My MAME Cabinet
"Black 'n Blue" Video Game

My Black 'n Blue MAME Cabinet

This page describes my MAME (Multi Arcade Machine Emulator) cabinet project and the steps I took to create it.  If you have any interest in video games, read on!

I've loved video games from early on.  I've been a fan of the home arcade games (Atari 2600, ColecoVision), and arcade games since the early 80's.  So when I found out about MAME a few years ago, I was in heaven!  I could play all my favorite arcade games right from my home computer.  And better yet, there's no more need to feed the machine quarters :-)

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 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.

pre-restoration: right sidepre-restoration: centerpre-restoration: left profile

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, so I went with the Wico brand and am completely happy with their hardware.

The cabinet and me after spray painting.  I'm the one on the right.While 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).

before restoration

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 quarters!

The refurbished control panel

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, Jon 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.

I-PAC control panel interface to the computer

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.
monitor stand viewed from the back

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  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.

almost done!On 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.

left speaker mounted on the sideI-PAC, Subwoofer and Computer viewed from the backWhat 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 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!

keyboard and mouse removable trayThe 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:

Black 'n Blue

All Done!

Questions/Comments?  Email me:
Last updated: Feb 10, '01