This page describes my MAME (Multi
cabinet project and the steps I took to create it. If you have any
interest in video games, read on!
Then I got wind of MAME cabinets.
Fellow video game fans had taken old video game cabinets, striped out the
original hardware, and replaced it with a PC and monitor. Volia,
a game machine that plays not just one game but literally thousands!
I had to have one.
So I check into the many web pages
about MAME conversions that people had done already . Check out www.arcadeathome.com
for a good starting point. I stole lots of ideas from these web sites.
Rather than starting from complete scratch, I decide to find an old video
game cabinet and bring it up to date. I contacted a local game
retailer, IntraState Amusement, who I bought a pinball machine (Gorgar)
from about 10 years ago. Sure enough, they had a old cabinet that
was on the chopping block, one stop away from the video game graveyard.
The game cabinet was originally Berzerk, but had been converted to some
karate game years ago. It had definitely seen better days.
In fact, it looked like crap. It had been stored outside for sometime
so there was some water damage and plenty of stickers and spiders inside.
The original artwork on the side had been spray painted black when the
conversion to the karate game was made. But after years of neglect,
the spray paint had half pealed to reveal the original artwork.
I had my work cut out for me.
The first thing I did was throw things away. The monitor was burned.
The partial hardware was beyond repair. There was a rats nest of
tangled wires top to bottom. I pretty much took off everything that
wasn't part of the cabinet itself.
Then came prep time for painting.
I borrowed a friends electric sander and started taking off all the old
paint. This took a while. I probably didn't need to take all of it
off, but I did. Then I primed it.
I also started working on the control
panel. The original joystick and buttons had been replaced for the
two-player karate game. But that was probably 10+ years ago.
So I dismantled it all and found a supplier for arcade controls.
I went with Wico instead of Happs. There were a few not-so-great
reviews of Happs controls at www.arcadecontrols.com,
so I went with the Wico brand and am completely happy with their hardware.
I was waiting for the control panel hardware to arrive, I returned to working
on painting the cabinet. From one of the web sites on MAME conversions
I visited, someone mentioned that spray painting worked much better than
roller painting. So I thought I go this route. My dad just
got a spray painting rig a few months ago. What a great way for him
to test it out (heh heh heh). We hauled the cabinet down to his place
and started painting. The paint didn't go on well at all. I'm
still not sure if it was the paint, the amount of thinner, or the spray-gun
or the air pressure (probably all four), but it just came out crappy.
We eventually abandoned the idea or using the spray rig. Instead,
we got a few cans of aerosol spray paint for the black trim (all the metal
pieces of the cabinet). This worked much better. We finished
the trim and hauled the cabinet back to my place. I then took another
trip to the hardware store and bought roller and brush paint materials.
This turned out quite well.
Back to the control panel.
The wooden support under the control panel was still functional but it
was 3/4" thick. Somewhere along the line I decided this was too thick
for the joysticks to fit in properly and made a 1/2" version. By
the way, thanks to my friend Mike K.
for the many uses of his table saw and drill press. Then I made a
trip to the local Tap Plastics store to get a plastic overlay for the control
panel. This was needed due to the karate game modification.
Because it was modified, there was now a big hole in the center of the
control panel where the original Berzerk joystick had been. It was
covered up by the artwork overlay but if the plastic wasn't over the hole,
you could easily punch through it. So I had Tap make 3 pieces: the
control panel overlay, a marquee overlay, and a replacement monitor cover/bezel
(more on this later).
Then came time to load up the controls
(joystick and buttons). This is where it got tricky. There
were 3 sets of holes that need to be lined up: the plastic overlay holes,
the metal control panel holes, and the wooded support holes on the underside
of the control panel. A few lined up OK but most did not. This
is what I call an accumulation of errors. The holes in the plastic
overlay and wooded support panel were all drilled separately and did not
line up perfectly. Solution: file time. I just opened up the
holes a little wider in the direction they needed. Again, this took
some time. Oh yeah, I also added a "credit" button. No more
So now came the part where I put
in all the buttons and the two joysticks. New problem arises.
The joysticks do not fit into the panel properly with the plastic overall
in place. The black grommet cover piece that hides the hole for the
joystick gets pinched because the joystick does not sit high enough.
The plastic overlay added too much thickness. So another friend,
M., graciously routed out some of the wood
on the control panel's underside. This allows the joysticks to mount
about a 1/4 higher. This was becoming a bit of work, but it was all
fun, and more importantly, it was almost done!
I finished the control panel and
hooked it up to the I-PAC
Interface Board. The I-PAC takes the connections from the control
panel's joysticks and maps them to keyboard keys. So each direction
of the joystick has a keyboard button associated with it. It works
really great and is worth every penny. This shaved off many hours
of hacking up an old keyboard.
Now it's starting to take shape.
Oh yeah, somewhere early on (before painting), I had to figure out how
to mount the monitor inside the cabinet. I struggled with this for
a while but finally settled on using adjustable shelf rails. I think
the idea actually came from my roommate Gabe
J. This works really well. The
only drawback is it doesn't fasten the monitor to the cabinet so if I move
the cabinet, I have to take out the monitor first. The shelf for
the monitor sits at an angle such that the screen is parallel to the plastic
display front. At this angle, the monitor is marginally stable on
the shelf and it almost falls backwards. A little plumbers tape ensures
that it doesn't.
The monitor I'm using is a 20" Radius
(about 10 years old). I actually got this baby for free. I
found it on the newsgroup ba.market.computers.
It did have one problem: the sides of the picture would get slightly
'wavy', but I could live with that. Later I found out that the whole
picture would die after about 2 hours of use. So I decided to have
it repaired. This was a tough decision because it wasn't cheep to
get it repaired. At the tune of $250, I almost could get a new one.
But I had already painted the monitor bezel black and I didn't like the
idea of throwing the whole thing away. Its now working fine.
to the front display bezel/cover (whatever it's called). This is
the piece of clear plastic that covers the monitor and it's surroundings.
I had a new piece made from Tap Plastics since the original was too scratched.
Having enough of painting, I decided to cover the area not obstructing
the screen with contact paper. This is the same contact paper I used
for control panel. It's a black marble looking pattern and I think
it looks pretty darn cool. I got this idea from someone else's MAME
web site (can't remember where). So this took a while to get just
right since the contact paper roll isn't wide enough to cover the width
of the display cover. I had to cover one half at a time. There
is a seam in the middle but I was extremely careful cutting each half so
it's not noticeable. It also takes some thought has to where to place
the contact paper so it lines up just right for the monitor. But
the great thing about using the contact paper (as opposed to painting)
is if you screw up, you just peal it off and start again. I don't
think plastic takes well to paint thinner and smeared paint.
The front marquee had to be replaced.
I didn't want some generic karate game on the front. So again I took
to the web. I found a site that has marquees
for just such MAME cabinets. I downloaded the one I liked, touched
it up a bit, and took the file to a San Jose Blueprint for printing.
Costs about $30 but well worth it. It's backlite with the original
lighting hardware and is held inplace with the clear plexi-glass I got
from Tap Plastics.
about sound? I found some very
cool, black speakers with sub-woofers from Creative Labs. They
come with a sub-woofer for plenty of bass. I got them at www.buy.com
for cheap. I mounted the two speakers on the sides and placed the
sub-woofer inside the base of the cabinet. It's sounds awesome!
And with a decent sound system and a PC, the next logical step was to install
Napster and WinAmp and have the cabinet double as an MP3 jukebox!
Finally I put the PC into the cabinet
and start configuring the software. About this point I realize I'm
going to need a keyboard and mouse, especially if I'm going to use the
cabinet as a jukebox and also for PC games. I should mention the
PC has a network card for downloads and LAN PC games. So with no
where to set the keyboard and mouse, I decided to build a tray. The
tray fits over the control panel by about 3.5", clearing the joystick.
It attaches to the control panel with velcro. I painted the stand
glossy black to match the trim. It works well, except for the fact
that it sits at the same angle and the control panel and the mouse wants
to slide off the edge. I'm going to fit this later so the tray is
level. For now, I just wedge a yellow highlighter on each side to
level it out. Yea low tech!
other cool thing I did was purchase a wireless RF keyboard and mouse.
This way, you can pull off the entire tray/keyboard/mouse combo when it's
not needed. I like the idea of this, but for games that are keyboard
and mouse intensive (such as Starcraft and Unreal Tournament), it's not
real reliable. For those games, I ended up using the wired versions.
Now comes the time to configuring
the software. This didn't go as smooth as I'd hoped. I wanted
to run the DOS version with ArcadeOS as the front-end. I hear the
DOS version runs a little faster and it also allows the cheat patch installation
(gotta love infinite lives and smart-bombs! :-) ArcadeOS works well,
but for some reason, about half the games lock-up the computer. I
have no idea why. So I tried installing the MAME Windows 32 bit version
and it works great, except for the sounds get messed up once in a while.
I think there's a fix for this but haven't looked into it. I know
pressing 'P'ause, it usually corrects the sound problem.
So it's finally done! It took
about 4 months working off and on as a hobby. I'm very pleased the
way it turned out. It was a bit of a challenge sometimes but overall
it was a fun project. I unveiled it at 2001:
A LAN Party Oddessy on Jan. 1, 2001.
It was a big hit. The favorite games were Donkey Kong and Ms. Pac
Man. Oh ya, I've nicknamed the cabinet:
Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Last updated: Feb 10, '01