Searching for the Perfect Gaming Setup

So I’m back from being busy. I got into some trouble with my flat. I had to move, buy furniture – the usual stuff. I’m totally spent right now, I could use a vacation. But now is not the time for that – got to move on. The good news is that I’m finished moving (almost) and I’m planning to do regular posts again.

Today I would like to talk about a rather curious problem I’ve encountered while moving: The (Holy) Search for the Perfect Gaming Setup. Everybody, who seriously deals with Videogames sooner or later has to consider how his area of interests affects his dwelling (by the way: what’s the correct translation of the German verb “Wohnen”? “Dwelling” sounds like something cavemen do. Argh!). So after you collected an impressive collection of consoles and games you will want to tuck them away so you don’t trip over wires every time you grab a cookie from the kitchen. Yet, they need to be accessible anytime you feel the urge (or duty) to save the world again.

Gaming Setup From Afar

I came up with this one and I’m pretty satisfied with it, even if it is not quite perfect. Here are some of the thoughts I had, some difficulties I had to face and how I solved them:

My gaming setup was quite unsatisfactory so far. I had a small Ikea media … bench (something like this one. But mine was on wheels). It was way too small and the consoles were piled up on top of each other. They collected a lot of dust and every time I wanted to use a different one I had to reinvent my cable connection at the back of the TV. The reason why it was so ill-suited for my equipment is that I bought it back when I had only two consoles. My collection has grown since then. Having more room now, I’ve decided to get it fundamentally right this time.

So my requirements were:

  • More Room (!!!)
  • Some solution to keep the dust away
  • Everything hooked up so I can play without fumbling with cables

If you think about it. The last two requirements translate into “it needs to be low-maintenance”. It actually reflects what I already said about games and usability. Games have a special status. They are recreation. So when using them requires you to “jump through a bunch of hoops”, you just quit doing it. In fact, this is what happened with my previous setup. Playing the Dreamcast always required some serious fumbling with cables so I almost NEVER used the Dreamcast. The gaming setup needs to be as low maintenance as possible to be successful.

As far as furnitures goes, I was looking for something which could be closed behind a door so no dust gets in when I don’t use it. It also needed to be separated into differently sized compartments. Top-loader consoles like the Dreamcast or the SNES need more headroom then the PS2 or Wii. And here is the first surprise: actually, very few furniture designers consider this! To be fair, in my research I concentrated on Ikea and the closest thing the came to was the BESTÅ BURS TV Unit. It has 3 small compartments with doors in the middle. They are suitable for newer tray or slot-in consoles. However they don’t work for older top-loaders. The two compartments on the sides are drawers which don’t work so well with electronic equipment because of the cables. And in the end, there are only 3 console compartments whereas I have 4 consoles. I was actually surpised how poorly the avalible solutions reflect the needs for a gaming setup. I’m puzzled what kind of media setup the designers of this furniture had in mind when they came up with this one. The small amount of compartments is easily exhausted with even the simplest Music centre – and I don’t even have one.

Gaming Setup - Glass Door

But luckily, Ikea does offer a modular solution so I used that system to build my own TV Unit. Its bigger, better suitable for my needs and a lot cheaper! As you can see, there are 8 compartments. They are variable so I could reserve some needed room for the top-loader consoles. Also, everything can be closed behind 4 glass doors which fulfill 3 functions:

  • They keep the dust away.
  • They can be closed while a console is running to contain some of the noise.
  • They are see-trough so I can see if I forgot to turn off a console. Also my collection is visible at all times so it is easier to get inspired to try something.

And if you think this is anal, let me tell you about my cable problems:

You see, here in Europe we are “blessed” with the Scart plug. It is an example of good intention gone wrong. The idea was to develop a universal AV connection. The Scart cable transmits ANY audio and video Signal: Compound, Composite or S-Video. It sounds cool because you just don’t need to care about the technical details of what kind of signal is being transmitted. However, it is incredibly impractical. Trying to connect a Scart plug at the back of your TV without being able to see the connection is like shooting a proton torpedo in the shaft of the Death Star without the targeting computer. And the force is weak with this one. The plug is incredibly huge and inflexible so I had to drill huge holes in the back of my Ikea furniture just to get the damn plug trough. Scart also totally sucks if you want be SURE that you have the best possible quality. So my TV has 2 Scart inputs, but only one of them accepts RGB signals. And now I wanted to connect 4 devices to that with at least 2 being RGB. There are solutions that simply wire 4 plugs together to one cable but I soon had to find out that they are a complete waste of money. For example, a PS2 submits an audio signal even in standby mode so as long as a PS2 is plugged in, you won’t get a sound from other consoles. Also, with that crappy thing, you will loose A LOT of signal quality. Everything appears darker and the sound has some static.

Yu-Chung recommended the Joytech AV Center which was also described in this article by Eurogamer. It is a box with 4 AV inputs, a 5th AV ouput plug and a remote control. With it, you can manually choose which Signal gets wired trough. It was amazingly difficult to get hold of but I’ve managed to get one on eBay. I was quite surprised how big the thing is if you consider how little it actually does. Luckily, i had enough room in my TV Solution to put it beneath the Dreamcast. And yes, the quality is awesome.

So is it over? Not quite. There are still some problems with that solution. First, the AV Center seems to have problems with the Dreamcast Scart cable. Until now I was playing the Dreamcast on compound. I was so keen to get it right this time that I bought a RGB Scart cable. Imagine my surprise when I found out that it not only doesn’t work with the AV Center, it totally screws up EVERY channel in the AV Center as soon as the Dreamcast is turned on. It works when I plug the Dreamcast directly into the TV. Again, I blame some exotic Scart problem. Damn you, Scart! It seems like I wasted some money and I’m back to Dreamcast on compound again.

Also, the AV Center has a small peculiarity which is described in the Eurogamer article and I didn’t quite get. You see, at the back of the AV Center, each channel has 3 AV plugs: Composite, Scart and S-Video. The output also has the 3 plugs. The thing is that the 3 plugs are wired independently of each other to the output plugs. So when I put in a SNES on Composite, it will not show up on the output scart but only on the output composite. The signal doesn’t get “translated” into a different output plug. This can be good because this way, you can theoretically access 12 different devices. The bad thing is that you have to deal with adapters. So now I had to use composite-to-Scart adapters to get every signal to Scart. It is also a bit unsatisfactory because my PS2 chip is a bit messed up and the PS2 doesn’t deliver a RGB signal when a DVD is playing. I hoped I could connect the TV to the AV center via Scart and S-Video so I could switch to S-Video when watching DVD and have RGB otherwise. But the AV Center doesn’t work this way. Instead, there is a composite plug at the RGB cable of my PS2 I use now. Well, at least I don’t have to fumble with cables anymore.

So as you can see, this is the kind of problems I spent the past with. I wonder do people countries where Scart is unknown have the same problems? Do things get any better with HDMI? What kind of gaming setup do you have?

P.S.: HA! Nobody will notice that the Title of the post is a tribute to the excellent Book “Searching for the Perfect Beat”. We grabbed that one when we were visiting Razorfish in New York back then when they were popular. Good Times.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

2 responses to “Searching for the Perfect Gaming Setup”

  1. sirleto

    Great article. I love it when you write about such "anal" things, that usually take up all my time, too. (whenever i will move to a new flat i hope that my old solution still works as well as expected – even with a ps3 now hooked into my tv via hdmi).

    new york – ahh, those times. i still owe you that one, big time!

    btw: the link to the perfect beat is broken (you snug an o instead of an p into the http protocoll ;)

    daniel / sirleto

    ps: i envy your new tv-bench concept – on the one hand it just looks like mine (flat and really broad – i love that look) and on the other hand the glass & dark look is pretty nice. but i would never buy what you've got already. impossible! nah *blerch* =)

  2. Krystian Majewski

    Oops, I’ve fixed that Perfect Beat link.

    Yes, the TV Solution is inspired to some degree by your old living room but also by the office of one of my professors. I think it is genrally a good idea. It creates a lot of surface to work with and enough room to set up really big TVs. All I need now is a really big TV. ;-)


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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