I grew up in the 70/80's which was where my love for arcade games grew.A lot of 10p's were fed into the Space Invader and Asteroid cabinets during my childhood. I always dreamed of owning an arcade cabinet but I was never really in a position or had the space to follow it through.Two things that recently changed this recently were my introduction to the Lightboxlab Hackerspace in Drogheda which helped cured my long term procrastination and secondly the release of the Raspberry Pi. Information on hackerspaces can be found here and more information on the amazing Raspberry Pi can be found here.
My Arcade Cabinet requirements in no particular order were
- As cheap as possible
- Semi portable
- Real Arcade Joystick and Button controls
- Putting my Raspberry Pi to good use
- Having a Lightboxlab slant
- Not too complicated
I started off by researching arcade cabinets and came across some nice examples. The one that caught my eye though was a bar-top one. This was the perfect fit as it would be the most portable and would take up least amount of room. With the choice made I had a look to see if there were any arcade cabinet plans available freely on-line. One of the first hits brought me to http://www.arcadecab.com where there was loads of information and links to plans. The website owner Mike Trello had compiled a great pdf guide detailing his bartop build back in 2004. After a good look around I settled on this guide as it was very detailed and provided a wealth of information.
Next was figuring out what I needed and how cheap I could get it. A bit more research and I came up with a shopping list.
- MDF for the Cabinet
- Plexiglass for the front display and control panel insert
- Monitor (Had 15' LCD already)
- Arcade Joystick
- Arcade Buttons
- Integrated Switch/Joystick/Trackball/Spinner USB Interface
- Raspberry Pi (Had already)
- USB Hub (Had Already)
- Speakers (Had Already)
I found some fantastic information on Arcade control panels at a website called http://www.slagcoin.com/ and through this I was able to source the Arcade controls and control panel layout template. A local DIY company http://www.newportdiy.ie/ were very helpful and were able to take in the cabinet measurements from the plan and laser cut the MDF giving it a great finish. Good guys to deal with. My dad offered to help me with building the Arcade cabinet and I was happy to accept as the carpentry was the bit I was worried about the most.
I thought it would be a pity not to be able to see the inner workings of the cabinet so we decided to put a window in the side so that the components were visible. The idea came from the gaming pc cases with the windows in the side. As well as looking cool it would work well for demonstrating the build at our hackerspace events. The window was made from a bass drum port hole which I sourced from Amazon.
While my dad worked on the cabinet I set about looking at the wiring for the control panel. After research on Slagcoin I decided to chose a usb interface and wiring harness for the buttons. This seemed the most straightforward as the usb interface acts like a keyboard and the wiring harness simplifys the connections and saves the need to solder the wires. I was able to wireup the panel easily and set about testing it. It all worked perfectly with the exception of the joystick buttons which I had wired back to front. This was a minor thing and rectified easily.
With the cabinet ready and painted it was a matter of deciding on how to fit the monitor and other components. My dad came up with an ingenious ways to mount the monitor. There was loads of space for everything else as the cabinet was originally for a CRT. The plexi-glass was heated with a blow tourch and then we were able to bend the screen into place. This worked out amazingly well as you can see in the pictures.
With everything in place I set about working on the software. The Raspberry Pi has had a huge following in the last year and there were a number of option's for Arcade emulation software. After looking at the various options I settled on PI MAME which is a pre built Raspberry Pi OS made for gaming and emulation put together by a great guy called Shea Silverman who is continually developing it further and adding improvements. The emulated systems it supports currently are
MAME - AdvanceMAME & MAME4ALL
CPS I / CPS II - Final Burn Alpha
Neo Geo - GNGeo
Playstation - pcsx-reARMed
SNES - SNES9x
Gameboy - Gearboy
Gameboy Advance - GPSP
Atari 2600 - Stella
Cavestory - NXEngine
Commodore 64 - VICE
I downloaded the sd card image and booted it up. I'd to make a few configuration changes for my local environment, display settings, screen rotation as the LCD was in portrait mode, and also a few changes to get the sound working. Other than that I had a working MAME emulator running and was playing Space Invaders in no time. I still have a bit more configuration to get some of the other emulators working fully but the main functionality I was after is working well. See below for links to some of the resources used in this project.
The build photos are available in the gallery here.