Having an Arcade Cabinet is amazing addition to any gamer's setup and a bucket list item for many, but they can commonly cost over $1,000. So what I decided to do is make one with minimal supplies and equipment, using creative ways along the way to keep costs down but quality high. Knowing the basics of using an electric hand saw, how to use a drill, some computer design skills, and basic crafting skills is all you will need.
When creating an arcade cabinet there are three main options that you can choose. One option is that you can build one from the ground up using wood. This would give you the most options to customize the setup, but it would require advanced woodworking skills, more tools, a large space, and quite a bit of planning. Another option is to order an arcade kit online. This makes it so you don't have to cut the wood yourself, but can be more expensive then the other methods. This method is harder to customize then building from scratch, but is more customizable when compared to using an old cabinet. The last option, which is what I used for this tutorial, is buying an old or broken machine from a local arcade. This is often cheaper then the other two methods, has the classic cabinet feel, and has a lot less assembly. The downside is having to strip everything down, and is the least customizable of the options as you have to work around the dimensions of the cabinet.
Step 1: Drafting Your Ideas
Before you start any work on the cabinet itself, it is important to create a draft of what you want to do. If you don't create a plan before you start, then its like traveling without a map. Even if its just doodles on a paper, it will give you better results in the end. For my project I googled images that had to do with fallout to give myself an idea of where I wanted to go, and I would suggest doing the same thing. When creating this draft think about what colors will be the focus on the cabinet, for example because I chose fallout the main colors were black and greens because of radiation and the Pipboy from the game. If you want something like Mario for example you could do blue and red.
Step 2: Gathering All of Your Supplies and Picking Out an Arcade Cabinet
Now we will start this tutorial with what you will need.
1 Arcade cabinet (I would suggest looking for one that doesn't work to cut down on cost)
1 Circular Handsaw (Or another type of power saw you feel comfortable with)
1 Torx Security Screw Screwdriver (Most arcade cabinets have a special type of security screw)
1 Power Drill
1 1 & 1/4 inch Hole Saw Cutter Bit
1 Arcade Control Deck Kit or Pre-made Control Deck (I got the kit from X-Arcade.com, the link is below. A pre-made control deck will cost more and may not fit the cabinet, while you will have to wire the kit yourself, but it comes with instructions)
1 can Paint Primer
2 Quarts of paint, One Quart Flat Finish and One Quart High Gloss Finish (Choose the color based off of your cabinet them, for example black for Fallout)
1 X-Acto Knife
1 Phillips Head Screwdriver Bit For Drill
1 Tape Measurer
1 Glue Stick or other preferred type of NON EXPANDING glue
1 Printed Banner Created in Photoshop or a similar program
1 Pair Pliers w/wire Cut
1 TV (Sizes depend on arcade cabinet)
1 Computer Tower (suggested) or Laptop
1 Set of Fallout Themed Bottle Caps (Can make yourself or order from a website such as etsy, website listed below)
Step 3: Stripping Down the Cabinet and Preparing It
The first step I took in building this cabinet is stripping everything out of the cabinet including electronics, and getting it ready to work on. Be careful when taking out the old monitor as they can be quite heavy, so take your time. To access the inside of the cabinet look on the back for a lock or something to let you get to the inside. If the cabinet did not come with the key (like mine), you may have to cut into the wood around the lock to remove it.
Once you have access to the inside of the cabinet start cutting any wires you see and taking them out in clumps. Once all the wires are out then start unscrewing the monitor and any other screws you see, and take everything out. At this point you will need to use the Torx Security Screw Screwdriver to get into the front of the cabinet. (If you received a key to get into the back of the cabinet then you can get into the cabinet as well for this step. If not you may need to cut the lock or cut the wood around the lock like I had to.)
Once everything is out of the main cabinet, we need to get the old controls out of the control deck (where all the joysticks and buttons are, as well as the wiring connecting them). To get into the control deck there will most likely be a latch or two you have to release on the inside of the cabinet. Either go in from the back of the cabinet, or reach in the from the front where the monitor used to be. Once again make sure that all security screws on the control deck are taken out. Once the screws are out and the latches are released you can pull the face of the deck up and pull out the old wiring. After removing the old buttons and wiring, remove all the security screws on the face of the control deck, and remove the plastic cover and set it aside.
The last step in prepping the cabinet is filling in any cracks, nicks, or damage to the cabinet. As seen in one of the pictures the corner of the control deck snapped off completely in transportation, but with a small amount of gorilla glue topped with putty I was able to fix it. Go around the entire cabinet and fill any holes or nicks with putty, filler, or something similar and let it dry. Once the filler is dry, lightly sand the entire cabinet and wipe it off with a lightly damp cloth the clean the dust off.
Step 4: Painting the Cabinet
I cannot emphasize enough how you do not want to rush this step in building an arcade cabinet. If rushed the paint will eventually peel and the paint will look uneven and possibly have paint drips. Start by applying a layer of primer on all the spots you plan on painting and let it dry. Once the primer is dry lightly sand the wood, wipe the dust off, and paint a layer of your main paint color and let it dry. Once dry sand, wipe, and paint 3 to 4 more times until the cabinet has a full and even paint job. For this step you can use a brush, but I would advise a paint roller as it creates a more even coat. I would suggest using a flat paint for the majority of the cabinet, as this will look the closest to classic arcade cabinets. Depending on your theme, you may also want to paint the T-Molding on the cabinet so it matches the color theme of the cabinet. For those who don't know, T-Molding is the the plastic cover on the edges of the cabinet as seen in the pictures. Next paint all the metal pieces on the cabinet such as the coin door, exterior screws, and the metal plate that holds the glass in place. I would suggest using a gloss or semi gloss finish to make have the metal pieces look brand new. While I did not get a picture of the cabinet at this step, it will look similar to the picture provided.
Step 5: Mounting the TV
Mounting the TV or computer monitor can be done in several ways. You can create a wooden mount inside the cabinet or do what I did and build the TV into the frame itself. If you choose this method start by measuring the TV dimensions to make sure it will fit within the Arcade cabinet dimensions. Next pull back the T-Molding away from the cabinet and take the height dimension of the TV, mark it on the sides of the frame. Using a circular saw (or saw of your preference) and the marked dimensions cut down enough for the TV to fit into the frame, as well as enough room to be able to create and put a wood frame around the TV to cover the gaps created with this method. You can see this part in one of the pictures I took.
Test the fit of the TV and and make any adjustments to angle the TV to your preferred angle. Next with the TV in the mount measure the distance from the TV screen edge to the sides and top of the cabinet. Use these measurements to cut a frame for around the TV. Using the same process as we did with the cabinet, we need to paint the frame for around the TV. So sand the MDF and wipe it off with a damp rag, apply a layer of primer and let it dry, lightly sand the primer and wipe it off with a damp rag, then paint several layers and letting them dry between layers. Once this is all done you should be able to mount the TV, have the frame around the TV, be able to cover the TV with the glass cover, and secure it with the metal plate.
If you choose to create a wooden mount, drill holes through a board that match up with the mounting holes on the back of the TV. Next simply secure that board across the gap by screwing through the sides of the cabinet into the board, and by attaching extra wood below the board to secure the mount. Just make sure the screws are flush with the sides of the cabinet. Now all you need to do is screw the TV to the mount, with washers on the screw side of the board. I did not use this method, but it similar to the method in the picture shown.
Step 6: Creating Your Graphics
The graphics and designs of this cabinet are what is going to make this cabinet look great. The method that I chose to use for designing them is Photoshop, which you should be able to access at a local library, school, or collage for free. I would suggest googling the basics of using Photoshop before starting this step.
Starting out with this process, the first thing to note is you can never have enough measurements. The second thing is create everything a little bit to large for your measurements, as you can always trim them down with an X-Acto knife. Basically what you do is measure the areas you will be creating graphics in for the cabinet. Go into Photoshop and create a canvas based off the size allowed by where you will print the graphics. Then in Photoshop and use the line tool to create a guideline for your pictures that you will print, inserting the measurements into the line dimensions shown at the top of the screen.
Once you have created all of your dimensions, find the pictures you plan on using, making sure they are a large enough file for printing. One way of doing this (as shown in the pictures), is to search and google but filter the results to large files. This link http://www.urban75.org/photos/print.html is a good guide for what file sizes you will need, but keep in mind these guidelines are for one picture. What I mean by this is that multiple pictures of high quality will be the same as a larger one of equal quality (which is how I designed one side of my cabinet), which is harder to find. Once you have your pictures, drag and drop them into Photoshop, and place them over your shapes you created. Use the corners and sides to adjust the size to get it as close to the shape dimensions as possible. Once this is done you can erase all the picture outside of the shape if you choose. I did this so I could use the extra space to print off other pictures on the banner.
Once you have done this with every shape, save the file to a USB drive or to Google docs, and get the banner printed. Use the tools at the printing lab to cut your pictures out, as the tools they have tend to be more accurate then cutting them by hand.
Step 7: Applying Your Graphics
This step is to actually apply the graphics to the cabinet. Be vary careful and don't rush this part, as it can be very easy to make the graphics bubble. Start by putting a layer of glue where you are applying the graphic. Next put the edge of the graphic on the cabinet, and slowly apply the graphic but rolling onto the cabinet and smoothing it down as you go by hand. Remember that the graphics will go past the edges of the cabinet so that we can cut them to size. Next wait for the glue to completely dry. Once the glue is completely dry, cut off the excess graphics that go beyond the border of the cabinet. With the control deck do not apply the glue yet. For now put the graphic on the panel and screw the plastic cover on and cut off the excess graphics, and remove the plastic again. I did this because we still need to create holes for any additional buttons, and the drill could damage the control board graphic. For my specific I also created a Yes Man graphic (the face) for the window, as well as the marque and pip boy graphics for around the screen. Use the same process mentioned above to apply these graphics.
Step 8: Buiding Your Control Deck
The next thing I did was assemble the buttons for the control deck. The control deck is used for this was X-Arcade's "Two Player Complete Do It Yourself Arcade Kit". This kit allows you to customize your button setup, requires no soldering at all, and is one of the cheapest kits that I have seen. It comes with 2 joysticks, 20 buttons, and everything you need to set them up. What I like about it especially, is it can be used with any computer with a USB drive, as it recognizes it as a second keyboard. I don't work for X-Arcade, so if you find a better brand or price then that is fine to use. For my project I did not replace the ball control, but I chose to leave it there for looks. Once you have your kit, use a pencil and paper to create another draft for how you want your buttons and joystick to be set up. Keep in mind that you don't want each players buttons to far apart, as the both player's wires have to reach the circuit board. I almost messed up the wiring by placing the buttons to far apart. Also keep in mind the holes already in the plastic cover, you may need to use these holes again, or replace the plastic cover.
Once you have decided where you want your buttons to go, decide how far apart you want them to be and mark them on the control panel. Keep in mind when you do this you need to add about 1 inch to compensate for the size of the button. For example, if you want the edge of the buttons 1 inch apart, you would need to measure approximately 2-2.5 inches apart. In you are still uncertain why this is, please refer to my draft picture.
Once you have all the holes marked (including a hole for the joystick), screw the plastic cover back on and use the circular drill bit (I used the 1 inch size) to cut any additional holes that are not already cut from the previous button setup through both the wood and the plastic. Now remove the plastic cover again (for the last time) put the graphic on the control panel, and screw the cover back on. Using an X-Acto knife cut out the graphics where the button holes are. Next place all the buttons and joysticks in the holes, and screw them in. The buttons have a piece you screw onto the button itself, while you use actual screws to attach the joystick. From here attach the micro switches (small tan pieces) to the bottom of all the buttons and to the bottom of the joysticks. After the switches are attached used the diagram that came with the kit to properly connect the buttons to the control panel. They should have numbers and colors that correspond to where they should go. Once you have the wires connected to the control panel, screw it to somewhere on the inside of the control deck that allows you to open and close the control panel without pulling on any wires.
The last part is deciding how you want to connect your controls to your computer that you will use for this. You can do one of two things. You can have a computer that is on the inside of your cabinet that you access from the back of the cabinet, or you could do what I did and have the computer to the side of the cabinet and run the cords through the coin slot or our the back of the cabinet to the computer. I have my arcade cabinet in a corner and it is very heavy, so I chose to have the computer and mouse on the outside of the computer. But really your setup is up to you.
If you chose to do bottlecaps for a fallout theme. What you do is use gorilla glue and due a small dab of glue on the underside of the cap and glue it to the buttons you want them on.
Step 9: Setting Up Your Software
Now that everything else is done, it is time to get your games set up. The first part is downloading an arcade emulator such as MAME, which you can find with a quick google search. Also find and download a ROM for you to use such as Pac-Man. Install the MAME program, and drag the download ROM into the ROM folder. There is no need to extract the zip file, so put it in the ROM folder in the same format is was downloaded. Now double click and start the MAME program. Once the program is booted up double click configure options and then double click general inputs. You will see a list starting with user interface and player with numbers. Click player 1 and the next screen will pop up, with the left side showing the arcade function, and the right side is what buttons are you current press to activate that function. So double click the right side and tap the exit button, this will clear the funciton. Click that same rightside and it will be blank, next you push up on the joystick to assign the "up" function to the joystick. Repeat this with all applicable buttons, leaving the 2 "coin" buttons unassigned. Once all the buttons are assigned press escape to get back to the list with user interface and repeat this for player 2, and afterwards press escape to get back to this menu. Next click other controls, and then assign coin 1 and coin 2 to the coin buttons.
Once you have assigned all the buttons and joysticks mentioned, click escape until you see the main menu screen with the settings pop up still on the screen. Now click save configuration. Once this is all done you will be able to double clock on and play your ROM with the arcade controls.
Now the same method of assigning controls can be used with games such as fallout or N64 games, or really any emulator. The video shows a same of both emulator types and how to assi
Now your arcade cabinet is finally complete! Congratulations and I hope you enjoy your new cabinet, and if you like this please don't forget to vote for me in the contest. GO FALLOUT!!!!!