Per Wikipedia, an "arcade cabinet, also known as an video arcade machine or video coin-op, is the housing within which an video arcade game's hardware resides."
I'm simplifying, but by definition you can run only one game at a time into an arcade cabinet. If you want to run another game on it, you'll have to change the proprietary hardware inside. But since we're at it, why not replacing all the proprietary hardware with a computer running MAME?
Arcade cabinet and MAME
MAME which stands for Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator is a software that allows to run and emulate approximately 3700 different arcade games such as, among the most famous ones Ms Pac Man, Metal Slug, Street Fighter II, Galaga etc.
MAME can run on many different platforms such as Windows, Unix, OS X etc. but by simply playing it on a desktop computer, even though the games are exactly the same as their arcade counterparts, it lacks the look & feel of the original arcade (see attached picture of a desktop PC running...Metal Slug with MAME).
An Arcade Cabinet conversion into a MAME Cabinet consists of:
- removing the original proprietary electronic game board (PCB) inside a cabinet,
- replacing it with a computer (a PC) and
- interfacing it (display, controls, sound etc.)
Indeed, I wanted my cabinet to look as close to the exact thing as the original and by seeing it from the outside I wanted it in a way that no one could tell if it's a regular Arcade Cabinet or a MAME Cabinet. That means:
- Keeping the original display monitor (in no way I wanted to use a PC screen, LCD screen or even a TV).
- Keeping the originals pushbuttons and joysticks.
- Being coin operated.
- "one power switch turn it all",
- no inside keyboard,
- no inside mouse,
- no computer case,
- no floppy or DVD drive,
Before continuing further I'd also like to point out while you may find most arcade games easily out of the Internet, you must (on a legal standpoint) own the original game before you can run it with MAME. When you run a game with MAME for the first time, MAME display a reminder of this type,see attached screen shot.
Build a cabinet from scratch vs. conversion
Since I wanted something as close to the original, I started with an old cabinet that I have then converted. Of course, you can build a MAME cabinet from scratch but this is beyond the scope of my Instrucable. However you can easily find many information on the Internet about how to built your own enclosure cabinet from scratch.
Let me tell you there is a controversy within the arcade community with converting a cabinet rather than building one from scratch, because some old cabinets may be very rare and unique (think about an original Space Invaders or Pac-Man game Cabinet!) ; by converting a cabinet rather than restoring it to it's original state, it would only accentuate the rarity trend, and most of all destroy a piece of history that just needed some TLC instead. So if you decide to convert rather than building from scratch a cabinet, choose it wisely ! That means choose a generic cabinet instead of a dedicated cabinet.
Get a Cabinet and Prepare it
Anyway. I found my cabinet off of Craigslist, see attached screen shot of the original ad (you can also try eBay, or your local Video Arcade) ; it was sold as "working" but coming without any game board. Also, it wasn't a rare dedicated cabinet, but more like a generic cabinet without any "historic" relevance. That's exactly what I wanted for my project and I bought it for a little over $ 100.
When you convert or even build from scratch a MAME cabinet, there are mainly four critical steps you have to go thru:
- the ATX power supply power up,
- the VGA to the arcade monitor hookup,
- the control interfacing and
- the software set up.
Step 1: ATX Power Supply power up
I just kept intact the original power switch, the 110V wiring for the marquee light, the 110V wiring for the original display monitor and also the 110V wiring for the old game board power supply. Indeed this is where I tapped the standard computer ATX power supply.
Most commonly, you turn on an Arcade Cabinet with the help of one toggle switch (see attached picture), usually located on the back or on the top of the cabinet. This toggle switch commands two main components (eventually among the 110V Marquee Light):
- The Arcade Monitor (110V)
- The Switching Power Supply that powers the arcade system board (PCB) 110V
But keep in mind while older AT-style type motherboards had a power button that was directly connected to the computer power supply, ATX power supply does not directly connect to the system power button, allowing the computer to be turned on and off via software. So even after replacing the Switching Power Supply with an ATX power supply, the computer motherboard (unlike the Arcade Monitor) will not turn on once you hit the cabinet main powering switch.
So, how can you, with the help of one switch, power up both the Arcade Monitor and the ATX Power Supply ?
To solve this problem, I soldered together PIN # 14 (Green which is PS-ON) and PIN # 15 (Black which is COM) of the 20-pin ATX power supply connector. After this modification, the monitor and the motherboard would turn On and Off with the command of one level switch.
After the ATX power supply is installed and modified, you're able to power in the motherboard, the hard drive (which are both mounted inside the cabinet with some appropriate mounting brackets) and even the coin mechanism's light bulbs (+5V) using a 4-pin Molex connector.