between you the customer and Mr. Whitlock.  Any questions or concerns regarding orders or products should be brought directly to the attention of Mr. Whitlock.  This article herein is for education and entertainment purposes only.

All photographs and logos used in this article are the property of Justin Whitlock.  Used with permission. Photo layout and design by The Toy Box.

1 comment:

  1. We've received numerous comments regarding Mr. Whitlock's custom work, none of which have been all that friendly, and the majority of which contained very punctual expletives regarding the quality, and some that were flat out very accusing.

    However, please be advised that this is not Yelp, and any issues that you have with Mr. Whitlock or his products should be brought to his attention in a professional, respectful manner via contacting him directly. As we've stated in our original post;

    "The Toy Box and its representatives and affiliates are in no way or form affiliated with Justin Whitlock or his custom made cabinets. Any transactions made for the purchase of his arcade cabinet models (or any other goods and/or services) are done so directly between you the customer and Mr. Whitlock. Any questions or concerns regarding orders or products should be brought directly to the attention of Mr. Whitlock. This article herein is for education and entertainment purposes only."

    Those who wish to use our comment section as a means to attack Mr. Whitlock, or as a feedback forum will not be published.

    ReplyDelete

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