Introduction: How to Build a Nintendo Arcade

Picture of How to Build a Nintendo Arcade
This Instructable will show you how I built my Nintendo arcade. It is a bartop cabinet that plays original Nintendo game. The arcade is completely self contained with one power switch for everything.

You can see a video of the arcade in action at Youtube, here.

Things you will need:
1 sheet of 4'x8' 1/4" MDF
1 sheet of plexiglass
1 set of joystick and arcade buttons
1 posterboard
several cans of spray paint
an older PC
an LCD monitor
1 USB keyboard
soldering equipment
nes controller ports (ripped from a four score)
DB-25 connector
2 cases of Diet Coke :)

Inside is an old PC and a 17" LCD monitor. The back of the cabinet has two USB ports and two NES controller ports. You can connect regular, un-modded NES controllers and play with those or use the joystick and buttons on the control panel.

The front end is a simple VB program that auto loads when the PC boots. You never need to connect a mouse or keyboard to load your games. The VB program gives a list of games installed. Using the joystick, you can select the game you want to play.

Also, you can connect a keyboard and mouse to the USB ports in the back and use the set as a regular PC. It has wireless internet built in.

Step 1: Building the Cabinet

Picture of Building the Cabinet

Draw out the arcade shape onto 1/4" MDF. Cut it out with a circular saw, jig saw, etc... Measure and cut out the remaining parts. My cabinet is 24"x18"x 24" (H x W x D). Screw all the pieces together.

Step 2: Hack the Keyboard to Use As an Interface

Picture of Hack the Keyboard to Use As an Interface

Now let's work on the interface for the joystick/buttons. This is how the controls will communicate with the PC.

You can buy encoders pre-made and save a lot of time, or you can do it on the cheap and spend a lot of time soldering. I prefer to do as much as possible myself, without buying special parts.

Take apart the keyboard and inside you will find a thin transparent piece of plastic film. It's actually two pieces that you must separate. After doing so, take a sharpie and mark the contacts that correspond to the keys you want to use.

I used the following keys: tab, esc, ctrl, alt, R, F4, enter, num lock, and the numbers 2,4,5,6,8, all from the num pad, that is very important. The numbers across the top of the keyboard will not work. This is because I used 2,4,6, and 8 as the up, down, left and right controllers for the emulator. By turning on sticky keys, these same numbers control the mouse cursor. The num locks enables/disables sticky keys. The number 5 key is the left mouse click. If you are using an 8-way joystick, you can also use the numbers 7,9,1, and 3 for the respective diagonals. I chose to keep it simple with a 4-way joystick since it was only going to emulate and old school NES.

Inside the emulator, you can choose which keyboard keys control what. This is what I used:

Main buttons:

UP-------------------num pad 8
DOWN--------------num pad 2
LEFT----------------num pad 4
RIGHT--------------num pad 6
B button------------ctrl
A button------------alt

Secondary buttons:

Mouse Mode----------num lock
Hide/show menu----esc
Mouse click-----------num pad 5

Now that you have keys marked on the films, we need to trace the contacts out and see which pin corresponds to which contact. each film will have its own set of pins. One set will be grounds and the others will be opens. The film that is the grounds will have the least amount of pins. My grounding film had 8 pins and the open film had 20 pins. For example: Take the R key on the ground sheet and using a multimeter in continuity mode, find out which pin of the 8 pins leads to the contact for the letter R. In my case it was pin 5. Doing the same thing for the letter R on the open field shows the R key corresponds to pin 11. Now we know that if we make those two pins touch each other, that will activate the letter R. That is how a keyboard works. Repeat this for every keyboard key you are going to use, making a list of this information as you go.

solder wires between the contact pins you need and a prototyping circuit board from radioshack. A nice tip is once you have your solder point done, smother the entire thing in hot glue so no wire accidentally get pulled off.

Once the interface is complete, you will wire the buttons to the prototyping boards.

Step 3: Make the Control Panel

Picture of Make the Control Panel

Now let's make the control panel. This will involve painting it, adding the joystick and buttons, and wiring them to the interface we created in the previous step.

Paint the entire board the base color of your choice

Mask out the design you want to use with painter's tape

Paint the board again with a different color.

Remove the painter's tape to reveal your design.

Drill the holes to insert the joystick and buttons into.

Install all buttons and joystick. You can additionally install a piece of plexiglass over the control board. I did this and it really made it look a lot nicer.

You can also label your buttons if you wish. I labeled the secondary buttons but chose to leave the main buttons unlabeled. For the text, I used rub on letters. You can get these from the scrap booking aisle at Hobby Lobby.

Now we need to connect the buttons to the interface.

At the base of each button and joystick is a microswitch. Wire the ground connection to the ground pin that corresponds with that button. Wire the normally open (NO) contact to the open end that corresponds. For example:

My A button corresponds to the keyboard key ALT. looking at my matrix, I see that the alt key is ground pin 6, open pin 19. for the A button microswitch, I solder a wire from the ground to pin 6 of my set of grounds. Then I solder a wire from the NO to pin 19 of my set of opens.

The A button is done, now repeat with all others.

Step 4: Conceal Everything Inside the Cabinet

Picture of Conceal Everything Inside the Cabinet

This step will vary depending on the size of your cabinet, size of your PC and monitor etc...

Basically, you shove all the components into the box.

I had to take my PC out of it's case and mount the components into the cabinet. There is a surge protector inside that the PC, monitor, speakers, and marquee light all plug into. I connected this surge protector to the male power plug that sits flush with the outside of the cabinet. I also put a rocker switch that turns the surge protector on and off. This way, one switch controls everything.

Add USB ports at this point. You can use a USB extension cable, just plug one end into the PC and leave the other end exposed for access outside the cabinet. The PC I used had an external USB control board, so I used that instead.

I made a Nes controller port that works with the PCs parallel port. There are plenty of instructions available for this online. It would require another instructable unto itself, so please look it up. Once the ports are wired up to the PC, leave the ends exposed at the back of the cabinet.

For speakers, I just took apart a set of desktop speakers. I installed them next to the marquee light, facing downward toward the screen. Be sure to drill several small holes in the wood that the speakers will be facing.

Connect a small fluorescent light kit and mount behind the marquee.

For the marquee design, I just printed out the logo I wanted and sandwiched it between two thin pieces of plexiglass.

Get the monitor in the exact spot you need and bolt it down.

Once all of this is done, test it out and if you are happy with the results, install the control panel and the plexiglass over the monitor.

For the bezel around the monitor, I used a sheet of plexiglass and spray painted the edges to hide everything except the viewable LCD area.

Step 5: Finished Product

Picture of Finished Product

When it's all done, this is what you are left with.

Please feel free to ask any questions you may have. I will do my best to help you out.


RAZAGOLF13 (author)2017-01-31

does this even play? why dont ii buy a new nintedo 3ds

rugbyguy1981 (author)2016-08-11

Would like to know if there is some template to use to cut out or draw the side of machine on wood and also something to know how to make the sizes for back top and bottom wood also where does the cardboard go and used for as well as the light and how it's hooked up or details sent on how to wire everything to one switch the instructions look good but some things are hard for me to understand email me info if you can to make it easy for me at

BrandonP22 (author)2015-11-24

Is there a way to make this and play games like pac-man, galaga and dig-dug? If so, how?

mikeypc made it! (author)2015-08-23

My completed cabinet! Using a raspberry pi as the computer

BrandonP22 (author)mikeypc2015-11-24

Which model did you use?

Nesmaniac (author)2015-10-25


AnEngineersView (author)2015-09-06


russm313 (author)2015-05-03

Just wanted to share my latest arcade build with everyone who liked this Instructable.

oakleygear (author)2015-04-27

Great job on the colors and the size of this - only thing missing is the chapter on allowing my wife to let me leave it on the kitchen counter.

ldblogan made it! (author)2015-03-02

the Simpsons live in Illinois

ébrisson (author)2014-10-18

Can you add the angle of the cabinet? It would be great!

Crafterkid123 (author)2014-09-20

You should make an updated one with a wii running emulators inside :D

AnimalCrackersRGood (author)2009-10-11

 How would you make it 2 player?

google "raspberry pi". Its a tiny ARM computer that can run 2 player easily. Plus the emulators are easy to install on it.

I have NES ports on the back of the machine.  Just plug in an original NES controller and you can use it as the second player controls.

x-muts-x (author)2011-08-04

But if you're using an LCD or Plasma,
You won't be able to play Duck Hunt...
Which is the best game ever...
And you can't put an old screen in there. They're huge..

farmerboyk (author)x-muts-x2012-04-14

Im sure the screen doesn't matter if its LCD/Plasma.

Crafterkid123 (author)farmerboyk2014-09-19

nope. You need a CRT to use a zapper or even super scope.

It does matter; you need scan lines to make shooting games work (old CRT televisions), for the original NES anyway. Sames goes for the Sega Master System.

Most emulators allow you to add scan lines to whatever game you may be playing. Plus I'm sure you can use a mouse!

fms89 (author)2014-03-07

I used an Ipac 2 as hacking a keyboard was a nightmare lol.

fms89 (author)2014-03-07

I finally made it! It runs NES, SNES, MAME, NINTENDO 64 and GAMEBOY ADVANCE using the Atomic Fe program. A lot of trial and errors, a lot of dead ends but for a girl I think I've done pretty well :p.

fgramelspacher (author)2014-02-13

i made this with the ideal form here i runs over 600 NES games i didn't make the cabinet i found an old arcade machine and gutted it.... added an old Gateway PC and an Acer 19' monitor.... painted some things.... re-soldered the power button to the cabinet and power button to the pc on the front put two USB ports on the front.. i cheated and used a Arcade DIY Kit Parts No Delay USB Encoder + 10x Push Button + Joystick i found on ebay for $39.00 ........ used windows XP and added a usb wifi adapter inside.... i wrote a VB script but with 600+ games I've decided just to rewrite it to load the emulators NES,SNES,Gameboy,N64...ect. the joystick works as the mouse the A,B buttons are the R,L click of the mouse...and tap a button and the joystick reverts back to the controller.... if anyone need help just email me at i can help with the VB script and show u where to get the program to use the joystick as the mouse.....

henpup (author)2014-01-13

Where did you get the buttons, and the joy stick

fms89 (author)2013-06-27


I am looking to make this but I am having trouble with all the wiring and stuff. I am a girl and this will be a massive challenge for me to build but I am no good with all that fidly bits like wiring or computers/programs. Is there any way you could give me a step by step instructions on all the wirings and stuff? I would appreciate it so much!

I love your idea and I would love to make it. :).


GenAap (author)fms892013-12-14

This is probably the one answer you don't want to hear, but if you want to build something like this so that it works and works well, it would be best to learn up to it. If I were actually there and could walk you through the steps by pointing out various things, doing the more tricky parts, and answering on the spot questions, I would, but I cant. I probably can't give you all the details you need in this comment, so let me point you to some excellent resources.

If you want to find good mentors you can look for some Hackerspaces in your area ( You don't have to join, but you could probably find some people who know their stuff. If that doesn't work, you could start working on it and when you come across a problem or confusing part ask questions on various forms. We have the great Q&A here on Instructables for almost anything, Stack Overflow ( works great for programming queries, Super User ( for computer related questions, and Electrical Engineering ( if you need an electronics Q&A.

They already have thousands upon millions of questions already asked and answered. You can join and ask your own questions, but I never have had to. If you can't find what you need there, just Google what you want you are having problems with and a few keywords, then follow the instructions they give you.

I should tell you, this isn't something a novice can just build in a week on and off. If a seasoned maker had all the parts they might be able to pull it off in a weekend. I should tell you that need to get ready for some frustration and dead ends. They'er just an unavoidable part of the game. I don't want to scare you away from doing this, though. It's an awesome feeling I get whenever I finish a difficult project and it works. I wouldn't want to keep anyone from that.

MohawkMarine (author)2013-07-20

Nice job, i think i will make something like this built out of my old NES, PS1 and maybe get a SNES. Great job on this. i'm not going to sacrifice a computer though. rather just hack an old console.

seekanddestroy (author)2012-11-24

Your measurement from front to back is really 2ft? My dad and i sat at the pc trying to figure this out forever because 2 ft just seemed a little small lol so just wanted to clarify this ! And i bought a 4x8 board and it seems like i have enough mdf to make two of these cabs

tygersrule (author)2012-11-19

Hey, planning on building this, can you tell me how much plexiglass you used and where you go it from? Also, what did you use for the secondary buttons, and where did you get them from.

russm313 (author)tygersrule2012-11-19

I got the plexi from Home Depot. The secondary buttons are just momentary SPST buttons from radioshack. Good luck!

sleepydino11 (author)2012-10-12

For my one I'm gonna use my NES and my small tv and a NES advantage.

trosenau (author)2012-06-28

I know this is really late but almost a year ago I said I might do this for my senior project? I did :)

jackflash (author)2012-05-01

I was wondering how much everything costs to build this ?....

Awsome job btw. SAL

cfoster15 (author)2012-04-15

Im just going to use a nes system to do this. I know I can't save games but that seems a bit more like a real arcade anyways. I will defiantly use this design (with some modifications obviously) to make a nes arcade machine. Then a Snes arcade machine. Thank god for parents with tools or I might have to buy my own!

now all i need is some diet coke.... oh yeah and all that other stuff

cc67 (author)2012-03-21

Do you need to install an operating system for this???

sofiadragon1979 (author)2012-03-21

That thing freaking rocks!!!!!, I'm tinking of versions for other retro systems & include all the games that we all grew up w/.

seanthesheep101 (author)2011-07-11

Is the diet coke have to come in later on or is it used for something?

Ples explain

some people dont get the joke

Krayzi99 (author)seanthesheep1012011-07-22

it is for all the energy. caffiene

qneuhalfen (author)2011-07-30

Would it be possible to make a Sega arcade the same way

thethiny1919 (author)qneuhalfen2012-03-10

As you have your pc , you are free to do anything with it , just add more buttons!

Krayzi99 (author)2011-10-06

Is there a way to get the VB script from ya? still a extremely beginner vb programmer

thethiny1919 (author)Krayzi992012-03-10

download an emulator
For Windows XP-Vista-7:
1, click start
2.Click all programs
3.Click STARTUP (folder)
4.put a shortcut to an emulator here

kulak314 (author)2011-10-28

what are the measurements for each piece of the box?

thethiny1919 (author)kulak3142012-03-10

depending on your system , for him , he use 4x8

apoorveinstein (author)2011-11-20

How can i make that VB program, so that it runs on system boot up??

For Windows XP-Vista-7
1, click start
2.Click all programs
3.Click STARTUP (folder)
4.put a shortcut to your application here
5.The application must be a pre-made VB program or an emulator

Yeah mann dats really easy...
Bt i want dat VB prog???

make a button that does this action : start "[emulator name here].exe" "[rom name and location here].nes"
I may code it for you!

go make it yourself its easy!

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