We at DaddyMindTricks.com thought it would be fun to take you on a journey with Mark while he builds the mecca of home entertainment systems…an arcade machine. This is a five part series that will be constantly updated taking you from start to finish so that by the end of the series you’ll know everything it takes to do it yourself…including some really important tips and tricks to doing it right the first time.

Introduction – What made us decide to do a M.A.M.E?

If you’re looking for step-by-step directions and have no interest in my story skip this portion and go to the next section tiled ‘Arcade Cabinet’.

First, I must tell you that not only am I a HUGE gamer but that I’m also the luckiest guy in the world in that my beautiful wife is also a huge gamer and always has been her entire life. And I’m not talking mobile gaming (check the timeline, we’re both born in 1980) but I’m talking she owned almost all the same consoles I did growing up as well as she had a love for the arcade and can out game almost everyone I know…and all this by the ripe age of 16 when we met (oh, and it didn’t hurt she was a hot cheerleader to boot).

So what does all this have to do with building your own arcade unit? Well, my wife and I never wanted an all-in-one M.A.M.E. (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) cabinet because to us it was impure, not natural, heck even blasphemous. It went against everything we believed when it came to what having your own arcade machine was all about. We wanted each game in their respected, glorious cabinet, because they each were a piece of art. So having every game ever made all in one cabinet didn’t really appeal to us. So what changed our minds? Well it goes back to when we were decorating our first-born son’s nursery and we had decided to go with an arcade theme (told you I was the luckiest guy).

One of my random-ass ideas was that we get an old, beat-up arcade cabinet for cheap off of Craigslist and convert it into a bookshelf for all of his baby books. My wife loved the idea so I quickly put up an ad saying that I was in search of an inexpensive arcade cabinet for my son’s nursery. I was hesitant to say in the ad what I planned to do with it, in case someone liked the idea and decided to do it themselves and sell it for a lot more money. My first response from the ad was a woman saying she had a cabinet she would sell me for $100. She went on to say, “The game kind of works but needs a little fixing up when it came to the picture.” For that price I said I was interested in seeing it. When we got out there, lo and behold, it was an original 1980 Midway Pac-Man. My wife and I just looked at each other in awe, thinking about the idea of owning one of these, so without hesitation we bought it, knowing full well there was no way we were going to butcher that thing into a book shelf.

A hundred dollars later we were the proud owners of one of our most coveted game machines ever…but were still without a bookshelf. So I contacted someones ad on Craigslist about a generic cabinet with a game in it. For only $75 we were now the owners of a small, makeshift, cabinet that had a fully functional Ikari Warriors in it. Being the gamers we were we couldn’t bring ourselves to removing the Ikari Warriors and piecing out the system on eBay. I had played it as a kid and always found it hard as hell but standing in our family room playing 2-player coop I found myself loving it and furthermore my wife was into it even more than me. Being that it was complete, with the original marquee and control panel overlay (albeit cut down and hacked for that smaller cabinet), and even the correct joysticks that are required for that particular game, we knew we needed to find a better cabinet to transfer it into so we could convert the generic Ikari cabinet into the bookshelf.

And back to Craigslist it was. I found some guy who had a ton of empty cabinets but he was a bit further than I wanted to drive however, at this point I thought, “What the hell.” He sent me some pictures and the cabinet looked like it had a ton of potential so for $50, plus he threw in the coin door for $10, I was now the owner of what I would later find out was referred to the Dynamo Cut Cabinet 25″ (aka HS-5). What I would also find out later, and was one hell of a coincidence, was that it was the exact cabinet many of the Ikari Warriors games were housed in straight from the factory.

For the longest time I had plans to transfer Ikari into the Dynamo and then convert the Ikari cabinet into a bookshelf. Before we knew it the boy had made his way into the world (isn’t that how it happens?) and as you know, projects can come to slow crawl, if not nonexistent altogether, if we let them. So for the first 1½ years of his life that project never got any attention as other house tasks took precedence. However, one project that did come up in December of 2014 was, “what are we doing with our back family room that had absolutely no cohesiveness of any kind?” We decided on a game-themed family room (we wanted to avoid the term “game room” because it has a bit of a cheesy connotation to us). So instead of turning that Dynamo into a bookshelf we decided to M.A.M.E. it out (even though my wife is completely hesitant with the idea).

Cabinet

First and foremost you need a housing unit for your M.A.M.E. and as you know from the introduction I found my Dynamo cut-corner cabinet (pictured below) off of Craigslist for $50. So let’s start with that as our first option:

Buy Used – I would like to stress, for the history and integrity of gaming,  I advise that if you buy a used cabinet with the intention of MAME-ing it, please buy one that is already gutted and/or the insides are NOT repairable because using a perfectly good unit that has a potential future in being restored really should be restored to its original state. That said, buying a used unit isn’t the only option you have for creating your arcade, as you’ll see further down below, but in my professional hobbyist opinion it is the best route to go for four reasons: 

1.  It is potentially the cheapest option because people are trying to offload unneeded cabinets since they take up room in their storage.
2.  It most likely will come with a control panel which is advantageous if you want to save money and have an authentic feeling cabinet by wiring the buttons and joysticks yourself.
3.  Most likely whatever cabinet you get used is going to be authentically vintage which will make your finished project look like an actual cabinet that you would have seen in the arcades in the 80’s and 90’s.
4.  There is a piece of history sitting in your house when you get one used. No matter its past life, it still had a past life and you can tell whatever history it has to friends and families.

Cabinet Kit – You can purchase arcade cabinet kits online but I would advise against this route because of four major reasons:

  1. They can be incredibly expensive.
  2. The amount of time it takes for shipping and assembly you could have either gotten one locally or shipped to you and still avoided assembly time.
  3. I’ve read online about many people who’ve complained either about not getting complete kits and/or damaged pieces then having to wait additional time for the correct pieces to arrive.
  4. The biggest reason of all not to get a kit, a lot of them don’t look authentic at all. They look like wanna-be, ugly cousins of the arcade world.

Buy Plans and Build It – Building your own cabinet is perhaps the hardest of all options because plans are not as easy as IKEA instructions. They can be quite complicated and time consuming. Not to mention the amount you’re going to pay for materials makes this option less desirable.

For all these reasons this is why I went with purchasing a used cabinet.

The next stage I came across, after buying the used cabinet, was the demoing and preparing stage. This stage doesn’t take nearly as long as building a cab from scratch or putting one together from a kit because I was able to accomplish the following in about an hour.

  • Removed metal control panel and old sticky overlay
  • Removed all the blown circuit boards and ancient power supply (saddest part of the whole project)
  • Scraped old side-art off with a razor blade scraper
  • Sanded entire cabinet
  • Because I knew I was going to have a pinball emulator, I drilled 2 holes on each side of where the  control panel goes so I could install two buttons for pinball (one is the flipper and one is the nudge)
  • Drill a small hole in the front for USB –  Being a work-at-home dad and knowing full well I was going to play this thing while little man was napping, or that my wife would play late at night, I installed a USB port on the front of the cabinet so we could plug our phones into it because they have an app where we can see the baby cam from them (and this would keep our phone charging instead of draining). The other benefit is that I can easily put thumb drives into it if I want to ever add games to the system. Just make sure if you go this route that the port is a data transfer AND charging USB, not just charging, and that it has a 6′ cord at least. To see the one I bought, click here.
  • Paint the cabinet – The one mistake I think I made was I used a flat black paint I already owned. I should have bought a high gloss black because of all the touching it will get. So take my advice and go that route.

This is the first part of our five week Build an Arcade Machine project for our D.I.Y (Daddy It Yourself) series.  Keep an eye for the next installments.