Links to some of the things I used:
- Raspberry Pi
- Joystick and USB controller set
- Marquee Printing
- RetroPie and EmulationStation (Software for the Pi)
- Compact USB hub
- 8BitDo NES and SNES -like controllers
- N64-like controller
Sweeeeeeeeeet!!! I got to make a MAME arcade cabinet 🙂
Since I was little I have always loved video games. Specifically ones from the 80’s and 90’s. Even today the majority of my favorite games are 8 or 16bit. I have thought many times about making an arcade cabinet but never have actually done it. I have visited Funspot a bajillion times though, with each time making me want to build one more and more. I had a Raspberry PI and an old computer screen already, so I only needed to buy some MDF, arcade buttons and a marquee.
Okay fine, I didn’t need a marquee but come on, you know – right? You gotta.
For the buttons, I scoured Amazon and thought about what I wanted for controllers. I settled on this Joystick and USB controller set. It seemed simple enough to connect so I went with it. It ended up being a great purchase (upon writing this post almost 2 years later – and after some hard use from a 4-year-old, it’s still holding up very nicely)
I purchased one sheet of MDF (4’x8′) from the local big-box shop and left the marquee for last.
Now it was time to get started. This was basically my first woodworking project as well. I had some rough and simple experience but nothing fancy like this. I came at this as I would drawing or painting. I started with a blank canvas and just started going. I created a sample SketchUp drawing of what I thought I was going to do (at least a rough plan), but I didn’t really make patterns, and the only thing I measured was the monitor in order to make sure that it fit when I was done. Looking at photos of arcade cabinets on Google, I cut the first piece. I then used that piece to cut the next, and so-on. Each piece I cut was used as a measurement for the next one.
There are a few places in particular where I could have done better.
The biggest example would be the marquee.
Lemme pause and say I barely had any tools at the time either. I think at this point the only real power tool or cutting device I had was a circular saw and maybe a cordless jigsaw. *unpause*
I used an online company called Game on Grafix to print the marquee. I found them after reading some forums of other builders and they came highly recommended. I can attest to their quality as well. It came out much better than I had expected.
I should have found a way to make the Marquee slide in a slot because I had no good way to attach this. I ended up gluing a small piece of wood behind the right and left sides and then screwing through the sign. Ugh. It made me really sad when it started to crack. Oh well. I definitely won’t make that mistake again.
One feature that I really love a lot
And one that has proven to be very handy, is the sliding base. The mount that holds the joystick and buttons slides in and out allowing for access to underneath. The original idea for not attaching this was in case I wanted to change the button layout or even the buttons themselves. I would be able to swap out a new controller board and voila! I imagined having a two joystick two-button layout as well if you wanted to play a little 1v1 pong with a friend.
Another cool feature was the USB ports in the front. I found this compact USB hub on Amazon that did just fine. I connect that directly to the Raspberry Pi so that the player could easily swap out the controllers they want to use, which are kept in the base of the cabinet.
Side note on USB controllers like these. I am a huge fan of 8BitDo products. I have 4 controllers from them and they are impressive. Especially to someone who loves the originals and can’t stand 3rd party controllers. They have the look, the feel, and the button action of the originals. Just fantastic. Unfortunately, they do not make suitable (to me) substitutions for the N64 controller. Which is really fine to me, considering the Pi doesn’t play many 64bit games well.
Software – RetroPie & EmulationStation
It allowed me to have all the systems I wanted, and have them displayed in a nice scrollable menu. Another awesome feature of this software is that you can set defaults for controllers on a global, per-console, and per-ROM level. So for NES games, I can set the default controllers to be the Bluetooth NES controllers with the custom arcade joystick as the backup. This feature alone made switching from SNES to NES very easy and comfortable.
Painting and Adding Graphics
This part was pretty fun actually. I went to Gamestop, Walmart, Target, Good Will, etc… Anywhere I could think of that would have large colored pictures of Nintendo characters. I ended up finding a sticker book that I cut from. Ironically, I didn’t use the stickers themselves, but instead, I cut out parts from the pages that the stickers go onto. Took a while to cut them all out precisely and lay them all out. Once I found the layout I liked, I applied a liberal coat of Mod Podge to the cabinet and placed down the paper cutouts. After it dried, I continued to apply about 4 or 5 coats, covering the entire cabinet, not just the parts with cutouts. It gave the cabinet a nice finished coat and allowed the cutouts to be on there for good.
Découpage for the win!
Here is a photo dump of some of the process I took to make it:
SketchUp design concept
I didn’t end up doing this design exactly. I tend to change things last minute during projects to account for the unaccounted while keeping on track.