I wanted to share one of the biggest and most challenging projects I have completed to date. I’m not really sure when or how this project actually formed in my mind. It just sort of popped in my head one day that it would be really cool to have my very own arcade machine to play with any time I wanted.
I was born in the 70’s, so that means that I spent a good part of my childhood at the local arcade. I used to pour quarters into the Galaga machine, trying to see just how many little alien ships I could blast away. Unfortunately I never had enough quarters to get very far.
So, as it seems that I can never quite satisfy my feelings of nostalgia, I set about looking for any and all information I could find about building an arcade machine. Around this same time I had a conversation with a friend about how he would love to have his own arcade machine as well. It seems that for him, Centipede was the game that he had spent his youth trying to beat. I told him that I was thinking about building an arcade machine and that it would probably not be too much harder to build two machines instead of just one. This would also serve as a strong motivating force to get this project started and completed, as I now had one paying customer.
As it turned out, I was only able to build one machine, due to space and time constraints. So I built a complete arcade cabinet for my friend to satisfy his Centipede cravings. In the end I learned a lot from building that first cabinet. The most important thing was that I would NEVER build in a trackball again. The precision needed to build it into the control board was very difficult, and I spent way too much time trying to get it perfect.
A few months down the road I got married and moved into a bigger house. I now had two important things – more room to build my arcade machines, and a new wife who was still glowing from having just been married, and who was not yet used to putting the kibosh on my larger – aka more expensive -projects.
So I started again, this time, with experience under my belt, and another friend who wanted his own arcade machine as well. Thanks for the extra motivation Bry!
Researching MAME Cabinets
A quick search of Google led me to a huge community of people who were planning and building their own arcade machines. MAME was the software that would allow me to run all the arcade classics as well as some of the newer games.
I also found the perfect front-end software that I could use to interface with the MAME software – Ultrastyle. This software allows me to display a spinning cube with screen shots that I could scroll through to find whatever game my heart desired. I just needed some game Roms. This was easy, Rom World had 100s available to download. Now all I had to do was configure all the software and I could start reliving my childhood and the best part – NO QUARTERS!!!
Planning the cabinet build
At this point I could play these arcade classics on my computer and it looked great, but I wanted a truer experience. I wanted to stand in front of a full size arcade machine. After looking around at some of the cabinets that others had made, I decided to model my machine on the traditional Defender cabinet.
I drew up my plans and headed for Home Depot. Ahhh, my home away from home. I could spend an entire day just walking around Home Depot, looking at tools and home renovation supplies, and of course the smell of all that wood. It just smells so good there. Anyway, I picked up a few 4 x 8 foot sheets of ¾ inch particle board. This would allow me to build the bulk of the cabinet. I also picked up some 2 x 3’s and 2 x 2’s. These would serve as the frame for my cabinet. There were also a variety of assorted parts and wood that went into building these cabinets, far too many to go into detail here. Needless to say I made many trips to Home Depot before I finished.
Building my Arcade Cabinet
It took about five months to build the first cabinet. The next two I built together, and only took about three months to complete . I ordered T-Molding for all the edges. This really gives the cabinets the true arcade look and feel. I ordered the buttons, joysticks and a track ball from X-Arcade. They do sell an already completed control board, but I opted to build my own.
The thing with this kind of project is that you are never really done. There are always upgrades and little things that you can do to make it even better. I finished the majority of this project about two years ago, but I still have some plans about what to add to it next.
I’ve added a “Show-Off” mode to my cabinet. Two 10 inch sticks of green automotive neon lighting that are powered directly from the computers power supply. They light up the chrome diamond plate kick plate and the back wall with the flip of a switch located on the top of the cabinet. I also have plans to add a couple USB ports to the front of the cabinet so I can plug in a Guitar Hero guitar or a DDR mat.
I’ve also decided to use my arcade machine as a jukebox as well. It seems like a common thing that a lot of MAME cabinet makers do, and there is a lot of software to pull off this neat trick. I added a wireless nic card and shared the music folder that the jukebox software accesses. Now I can wirelessly add or change the music available to the software (WinCab). Very cool bonus project!