Intro: DIY Home Arcade Machine
Hey guys, this is a basic little step-by step for building your own home arcade. I have basically always wanted to do one even before MAME was around. When I was a kid I had the great idea of putting an NES in a cabinet and using the NES Advantage as a controller. Of course when you are a kid you always get great ideas an never capitalize on it when you have the chance. Now MAME cabinets are pretty common among hobbiests and you can even order pre-made parts and systems from various places. I decided to go with the good ol' fashioned DIY approach with mine and I'm glad I did. not only does it look 100% better than anything I could have bought, but I had total control over the parts that went into it, and I already have several people lined up to get me to build them one as well. In fact I have had so many requests since I did mine I had to add them to my list of services for my company Digital Elite PC.
In this DIY Tutorial I'm not going to go to much into the software or the actual PC that runs this. This is mostly aimed for the "How to make an Aracade" part of it all.
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Step 1: Pick a Cabinet
1. Pick a Cabinet
You have three basic options for a cabinet, each with their own pro's and con's. The first obvious choice is to build one from scratch. This offers the biggest set of positive and negative factors. For one you can make it custom to whatever size or shape that you want. If you chose you could make it accommodate a big screen TV. However, this method requires allot of time, planning, and tools. It also requires that you have a pretty good work space and better than average woodworking skills.
Your second option is a pre-fab kit. These can be ordered online for a considerable amount of scratch, straightforward to put together, and look good to boot. The downside is that they are not 100% customizable and can be expensive to ship to your home or shop.
The last option is to find a used machine locally. This can have some good benefits, namely being cheap. Especially if you look for something that's not working. The downside is that you will be limited to certain hardware limitations based on dimensions. Be sure to get something that is within your skill to refurbish and something that will have the space you need for the parts you want. If you like classic games a classic cabinet is awesome, if you like fighters an more modern style games try to find a Midway cabinet. Finally if you want more than 2 players be sure that the machine has an accommodating control deck or space for you to build one.
Step 2: Strip Down / Work Your Cabinet
Whichever starting point you went with, go with it. If you decided to go from scratch, start with your plans, build a scale model, then build your full scale. If you did a prefab, you hardly need instructions from me. If you followed my path you have almost as much work cut out as if you had built it from scratch. Start by stripping down everything from your cab down to the bare bones. Be sure to be careful with the monitor as they are very dangerous. Take your time and don't just RIP everything out, many of the parts you will be able to sell on E-Bay and get your money back if they are in good shape. Also be sure to pull out the old T-Molding.
After you get everything pulled apart start your rebuild. I put a small shelf in the bottom of my cabinet for the PC that would eventually go inside so it would be level with the coin door opening. I didn't want to have to reach down into my machine to change disks, or tinker with the guts.
Sand down everything and wipe with a cloth to get all the loose dust off. Use putty, filler, or Bondo to fill in nicks and cracks, and sand again. Decide on a color an paint. I'm not going to lecture too much on paint because every other DIY I have read says the same thing I'm going to say. You know by now. Primer, lightly sand, paint, lightly sand, wipe, paint again... repeat. I went with about 4 coats not including the grey automotive spray primer. I used about half a gallon of black paint with a roller over the entire cabinet. Take your time. Let coats fully dry. It will be worth it in the end. I went with a roller for a nice commercial style texture. I went with flat so that the graphics would pop. Plus I like to use a sheen clear coat. If you use a flat paint then when you run clear over everything later it will look more uniform.
Once you get you wood painted, it's time to do your metal pieces. For all my 90degree metal pieces I used high gloss black spray paint. It was a little touch, but it really made the final product look good. The pictures don't do it justice. For the coin door I did the same, but the chrome pieces had allot of rust spots. I used a Dremel and a little sand paper to polish them up. Then I taped them of and painted the whole thing to look like new. be sure to remove all the mechanics from the back of the door to make it easier to work with - but you do not want to remove the coin door light fixtures or lead wires if you plan to use them. They will prove useful later when wiring since they will run off of your computers 12v rail. The alternative is to replace with LED lights, but I see this as a very tedious step that isn't needed.
I got my T-Molding through work, but wherever you get it you should buy one size bigger than needed and trim with a razor blade to fit once installed. It will give the cabinet a much cleaner look. Many times the wood is warped and chipped and standard thickness won't cover defects in all the places.
Finally I installed kick plates on my machine. A piece of 90 degree angled aluminum works very well. In the front I installed a piece of flat ABS plastic 6" high to help cover nicks and chips in the wood and to keep everything nice and new looking.
Step 3: Decide on Monitor Mounting
One thing that will come up later that you have to plan for now is deciding on what type of monitor you are going to install into your machine. Many purists will only use arcade monitors - they are heavy, bulky and expensive; but they give you an authentic crappy look that will magically transport you right back to the eighties. I on the other hand wanting a machine that did more than play games and looked good while doing it opted for a modern day flat screen computer monitor. I opted for a monitor and not a TV because I wanted it to power on and off with the computer. Most modern monitors have a standby mode that is triggered by the computer's VGA signal.
After doing some research I found out that a modern 24" monitor is 23" wide. Unfortunately finding a standard 4:3 aspect flat screen doesn't exist bigger than 19". I like to have as big a screen as possible, so I went with a 24" - But we''l get into that later. I knew that I did not want the screen to mount the same way the classic one did laying flat. I wanted the screen to be at a more vertical angle (something else I will get flamed for II'm sure) but it just seemed a little more modern and friendly to work with fighters and modern games. To accommodation I installed a board to secure the monitor to at an angle that would still allow room for the speaker grill to remain uncovered by the plexi I would install last. I could have installed a VESA mount to the board, but since I was limited on room I simply drilled two holes the proper width to run bolts through to secure the monitor directly to the board.
Step 4: Build a Control Deck
okay, this is a two part step. The control deck that came with Ms. Pac-Man was steel and not accommodating is size. I screwed around with the original CD for days before I decided to just buy some MDF and make something custom. In the picture you can see that I made the deck deeper and thicker. I also designed it to work with the original clamp system so that I could build multiple decks with different control schemes and switch them out. So now I have a cabinet that can be configured for fighters, classics, driving games, or whatever I want. Also the MDF was WAY easier to deal with than the steel which my local machine shop screwed up before I gave up.
After you have created your deck you have to layout your buttons. I went with 2 joysticks and 8 button layout. With the added space from the modification I had room to include two "flipper" buttons as well which came in very useful later. For a two player modern machine I wouldn't recommend anything less than 20 total buttons.
if you have already purchased your controller hardware (I talk about in the next step) now is a good time to test fit everything before you get your graphics on and save yourself a little head-ache.
Step 5: Controls
Decide What You Want
Well, here come the difficult decisions. What controls are you going to put in. I spent litterally a month searching the internet figuring out how the hell I was going to do everything. BuildYourAracedControls.com has allot of good info, but there's allot there for a begener to decode. So here's the basics. There are about 10 places you can go online to order arcade controls. If you want a totally customized setup Suzo-Happ Controls or Ultimarc are your best bet and are the biggest distributors. If you go this route you will need a PCB board to drive the whole shii-bang called an ipac. This circuit board interfaces your controls to your PC. (more in a minute.)
If you are just wanting a straight forward setup and want shave some buck (and also get a lifetime warranty) here's a little gem I found. X-Aracde (makers of the tank stick) offer a DIY kit for half the price of their fully assembled control board. It comes with two sticks and 20 buttons (including 1&2 Player) - for extra you can add a track ball. It also comes with all the wires, adapters, a disc of free games, and the PCB board for about $80.00 which was about $60.00 less than what I was going to pay for a custom setup. Knowing an awesome deal when I see it I ordered my controls.
After ordering controls and test fitting - paint your deck and get your graphics put on. Here's something I learned the hard way.
1. Graphics won't stick to plain MDF.
2. After painting your deck, wait 4 days before applying graphics.
Does that sound extreme? Well consider this - I had to do my graphics 3 times. First because the glue wouldn't stick to plain MDF, something nobody told me. The second time because I only let the paint dry over night. Paint has a chemical in it that makes it keep "gassing" for a few days. Stick your graphics on to early and it will break down the glue and cause everything to bubble up. After this I am an expert at wiring up controls because I had to do mine so many times. Get it right the first time and work slowly. It's worth it in the end.
Assemble all your controls and get em' wired up.
Wiring is pretty straight forward. Everything uses a common ground, and a non common positive that run to the PCB. Take your time and get it wired up right. You can wire everything using only 1 or two ground circuits, but you will have to wire each non-common back to the PCB directly.
CPO Graphics / MDF Thickness / Acrylic
There are several places available for you to order graphics from. Whoever you get them from it's a bit of a roll-of-the dice. I went with a place that specifically does arcade graphics because they used a special laminate for their CPOs. However I have had nothing but problems since. On my next machine (or when I redo this deck for the 4th time) I'm going to try out a local graphics shop and see if the offer some of the same materials. I originally wanted this material because I didn't want to deal with the hassle of putting on an acrylic layer. The MDF I used was pretty thick and anything I put on top will eat into my joystick's vertical real estate. If you plan to use an acrylic top on your control deck, use some thinner MDF for the top (1/2" or 1/25") and don't worry so much about the material the CPO is printed on. However if you want to go with out acrylic, be sure you get your graphic printed on something designed for some abuse.
Note on acrylic: I have done several jobs that require working with acrylic. The reason I was avoiding it in this case was I did not wan to deal with trying to drill it. One or two holes is easy enough, but acrylic is EASY as hell to crack. Really for something like this it should be cut with a laser (and glazed or polished) which is something you should go to a fab shop to have done. This means giving someone very precise drawings and templates. I have access to this at work, but for those who don't it could get expensive. But if you paid any attention to my story above, could be totally worth it. It's also easier to keep clean.
Step 6: Marquee, Lighting, and Sound
Probably one of the easiest parts of the whole project.
There are 3 methods I know of for dealing with the Marquee. The first is purchase a graphic with adhesive and stick to the front of a piece of acrylic and call it a day. This is the easiest, cheapest, and closest to what is done commercially. The second way is to affix the graphic to the back side of the acrylic. This will give the graphic a glossier look, but you have to be careful that the acrylic is 100% clean or it will be permanently stuck between your beautiful graphics and the "glass." The final way and probably the best is to buy 2 pieces of slightly thinner gauge plexi and sandwich a non-adhesive graphic between them. It gives you a nice high gloss look and makes the graphic interchangeable. The downside is it's "slightly" harder to install.
I have also seen some designs where the Marquee was on a hinge so that you could open it from the front to get to speakers, lighting, and use the space for storage. I like the idea but it wasn't something I had time to do. I may go back at a lter date and add the feature in.
Sound is also a pretty easy thing to deal with and you have some options. First off decide how good you actually want the sound to be. If I was just running some classic games I would be find with some cheap 2.0 computer speaker and call it a day. However I plan to use mine as a juke box, media player, and I plan to play some higher end games once in a while. So I ended up going with... cheap computer speakers. Even if you want good sound, good speakers can be founds cheap. I paid $27.00 for a set of 2.1 50Watt Sylvania brand computer speakers and THIS THING IS LOUD AND BASSY. Just decide how much you want to spend and get something.
Obviously the main speakers go into the marquee cabinet. My speaker hole was designed to go right over the screen. Since I made modifications I had some issues to deal with. I simply took my speakers and bolted them down with some left over pieces of angles aluminum. Be sure to cover the backs of your speakers with some cardboard or something so that light doesn't bleed through the edges. Now if you have made your own you can obviously pick where your speaker holes go - had I done this route I would have taken the computer speakers out of their casing and fixed the speakers directly into my cab with custom grills closer to the front. This is the most professional look. You final option is to not drill any speaker holes and just set your speakers inside upright facing toward the marquee. Some will argue, but these things aren't air tight your only going to get about a 10% drop in volume. In fact I did not make any kind of speaker hole for my sub and you can hear it just fine.
If you purchased a system with a sub woofer, the obvious choice is to stick it down in the bottom, or even unde rthe shelf that we built int he bottom earlier on. I didn't have this option for the simple fact that the cords wouldn't reach and I was to lazy to extent the cords at the time. I'll tell you sometimes laziness is the mother of invention. You know all that leftover aluminum channel I have been using... well it solved another problem. I simply attached the sub to the side of the inside of the cabinet about halfway down behind the monitor. I used some felt pads on the side so it wouldn't buzz where it made contact. Having that thing RIGHT THERE makes this whole thing just sound amazing. It turns out the whole cabinet just adds to the sound. It's also nice because if I need to manually adjust the knobs on it I don't have to go digging around in the bottom. It's just right there. I may in the future rewire the knobs so that the controls are on the coin door, but I kind of like it the way it is.
You have two options. If the cabinet came with a ballast, re wire it to run off an AC adapter. Or go to walmart and get you a $10.00 18" florescent light fixture. Even experienced people will spend the $10.00 to save the effort. Bolt it down, run the cord down the back where your power supply will be and call it a day.
Step 7: Monitor, Bezel, and Acrylic/Glass
Select a monitor. This will be the part I get flamed for. Many purists will tell you the only way to make a REAL arcade is to by a real arcade monitor. It's the only way to get your games to have authentic looking scan lines. Now as much as I miss the eighties, I do not miss crappy looking graphics. So I decided to go with an LCD Monitor. I wanted a machine that did more than play games and looked good while doing it opted for a Hanns G 24" PC Monitor.
After doing some research I found out that a modern 24" monitor is 23" wide. Unfortunately finding a standard 4:3 aspect flat screen doesn't exist bigger than 19". If anyone ever finds one, please message me you just found gold. I like to have as big a screen as possible, so I went with a 24". Most games that are made for the arcade (especially emulated ones that aren't ports are in a 4:3 ratio. This means you should get ready to see some black bars on the sides.)
After popping the monitor in I realized at how well it fit. I didn't even bother removing the stand piece because it made a perfect spacer. 10 minutes later I had the bolts run through the back where it would have attached to a VESA mount and the monitor was mounted.
I cut my bezel out of 1/16th gauge ABS plastic. It had a nice clean look to it and blocked all of the access views of the internals.
Pro Tip: Cut slowly with a jig saw or the plastic melts. Also be sure to clamp it down. If your real good you can cut it with a box knife with a fresh blade. I found it gave me the cleanest cut. I used a little sand paper to clean my edges. Finally get a piece of glass or plexi-glass cut to cover the whole setup, it will give it a professional finished touch that will send it's look over the top.
Depending on your design you may need to figure out a way to attach the pieces. In my case the angle was such that they actually just set down in a groove which make it easy to pull out and clean or in case I need to get to the monitor for some reason.
Step 8: Internals
You have several options here. Go with what sounds the best to you. I went with a smart strip from Wal-Mart that claimed that when a master (PC) was turned on and off it killed power to everything else. It does not, but that may be due to the fact that it's a cheap model and doesn't detect my PC. Other strips have remote controls, battery backups, and other cool features. Find what's right for your project, but remember - if you don't use some kind of smart solution you will have to unplug your machine to turn all the components on and off.
Note: My smart strip didn't work as advertised but I have heard other people tell me that theirs worked just fine. I got around the issue by plugging everything into hot ports. When I want everything off, I just unplug it from the wall. My plug is easy to access so it was no big deal for me. Another method is to get one with a remote switch. You can then attach the switch to the back or top of the unit using double stick tape.
PC / Console
I'm not going to go to heavy into what kind of PC or Emulators you should be running. Do some research and figure out what you want to do. But you will need to install either a game system or PC into your cabinet. I used a PC in mine and was able to find it pretty cheap on e-bay for about $80.00. Another option is to build one yourself or find someone to build it custom for you. Digital Elite PC can build you a system and configure the emulators and front end for you for under $700.00 - They are also soon to offer a cloud subscription service that automatically updates your arcades games list once a month. Since you may from time to time want to move your machine to another location it's a good idea to bolt down you machine. In my case I simply opened up the side door and zapped some screws through the bottom into the shelf to hold it in place. With a console this might be hard, so I suggest getting some pieces of aluminum strapping and bolting them tot he shelf.
Coin Door Lights
The lights are pretty easy and it seems to be the one subject I found a thousand different ways to do it online. Everyone seems to want to wire up LEDs and figure out correct voltages. Here's the shortcut; Standard coin door lights are just simple positive negative 14v automotive brake lights. The yellow wire on a PCs power supply is 12v. Wire the lights in parallel and run the leads through a hole drilled in one of the 3.5" bay covers. Then call it a day. I spliced into a molex connector I had laying around to make a contactable plug, but you could also just use wire nuts if you wanted. The bulbs are slightly under powered (which is good they will last a little longer, but believe me they are plenty bright. Just look at the picture.
Once again, I'm not going to get in depth on how to mod your PC, but I didn't want to open the coin door to start everything up so I ordered a momentary on power switch and wired it to my motherboard and ran the leads through a hole I drilled in one of the 3.5" bay covers. Any switch you get should come with instructions. I opted for one with a light on it which I thought was nifty. I did have to splice into the included cables though because they weren't long enough for me to open my coin door which I have to do to anyway change out control decks.
Note: While I'm saving this for another "Software Hack" tutorial a little later, you should set your PC power button to "shut down" windows rather than to cut power. This will safely boot up and shut down your computer with a simple button press and save you from having to keep a keyboard around to navigate windows just for an on/off function.
Step 9: Enjoy
So that's the basics. Sorry I can't give TOO much away or I wouldn't have any business. but if you are serious about doing one yourself I'm sure you can figure out the gaps. After all I didn't have anyone to hold my hand and I only have a basic ability in woodworking and a pretty bare shop (comon' I'm a PC tech.) I plan to do a more detailed tutorial focusing on some of the finer aspects of the pieces I glossed over later, but this should get you started for now. Have fun!!!