My Mini Arcade Project

Although this blog does not concern a robotics project, it does fall under the category of electronics, so I'll go ahead and share. A few years ago in college I began to wonder if it would be possible to build my own arcade machine. At the time I was learning Visual Basic and programming up a storm. The first game I programmed was a pong clone. It worked . . . almost. But hey, it got me thinking about all those years I had spent plunking coins into an arcade machine.

I love anything associated with classic arcade style gaming. I even own a few pinball machines. So when I started poking around and discovered that I could build my own arcade I was ecstatic! I googled and googled over the course of a few years after college discovering as much as I could and growing more and more comfortable with the idea. I kept up with the MAME scene but held off starting the actual construction of my arcade until I had the time, space, and tools - none of which existed while I was in college.

Once I was ready to start my project I began look for a donor computer. My fiance had an old e-Machine laying around gathering dust. That seemed like the perfect place to start. I installed the MAME32 software and made sure that the PC had enough speed to handle most games without lagging - which it did, much to my surprise. The next step was to decide on the type of cabinet I wanted. Standup arcade, tabletop (also known as bartop) arcade, or cocktail. Ultimately I chose the bartop MAME option for it's small size, portability, and ease of construction.

Portability is really where bartop cabinets shine. If you are college age, you can pack your cabinet around to every party. If you have kids, you can take your bartop arcade with you for Thanksgiving at grandma's house. That way you can set up the cabinet on a table in a spare bedroom and keep the kids out of your hair. That works better than bringing the kids console gaming system with you because grandmas always seem to have one TV, and its always in the livingroom where everyone is trying to visit - not an ideal location for loud kids playing loud games.

There are numerous websites detailing the construction of various types of MAME cabinets so I won't get into that here. If you're interested I'd recommend you start by visiting Build Your Own Arcade Controls. I'd also recommend a great book on the subject called Project Arcade: Build Your Own Arcade Machine by John St. Clair.

Once I decided to build my bartop MAME things came pretty easy. I had researched the project for several years (literally) and had read Project Arcade from cover to cover. Therefore I was able to avoid most of the problems one might have when constructing an arcade cabinet from scratch. However, that's not to say there weren't problems. There were several, some of which took me weeks to figure out. But over the course of a month around the Christmas holiday I was able to build a functioning arcade with several hundred games.

That left me wanting more. I decided to tackle a larger project. Building 5 cabinets at once for the purpose of selling them. Costco and a few online retailers sell arcade cabinets with around 100 classic games. I even offer 3 full size arcades in Amateur Robotics Resources Online Store. I planned on selling cabinets with over 2,000 games. It was a tall order, but I was confident I had ironed out most of the kinks with my first prototype. Just to be sure I built a second smaller prototype with a faster, newer computer. This "beta" version handled a more current version of MAME32 and ran many newer games that the first cabinet choked on.

I teamed up with a friend from college to help with the project. Curtis had a background in both computers and business, so he seemed like a good fit for the project. His job was to figure out the marketing aspects of the project as well as the legal issues. My hope was to license the games for legal use in the arcades. It was also agreed that he would get the "beta" cabinet once completed.

While Curtis was working on that I was busy designing the layout of the cabinet parts so they could be professionally CNC routed from 3/4" melamine. That way they would all be 100% identical. I purchased 5 new PCs from Dell and began the process of disassemble and integration into the arcade cabinet. Not an easy task.

I ordered various arcade parts from online suppliers including Ultimarc, Happ, and GroovyGameGear. Once they arrived I was able to begin the tedious process of assembling the control panels and testing the cabinets.

In the group photo above, you can see the huge "alpha" prototype (front row left), Curtis' smaller "beta" prototype (front row right), and the 5 production cabinets. You can see that the 5 cabinets haven't had their LCD panels installed, nor any of their buttons, joysticks, trackballs, or spinners. You can also see that there were two design options, 1 player with a trackball and spinner, and 2 players with a spinner, but no trackball. The finished cabinet in the first picture is a 2 player version. There were also a few color options. The sides of the cabinets were either black or yellow with black or red t-molding trim.

After months of tweaking and frustration, I finally finished the arcades. Sadly, Curtis was little help throughout the project and never figured out the legal or marketing aspects of the endeavor. I have since moved for work and the project has been shelved (not because they aren't finished, but because I don't have time to figure out the legal aspects of selling them).

If you or anyone you know is interested in details about one of these cabinets, write a comment that includes your contact information. All comments are private until I have a chance to review them (to prevent any inappropriate comments) so rest assured your contact information won't be published here for everyone to see.

I've gotten a few requests for the specs on the computers I used for the 5 arcade cabinets. I've included below an image of the original order from Dell.


Anonymous said...

Great design love the cabinet..

You won't find a legal way to sell a near complete mame rom set in the US sorry bud.

There are other options out there for a few hundred roms tho....

Space Fractal said...

you would never find a legal way to sell mame machines with over 2000 games installed.

This mean you need to get a deal with every game publicer, which is not the wort.

Instead sell them as possible with installed FE and emulator(s) things, just without any games installed....

loops said...

Looks great, I'd love to have a 2 player version.

Tinkergirl said...

Is there a particular way to get a 'normal' cheap PC as small as you have there? I've got a project of my own that I want to do, but don't want to shell out for a mini-itx or similar.

Phil C. said...

I like your project as well--I've wanted to build an arcade machine but didn't have the room for a full cabinet. The bartop case would be perfect! It would be great if you decided to publish plans for building the case...

VeXeD said...

Loops, if you're interested in the 2 player version, leave a comment with your contact information. It won't be published (I moderate everything before it gets published). Fully functional arcades with multiple games have been offered before from various sources, including Costco, for between $2,000 and $3,000 - but only come with 100+/- games. I was planning on selling my 5 somewhere within that price range. Not only would you be able to easily play 3000+/- unique games, you would have my personal contact information in the event that something went wrong.

It sounds as though I may need to offer them ready-to-go, but without the roms. If you're interested, let me know.

And just so you know, complete rom packages like the one I used with over 3000 games are easy to find and install. Google MAME .110 - which has over 6000 games (although not all of them are unique. Pac Man has 5 or 6 versions for instance, so the 6000 titles work out to about 2500-3000+ unique titles, depending on your definition of unique).

VeXeD said...

Tinkergirl, the PCs used in the arcade games I built were full-size Dell desktops. I removed all the components from the tower and installed them inside the cabinet.

However, there are several small pc's out there. One of my favorites is the LG-SX7 by Logisys. For around $500, it's a pretty cool mini-pc. Google "smallest desktop pc" for other examples. Hope that helps. Good luck with your project!

Alexander said...

I would be interested in the design plans for your cabinet. I don't want to sell them, I want to make one for myself!

I never thought about making one that small, but it looks like it would work just fine. I had seen those 'bartop' arcades, but I had dismissed them as too complicated.

If you don't want to divulge your secrets, that is okay. After all, that is your design.

VeXeD said...

Alexander and Phil, I'm glad you like my design. There are several advantages to a smaller bartop arcade that truely make it fun as a starting place if you're considering building a mame.

First, it's size has some obvious and some less obious benefits. For starters, it's lighter and more portable. I can (and have) taken it with me to parties. Another obvious advantage is that it's construction requires less woodworking and therefore takes less time and materials.

But another less obvious benefit is that it may prove easier to convince your significant other that building such a project would be worthwhile.

For instance, "honey, this tiny arcade can be hidden away in a closet or on a shelf when not in use . . ." If you don't already have a dedicated gameroom, a bartop MAME might be your most practical option.

Now in reality, my first MAME was on the kitchen table for 3 months and got played and tinkered with daily - be careful of the promises you make to your spouse :)

As far as plans are concerned, I don't have a useful copy of them right now. I designed it on Corel Draw because I had the cabinets professionally CNC milled from melamine sheets. The sign shop that cut them for me used Corel for their deisgn work, so that's what I used to design them.

However, for reasons that I don't fully understand, the CNC machine requires that all dimensions be removed before the pieces can be cut. Since the sign shop told me this upfront, I never included dimensions in my blueprints.

I'll have to add the dimensions back into the Corel files before I can post them for download. I should also figure out how to convert them to PDF so people w/o Corel can still read them. I'm happy to do that once I have time.

In the meantime there are a number of plans already floating around that I found and referred to when I started the project. Some even have dimensions and instructions, which makes them far more useful than the plans I have.

In any case, thanks for the positive comments and feedback. I'll try to keep up with answering them as much as time will allow. Even if I don't have time to answer future questions, I'll post them for others to view and answer. It amazes me how many people are knowledgeable on the subject of MAMEs.

Mike said...

I might be interested in buying a cabinet kit of something like this. I don't have the room for a standup any longer, so a bar-top would be perfect.

You can get a micro-ATX or some similarly very small mobo with decent processor and 1GB of RAM for in the $250 range on newegg, so it's become very cheap to make a MAME cab.

So, sell me the cabinet kit and the front-end, and I'll supply my own ROMs and computer hardware, and you've got a great solution IMO! Nice work.

Marty said...

Would you be interested in selling me one of your cabinets with all the joysticks, controls, wires, etc? - minus the pc, monitor, software (roms)? I'm not handy with woodworking skills, but am an old PC-assembling geek! I would love to get a fully assembled cabinet I could plug my old PC parts into. Send me a note via my website.

VeXeD said...

Marty, you didn't provide your contact info (i.e. the url of the website you mentioned or your email). How did you want to be contacted?

Anonymous said...

Hiee....recently i had completed a mini project naming"OBSTACLE DETECTION AND AVOIDENCE ROBOT"..BUT i am facing a serious problems relating to documentation related to it..can u please send me any documents related to it..pls's urgent..!!!

Phil C. said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Actually there is a way to sell mame games... X-arcade inc. does it.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.