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If you were born in the 70s or 80s, chances are good that a big part of your childhood was spent wasting quarters at the local arcade, or in front of the Pac-Man machine at your local pizza place. Sure, games have become a lot more complex since then, but the old titles had a lot of charm, and in some cases a level of skill and patience-rewarding challenge that hasn’t been matched since.
Sadly, the arcade is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Now that PCs and game consoles have become so powerful, the only way for arcades to compete has been to offer games with enormous, complicated controls, which end up costing a dollar or more per play. And besides, that’s only if you happen to live next to one of the very few remaining full-sized arcades. For most people, the closest thing they’ve got to an arcade is the worn-out Initial D machine at their local multiplex.
But you can bring the classic arcade experience back to life, in your own house. With a MAME arcade machine, you and your friends can play your favorite old games, on the authentic controls they were made for. In this article, we’re going to show you, step-by-step and with a lot of pictures, exactly how to build the custom arcade machine you’ve always dreamed about using old PC parts. We’re going to describe how we built our MAME cabinet, but we’re also going to describe all the choices we made along the way, including cabinet style, monitor and controls, so you can put together a machine that’s just right for you.
When you think about an arcade machine, what comes to mind? For most people, it’s the cabinet. From the classic standup cabinets like Centipede, with its loud sideart, to the behemoth six-player, two-screen X-Men machines, to the sit-down cocktail Galaga cabinets, every games was its own distinct experience. They were more than just video games, they were furniture.
With that in mind, picking what style of cabinet you want to build for your MAME machine is one of the toughest and most important decisions you’ll have to make. Although exactly what your cabinet will look like is totally up to you, there are three basic styles of cabinet: the upright, the cocktail, and the bartop. We’ll provide a description of each of these types, as well as a breakdown of that cabinet’s pros and cons.
A standup cabinet is what you probably think about when you think “arcade machine.” About six feet tall, fields of these wooden monoliths are what make an arcade an arcade.
• Big size means lots of room for a big monitor
• Room for custom or replica sideart and marquee means you can make your machine as gaudy or nostalgic as you want it.
• Because uprights are the most arcade-y looking of the cabinets, they’re also the most likely to make your living room look like an Aladdin’s Castle. This might sound OK to you, but you should definitely run it by any significant other you might have.
• The screen in an upright cabinet is generally fixed in place. This means you’ll have to choose between a vertical (think Pac-Man) or horizontal (think Street Fighter) orientation, and games of the other orientation will only be able to use a limited area of the screen.
“Cocktail”-style arcade machines are essentially a screen set into a table, with controls on one, two or three sides. Traditional cocktail cabinet games with two sets of controls are generally meant to be played by two players on opposite sides of the table taking turns, with the screen rotating 180 degrees between turns so that each player sees the screen as upright.
• Less obtrusive looking, and doubles as a surface for drinks.
• With three control panels, can play both vertical and horizontal games at full screen size. Vertical games are played at the two facing control panels, while horizontal games are played at the longer side control panel.
• Despite the more subtle profile, cocktail cabinets actually take up more floor space than uprights, especially with the third control panel. Remember, you need space for people to sit on all three sides of the cabinet.
• Without the third control panel, 2-player horizontal games, like Double Dragon are difficult to play. Not impossible, because MAME has a video option which allows you to mirror a horizontal game into two cloned screens, but you get significantly less screen space if you do this.