The main purpose of this post is to share my experience related to the making of an arcade machine, you will find the detailed steps but also the budget and list of materials required to achieve the project.
I am from the late 70’s and arcade machines were numerous at this time, they could have been found in cafés, bars and other commercial places. Just a coin or two and the fun could begin especially with friends. Then, the first home consoles arrived on the market and this was the end of the arcade machines. I always wanted to have one at home but first of all, it is expensive (a proper one from €1.5k up to €3.5k), you only have one game or two on it and it takes a lot of space !
Fortunately, emulators have been constantly improved in the past years in terms of compatibility and fluidity. Today, you have a good range of solutions to emulate what you loved during your childhood.
I personally found a way to address a solution to all specific issues mentioned above and here is my concept which is a bit different from what you may find online:
Concept name : Arcave machine.
Specs : arcade machine made of 2 pieces : bartop + wine cave.
Estimated cost : 500€.
Estimated time : 6 months (few hours per day after work) – (Reality : 11 months, just because you receive one piece after another one…)
Step 1 : Conception and main features.
As I said previously, the main issue was the cost but when you search a bit online you can notice that some people have managed to reduce the cost to an average of 400€ by building it themselves. This seems more like a reasonable budget compared to what you can buy on internet.
As well, you now have many reliable emulators you can download which are doing the same job as the original consoles but emulating plenty of platforms at the same time (multi-emulator); like MAME just to mention one.
Finally, the space used by an arcade machine can be optimized, hardware components can be stored in the bartop only (top part) making free space available for the bottom part. If you love wine like me, you may find a good opportunity to store it inside instead of boxes when you are living in an apartment without a real cave. Being French and living abroad, wine is one of my pleasures and a good excuse to justify the arcave machine to my wife in a corner of the living room ! Of course, some purists will always argue that nothing is better than a real cave with a proper temperature (10 to 14°C) but I believe that wine can be safely conserved if bottles are lying on the length with no light and without temperature variation. Concerning the humidity, I am living in Ireland – problem solved ! Finally for the ambient temperature, it is around 19°C and we are living in an old whiskey distillery so this is not a bad place for storing the wine.
Step 2 : Cabinet drawings and available tools.
Learning how to use a 3D modeling software was part of my objectives as well and I thought this project would be a good opportunity to explore that bit. Obviously, you do not want to spend hours learning how to use the software but you need a good result in the end as well. By discussing my project around with friends, I have been advised to use one in particular : “Sketchup”. There is a free version you can download on the following website:
The interface is quite straight forward and many supporting videos are available for you to handle quickly the tool. After 1 week of creations, corrections, etc, I finally arrived to a decent result which would be the basis of my project with all the necessary details for later. You can find below the 2D export so you have an idea. Source file is available upon request if not for a commercial use.
When you design your own arcade cabinet, you have the choice to follow the common usage or to do whatever you want. I have chosen a hybrid version of it so it can fit my expectations without obtaining a UFO. I have tried to follow the original theme by making the extra special features of mine hidden. In terms of shape, it is a personal choice, I am very happy with the ending result and it still looks like a normal cabinet.
Here is an illustration of what I am talking about :
Hence, my little 2 cents : choose the cabinet theme you like which would fit in your place. Once your choice is made, try to document as much as you can the design, specs, etc and stick to it to avoid any mistakes.
Step 3 : Budget and list of Equipment.
Once you have the design, the theme and the time to start your project, the most important is to list all what you need and draft your budget.
You will find below all what I needed :
- 2 x MDF (Ø 18mm) – size 2,440 x 1,220 [50€] – link
- 1 x motherboard – Chipset Intel 945g socket 775 – P4 HT 3.6Ghz + 2Go DDR2 – (refurbished computer) [0€] – link
- 1 x ATI 128MB Radeon X600 SE [0€]
- 1 x 300W power supply from refurbished computer [0€]
- 1 x TFT screen (22″) – previously own [0€]
- 1 x plexiglass (clear acrylic with anti-glare surface) – 600 x 600 – [30€] – link
- 1 x Bluetooth keyboard with track-pad – previously own [0€]
- 2 x Speakers – previously own [0€]
- 1 x Amplifier mono DC12V – 7w (to solder on your own) [12€] – link
- 2 x Joysticks + 16 x buttons + 2 x player buttons + 1 x coin button + USB controller + 2 retro sound shields + wires + power supply button [96€] – link
- 1 x Marquee (based on the theme chosen) [40€] – link
- 1 x 5m Strip led white 5050 – DC12V – [13€] – link
- 1 x Wood glue + drill bits + bolts + screws + other – [40€]
- 1 x 5L painting [13€]
- 1 x Bezel + side stickers [72€] – link
- 1 x Socket mains power extension – previously own [0€]
- 1 x Coin door (front only) – [17€] – link
- 1 x Piano hinge- [7€]
- 1 x Vent grid – [7€]
- 16 x Ball bearing slides – [95€]*
- 1 x Kick plate (5 bar aluminum) – [20€] – link
- 4 x Straight loop latches – [9€]
Total budget so far : 420€ (essentials) + 95€ (bottom part)*= 515€
NB : Prices are including transportation cost and VAT.
Step 4 : Building the arcave.
The next move for you is to prepare the 2 dimension plan for cutting the different MDF pieces and build the cabinet. As you can see on the model above, I have 2 main parts :
- The bartop containing the hardware, screen + control panel.
- The cave to store the wine (door is missing on the draft).
Here is a very good website for you to prepare your cuttings before buying the MDF. The online tool optimizes the cuttings and gives you a comprehensive report. This way, you can provide the DIY lad with your cutting plans and he will do it in a snap :
The website has the multi-language support and you can register for a 15 day trial which is enough for you to prepare your plans. Please find below an example of what I have obtained :
As pictures are worth a thousand words, you will find a series of photos showing the current progression with comments :
Step 5 : Wiring
First step I have started with is the control panel as I wanted to check ASAP if the controller I bought was working fine and verify as well if I needed any driver to make it recognized. Answer is no driver needed, Windows XP/7 installs a generic HID driver, hence everything seems to be on track. Regarding the wiring, it is quite straight forward, just make sure you are using the same approach on all buttons as shown on the picture below.
NC is not used / NO is connected to the controller / Com = Ground (in series).
On the picture below, you can notice 2 holes in the top corners of the panel, these are for 2 more buttons (Select & Exit) which I bought after all. I will also add in total 2 supplemental buttons on the sides of the arcade for playing Pinball games. Knowing this, you will understand why some wires are ready to be connected.
Step 6 : The cave
Building the bottom part consists in a closing cabinet with wine racks allowing you to store your precious liquors in a safe condition. Indeed, if game players are kind of rough with the arcade machine, the wine must be secured and prevent bottles clinking each others.
Therefore, wine racks (“clayettes” in French) must be resistant in terms of weight to support 10-11 bottles per floor but also designed to prevent any side movements. I have selected a good German ball bearing slide pack online, a bit pricey but the quality is present. You don’t want to see you wine falling down during a hardcore game !
As well, you must know that bottle diameters are different depending if it is a Bordeaux or a Burgundy, etc; hence the racks must be adaptable and space between 2 wine racks has to be determined accordingly. Finally, you may want something classy by adding a wooden banner allowing you to pull the wine rack easily and to nicely dress up the cabinet when the door opens. Now we have all the prerequisites, the wine rack design makes sense.
Step 7 : Software
One of the main part of this project is related to the software. To emulate you have plenty of options but before going into details, I have categorized the software development in 4 sections:
The choice of your O/S is key if you are going to use some old hardware and less powerful configuration into your cabinet. On my side, the choice is quite simple as I want to use a front end which is developed only under Windows. I would have maybe taken the Linux/Ubuntu option but you need to think about the hardware compatibility (controller for the control panel) + other layers of software you want to add.
Hence, the choice I will have to make is between the several Windows versions (98, XP, 7, 10). As soon as your processor and memory are respectively above 1GHz & 2Go, you can go for Windows XP or 7. From what I read so far, it is advised to strip it down from its non necessary services. On top of it, you can install a software called nLite and do the necessary adjustments to make XP/7 lighter. You can also download TinyXP/7 but this is not a legal option and I have heard you may have issues as it is striped down to the very minimum. I suggest that you do some tests on your own and see whether the gain is relevant or not. In the end, I have selected Windows 7 as it is safer than XP in terms of security and because my Arcave machine will be connected to Internet.
In terms of emulation, my choice went to the most famous and actively developed freeware named MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) that you can download at the following link:
Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator
The advantage of this freeware is its portability to several O/S (Windows, OSX, Linux) and emulates more than a thousand of arcade system boards.
I have added extra console emulators for the NES, SNESS, Megadrive and many others but these have to be configured within the front end and it will take time to download the roms, artworks… My suggestion is that you stick with MAME which is dedicated to arcade machines first and when you are fully confident with the settings and environment, just add one more emulator at a time and do some testing before moving to the next one. Backup is key !
- Front End
A front end is kind of a nice dynamic interface hiding all the emulators running in the background, it needs to be configured in advance and all the media elements have to be downloaded as well (video, artworks…) Huge work, don’t under estimate that part !!!
Again, you have many choices here, I would suggest the 3 most interesting ones in terms of graphic design to me (Retro-FE / Maximus / Hyperspin). Personally, I find Retro-FE and Hyperspin nicely done and step out from the other front end software. Maximus is pretty good but you need to pay and my budget is tight. It is always a question of personal taste so have a look around and choose wisely. I have selected RetroFE because it is lighter and simpler, also you arrive to the same quality as for Hyperspin with the different themes available.
The huge piece of work is on creating collections (full romset obtention + artwork (videos, game jacket, stories…) so that it fits well in your front end interface. If you stick to arcade games purely, then it should be straight forward but if you want to have a complete retro arcade machine with some of the latest consoles too, this may crack your head – well it’s part of the fun…
You will find some guys selling “ready to go” stuff online through forums or website, do not use this solution as this is not legal first and then it will no twork on your setup, settings are so delicates that you will end up with something not working at all. This is up to you but I strongly recommend you to do it yourself as it is free and you won’t get screwed.
With all these information above, you should be able to build a decent interface, fully customized and complete. I have been using Hyperspin at the beginning but switched quickly to RetroFE, I have few systems setup on my machine and you can have a look at the video below so you have an better idea.
Video – HD demo
Video – SD demo
- Cave management
To manage my wine cave, I am using an online solution called YouCellar or CavusVinifera which is nothing else than the same website but in French. It is free and simple, the interface would need a good brush but you have all what you need to be honest and all my wine DB is hosted on it. It permits you to create an indexation so you can organize your bottles the way you want.
August 29, 2018 at 3:56 pm
Dude you have good passion…really good info for Arcade…
LikeLiked by 1 person
April 20, 2021 at 4:28 pm
Would you share the sketchup file?
June 28, 2021 at 4:06 pm
sorry for the delay in my response, sure just send me a mail ID so i can forward the file