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.

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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

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

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.
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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!
Derek Vigil3 years ago
How much money would this cost overall?
I have a question please reply to me @ thethiny@ymail.com
I have found the Ground and Open for all my buttons , now I have everything ready except for one thing, how do I connect them?
I have the buttons and the pins , please tell me step-by-step how-to?
should I get a wire and connect it to the button and open-pin ,then get another wire and connect it to the button and ground-pin? So it would look like this:
Ground Pin --------| | --------Open Pin
please help I wont waste my 350$!!!
Unless I'm missing something (which is completely possible since I've only been skimming), wouldn't it be easier to use a pcb from a pc-compatible usb controller? They're really cheap, you can find them anywhere and are much easier to modify than a keyboard.
awolf13 years ago
Very cool.... Go to fav list.

But Diet Coke??? really?? I think soda is better. ^^

promotions3 years ago
Wow, this is an awesome instructable it really does show how to create a state of the art nintendo arcade.

Nintendo Repair Shop
sboekelman3 years ago
can i use a nes advantige controler for it?
T_T_ sboekelman3 years ago
not without this Chip
trosenau3 years ago
Im hoping to do this for my senior project, so in the upcoming next months :)
couldn't you just get an old tv,NES,and NES advantage controller?
how big is your monitor and extra side room so i can adjust the size some
cooltool4564 years ago
Can you use an old mac?
yes yes you can
Probably not unless you can find A: a compatible emulator program and B: a way to start it on bootup.
Ekloef3 years ago
I have one word... WOOOOOW! O_O

I have to do this some day! the relssy great part is how easy it word be to use the same machine with various emulators!

You made my head spin with inspiration! Thanks a lot =D
Krayzi994 years ago
it would be easier to get a joystick with buttons and use joytokey to configure it to keys
orangeguy815 years ago
Cool job. I did notice you attached the joystick on the top of the panel. You are supposed to put it under the wood. Otherwise, awesome.
i think it looks awesome like that. looks retro
I am thinking space dictated this design, rather than aesthetics... I personally like it looking like that, as it reminds me of a old-school arcade where they were exposed like that. Kudos!
russm313 (author)  Spokehedz5 years ago
Actually, it wasn't space. I wanted it to be an all in one bartop arcade.
Nono... I meant installing the joystick on top of the control panel instead of from the underside.
russm313 (author)  Spokehedz5 years ago
Oh I understand what you mean now. No, it wasn't a space issue. There is plenty of room below the control panel. I honestly just screwed up and put the joystick on the outside. This is the first arcade I've ever built. I am fixing it this weekend, though. I'll post updated pics once the repairs are done.
is there a way to install a driving wheel? theres a game that has 1 button a driving wheel and a joy stick its a really awsome game and i want to play it all the time thanks
russm313 (author)  orangeguy815 years ago
22,000 hits and you are the first person to mention that. I thought for sure, when I posted this, I would get eaten alive because of that screw up! I didn't notice it until after I had finished. I am actually redoing the control panel this weekend. I will be fixing the joystick and adding a thicker piece of plexiglass.
ha ha.. I only noticed that because I am building my own stand up cab. awesome job!
Wowee this is pretty cool. Like I've seen cool things on instructables but this just like tops the scales
Good job I would like to see what else you have made:)
HurcanDewit4 years ago
i love this. a lot.
craig34 years ago
Is it possible to get a drawing of the measurements for the side of it? or even possible all the pieces of it? sides, back, top and the piece underneath the tip hangover?
jackman274 years ago
did you guys know that it is illegal to play roms with a copyright on them, even if you do own the game? look at this website http://www.nintendo.com/corp/legal.jsp
Well they aren't exactly going to encourage it. It would be hard to run down to Walmart and buy one of these NES games. How are Nintendo or the makers of those games profiting on no sales of the NES game cartridges?

BTW, it doesn't say it is illegal to play or have the ROMS, it says it is illegal to download them. It actually says that you CAN have them with restrictions.
d1ndian4 years ago
Hi i always wanted to make a portable arcade system outta an old laptop. Putting a laptop and doing a few modification to your control system would make it very lightweight portable all in one laptop + arcade machine. Now how to setup everything in place is the only tricky part.
jceason4 years ago
how much does the stuff cost?
jceason4 years ago
Could you send me the pdf? jce2875@gmail.com
chance3134 years ago
This is just great!
how can we shut down the arcade without a keyboard??
mcaliber.504 years ago
i would make it so you could switch games, like the original nes
zeroblood4 years ago
correct me if im wrong but the VB program brings up a list of roms to choose when the computer boots right? here is a way to do that with a batch file
put all your roms into a folder ("nesroms" in this case) put them in your C: folder then open notepad and type:

cd C:
start nesroms

then save it as .bat and put it in your startup folder and that should do the trick. just 3 simple lines. great project by the way
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