I never did a write up on this and just now I’m really wondering why. A couple of years ago I built a MAME cabinet — well rather I took an existing arcade cabinet and stuffed a PC inside of it.
For those that don’t know, MAME stands for Muliple Arcade Machine Emulator. The basic premise of MAME is to act as an emulator for, you guessed it, arcade machines. We’re talking Donkey Kong, Metal Slug, Centipede, you name it! Now this is all well and good playing it on your standard TV, but some people need a bit more physical feedback. There’s huge communities out there dedicated to either converting old arcade cabinets or building their own cabinets to put a PC inside of. There’s four basic but crucial parts to a MAME cabinet:
- The cabinet itself
- PC for running MAME
- Display / sound
A combination of all four elements make an experience you’ll never forget. For the first step, I sort of took the easy route. I chose to convert a real mass produced arcade machine. I found my cabinet on Craigslist. It was a game called Tri-sports. It was nothing special… one of those games you’d expect to see in the corner of a bar. The gameplay was sub par with some altered versions of pool, bowling, and mini golf.
The cabinet the day I got it
Personally I thought it was extremely ugly with very boring art. The cabinet itself was in okay condition with a few knicks here and there. The decals on the side were damaged in places, but again I didn’t like them so they had to go.
As you can see in the picture above, underneath all those decals was some fairly nice plywood… in one sheet too! I decided to use this to my advantage and give the cabinet a more classy look. Before we get that far, let me just express how big of a pain it was to remove these decals. It was probably the longest part of the process and took me a couple of weeks on and off. I ended up developing a pretty good method. The trick was to take a heat gun to the decal, then to use a big putty knife to lift up the decal. Simply scraping it didn’t work out too well. You really have to get some big bubbles going and try to lift the decal rather than scrape.
So here’s the cabinet after most of the decals have been peeled off. See that nice wood grain? Also pictured is the new monitor I mounted, a 21″ CRT computer monitor with a resolution of 1600×1200. Some people go for authenticity by using lower resolution arcade monitors with a specialized graphics card. I wanted to be able to use this cabinet for modern games and other consoles, so I decided to get the highest resolution I could. You can also see the preliminary layout I did for the control panel.
Back to the cabinet for a second. I made a new front glass using a piece of plexi. I cut out a border around the center rectangle on the protective film on the plexiglass. I then spray painted the plexi, peeled off the remaining film, and there you go! Oh, and see that nice bezel around the monitor? That was actually on the old monitor and just so happened to fit this new one perfectly.
Here you can see the new panel in place. All the holes were drilled and everything fir perfectly. The wood I used for the control panel was a piece of particle board shelving I found at Menards. It was actually really bad and gave the whole top a weird texture.
Here’s the new control panel with the buttons put in.
This part of the project became a little more fuzzy the more and more I worked on it. I kinda got in the zone and totally forgot to take pictures! Anyway, remember how I said the texture to the control panel was really bad? I ended up not being able to stand it. My dad came up with a great idea. He suggested using a sheet of formica laminate. The laminate also let me put in a trackball which is featured for the first time in this picture. It ended up looking much better and much cleaner than the previous control panel.
The next step was to sand down the cabinet. It should have probably been the first thing, but I had put it off for a while. I had to use some low grit sandpaper because when I peeled the decal off, it left behind lots of old adhesive. The only way to fix this was to just sand it off. I think it took eight pieces of sandpaper before I actually got to the wood. After that I finished with a slightly higher grit. I still need to go back and resand it. I don’t think it’s as smooth as it could be, and I would like to put a nice lacquer on it to make it shine.
While I was sanding I decided to replace the board that the keyboard and mouse sat on. It was a piece of junky plywood and it was too short so I replaced it with a 1″x8″. You can also see I put a nice finish on the outside when I was done sanding.
Here’s the finished product. I put a panel in front of the keyboard. It’s on a hinge and is held upright by magnet. It looks good and is very attractive. You can also see the custom marquee I designed! Well, did the text. @joshbetz actually created the 8-bit avatar of me. There’s some things I didn’t cover in here, specifically the audio and PC, but I don’t really have any pictures of those. I’ll have to snap some at some point. Anyway, that’s my converted MAME cabinet! It really generates a lot of buzz when people come over. I don’t play it as much as I should, but I’m still proud of it!
By the way, if you like this sort of thing you’ll really like what I’ll be posting tomorrow!