Like many people in their late twenties, some of my fondest memories of childhood in the 80s revolve around dumping quarters into video games at the local pizza place or arcade. Now there is an emulator for computer systems called MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator), which emulates these machines and allows you to run the actual game code. My new project is to create a cabinet to house a PC with MAME and allow friends and I to play these games with actual arcade controls. What really interests me about this project is the combination of computer hardware, software, wiring, and carpentry tasks involved.

This week I purchased and installed a light gun from ACT LABS. Very cool to be able to play gun games like Operation Wolf.

Last month I purchased some nice new speakers from Think Geek as the old ones had degraded. Funny as it seems, we tend to use the cab more as an mp3 sound center than as an arcade machine. Because the cabinet is in our loft it can boradcast music around our whole home, even better than the main system in the living room. These new speakers look cool and have a great sound. The external control pod is great for this setup because it allows access to the power, volume, sub volume and inputs even if I decide to bury the speakers inside the cab.

In the past year I've also added buttons on the sides of the control panel box for pinball flippers. These make pinball games much more realistic and fun.

Jill and I hosted a New Year's party this year which featured a Ms. Pac-Man tournament. In order to make a more authentic experience I built a much more simple control panel. It featured a single 4-way, ball-top joystick from Wico. This red ball joystick looks and feels much more like the old Midway games: Pac-man, Galaga, etc. In fact, we started calling it the "Class of '81" panel. The tournament was just for the ladies at the party because usually the cabinet is taken over by the boys and both it and the new panel were a success!
panel   panel   panel

Installed Happ Rotary Joysticks today (part # 50-5618-00). These look and feel just like the Happ Super joysticks I had before, except that they rotate through 12 switches. This allows you to play some of my favorite games like Ikari Warriors, Heavy Barrel and XYBots. In addition to giving up/down/left/right and diagonal combinations, you can twist these. In order to make these work with a keyboard encoder I used the rotary interface created by Druin. I am very happy with Druin's quick shipping and the quality of his interface. In order to allow for the additional room required for the rotary joysticks, I had to add depth under the joysticks by sanding out holes with the dremmel. Then I got 5 volts to the interface via a computer power source. Finally, it was as simple as wiring the joysticks in (just like the old ones) and making the connections with the interface. I have had a blast playing these games!

Assembled stools today. I've been looking for some bar or shop stools that are comfortable but less expensive than those found for $200 or more at recreation outlets. When ordering something else from Happ Controls, I noticed that they sell game stools for $60. The picture looked alright so I took a chance and ordered two. They look good and make those long gaming sessions easier on the keister! (Part # 26-1515-16)

Downloaded and set up ArcadeFX, a good looking front end for MAME that is better looking than MAME32 and incorporates marquee and flyer images into the navigation. Still need to figure out some quirks, but it is nice to use.

Got the final pieces of the puzzle together for my birthday party. This included a volume control and speaker covers. I also had a bezel cut out of matting at a local frame shop. Finally, I got some plexiglass from Home Depot for over the TV/bezel and the marquee. A graphic artist friend, Scott, created a cool marquee for me based on an idea I had where game characters would interact with the MAME logo. He did a great job!
Complete!   panel

Downloaded Arcade Jukebox by Mark Schwartz. This allows you to turn your cabinet into a jukebox. It plays MP3s and accepts input from the joysticks and buttons. Way cool!

Early in April I determined that the spinner was bad so I sent it back to Happ Controls ("trackwheel" part # 95-0931-00). Got it back today and it works great! Arkanoid and Tempest are so much better with a spinner. It also works well as a mini steering wheel on games like Road Blasters and Ironman Stewert's Super Off Road.

Completed the T-molding on the control panel and mounted it with Velcro.
Full View  

Bought the TV today. Was able to find a Toshiba 27" with S-Video inputs at Best Buy with a small piece of plastic broken off the front of the bezel. This would really bother someone wanting to use it as a normal TV, but it will be hidden in my cab. Saved me $30! Also installed a new ATI 32 SDR graphics card in the cpu. This is an older card that was cheap, but I am not running any graphics-intensive PC games here so all I was worried was good S-Video TV out capibility. S-Video is important to minimize degradation in picture quality. Was a little worried that I would not be happy with the picture after seeing it on a computer monitor. Looks great! Not as clear as a monitor, but nice and big.

Wired the coin door today (Happs Part # 40-0038-00). Also wired a power supply to the coin door lights and the backlight bulb for the trackball. Pretty translucent blue ball! (Part # 56-0100-12T) Finally, I pounded the T-molding into the slot we carved on the edges of both sides of the cabinet.

Brought cabinet home and lugged it upstairs to it's new home in my loft. Thanks Tim for all the help to this point. Could not have done it without you.
After Tim left I got the computer in and hooked up the control panel. Even with the small monitor it is a lot of fun playing in the cabinet.
Full View  

Laminated the sides and speaker panel. Also drilled 4" holes for speakers. Major construction is complete!! Earlier this evening I brought Tim and his family pizza to thank them for the use of their garage and their Tim.

Figured out the glitching - flux conducts electricity! Duh. I had used some flux during a tricky part of the soldering of the break-out board and did not clean it all off. Lesson learned.

Wired the first control panel at home tonight. This involved physically installing the controls (buttons, joysticks, trackball and spinner) into holes cut into the panel top and then wiring them to the keyboard encoder. The Hagstrom Electionics KE72 keyboard encoder takes up to 72 different inputs from controls and translates them into keystroke signals the computer can understand. For the trackball and spinner I used the Hagstrom ME4 PS2 Mouse Interface. This translates signals from the trackball and spinner into mouse signals. Had some keyboard glitching that I can't explain.

Re-laminated the front. Also laminated the two control panel tops and cut out holes for the trackball and spinner from one of them. Picked a black marble for these.

Early April 2002
Moved the cab to Tim's garage (from his other house). Learned to laminate by doing the control panel box. Also laminated the front and routed a rectangle out of it for the coin door. Learned that it would be much easier to cut a hole with a jigsaw and then just route the laminate out rather than doing them together. Painted back and top with oil-based black semi-gloss paint. Used foam mini-rollers and got a nice finish on the MDF.
If you look close you can see where the router jumped out of the groove and marred the surface. May have to re-laminate the front or find a big "25 Cent" sticker!
Full View  

Built the control panel box and cut the front of the cabinet. The majority of the carpentry phase is nearly complete! In the photos you can see paper templates for control placement.
Full View   Front View   Panel close up   Side View of Panel

Over February Tim and I got a lot done together. In addition to getting the major controls ordered, the biggest news is that we were able to cut out and assemble the major pieces of both cabinets. We are assembling them out of Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF).
My Upright
My Upright

Cocktail box   Cocktail with top
Two views of Tim's Cocktail

Arcade Controls FAQ - How-To site for building Cabs. Also an excellent forum.
MAME - The arcade emulator.
MAME32 - MAME for Windows.
KLOV - Killer List Of Videogames, a great resource for game information.
LuSid's cab that I'm loosely basing mine on.
Hagstrom Electronics - Keyboard encoders and trackball/spinner interfaces.
Happ Controls - Joysticks, buttons, trackball, spinner, coin door, stools, drink holder. . .