Following my previous post, helpfully referred to as Part 1, I thought I’d just run through the build process. The assembly was partly done in order of when items arrived, and partly what I felt up to doing. Realistically, this could be all done in a day if you had all the parts to hand. I spread it out over a few weeks.
The first thing I did was start to configure the RaspberryPi 3b+* I already owned for use inside the cab. After I’d ordered the bulk of my parts from Arcade World*, the flat pack kits had a 5 day lead time while they were being cut to order, I was excited and wanted to make a start. The RaspberryPi was all I had to hand while I was waiting.
I took the Pi out of the arcade stick housing it was in before and took a couple of minutes to adjust the cabling of the stick so that it is now just a usable USB arcade controller to use with my PC or whatever. I used this stick for the initial config, and also later when it came to testing the monitor I picked up.
In choosing the front end for my system, I had a bit of a look around all the pre-built images on Arcade Punks etc. to see if I could find one with a suitable collection of mostly arcade games along with a theme that wasn’t ridiculous. I could not.
I chose to just build my own setup, with a basic install and curate my own game selection. A few people were suggesting alternatives to the RetroPie software for me to consider, namely Recalbox, Lakka, and Batocera. Fortunately this comparison article was handy for just running through the differences, and after a bit of reading, I decided RetroPie was still the most appropriate for me. I did a fresh install of the latest version of RetroPie as the one already on my SD card was a couple of years old.
I’d only got it hooked up to my working from home monitor, but knew I would be putting a 4:3 or 5:4 ratio screen in the machine, so I played a bit with the shaders in the setup to find something suitable for that screen. It looks a bit silly in the pictures below, but I’m really happy with it in the finished system. Scanlines and a bit of a curve to the display, to get it looking close to how the games would have looked on an original cabinet.
After copying over a starter collection of ROMs, mostly just my favourite shmups and brawlers, and a complete set of NEOGEO games, there wasn’t much else to do except play Neo Turf Masters, and wait for parts to arrive.
Start and Coin Buttons
Fortunately I didn’t have to wait too long, my Arcade World* delivery arrived about a week later. All the buttons and joysticks arrived a day before the flatpack kit, along with the button decals I’d ordered from eBay. So first up, adding the art to the buttons. Fairly simple to do, just be patient prising the button caps off and try to line the decals up where you want them. Happy with how they turned out, even if Player 1 is slightly losing his head.
Once the kit had all arrived, I decided a sensible place to start was the separate riser. Nice small parts, easily done on my own sitting on the floor. Also the joins are all done using modesty blocks, which is the same for the full cabinet. Was a bit of a practice before the main event. With the ongoing vertigo symptoms I was not in a hurry to work with the bigger panels of the cabinet.
Next up, and one of the most fun parts, putting the buttons and joysticks in. This was also the only part I needed to break out my drill. The control panel has holes pre-drilled for the buttons and joysticks, but when the mounting screws go for the joysticks are only part drilled as there are different fittings available. I just had to line up the correct ones for my mounting plates, and finish the drilling through. Was straight-forward, and I had a spare piece of wood handy that I put under panel while I drilled to reduce the likelihood of damage to the control panel surface.
I also played around with configuring the IPAC2 interface before I attached it to the panel. Didn’t entirely register what I was doing though, but once it was all assembled I hooked the Pi back up to my work monitor and figured it out. Quick shout out to my good buddy Ross here, for sharing the below image before I started, using this I managed to orientate both sticks the right way up first time (up, down, left and right aren’t labelled but each need a wire connecting to the IPAC2.
Initially hated doing this, but after I’d got used to it I quite enjoyed myself. I did the riser box first then the control panel, and gradually some of the panels for the cab itself over the course of a few days. It wasn’t too bad, but I did need to buy a rubber mallet. If anything it is nice to now own a rubber mallet. It was also fortunate that I owned a hot glue gun. As much as all the guides say you don’t need glue, and the t-molding will just stay in place, they’re wrong. (Likely that’s true working with ‘proper’ cabinets, but with the grooves cut in this board, it just popped back out when you went near a bend). A bit of hot glue in the trouble spots soon sorted it though.
Now we’re talking. I was still held up waiting for the monitor to arrive, but with the drama in getting that I mentioned on the last post I decided to make a start without it anyway, and assembled the basic frame over a couple of days. Again it was probably only an hour or two of work, I was just taking it steady.
When the screen finally arrived, I first set it up on the table, using the Pi and Arcade Stick mentioned above. Wanted to do a bit of testing before I went through the process of mounting it inside the cabinet. Was delighted that the HDMI to DVI cable I already had just worked and required no extra effort. At this point I settled on the “Arcade 1Up” 5:4 theme for Emulation Station. I was also testing the speakers from PC, I know a lot of people complain about “hiss” using the 3.5mm audio output on the pi, but there was no sign of that here so I decided to stick with these.
The monitor has a built in USB hub, so I moved the flash drive with my games up to that, immediately solving the problem of it running hot and raising the temperature of the Pi. Also provides convenient power for the marquee light (and also the Pacman lamp that now sits on top of the cab). Both lights now switch on when I power up the cab, and switch off when I shutdown RetroPie and the monitor goes into standby. Perfect.
That done, I took the screen and mounted it to the backing panel to fit into the cabinet. Again this was easy just standard VESA fittings. I also moved the cabinet out into the lounge as we approached the final stretch. Knew I wasn’t going to feel up to lifting it onto the riser on my own, so I gave it a temporary home till I had help. The T-molding on the base of the cabinet means it also slides easily so I didn’t need to lift it at all.
The real fun, putting it all together, and everything working. There was a bit of a delay while I waited for the art for the marquee to arrive, so it was in place for a couple of days without the art, but playable. I’ve since taken the top off the little Raspberry Pi case to help keep it cooler, haven’t had any temperature issues anyway. Once the art was added I was able to get it lifted in place onto the riser and get on with the business of playing it.
The one bit I’ve done since writing the last post, my friends were kind enough to pick up a few sheets of this heavy black card from The Range. I may have another go and do it a bit neater, but my first attempt at cutting out a screen surround / bezel went well and I am pleased with the results.
The machine is pretty much ‘done’ although I’m sure I’ll continue to tinker with bits here and there. I’ve been investigating the Raspberry Pi 4 models, and it seems that the 8GB version doesn’t offer any benefits for RetroPie so I may upgrade to the cheaper 4GB model sooner rather than later. Mostly as it is able to run a few later games than my current system.