This project has been a long time in the works and I'm really happy to have made it a reality. I set out to see if I could build a small arcade on a really small budget and I must say it was a success. I pretty much made the entire thing out of stuff that I had laying around, with the exception of the joystick and buttons.
To be clear, this instructable is about building a cabinet for your arcade. I don't really go into setting up a Raspberry Pi or a computer or whatever. But this project is intended to be used with a Raspberry Pi. One of my steps goes over how to use an old laptop instead of a Raspberry Pi, if that sounds easier for you.
It's also a really fun project because after you assemble the cabinet itself, the outside is totally up to you as far as decorations go. I decided to keep it really simple, so I added a bit of trim to shadow the shape of the cabinet. I finished it off with a simple bit of text saying, "The Arcade." Short and sweet.
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Step 1: Prototype
I had a half sheet of half inch plywood left over from a previous project, so I wanted to build the cabinet using that. Half a sheet is just enough material, so there's not really much room for mistakes. So I decided to make a prototype using cardboard. Then I could make any necessary changes, then transfer those cardboard pieces over to my plywood. I was really careful to make sure my lines were right before I started cutting.
You can see in the pictures, it is only five pieces that make up the majority of the cabinet. Two sides, on front piece at the bottom, then two pieces at the top. Super simple.
Step 2: Assemble!
With those pieces cut to final size, I cut pocket holes in the three connector pieces. Then I used wood glue and screwed the three pieces to one of the sides. When I added the other side, it took a bit of stretching to get it lined up just right. So I used a brad nail in each piece to hold it steady while I screwed in the pocket screws.
I cut a couple of pieces of quarter inch plywood for the back and the bottom, but I set them aside to attach later, so I could keep it all open to work on the inside.
Step 3: Attach Monitor
You'll need an old LCD monitor, so if you don't have one in your attic, you may try looking at a local thrift shop or second hand store. I see them sometimes for pretty cheap.
Start by taking off the stand at the bottom. Then you can use a flat head to remove the front piece of plastic that frames the monitor. This piece is called the bezel. It's pretty easy to remove. It just pops off like a lid of a paint can or something.
Now I used more quarter inch plywood and traced the shape of the monitor. Then I drilled four holes and cut out the hole with a jig saw. Then I just layed the monitor on the plywood and used little pieces of wood to surround it completely until it was attached. Just make sure to leave access to the bottom, so you can plug it in later.
Step 4: Joystick and Buttons
I ordered the joystick and buttons from amazon. I lucked out and got an amazon gift card, so I used that to purchase this joystick. It cost 21 dollars. Not too bad.
Check out the video above if you have any questions, but it is unbelievably easy to set up these joysticks. It's as simple as just drilling holes where you want your buttons to be, and a hole for the joystick.
The set comes with a tiny little circuit board that you can hot glue to the underside of your control board. Then you literally just plug the joystick and buttons into the board. As easy as plugging in anything else. I thought there would be some soldering or something. Not at all. Super simple.
Step 5: Software
I looked into the software side of this quite a bit, and I ended up deciding to go with RetroPie. It serves as the front end and the emulator. This makes it much more user friendly than some other options.
Retropie is free to download, and it's pretty much setup and intended to be used with Raspberry Pi. If jumping into Raspberry Pi is a bit too intimidating for you, watch my video above, it shows how I setup an old laptop to run RetroPie. It's really easy. If you have an old laptop that you no longer use, just install Ubuntu instead of Windows and then you can run RetroPie.
Ubuntu is a totally free, open-source operating system. It's actually a really good operating system, I highly recommend it.
So whether you are using a Raspberry Pi or an old laptop, setting up RetroPie is very easy.
As far as games are concerned, I can not say strongly enough not to pirate any games. Don't pirate any software of any sort. Not cool. There are tons of games out there that are readily available that are ok to download. So don't get the ones that don't belong to you. Look it up for yourself, and check your own laws and regulations.
With all that said, it's really easy to add the games after you have them.
Step 6: Paint!
I painted my cabinet a soft, off-white. I always keep an eye out at the hardware store for those cans of paint that someone else didn't want. They are always marked down for really cheap. I can never pass them up.
I caulked the gaps and added a bunch of spackling compound to fill in all my construction errors.
Step 7: Adding Trim
Like I said earlier, at this stage of the game it's totally up to you how to decorate it. I added a thin piece of trim that echos the cabinet's shape. I painted it green (another can of paint I found on sale). I added a rectangle frame on the top and bottom as well.
Step 8: Finishing Touches
With the trim installed, I added some text to the top that said "The Arcade." I just printed this out on a toner printer (make sure to print it backwards), then transferred the image with a wood burning tool. Then I went back over the lettering with my wood burner. I also added a start button, along with a few others, (select, reset, a, b).
To finish up, I added a power strip to the back, so I only have to plug in one thing, instead of several.
Thanks for checking it out. Have a good one.