I’m Building a Driving Game Arcade Rig Around My Old PS2
I’m going back to a golden era of gaming, and making an old-school driving arcade with a PlayStation 2 and Y2K-era technology.
Video games from the mid-2000s have entered a sweet spot on our timeline. They look old enough to make a great whiff of nostalgia and they have the depth to still be genuinely engaging, even 20-odd years after their release. This is the main, but definitely not the only, reason I decided to build a retro arcade-style driving game setup instead of a modern sim racing rig.
This project involves sourcing PlayStation 2 (PS2) hardware and software, including a period-correct CRT monitor and steering wheel, to use to play driving games. But the best part is the environment I’m building. The console and screen will be installed and integrated into a gaming station that utilizes a car seat and ultimately creates a luxury arcade experience.
The primary project constraint is to keep the budget lean, but I’m also hoping to keep the footprint on my floor as tight as it can be without sacrificing how much fun the setup is to use.
I’ve just completed the first operational prototype of this idea, and I’d like to share the journey. I’ll walk you through the concept for your entertainment, or in case you’re inspired to do something similar. And if you’ve got any tips for improvements, the comment section’s open.
Why an Arcade Setup
I already mentioned that I personally enjoy PS2-era gaming. But besides that, using decades-old tech is much more family friendly and a hell of a lot cheaper than building a realistic driving simulator with the latest programs and hardware.
My fellow millennials and elder Gen Zs might appreciate the throwback vibes of PlayStation 2 more than others, but anybody could hop into Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 from 2002 and be like, “Yeah, this looks old-school but it’s still fun.”
When I game, I just want to crash into cop cars and do skids. By the same token, if I’ve got a gaming rig taking up a non-trivial amount of square footage, I want my friends and I to be able to hop onto this thing for some casual fun without exercising the patience and skill required for true sim racing.
And for that, games like Need For Speed, Test Drive, Tokyo Xtreme Racer, and other mainstream titles are very user-friendly. Not for nothing, those are the games I grew up playing. To me, they feel fuzzy and familiar the way your go-to books or an episode of your favorite sitcom do over and over again.
Why PlayStation 2
In addition to all the reasons mentioned above, the PS2 was so immensely popular in its prime that fully operational units, and breadth of accessories, are still easy to find in 2022. Plus, a huge list of great game titles (driving and otherwise) was released on this platform.
But the biggest reason I’m building my rig around a PS2 once again lies in practicality and resourcefulness: I already had one hibernating in my parents’ basement.
Why an Old TV
Without getting into AV science, the practical fact of the matter is that a PS2 is optimized for the televisions that existed in its heyday. Back then, “flatscreen” TVs had evolved beyond a curved face but they were still behemoth appliances with cathode-ray tubes to make pictures.
You can run a PS2 on many modern TVs; I’ve used a USB-powered HDMI adapter with decent results. Although I’ve been able to make the image large and legible, it still feels kind of … off.
If you want to learn more about CRT TVs and CRT gaming specifically, there's an amazing subreddit dedicated to it you should check out. In fact u/segamistress18 just posted an incredibly comprehensive guide to these TVs, which you can find here. From that guide, it looks like the free Toshiba I found was in fact a good score.
Again, I don't really understand TV science as well as experts. But to me, the fuzzier picture of an old CRT TV seems more forgiving to a PS2’s pixel limit. So the most period-correct PS2 experience might, objectively, also be the best.
Even so, I was wary about putting a gigantic old-school TV in my house, but one popped up on my local Craigslist Free section I couldn’t pass up: a 2003 Toshiba (toward the end of CRT tech’s reign), with S-Video and Component inputs (generally PS2’s best native connection type… we’ll come back to that later), and a 20-inch diagonal screen. That’s perfect for sitting close and getting the old look I wanted without gobbling too much square footage or requiring two people to move.
Setting Up the Cockpit
All that really separates a “driving arcade” from any old TV with PS2 hooked up is the cockpit experience. For that, you need a steering wheel controller with pedals and a driving seat.
After a bit of research, the Logitec Driving Force EX wheel was my choice as the centerpiece of the human-machine interface here. Based on some ancient reviews I dug up, this unit offered good control and I liked the three-spoke look a lot. Unfortunately, the paddle shifters are just buttons on the backsides of the spokes, and they kind of suck. But this unit was among the better and prettier options on eBay for the price (about $60 shipped) so this is what I'm starting with.
As you can see, the setup I’ve made here isn’t particularly elegant or aesthetically interesting. I mostly wanted to make sure the TV and steering wheel I’d sourced actually worked before committing to building a better seat set. But I also wanted to play with it a little, you know, to make sure it’s enough fun to justify building a fancier iteration.
The Corbeau seat has been in my garage for over a year—a gift from a friend of a friend who scuttled a project he was going to put them in and couldn't be bothered to sell 'em. Lucky me, I was in the right place at the right time to take them off his hands!
After a few hours of testing, I can confirm that it is fun and will be a whole lot more so with the steering wheel better secured so I don’t go lifting the dashboard every time I make a big turn.
A little block of wood put the pedal set on an angle that felt a lot more comfortable than simply resting it on the ground; I’ll be experimenting with different-shaped blocks here to optimize the foot positioning.
Here’s all the gear I’ve integrated so far:
- PlayStation 2 (the old and fat one, not the later “slim” model)
- Sony component cables
- 2003 20-inch Toshiba CRT TV
- Logitec Driving Force EX steering wheel and pedal set
- Corbeau Baja Low-Back seat
- Two three-ton jack stands and a wooden plank forming the “dashboard.”
Beyond that stash I tweeted a few weeks ago, I've collected OutRun 2006 (which is amazing). Next I'm trying to cop Juiced, Tokyo Xtreme Racer 3, and maybe Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition if they pop up at my new favorite retro game store—that's "Joe Gamer" in Lagrangeville, New York in case anyone reading this hangs out in the Hudson Valley and is into old games.
The Next Phase
Now that I’ve confirmed all the old PS2 crap I rounded up actually works and that I still want to build a dedicated gaming station, my next move is to make a more secure platform where I can mount the steering wheel and get a higher-quality connection from the console to the television.
I’ve already ordered a Sony-branded component cable to replace the original composite—that should improve picture quality considerably. Meanwhile, I’ll dig around the raw materials I’ve got behind the house and see if I can make a real steering wheel stand out of scrap wood.
From there, I'll be building out the cockpit to give it a more polished and car-like look. I’ve got a pair of sporty seats from a second-gen Mazda RX-7 I want to use with this setup (since they’re blue and match my wheel and controller), so I might hold off on a finalized version of the dashboard until I can bring those in and get proper measurements. Also—I need a cup holder.
But I think this project is off to a great start. If you’ve got any insight, advice, or questions, let’s chat it up in the comments. Meanwhile, look for an update soon to learn how my driving arcade evolves and how you might be able to replicate this in your own house.