Electronics, coding and hacking. And ADD.

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Exploring the Arcade1UP


About two weeks ago our local Toys'R'Us had a final closing sale with 90% off on all items. Knowing they had a few arcades in the store, I showed up early to get Street Fighter, but since they were all sold out I bought the Asteroids edition instead.

Assembling the game

Beer can for scale

This is the one I bought. Unassembled, flat-packed, IKEA style. Unfortunately I did not take any pictures of the build process, but the manuals were easy to follow, and I spent about half an hour setting it up. Got a little help from my 8 year old daughter, too.

After powering up the device, a menu popped up with a list of four games: Asteroids, Tempest, Major Havoc, and Lunar Lander. All games from the vector era, i.e. graphics composed of just lines.

Not quite my cup of tea to be honest, but it was a calculated risk. If it was too boring, I could do a switcheroo with a Raspberry Pi, or maybe one of those 60-in-1 boards. Either way, I wanted to explore the insides, so last night I decided to pop the lid and see how hackable it is. Spoiler alert: Oh, it is. Very much so.

Finding a serial console

I removed the game PCB, which is located behind the LCD screen. The first thing that caught my eye were the ICs: their surfaces has been etched away to hide the model numbering. This made me question my naïve approach, but I kept going and blindly probed around with the oscilloscope. After foolishly looking for some interesting test points, I stumbled across something interesting: right next to the flat flex cable, where it says "CON4", there's a 4-pin port. The signals were easily identified as: 3V3, TX, RX and GND. Yes, we have a UART.

I soldered a pin header and started looking around for USB-UART modules. Of course, all were gone and the ones I've ordered had not arrived yet. I settled using an Arduino as a temporary substitute. I simply set up a SoftwareSerial and monitored the activity using putty. The UART runs at 115200,8,N,1 and keeping an eye on it at power up shows a long boot log, and reveals that this arcade is running BuildRoot Linux!

Logging in, looking around

After the boot I was dumped at a login prompt. A user named "default" has no password, and spawns a BusyBox shell. The baudrate of 115200 caused a lot of errors, but slowing it down to a baudrate of 19200 (by issuing a stty -F /dev/ttyS0 19200) fixed that. This would not be a problem with a proper UART-USB adapter.

After exploring the file system, the essentials boils down to:

  • The arcade runs MAME. Basically all the files required by the emulator are located in /root.
  • A directory called 565 contains all the menu graphics, which is dumped directly to the framebuffer on demand.
  • Despite the menu only listing four available games, there are a total of seven games installed. The extra game ROMs are Gravitar, Asteroid Deluxe and Street Fighter!
  • The /root directory contains a couple of scripts for mounting and unmounting external storage. I suspect there's a USB port on the board somewhere.
  • A script called "" executes /root/mame with parameters from a file in /tmp.
  • Without root privileges, the adventure appears to end here.
  • Getting root privileges

    I started looking for BuildRoot exploits but couldn't find any easily accessible. The password file /etc/shadow was not readable by me at this point, so I couldn't crack the root password either.

    But wait, hang on - look at that script again, and check out the file mode bits:

    -rwxrwxrwx 2 root root 72 Jan 1  00:01

    This file belongs to root and all users have write privileges to it! The menu process is also run by root, could this be a loophole to gain root access? Another spoiler alert: Yes it is.

    I added a few commands to the script which took a copy of /etc/shadow in /tmp. Starting a game confirmed that this worked, I had a readable copy in /tmp! Instead of cracking the password, which would probably be trivial, I removed it entirely. I then modified the script once again, this time to take a copy of /tmp/shadow back to /etc.

    And now root no longer needs a password and we have full access!

    Street Fighter!

    "What, this ol' thing? Just my Asteroids arcade running Street Fighter, nothing special."

    Importing a new game

    Importing a game from the "outside" was a bit of a challenge through a serial connection. After some impatient finger drumming, I noticed that uudecode was a part of the BusyBox. This means I can transfer a file as 7-bit text over the serial terminal, and turn it back to 8-bit binary on the arcade side.

    And that worked too! Welcome to your new home, Mario.

    Plans ahead

    I have to admit there's one thing left, and that's configuring the buttons to the new games. I need to read up a little on MAME cfg files, but I think this should be a pretty painless.

    Also, while writing this blog entry, I found that someone has already found the USB port I was talking about earlier. I will attempt to solder a connector to it later today and see how it works out. This will make file transfer much easier.


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    • Great write up - I was wondering how you managed to get the header pins on to the CON4 connector as the middle 2 pins seem to be covered by the large 2 x 20 way connector! Regards

    • Great write up! Have you had a chance to look at the latest offerings from Arcade1up? Can you get into the new PacMan 40th anniversary edition? I’d love to add a few new games to this cabinet.

      #1209 | Comment by Patrick Rutherford on Sep 8, 2020 01:58am

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