Introduction: How to Build an Arcade Machine in 4 Minutes

The video above shows all the steps described in this instructable so please watch the video before reading more.

Okay, actually, it is only the video which lasts 4 minutes,but the construction took about 200 hours. But if you plan to do it, do not pay attention to the whole workload.

I will explain all the different steps to succeed the construction of your own arcade machine.

But first, here are some characteristics of the arcade:

The game consoles:

List of the video games consoles (and the emulator) which are available on the arcade:

  • SONY: Playstation (ePSXe and PSX)
  • SEGA: Dreamcast (nullDC)
  • SEGA: Megadrive/Genesis (Gens)
  • SEGA: Master System (Fusion)
  • NINTENDO: N64 (Project64)
  • NINTENDO: Super NES (zsnes)
  • NINTENDO: NES (nestopia)
  • NINTENDO: GameBoy Color/GameBoy Advance (VisualBoyAdvance)
  • Various arcade (MAME)

The frontend:

The software used to select the emulator is Maximus Arcade.

The budget:

  • Chipboard (thickness: 18mm; surface: 7m²) : 73.50€
  • 4 Castors : 25.60€
  • Neon lamp : 14.99€
  • 1 Plastic plate (2x600x1000mm): 26.60€
  • T-molding (11 meters): 32.56€
  • 3 Stickers: 81€
  • Paintings: 35.95€
  • Used computer: 20€
  • Used screen: 20€
  • Used speakers: 4€
  • Speaker grilles: 7.80€
  • Extension cord and Power strip: 6€
  • Electronic circuit: 10€
  • Buttons Kit: 72.76€
  • 2 universal playstation gamepads :13.04€
  • All the shipping costs: 30€

Total cost : 473.80€

Interesting fact: the most expensive is not the computer hardware part but all the decorations.

To do this instructable, you will need:

  • Motivation
  • A wood workshop with some machines
  • Computer skills
  • Time
  • Money
  • Precision
  • Organisation
  • To like retro gaming

Now let's go, watch the time-lapse video above to see all the steps in accelerated mode. Then, read the specific steps which you are interested in for more details and explanations.

Step 1: Draw the Plans

Before the construction, you must know exactly what you want the arcade to look like. So the plans must be exactly determined. You will then earn time cutting the chipboard because you will know exactly what you want to do.

If you do not know how to use a CAD software (like me) to establish the plans, ask a member of your family or a friend to do the task and tell the person what you want.

Let your imagination run wild and do not hesitate to innovate with the shape of the cabinet.

Be careful with the height of the control panel, it must be comfortable for the hands and the wrists. The position of the screen must be comfortable for the eyes, not too high, not too close or too tilted. Stand up and test different positions with a high table and a screen to know which one is the best.

Step 2: Cut the Chipboard

How to do: For straight cuts, use a circular saw. If you want the boards perfectly fit together, you must do miter joints and tilt the circular saw to make angle cutting.

To cut the curve shapes, use a jigsaw.

Tip: Pay attention to the blade that you use, some don't allow to turn with the jigsaw when you cut. Before the first cut, just try it on a scrap wood.

Tip: If the cut is chipping, you can tape the board before the cut. This will reduces the problem.

Be careful: If you plan to use T-molding, you should dig a groove around the boards at this step. It will be too late afterwards because once the boards are assembled, they will be unreacheable for the router (See the Step 17 about the T-molding).

How to prepare the T-molding: To dig a groove all around the boards, you can use a router with a special tool. The tool can be expensive, so if like me, you know someone who can manufacture it and supply it for free, it could be very helpful. You can see the special saw of the rooter in the above picture. With this tool, you must slow down the rotational speed of the rooter because the diameter of the saw is large. The saw can overheat, therefore you may want to take breaks and wait until the blade cools down.

Step 3: Consider Maintenance

You should make a door behind the machine. Indeed you must be able to have access to all the elements inside from this opening, think about it.

How to do: Before you cut, drill a small hole to insert the saw blade. Cut a door with the jigsaw and put a hinge. To keep the door closed, you can put a magnet inside. Be careful when you cut because you will need both sides of the board (the door and the door frame). So be careful not to damage the two sides.

Tip: For the corner of the door, make rounded corner so it will not damage the door frame and the frame.

Tip: When you fix the hinge, place the door 1mm higher than its normal position. With time and the weight, the door could go down a little bit, therefore you must anticipate it.

Step 4: Assemble the Boards

Use pieces of square lath to hold the boards together. Assemble them with screws.

The screws are visible from the outside but as the chipboard is less solid than the lath, we prefer do not put the tip of the screws in the chipboard for more solidity.

Tip: To put a screw, drill a pilot hole into the lath with the minor-diameter of the screw, and a hole into the chipboard with the major-diameter of the screw. The minor-diameter hole is optional for the boards which are a bit thin.

Step 5: Think of Mobility

You must calculate the final weight of the arcade machine in order to know which castors you will buy.

I estimate the total weight about 80 Kg (175 lbs). At any time, only 3 castors (not 4) touch the ground (because a plane is defined from 3 points). So the castors must carry 80/3 = 27 Kg (60 lbs).

Choose 2 castors with brakes, and 2 without.

Tip: Let at least 5 cm (2 inch) between the floor and the bottom of the boards, otherwise the arcade machine may grate floor by rolling on non-planar surface.

Step 6: Add a Drawer

This step is optional and I did not plan it at the beginning.

In my case, I need a drawer to store 2 additional playstation gamepads. Because I wanted to add the possibility to play some games with 4 players, 2 players on the control pad and 2 players with 2 gamepads.

I make a false bottom in the drawer to hide a keyboard for the maintenance.

Tip: As we can see on the second picture, The laths along the drawer overflows behind it to sustain it when it is opened.

Tip: Rub some paraffin on the sliding section so that the drawer slides better.

Step 7: Punch the Control Panel

It is a delicate step because the holes must be positioned précisely to correspond with the decoration drawing around the buttons in the future stickers.

How to do: First, drill a smaller pilot hole. Then put a bit 28 mm diameter on a drill press and drill the holes..

Be careful: With a large drill bit, you need to slow the drill, and the board will tremble a lot if you go too fast.

Tip: If the joysticks have a small handle, you can use a router to reduce the thickness of the board and increase the height of the joystick (cf. pictures).

Step 8: Fix the Screen

I bought a used 19" screen, this was with this size that I found the best value for money.

How to do:

Remove the screen base but keep the screws to fix the screen on its new base.

In the board where you will put the screen, cut the hole with a jigsaw, (first, drill a hole to insert the blade of the jigsaw). Sand around the hole if the screen does not fit the first time.

To fix the screen, put a board horizontally behind the screen to screw it.

Tip: Before put a plastic plate in front of the screen, make sure the button of the screen is turned on because you can not access to the buttons after.

Tip: The front of the screen must be moved to the back by 3mm. Otherwise, the future plastic plate could press the button accidentally if the screen is too ahead. So the screen could stop for example when you play with a friend, if he loses he could put a headbutt in the plastic protection plate. and push the power button =). A more credible example is when you move the arcade by a staircase.

Step 9: Add Audio

I made a good deal when I found 2 loudspeakers and 1 subwoofer all for 4€.

How to do:

Disassemble entirely the loudspeakers. Throw all the pieces of plastic and keep only the speakers and the volume knob (and the wires obviously).

Use a drill and a rooter to do a place for the speakers and the volume knob. It will allow for the user to set the volume. from the front. It is very practical because every game or console has not the same default volume.

If the volume knob is to small, dig the chipboard with a router around the hole to push the button deeper.

Step 10: Bring Light

To illuminate the future marquee, fix a neon light.

Be careful: The plexiglass plate in front of the neon will not be necessarily removable. If the light is broken you will need to access to the neon to change it. So you must provide an access to change the light. In my arcade, the back door is large enough to enter and access to the neon..

NB: the light does not serve only to illuminate the marquee but it is also very useful to illuminate inside the machine for the installation of the computer and for maintenance.

Step 11: Close the Window

You need a plexiglass plate to protect the screen. The plate I bought is 2mm thick. You do not need thicker because this would be more expensive and useless.

You can cut the plexiglass with a circular saw even if the plate could be brittle.

Be careful, do not fix the plates at this step, wait to paint the cab and stick the stickers on the plate before fix them.

To fix the plate in front of the screen (the bezel) you can use double tape. But for the marquee, there is no surface behind the plate because it must let the light pass. You can dig a slot to insert the plate. In my case, I have not planned to dig a slot so I put a small surround behind the plate that we can see on the picture. Then I stick the plate with glue.

NB: There is a protective film on each side of the plate. It must be remove as late as possible, just before fix the plate.

Step 12: Paint the Cab

There are generally 3 kind of paint : matt, satin and gloss.

  • Gloss paint: more beautiful but reveals the slightest faults.
  • Matt paint: more discreet, more fragile.
  • Satin paint: is a mix between matt and gloss.

I choose a black matt paint, but it quickly abyss, so I recommend taking a satin paint.

After that, you can choose between an acrylic paint or a glycero paint.

  • The acrylic paint has some advantages, it washes easily with water, it is best for the environment, it does not smell strong and it is not more expensive or a lower quality than the glycero paint.
  • The glycero paint is more resistant to moisture but in our case, it is not a problem to take in consideration.

So the choice is easy, choose a acrylic paint.

Note: Even if "monolayer" is written on the paint bucket, do not trust it and plan to have enough paint to do 2 layers minimum.

Before painting, sand down all the cab and wipe off dust. Use sandpaper increasingly end and finish by P240 sandpaper minimum. More you sand, less you need paint.

Apply a first coat of paint. You can use a paint roller, it is more effective than paint brush for the big surfaces.

Between 2 layers, use a very thin sandpaper (minimum P500) on all the cab, this is a very important step. Indeed, after the first layer, the wood fibers stand and it is less smooth. That is why you must sand done between the two layers.

Apply a second layer.

If needed, apply a third layer on important parts.

Step 13: Add a Decorative Touch

Most of arcade machine have beautiful sticker for the side art. I would have liked to do the same thing but the stickers are expensive (> 100€ just for the two sides). Further it's difficult to find or to do a good side art and unfortunately, I am not an graphist designer, so I decided to paint. At the beginning I thought to do splash paint with multiple color, I like the idea but in practice, this was too risky. I was not sure the result would be good, so I did not take the risk and I choose to paint brick for more safety. The bricks remind lots of games, so this seems appropriate.

By chance, I found in my home a roll of tape 1 inch wide. So I decided to use it as it was.

I used some bright colors because the cab was dark and sad with this black.

To this step, try on computer to draw a prototype of what you want to paint to imagine the result, and when you find something that you like, go for it.

When you paste the tape, push it correctly to not let the paint go through it.

Tip: If you paint a color on black, you must paint many layers before to get the real color that you want because the black is too dark. So start by painting a white layer in all cells that you want to color (use paint white base of your bathroom, it will be fine).

After the paint, you must varnish the cab with a transparent varnish.

Step 14: Install Spearker Grilles

There is no difficulty at this step, I just wanted to emphasize that small details like these grids are very important. this is the kind of details which will make believe that you bought the arcade whereas that is your creation. That is why I did not hesitate to pay these grilles (8€ without shipping fees) more than the speakers (4€) placed below the grids.

Step 15: Embellish the Box With Stickers

At this step you have several possibilities to decorate the arcade with stickers.

First you can order existing pictures/stickers. But generally, that does not go with the dimension of your creation. So a solution is to do your own stickers custom made.

There are 4 parts to decorate :

  1. The control panel
  2. The bezel (the part around the screen)
  3. The marquee (the illuminated panel above the cab)
  4. The side (also called side art)

I did not do the side art with stickers for some reasons : I would like to do make a crowd of characters but I have not the skills, I had no pictures with a sufficient resolution and the stickers was too expensive for me.

So I made 3 stickers with photoshop with a 150 dpi resolution (300 dpi is better but not required). I ordered the stickers on a specialized website.

For the control panel, I ordered a normal sticker. But for the bezel and the marquee, they are reversed stickers. Which means the picture is print on the sticky side. It allows to put the sticker behind the plastic plate.

Note: When you draw your bezel on your computer, the void rectangle must be the size of the width of the inside of the screen. Otherwise, you will see the border of the screen and this is not very beautiful.

Note: For the marquee, even if the sticker is opaque. At first I was afraid that the marquee does not shine enough, but the sticker allow light to pass and the result is very good.

Step 16: Make the Control Panel

On the first picture you can see a complete kit with:

  • 15 buttons (and one switch with each button)
  • 2 joysticks
  • 1 USB cable 2 meters
  • 1 joystick encoder board
  • All the wiring needed
  • 4 black buttons that I added (not included in the kit)

I choose to add 2 buttons for each player in addition to 6 buttons generally present. The 2 (black) buttons per player will allow to play some games on playstation or on nintendo 64, because these consoles have a gamepad with many buttons.

How to do: First, cut holes in the control panel sticker with a box cutter. Then, place the buttons, screw the plastic nuts, slot the switches and finally slot the 2 wires to the switch. One ground wire connects all switches in series. Each other phase wire is connected to one switch.

A joystick has 4 position (up, down, left, right), so it has 4 switches and each switch is connected to the USB interface encoder board like the others standard buttons.

NB: When the encoder board is connected to a PC via a USB port, the computer detect this like 2 gamepads. So it is very easy to configure the control panel from the emulators.

Tip: put the encoder board in a small plastic bag to avoid dust. It serves also to avoid short-circuit due to static electricity during the manipulation of the board with your hands. Another way to cancel static electricity is to unload its electricity before the manipulation by touching the ground for example.

Step 17: Pose the T-molding

What's this? The T-molding is the strip put around the side board. Usually, we put the T-molding strip only on the front, along the side boards.

The T-molding is really important even if it may seem a little expensive. It changes everything, after this decoration, the arcade machine has style. So, do not miss !

Measure accurately before ordering, and take a little more just in case. Generally, about 6 meters (20 ft) are enough. But for my arcade machine, I plan to decorate with the T-molding all around the side and around the marquee. So I ordered 11 meters. At the end, I still had got enough to do the drawer with the T-molding, so I used it.

I hope you dug a groove before all around the boards like I mentioned in Step 2, otherwise it could be to late to access some angles with a router to do the groove.

How to do: To fix the strip, you normally do not need glue. Use a rubber mallet to push the strip into the groove.

Tip: For the reflex angles and the acute angles, cut wedge on the strip to be able to bend the strip (like in the pictures).

Be careful: The T-molding works only once. If you remove it, the groove and the strip is damaged and you will need glue to make it fit again, but it will not hold as well as before.

Step 18: Configure the Machine

This step could represent a full instructable. Indeed, if the video of the construction of the arcade machine (which is not on the video) represent 200 hours of work. The configuration of the machine took me at least 400 hours.

I will just summarize the main steps :

  • Find the hardware: An arcade machine does not need a high performance computer, so you can recover used computers from your friends, in a garage sale or in a used market. Many people get rid of his computer on windows XP or Vista. In the same way you can find a screen and speakers.
  • Mount the computer: Take the best pieces of each computer that you recover (RAM, Hard disk, video card etc...)
  • Format the hard disk: Before install the OS, format the old data. If the disk has a failure, you may need to do a LLF, Low Level Format, in order to completely reset the disk. To do this, download a program on the constructor website of the disk, and copy the program on a bootable floppy disk (DOS), then boot the computer on the floppy disk and follow the instructions.
  • Install an OS: I choose the OS Windows XP because it is very light unlike Windows 7 which needs 1Go Ram just for work. I could have chosen Linux but the community on software and emulators on Windows is more important than on Linux so it is easier to find solutions to many problems that you will have.
  • Install some devices: After the installation of the OS, you will need to install some drivers so some devices (that you put into the tower) will run correctly (graphic card, sound card etc...). Next you will need some codecs to read videos and sounds (with the frontend for example). Apart the emulators, you may need install some softwares like backup software (ex: Cobian) or data compression software (ex: Winrar).
  • Optimize the system: As you will use the computer just to run emulators, you can deactivate some functionality like everything about the network because you will not need this anymore. Then you can deactivate everything superfluous for example by set the classique windows appearance. There are many tutorial which explain the list of the things to do to accelerate the computer of your arcade machine.
  • Hide the OS: When you launch the arcade, there are some screens which show what is behind the frontend and this is not very elegant (loading screens of Windows, welcome screen of windows). So you can hide the launch screens by changing the Windows Registry with the program regedit.exe. The software bootskin allow to change the first loading screen of Windows XP (the 16 bits picture).
  • Install and configure emulators: Choose the old consoles that you like and download the related emulators. Configure the inputs for each emulators. Be careful if you test an emulator on an other computer with another OS (Seven for example), the game or the emulator do not necessarily work on Windows XP. So try to do your tests on the final computer as much as possible.
  • Download roms: This step is no difficult but can be very long for some roms like with playstation or dreamcast roms. An advice: do not download a huge quantity of roms, but focus on the quality. Anyway, everybody always plays the same games. So make sure to have the classics !
  • Install and configure a frontend: To choose the console and the game with the joysticks, you will need a software called a frontend. For example : HyperSpin, Maximus Arcade, GameEx tec... In my arcade, I use Maximus Arcade that I recommend, it is both easy to use and full functionality. It allows to choose a console then to see a list of games with a preview of the gameplay. You can configure the frontend to launch it automatically at the computer startup.
  • Test the games: You must test all the games but this step is a trap. you just want to test if a game works and for each game you play for half an hour =p
  • Make a backup: It is very important to make a backup of all the data because the crashes could be very common. In my case, I had many problems and some blue screen of the death magically appeared many time...

Step 19: Power on All the Devices With Only One Button

What's this? This step allow to power on all the electrical devices with only one push on the red button.

The different devices are :

  • The computer tower
  • The screen
  • The light
  • The speakers

Without this step , you should switch on all the devices each time you want to play and do not forget to switch off after. Another solution, would be to let all the devices turned on all the time except the computer that you turn on when you want to play. But it would be strange that the marquee illuminate when the arcade is off. These solutions are not very practical.

So we will place one red button all in one.

How does it work?

The red button is derived from the power button of the tower. So when you push the red button, the computer turns on. At this moment, usb ports are powered by 5V. These 5V go through the RELAY, and the switch into the relay is turned on. So the power strip has power, then the screen, the light and the speakers are magically turned on.

To switch off the arcade with the button, you must set the computer: with the option "Action when i press the power button" choose shutdown the computer (normally this is the default behavior). Then when you click on the red button, the computer shuts down correctly, then the relay is not anymore powered so the power strip is turn off.

NB: If the computer crashes, you can hold the button 4 seconds to turn off the computer (and the other devices).

What you need:

  • 2 Power strips
  • 1 USB cable to sacrifice (for example, the USB cable of your old phone)
  • 1 Relay 8A 1RT 5V (RELAY on the schema)
  • 1 Diode 1N4007 (D1 on the schema)
  • 1 Delay fuse 6.3A (R1 on the schema).
  • 1 PCB mount fuse holder
  • 1 PCB: Prototype Circuit Board.

The total cost of the electronic equipment (without the power strips) is about 10€.

You will also need a soldering iron and tin wire.

One little picture says more than a long speech so I let you watch the wiring diagram. Even if you have no skills in electricity, this circuit arrangement is very simple so I recommend to do it.

I will not explain you how to weld with tin but you can easily find other tutorial to learn =)

BE CAREFUL: you must isolate the electrical circuit because of the risk of electrocution. Some parts of the circuit are powered by 230 volts (it depends of your country).

Step 20: Fill the Box

this is not a mess I assure you, it is very difficult to clean the inside.

What are there ?

  • The computer tower (on the left). Sometimes, peoples disassemble completely the box and fixes only the motherboard but it is not obligatory. I just remove the side of the tower in order to ventilate the computer.
  • The subwoofer (on the right). This improves sensibly the quality of the sound.
  • 2 power strips and the electric circuit explained in the previous step.
  • A drawer with:
    • 2 USB playstation gamepad
    • A mouse and a keyboard for the maintenance
    • A user guide

The two additional gamepads allow to play with 4 players to some game like Micro Machine V3, Mario Kart, etc... It is a very important detail because this is with the multiplayer mode that you generally have more fun.

Step 21: Protect Him

2 solutions for this step.

  • Learn sewing
  • Have a mom who know sew and who accepts to do a custom protective cover for you.

Personally I chose the second solution.

The best way to close the cover is to use zip but some velcro tapes can do the job.

Step 22: Help the User

You can make a user guide, the user must be able to choose a console, choose a game and play using the user guide and without ask your help.

I tried to do a design guide which explain the equivalence between the control panel and the console gamepads. There is a page for each console available. It also say how select a game and how quit a game. I laminated the guide so it is resistant to spilled beers and other alcohols.

Make something beautiful and simple if you want the user read it.

Step 23: Time to Play

The best part !

Now you can play, this is a reward for your hard work.

Bonus ! This project could attract sexy girls =)

From the day I had the idea to the day I finish the project, it took about a year including 2 month for the construction of the cab.

Thanks for reading!