My Mame Arcade Cabinet

Discussion in 'Technical Discussion' started by Cooljerk, May 31, 2017.

  1. Cooljerk

    Cooljerk

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    I've been talking recently (for the last couple of weeks-ish) on IRC about progress being made towards my Mame Arcade cabinet and decided it'd be nice to have a topic devoted to such cabinets for a prolonged discussion, as well as a place for me to sum up all the work I've done on the cabinet. If you've got an arcade cabinet (or supergun, too) please feel free to flaunt them in this thread.

    So back story on my cabinet - back around 1999-ish, I joined the Build Your Own Arcade Controls message board. The golden era of arcades had reached the twilight in the US, and the industry began ramping downward going forward. I had always wanted an arcade machine, but logistics made it virtually impossible for me to get my hands on one. Everyone on BYOAC and the general internet at the time felt that arcades were starting to lose their footing (I remember when Soul Caliber came out on the dreamcast, it really cemented the point).

    So my story began on BYOAC, where the concept of a "mame-cade" sort of birthed. Back in those days, the mame itself was still rather new, and the idea of gutting an arcade cabinet and placing a PC inside was novel. Today, there are entire companies that have built their businesses off of selling pre-made mame-cabinet kits and pieces, but back in 1999, you either had to build one yourself, or gut a real cabinet. The site itself offered a bunch of indispensable advice on building your own controls and wiring up jamma harnesses and things of that sort, but for the most part it was the wild west.

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    I began my quest for a Mame cabinet by looking around in Houston for arcades that were closing down, hoping to score a cabinet I could gut for cheap. That didn't really work out, as every arcade I'd wind up at wanted at least a few hundred bucks for a dead cabinet, which was outside of my price range. Eventually, I came across the building above in the yellow-pages. "Houston Arcade Game Repair Center" was what it was listed under. One saturday, my dad and I decided to show up in his pick up truck without calling the place and just looked around. Talking to the owner, it turns out the place really didn't service the general public. Instead, the store was intended for Arcade operators to repair their machines, and as such they had an entire warehouse of dead cabinets rotting away that they used for parts. I explained what I wanted to do with such a cabinet, and I'm guessing a combination of my ambition and age (I was 15 at the time) caused them to take pity. The owner truthfully liked the idea of restoring a cabinet, although he had never heard of MAME at the time, and let me wander through his warehouse to pick out a cabinet for $25 -- an absolute steal.

    This place was amazing. It was about half the size of a modern walmart, but filled wall to wall with cabinets. Lots of really amazing cabinets. I remember seeing a ton of Mortal Kombat and Street Fighters, and even exotic and specialty cabinets like a real-deal R360 cabinet and a sitdown Outrun cab. Cabinet shape is important to any arcade owner, and I wanted a cabinet that, to me, looked like a conventional, US-style cabinet circa 1990-ish. I eventually wound up picking up this cabinet:

    [​IMG]

    Originally, the cabinet was a Carnival Games cabinet, although sometime after it had been converted to a Wonderboy cabinet. I knew from the get-go that any cabinet I picked up would have had to have some sort of Sega background, and Carnival Games was distributed by Gremlin and Sega back in the day (the included instruction booklet still had the old-style Sega logo on the corner). It's interesting to note that my specific cabinet seems to be an undocumented second revision of Carnival Games, as the shape of the glass mounting plate is different (mine is angled, where all pictures of carnival games I've seen online is vertical, and mine has an additional shelf in the back behind the monitor). These changes don't appear to be cosmetic post-purchase changes, but rather original design. $25 later, we loaded the cabinet on the back of my dad's pick up truck and were on our way.

    Now, the cabinet itself was a wreck. The entire front panel was warped and flimsy -- when you touched it, it'd sway, as though the MDF board had absorbed water. You could really punch right through the front of the machine if you tried. Additionally, the inside was infested with spiders, and it appears someone had shot one of the sides of the cabinet with a shotgun as there were burn marks and buck-shot-sized holes all over one of the sides. The control panel on the thing was metal, and cut to a weird wonder-boy configuration:

    [​IMG]

    This configuration wasn't suitable for general gaming, and worse yet, the control panel itself was rusted and had holes in it. The monitor in the cabinet actually worked, in that it'd turn on, but the red and blue sub channels weren't working at all, and thus the image was entirely green. And besides, the monitor was a JAMMA monitor, and thus not really fit for PC gaming.

    I unfortunately did not snap pictures of the cabinet when we selected it; we were in a huge hurry. You see, my mother is a notorious neat freak, and she would have never signed off of me grabbing an arcade cabinet to throw in my bed room, much less one that was rotting and falling apart. The saturday we went to pick up the cabinet, my mother was out of town. That gave my father and I all saturday to scrub the cabinet out, empty out straggling spiders, and throw whatever PC I had laying around inside quickly enough to get it presentable before my mother came back. Despite our efforts, she still had a fit. All I have are a few pictures from 2002, after some repairs had been made, to show what I was working with at the time:

    [​IMG]

    These pictures were taken in October of 2002, but back in february of that year, I built a rough control panel and had the machine up in "working" condition. Keep in mind that I was like 16 at the time, and this was my first wood working project:

    [​IMG]

    This first "working" version of the arcade cabinet was about as thrown together as it gets. The warped front panel still existed, and my dad and I made a "control panel" that was just 2 pieces of plywood nailed together at a 45 degree angle, that was then nailed to the front of the arcade cabinet. Where the original control panel was on a hinge and sat flush with the cabinet, the new control panel just nailed into the wood on the front of the cabinet, and the angle was wrong so it wasn't flush and actually stuck out in front of the cabinet. The entire panel was eyeballed, and thus the buttons weren't really in a comfortable position:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    Inside, I had an AMD K6 processor, some rinky-dink SVGA video card, and like 128 mb of ram. The computer couldn't really run anything -- the sole game that would play decently on the computer was Shinobi, but only when frameskip was turned up to 9 (and even then, it ran slow, and the music was choppy.) The monitor inside the cabinet was pathetic, a 13" CRT computer monitor that I had to use duct tape around to block the excess space:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    As I said earlier, you couldn't really buy parts for this stuff pre-made, so I had to build a PC-to-JAMMA converter myself out of a keyboard, and, being my first big soldering project, it produced a wasp-nest-like ball of wires inside the cabinet:

    [​IMG]

    Yes, in virtually every way, this cabinet and mame-build weren't anything worth talking about. And thus, my mame-cade sat in this condition, very ugly, very unfinished, for about 8 years, my mother constantly bitching about how it uglied up my room. At one point, we tried painting the sides of the cabinet black, but in a comedy of errors, we used a high-gloss paint which made the cabinet look even cheaper and uglier:

    [​IMG]

    To be honest, between my mother's complaints about my cabinet, and snide remarks friends would make about "that pile of junk in my bedroom," I'd think only my father and I ever had faith that we'd eventually get the cabinet looking nice and even worthy of drooling over. By 2007, I was already knee deep in college, and thus didn't really live with my folks anymore. They still had the cabinet at their house, and that summer, when I was on break, my father and I decided to finally fix the cabinet up correctly, given that I now had much better wood-working skills.

    Firstly, I nabbed a 20" CRT computer monitor and got it ready for the cabinet:

    [​IMG]

    Then I cut a new front panel for the cabinet:

    [​IMG]

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    [​IMG]

    For the control panel, I decided to make the entire thing from scratch, this time using a laminate Formica exterior for a nice, non-wooden finish, and attaching the entire thing flush with the cabinet at the right angle, and thus attached to a hinge that could open and shut. This made building the panel itself much more complex:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    The panel itself needed to be flush with the mounting brackets on the hinge, so I needed to dig out parts of the wood to create enough space to screw the panel into the machine to begine with:

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    We used bonding cement to attach the laminate to the wooden panel:

    [​IMG]

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    At the same time, I began sanding the sides of the machine:

    [​IMG]

    then patching the buck-shot holes with putty:

    [​IMG]

    Then primed and painted:

    [​IMG]

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    I used a flat-black this time rather than a high-gloss, and applied a new Sega-Blue t-molding to the machine. The result:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Rather than flood a single post with tons of images, I'll wait till the next post to continue. Up next, I build the control panel then move on to coin mechanism assembly and software installation!
     
  2. LordOfSquad

    LordOfSquad

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    I love posts like these, looking forward to the next installment.
     
  3. Cooljerk

    Cooljerk

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    So after applying the t-molding and Formica laminate, it was time to create my button cluster layouts:

    [​IMG]

    which, when drilled out and filled, wound up looking about like this:

    [​IMG]

    And thus my cabinet sat in this condition at my parents place for about 10 years:

    [​IMG]

    Shortly after fixing up the exterior, I went back off to college and didn't live with my cabinet for a full 10 years. Then, about 2 weeks ago, I got the urge to work on my cabinet and pulled it out of storage from my parents place and brought it to my condo upstairs:

    [​IMG]

    Moving the cabinet is about as heavy as moving a fridge, and it took 4 full grown men to haul it upstairs. None the less, it was in my home, ready to be worked on yet again:

    [​IMG]

    It wasn't but maybe a day after moving it into my place that I noticed the 20" CRT was going out, one of the corners was discolored and no amount of degaussing would fix it. I took the opportunity to overhaul just about everything about the cabinet at the same time. So first step, removing the screen, which was straight forward. I was going to replace the screen with a dell LCD monitor I had, but once I popped it into the cabinet, it looked absolutely awful. The dell monitor had a poor viewing angle, and thus half the screen wasn't really visible when you were at the cabinet. Instead, I opted to put in my 24" Sony Playstation 3D Monitor instead, which has a much better screen. Unfortunately, the case for the playstation monitor was bigger than the cabinet itself, so I had to disassemble the monitor and hack some plastic off with a saw:

    [​IMG]

    The screen itself is held in place in the cabinet with some nylon rope:

    [​IMG]

    The new screen actually fills the cabinet better than the old screen:

    [​IMG]

    Next, with disposable income finally in my grasp, I could stop doing with hand-me-down PCs and popped a real gaming PC in there. Previously, in 2007, I had put some old AMD board with an AGP video card in there:

    [​IMG]

    This time, however, I decided to put some beef into the cabinet. I mounted an entire PC onto a shelf that goes into the cabinet, sporting an i5 2500k, with a GTX 970 and 8 gb DDR3. Using some hole punch rulers from walmart, I built a metal rack to hold the HDDs for the machine, too:

    [​IMG]

    Next up, wiring the controls up themselves:

    [​IMG]

    I use Happ american-style pushbutton plungers, which run to an ultimarc IPAC rather than my old home-built IPAC. This has a benefit because the wiring mimics JAMMA style wiring, which is a plus because at the base of my cabinet, I've installed a MAS SuperNova SuperGun:

    [​IMG]

    This lets me play real JAMMA boards on the machine, which runs to the Sony Playstation monitor via an RGB->DVI converter inside the supergun. By wiring my control planel up to the JAMMA standard, I can build a converter to plug them into the supernova itself.

    With the control panel wired up to the IPAC, I then needed to write a few autohotkey scripts to translate input into keypresses:

    [​IMG]

    Finally, just yesterday, I wired up the coin slot mechanisms:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Dropping a quarter into these translated into input credits in mame.

    This is the current status today of my arcade cabinet:

    [​IMG]

    Obviously, I need to fix the bezel around the screen, but other than that it's pretty much go. I have light guns, a mini-steering wheel, flight sticks, and a track ball controller that all go on the front panel too, but they can come off so it doesn't look stupid (overly crowded control panels look awful).

    Hopefully some other people on retro have cabinets they can share. Doing a project like this, over the course of a decade, is a lot of fun.
     
  4. Overlord

    Overlord

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    Don't have one but have toyed in the past with making one of these - always comes down to my utter lack of DIY skills even before I consider space problems. Nice work on yours, though!

    Sidenote - your little picture log is also a journey into the development of digital cameras. =P
     
  5. Cooljerk

    Cooljerk

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    Cellphone cameras, actually, haha.
    (Actually, I think those from 2002 were actually from a movie camera)
     
  6. Aerosol

    Aerosol

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    Why require coins though?

    And because working on a car is nigh-impossible in London, building an arcade cabinet was going to be my long term project once I moved back home. So this is kinda like future porn to me.
     
  7. Cooljerk

    Cooljerk

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    Actually, in the future, I plan on modifying the coin slot mechanism so it'll accept tokens and designing my own custom token set for the machine.
     
  8. Aerosol

    Aerosol

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    I'm still left wondering why.

    Paying is my least favorite part of arcade machine usage.
     
  9. Cooljerk

    Cooljerk

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    I'm curious as to why cramming a PC into an arcade machine facade to play MAME doesn't set off bells for you, but wiring up the coin slot does. Seems like a weird line to get caught up on.

    Regardless, the feeling of plunking coins into an arcade machine is part of the experience, as is the need to allocate and account for your change when making your game selection, rather than being able to essentially save-scum your way through the game with infinite credits. I remember the feeling of wandering into an arcade when I was younger with a few dollars in my wallet, and I'd make a mental list of what games I wanted to play and how many continues I could get in each in order to maximize my money. The intricate way money ties into your game selection and even how far you can get into a game is part of the arcade experience. Its the same way I don't automatically cheat and enable infinite lives or continues in every genesis game - sometimes there is joy in losing. Using real credits puts weight on loss. It's part of the experience.

    Until I order my own tokens and modify the coin slots, I plan on just keeping a dish of about $5 in quarters next to the machine for guests to use.

    And, uh, if someone REALLY wanted more credits, they can just open the door and flick the switch with their finger.
     
  10. Aerosol

    Aerosol

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    If I've built an arcade machine, I'm not going to make myself pay to use it too. Especially if, presumably, I have the key to the coin slot. So there's no real AGH SHIT I'm OUT OF QUARTERS sensation. It's more of a CAN I GET THE COIN DOOR OPEN IN TIME?!?!? sensation, which is roughly similar to CAN I FISH OUT A COUPLE OF QUARTERS IN TIME?!?!?!. That's the most annoying part of playing at an arcade, to me. If I can't beat the game in 3 tries, I generally don't even want to keep playing, unlimited funds or not. Actually, the only game I kept putting money in till I beat it was Garou: Mark of the Wolves. Huh.

    I also don't have any friends, so making them pay to use it won't happen either :v:

    It's cool if putting coins into the machine is part of the whole appeal to you. The feel of the buttons and the feel of the joystick are what does it for me. I wouldn't be building an arcade cabinet for the whole "arcade experience", because to have that would require a dedicated room big enough for a stand-up arcade cabinet, a sit-down cabinet (for fightan), and at least three pinball tables. And also friends (foreveralone.jpg). Maybe then I'd put coin slots on everything.

    Funnily enough though, I can't imagine having even one pinball table and not having a coin slot on it. Meh.
     
  11. Cooljerk

    Cooljerk

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    My goal was to have the machine up and running for the launch of Tekken 7

    [​IMG]

    Mission accomplished.
     
  12. Aerosol

    Aerosol

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    That's why I'd want two arcade cabinets. I can't play fighting games with that button layout.
     
  13. TmEE

    TmEE

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    It really needs a 4:3 screen haha. Pretty naiss though ~
     
  14. Amnimator

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    Really nice. I kind of want to make my own arcade cabinet, but woodworking makes me way too worried I'll slice my finger for me to ever bother. That being said, I wonder about the future of arcade machines and if it's possible for VR to bring it back.

    I want to see some custom VR arcade cabinets and games made for specialized hardware. I mean, it's really niche right now, but it would be cool.
    Also, it's safe to say you're in the top 0.1% of Tekken players with a personal arcade machine :V
     
  15. Cooljerk

    Cooljerk

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    Aspect ratios, bro:

    [​IMG]

    That said, it *DID* have a 4:3 CRT inside until about 3 weeks ago. Believe me, I agonized over taking it out. The aspect ratio wasn't the thing that made taking the screen out hurt so badly, though - it was going from CRT to OLED. That said, I have a pretty modern video card inside, and thus I'm going to play around with some shaders to see if I can't make the OLED screen look a bit more like a CRT.

    BTW, my next project is chopping up an SMS shell so that the card slot accepts game gear cartridges, using a 3D printer to make the new card mount. Should sound familiar to a certain someone :P
     
  16. TmEE

    TmEE

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    Still looks really small with 4:3 over 16:9 :P
    OLED is naiss though, waaaaay better than any LCD incarnations, I just wish they reach price point of LCDs sooner...

    ;P
     
  17. Cooljerk

    Cooljerk

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    At 4:3 with the 23" oled, its actually the correct dimensions of the crt that originally came with the cabinet. It just looks small because the bezel is solid black, because I havent settled on a design for it.

    Edit: speaking of bezel art (and art in general), I'm looking for some art if anybody if dying to see their work on an arcade cabinet. I have sort of a blue and black color scheme going, but I've been on the lookout to replace the marquee and bezel art.

    The bezel art is honestly the hardest piece of artwork on the cabinet, because of the way MAME handles bezels and how mine is cut. There originally was a piece of cardboard with a 4:3 window in the middle for the 4:3 monitor, but I painted it black and extended the sides to match the 16:9 aspect ratio of the OLED monitor (which extends to the extents of the cabinet, actually).

    Anywho, that means there is virtually no cardboard on the left and right side of the monitor, but a good chunk below and above it. Now, MAME has an option to simulate the bezel of a cabinet on the edges of a 16:9 monitor when forcing 4:3 aspect ratio, like so:

    [​IMG]

    The problem is designing the top and bottom of the bezel in a way that matches and looks appropriate for the ever changing left and right sides of the bezel. One idea I've had is keeping the bottom lip of the bezel solid black, and putting some stickers under the plexiglass with some coin rules or maybe menu button configurations, like this spider-man bezel does:

    [​IMG]

    except not as gaudy. Picking the art for the cabinet is actually really tough lol.