Ready, Set, Arcade!

  • 12 February 2015
  • Author: Dan Santee
  • Number of views: 7446
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Ready, Set, Arcade!

I spent a lot of time at an arcade when I was a kid - and I don't mean I went there on the weekends. There was an arcade next to our family business, and I spent every free moment over there for years - so much so, in fact, that the owners built a stool for me and allowed me to play for free much of the time, because it was a great way to get the older kids to play a game if some little kid could be so good at it. So, I have a huge nostalgia for '80s and '90s arcade games, and I decided to bring some of that into my home by building my own arcade cabinet.

Not satisfied with only one game, I made it a MAME cabinet - a Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator. The software is actually not too bad to get up and running - just download the software from the MAME site, some ROMs from a site which caters to such things, and you can pretty much be up and running on any computer. You can play thousands of games using this setup - Paperboy, Double Dragon, 1942, Double Dribble - the list goes on and on. I wanted the full arcade experience, though, so I found an old cabinet being sold online from one of the local arcades, and removed all of the old components out of it for my arcade machine.

Once it was stripped out, I had a pretty good skeleton - cabinet, speakers (with that perfect arcade game sound), marquee light, and not much else. To this, I added a marquee graphic (just a simple print on photo paper - this is one of my future upgrades), computer, monitor, controls, and coin door. The computer doesn't have to be much - there are lots out there which you can get for free or next to free which have more than enough power for MAME. The monitor will be largely determined by the cabinet, but you can choose to orient it vertically or horizontally. It mostly depends on what kinds of games you'd want to play, but I chose horizontal since I was doing more than just MAME. The controls are the very standardized Happ arcade controls, but you'll need a way to connect them to the computer. This is where Ultimarc comes in, with lots of ways to handle the computer-to-arcade conversion, based on what you have left in your cabinet. In my case, all the wires were left behind, so I just purchased the J-PAC which was easy to set up.

My arcade cabinet currently supports two players in MAME, NES, SNES, Atari and Daphne (games like Dragon's Lair and Space Ace). The coin door is installed and lit, the power is easily controlled with a single button, and the display and software are finalized. I still want to clean up a few things on the physical cabinet, and I'd like to upgrade the marquee. I may even try to make the coin door work with tokens at some point, too. It's tons of fun to see my eight- and four-year-olds playing the same games I played at their age, and introducing their friends to them. It's also fun to have adults come over and remember how much fun they had playing these games as kids!

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