So during February I fulfilled a bit of a personal goal. I have wanted to put MAME into an arcade cabinet for around 20 years, and have simply wanted my own arcade machine since I was about 10. (A little longer than 20 years). A while back I built my “RetroPie joystick in a box” which was a bit of a proof of concept to see if I thought I could do the full thing. Fast-forward to Lockdown 2021, of which I’ve spent most of the year suffering with Labyrinthitis and ongoing vertigo symptoms. As mentioned in my January Games post, I decided to divert the funds I was holding for my PS5 into this project. Largely because they’re still difficult to get hold of, and the vertigo is keeping me from playing most modern games anyway.
Thankfully, the procrastination really paid off. This process is relatively straight-forward now, compared to what was involved 20 years ago. To be honest, I probably could have done the entire build in a day, but being unwell it was nice to have something to work on over a couple of weeks when I felt up to it. As you can see from the image, it’s complete apart from needing a surround for the monitor, to cover the insides (and the DELL logo).
The main issue that has always put me building one of these, is the woodwork. I’m fairly confident about the wiring etc involved, but not the crafting out of wood. Fortunately, there are a number of providers who sell kits for this very thing. If you can assemble IKEA flat pack furniture, you’re most of the way there.
One of the first considerations, is what size machine to build. While there are lots of nice setups using modern widescreen TVs, these are more useful if you’re going the PC route and are going to play newer games that support higher resolutions and widescreen images. However, as I was going to use a RaspberryPi for the processing, and limit myself for gaming up to the late 1990s, a smaller 5:4 ratio screen was a better option. I found a kit for a 3/4 size cabinet, along with an addon for a riser box to lift it up so it is comfortable to play standing up.
You’ll see I had a few bits already, but I’ve listed all the components of my build below with links. As usual, those marked with a * are affiliate links. For the bulk of the build I returned to Arcade World UK*, where I picked up the parts for my previous RetroPie project, and also my PS4 Arcade Stick mod. As you’ll see from the photos, my colour scheme is loosely based on Bubble Bobble, green for player 1, and blue for player 2, with green for the T-Molding (trim).
When I first thought about doing this, I was going to just buy the minimum amount of stuff I needed to get something up and running and playable for just 1 player, using some parts I already had. I probably would have saved about £150 off the initial cost, but it would have remained a work in progress for the foreseeable future. I made the decision to buy everything I wanted to make a cabinet I really liked.
- Flat pack kits
- I took the same approach to buttons on the cabinet as I did when I did the RetroPie joystick. The 6 “action” buttons for each player are Sanwa OBSN-30 Screw In Arcade Buttons*. Admittedly I haven’t tried a lot of buttons to compare, but all the parts on my PS4 fight stick are Sanwa too, and I love that.
- For the 2 “admin” buttons, Start and Coin/Select, for each player I used Seimitsu PS-14-KN 30mm Screw In Arcade Buttons*. This is simply because I wanted the transparent buttons so I could add art to them.
- When I did my RetroPie joystick, I just got a basic USB encoder* from Amazon, you could probably use 2 of these to accomplish the same control setup. However, with this build I wanted something better regarded. I went with this bundle of an IPAC2 complete with all the wiring* I’d need for my buttons. The IPAC2 has more than enough connections for me to do a 2 player system with 8 buttons each.
- I had intended to get 2 of the same sanwa stick* I previously used in my other 2 projects, but at the time of ordering they were out of stock. I didn’t want to wait though so I had a read up on what else was available. I eventually settled on this Seimitsu LS-38-01 stick*, it’s basically the same as their LS-32-01 joystick, with a modification to make it much stiffer. I read a few positive reports from people who like similar games to me, and was convinced. I definitely prefer it to my sanwa stick for 2D Shmups, but I think I prefer the sanwa for games like Street Fighter. I am not good enough at either for it to really matter though…
- In order for this stick to fit the control panel in the kit I purchased, I needed to select the SE Mounting plate option. I also added the H5P cable, which easily wires to the IPAC2.
- This is the green trim* around the edges of the cabinet. Arcade World helpfully tells you how much to order for each of their kits, I added the 2 amounts together for both the cabinet and riser, and ordered 35 feet. I didn’t waste very much when I was installing it, and probably have 1 or 2′ leftover. Happy to report that their estimates are a good measure.
- Raspberry Pi
- I already had two of this RaspberryPi 3b+ model*, otherwise I’d suggest a bundle like this one. It’s definitely worth having an official PSU as variations in quality of USB power supplies have been known to cause issues with gaming on the Pi. I took the Pi out of my RetroPie joystick as I don’t expect to use that any more now I have a cabinet. (I’ve just converted that into an extra USB fight stick for my PC).
- At some point I may upgrade my machine with an 8GB RaspberryPi 4*, but shelling out another £80 when I already had one that would do most of what I wanted seemed a waste. Maybe there will be another revision or something that makes more sense.
- For the marquee (the Bubble Symphony picture at the top) I was originally looking at various options on etsy. Once I realised all the sellers were in the USA, would cost me the same again in shipping fees and take forever to arrive, I started looking elsewhere. I found the very helpful team at Arcade Art Shop who had a huge selection of art, and were more than happy to print my preferred design to the dimensions I supplied for my cabinet. I went for this Bubble Symphony design, printed on the flexi-film, and it just popped in behind the plexi that came in my kit.
- I had also been thinking about getting vinyl art for the sides and control panel as well, but now I’ve assembled the system I think I like the plain black panels with just the marquee.
- As mentioned above, I wanted art for my Start and Coin buttons. I got the arcade button decals with the COIN design from this account on eBay. Very happy with how they turned out.
- For the light at the top behind the marquee panel, I picked up a little 5V USB LED strip. Not sure how long this link will last, but I went for this one, with the options White, Clear and 35 cm. Looks great installed, and draws power from a USB slot on the monitor.
- I originally purchased a DELL 1917S from eBay, but this was the one spot of drama where the seller said it was shipped, then when it still hadn’t turned up a week after delivery, I contacted them and three days later they just refunded me without a word. Then relisted the item. There is always one…
- I then found a DELL 1914S from someone else for £20 cheaper which arrived next day, so it worked out anyway. The only really issue with this screen over the other, was that it didn’t have HDMI input, so I had to use one of these cables* to connect via DVI. I had one of them handy anyway.
- I briefly looked at a variety of options for amps and separate speakers that could be wired to the top of the cabinet. However this was likely to cost around £50 by the time I’d factored in powering them, and given the quality of audio you can expect from 90s arcade games, I wasn’t keen to spend that. What I did instead was chuck these speakers from my PC* inside the cabinet (where I’m very happy with how it sounds for now) and spent £35 on a nicer 2.1 set for my PC. I generally limit how carried away I get with sound, out of respect for my neighbours. If I do decide to go the amp & speaker route, it’ll probably be something like this bundle*.
- I already had the one that I was using with my RetroPie Joystick, and it conveniently sits unobtrusively on top of my cabinet. It is very handy to have a keyboard for tinkering with the software. Couldn’t find the exact model, but it’s sort of like this tecknet keyboard*, and I imagine it would be just as effective.
- Monitor Surround
- *update* I have now made up a surround from heavy back card, and will include photos in the part 2 blog post. The card was £1.50 a sheet from the local “The Range” and friends kindly picked some up for me given my continuing inability to walk that far. I have a few more sheets of it, and think I could do a neater job, but I’m pleased with it already and it now looks much more like a finished project.
- Power Strip
- For the moment, I’ve just got a fairly heavy duty extension cable in the cab. Mostly because it was what I had to hand, but also because I needed quite a long cable to get to the socket in my office, and I needed something I could easily take the plug off and put back on, to run it through the hole on the back panel. I will replace this with something a bit lower profile later.
I think that’s all the components. Build post is now up here as Part 2.