Hackit: Modern Arcade Cabinets?

We’ve been contemplating getting into MAME arcade cabinet building. It was sparked by someone dropping off a Street Fighter II machine at our office. Many people have been seeking to build the perfect arcade cabinet clone, but looking over this old dusty cabinet we realized that retro isn’t really what we want. We want an arcade cabinet with a modern aesthetic.

Retro Thing recently posted [Martijn Koch]’s Retro Space. The cabinet takes design cues from old cabinets, but uses modern technology like a 24″ LCD. It does feature classic controls though. Wandering through arcades today, most of the machines appear to be DDR style or vehicle sims. No one is building modern gaming machines.

We’re still in the planning stages of this build. We’d definitely use classic controls and combine it with an LCD 24″ or larger. The brain would probably be a Playstation 3. We could run any emulator we want on the Linux side and also play modern PS3 games. How it will look is still up in the air. We’re leaning towards building a standup 4 player brawler machine for playing games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, X-Men, and The Simpsons.

Have any of you built a MAME machine before? How would you build an arcade machine with a modern aesthetic?

39 thoughts on “Hackit: Modern Arcade Cabinets?

  1. I have always wanted to build my own cabinet but my wood working skills are terrible and i am too worried about spending too much money and not getting it to look good. Personally i would go with an original xbox instead of a ps3 as the emulators available for that are much better than running em on ps3 linux, although virtua fighter 5 would be fun. Plus with an xbox you could turn your arcade machine into a completely boss juke box. A dreamcast would work pretty well too as the guts…

  2. I’ve built many arcade machines (actual machines not MAME cabs) and I honestly don’t really see what’s wrong with the old aesthetic.

    Upright cabinets are completely utilitarian in their design. If you’re going to use an LCD (which I think is a bad idea for a whole lot of reasons) then really you’re just going to make the thing thinner which I suppose is more modern.

    There is however a fairly large gap between old school street fighter cabinet and the LCD mame abortion you posted in the article.

    Take for instance the more modern Japanese sitdown cabinet: http://cache.kotaku.com/assets/resources/2007/02/arcadecabinets.jpg

    Or the “pedestal” style cabinet that has a small podium for the controls with a large screen located a few ft away. this is pretty much the defacto for any GOOD modern arcade that still buys new games made for upright cabinets.

    Then of course there is the bar top cabinet which typically look like a less fruity emac.

    I think the biggest problem with most MAME cabinets isn’t the size, or the poor attempt at emulating classic cabinet design. The failure IMO usually comes from trying to jam every control known to man on the same control panel, and then duplicating it 4 times. Really most people would be better off just building a good upright with a joystick and the fairly common 6 button layout, then loading up the emulator with roms that work well for that configuration. Build another machine if you want a different config.. or get creative with swapable control panels or something.

  3. I’ve built a mame cabinet using an original xbox before and the X-arcade stick from X-gaming, it’s a really nice way to get things functioning without worrying about electronics, let’s you concentrate on the build. I’m currently working on a smaller cab, using a 19″ lcd that has a 2-part body, portable top unit that can be used on a tabletop and a pedestal to make it standup height.

  4. I have thought of this for a long time now.
    I would want a 4p setup as mentioned for playing the aforementioned
    games as well.

    +In addition I would add some swappable proprietary controllers, and
    in some cases be able to use 2 of these simoultaneously.

    ie: Paperboy Handle Bar,Star Wars Yoke,Official short 4 way sticks
    for older games,trackball for marble madness,720 spinning
    stick,arkanoid dial,ivan off road steering wheel (x4? yikes)

    I havent gotten any further than that, but when a cab falls into my
    living room, thats how it will be.

    +another concept I had was to utilize a projector instead of a
    screen, thus reducing the form factor to pretty much a control panel
    stand. Imagine if this was all self contained and had wheels or
    something, you could roll it into public places (that had a power
    outlet) and then play MAME in public on the side of a building or

    -also the portability would allow you to put it in the closet for example, takes up less space,lighter,easy to store.


  5. I built 4 mame machines out of one of the blank cabinets you often see housing games that are older than two years but less than ten years. See this pic for an example of two of the four I owned: http://lh5.ggpht.com/_gdSznm1Dvpk/RvXORgfd0sI/AAAAAAAABD4/xXfjs1gI6WE/IMG_2252.JPG

    Trust me when I say that building a cabinet from scratch is *NOT WORTH THE EFFORT.* You will have plenty to do, lots to hack on, and greater reward from a pre-built cabinet that has all the problems one comes across figured out. The cabinets have beautiful monitors, and awesome sound, and they’re even cheaper than the material cost of building one from scratch.

    If you use an arcade monitor, hit up http://ultimarc.com/ and pick up an ArcadeVGA card for the PC. The voltages between PC and arcade monitor differ a lot and the ArcadeVGA fixes all of those problems, as well as binds the joystick and button presses into keypresses the computer can understand. I cannot recommend this product highly enough – I’ve bought four in total and I will never look another direction when I make a 5th machine.

    http://namcoarcade.com/game-sales.asp always has tons of machines for sale, just about everywhere across the country. Find a cabinet cheap there. Triple point combo if it’s a namco cabinet – these are by far the best cabs i’ve ever seen. You can get some truly great deals this way.

    Work smarter, not harder, and you’ll get an arcade cabinet that you can truly be proud of. Forget the LCD; get a cabinet that you sit at and has cup holders and no one will care if it looks like its from the 80s or the 2020s – they will have fun.

    kevorkian spelled backwards @gmail.com if you have questions.

  6. 36chambers: there comes a point where you dramatically lose quality in an arcade cabinet when you start adding different control methods. Paperboy yoke, fighter pilot stick, track ball, twisty knobs, lit buttons, DDR pad(s), foot pedals, secondary displays — do you really think that anyone will use any of those enough to justify their inclusion? If so, build a second cabinet that focuses on the second-most used control method, whatever that is in your case.

    The more you add to a cabinet in terms of hardware, … let me put it this way: the law of inverse squares applies to hardware that you let the public use. When you double the amount of moving parts in an arcade cabinet, you quadruple the amount of time you’re going to spend fixing problems. Add in 8 different types of controllers, and you’re going to have a cabinet that only its creator can love, and only its creator can fix. You don’t want that.

    You want a machine that is rugged enough to withstand visitors, spilled drinks, the occasional kick, yank, or shove. You do NOT want a cabinet that has exposed ports for various control methods, or so many buttons that one can’t figure out how to play. The game-agnostic cabinets out there (see image link in post #1) are designed that way because they allow the largest amount of games to be played while still being comfortable and rugged.

    You can’t play every game on a single cabinet – don’t try. Besides, who wants to play Paperboy then turn around and play Asteroids then turn around and play Super Mario Brothers, then Metal Slug, changing controllers each time. Trust me it gets OLD FAST.

    I’ve never heard a single mame cabinet maker who looked back on their creation and said “damn, I’m glad I added all this stuff to my cabinet I rarely use. That was worthwhile.” You won’t hear it either, and you sure as heck won’t say that.

    Start simple, do what you know, experiment, THEN add on other stuff. You’ll find what you have in mind now, vs. what is practical, differ greatly.

  7. I build a slim cabinet with an LCD a few years ago, mainly to avoid having a cabinet stick out as far as one with a tube would. There are definitely some drawbacks to the LCD (viewing angle, support for light guns, etc), but all told it works great for what I wanted it to.

  8. First of really think about LCD, saturation and contrast outweigh resolution for old games. A nice bright plasma would give a better modern effect, but nothing can match a multi-sync CRT for being able to display the games in their original glory. This would require a MAME PC with a ArchadeVGA graphics card, but you needed that sort of power and flexibility to be able to emulate most games well.

    If I wanted a new take of 4up cabinets I would look at the screens (sic). A lot of newer four player games rely on networked machine’s so having a screen per player would make this a lot easier. For older 4up games you can just clone the picture. This would also overcome the design issues involved with 4up controls allowing a ‘classic’ 8-way+6 buttons perfectly located for every player. Using 4 flat screens would allow you to mount them on the 4 sites of a fairly traditionally sized cabinet. Though you would obviously need space all around it whilst playing, so this design would only work for larger sites.

    For a traditional layout with a new look, you could go for an open frame instead of a cabinet. Look exhibition display stands for inspiration (Though a nice large plasma and a designer exhibition stand doesn’t look so odd on your expense claims). Most stands come with optional keyboard trays where you could easily mount a custom control panel.


  9. I also built my own, and wanted the retro look — it’s made for playing retro games – duh! And I could have went with a monitor, but again, retro-look yo — so I went with a TV. This also kept the price down considerably, as well as the fact that light guns for CRT’s are cheaper then their monitor counterparts. There’s nothing like seeing the faces of envy of those who see it for the first time, much less firing up a game of Killer Instinct 2 and playing it with solid stainless steel joysticks… :)

    Here’s the link, but the pics were taken actually before it was complete – the front bezel, light guns, and control box lighting came after. Built it completely from scratch, designed it they way I wanted it. Took an entire summer and about $750 which is pretty damn cheap considering how much you’d pay for one with less controls, games, horsepower, etc…


  10. I second what twistedsymphony said about the best cabinets having a screen that’s a few feet away from the controls. I’d also put a bluetooth dongle or usb hub in the controller pedestal for hooking up keyboards or whatever other input methods you want without having to design them into the cabinet itself.

  11. I wrote up plans for a fiberglass arcade cabinet (with a wooden frame for support of course). the idea is that we could use L.E.D.’s to make the whole thing glow different colors. We also considered making the diodes react to what is happening on screen.

  12. I would love to build a MAME cabinet. I’ve downloaded the software and hundreds of games, I’ve even started working on a keyboard hack so that I can attach classic arcade consoles and have it simulate the proper keystrokes. The only problem with the ‘ol keyboard hack is key ghosting issues.
    The link to my keyboard hack if anyone is interested :


    I love the idea of slimming it down to a more modern classic style arcade. :) Thanks Hack’a’day !

  13. You can add all the controls that you want. the devil they say is in the details. i built a 4 player cab with 4 8way joystick, 1 4way, trackball, spinner, and flight stick. six buttons for players one and two and three buttons for player three and four. i built a split level design. this allowed me to put the less used controls (flight stick, spinner and 4way) on top, out of the way but still easy to use. The rest of the controls are on the bottom for everyday use.

  14. I converted an old double dragon machine to a mame machine. My suggestions :

    1) Check ebay for an “industrial” monitor. I was able to get a 24″ CRT for $75 shipped. VGA connector and metal mounting brackets for an easy installation.

    2) Second the recommendation for ultramarc, especially their J-PAC. They allow you to take the already existing button wires into screw terminals. It then has some logic that converts to PS/2 Keyboard commands. The best of all…no Ghosting!

    Does anybody have any suggestions for a more modern frontend software? I’m running ArcadeOS through a full screen win98 dos window. (stupid onboard sound doesn’t work in straight dos)

  15. I made an arcade machine a while back and it turned out really well. I tried to make it look like a cross between a typical arcade machine and a piece of furniture (note the stained glass marquee). I don’t know if that’s “modern” or not but it’s definitely different. I used a PC instead of a game console to run the whole thing. I also went with a TV to keep costs down. Also the second tier of controls is easily removable so you can have different control panels for different games (racing wheels, positional guns, beer holders, etc). Here’s my site showing it off:


  16. Has anyone else watched the guys at Systm build their mame cabinet? 5 videos showing how they put it together from scratch, it’s a good set of 5 shows: (watch online or download episodes in various formats)


    I’d love to build a mame machine but don’t have the space for one :(

  17. Ultimarc also sells the button and joystic controllers that connect to a PC via USB. I am in the process of bulding my own cabinet and am working out the details to allow the switching of control tops. I have the basic 2 player, and a 4 player. I am working out a 2 player with trackball and spinner. All these fit on one Stand up unit.

    A future project that I have in mind is a bar gaming unit. Again PC based with single player contols connected to Wirelessly to the gaming unit (most likely a coffee table) and connect it to a bigscreen TV. Each unit would have Joystick, buttons, spinner, and trackball. http://www.happcontrols.com/ will be your friend.

  18. My brother and I share about 8 or so cabs between us and we absolutely love the retro look. Americans are so damn spoilt for choice in terms of cabs and hardware, things are a lot slimmer pickings down in australia. So I don’t see the point of scratch building a mame a lot of the time, particularly when a lot of them end up like this: http://www.disorder.org/crapmame/

    @jeremiah: Seconded. You really want to keep it simple. Honestly, how many times do you think you’re gonna play that game that needs an xyz accelerometer with 5 side buttons and an axe attachment? A lot of examples in the link above have this curse and just look at them! They look horrible. 2 controllers and 6 buttons is perfectly reasonable and no-one is going to laugh at you.

    And finally instead of scratch building a cab, I think it’s a lot more reasonable to find an old cab that you really like the look of and simply replace the panels. Even I wouldn’t go that far as I like the old look, but it’s probably the easiest way to go about making a ‘modern’ looking cab if you aren’t so creatively or constructively minded.

  19. Hey, that’s a really nice design plan you’ve got there.

    I’ve been looking into doing something like this for myself, but I was thinking maybe I could make a couple of small adjustments. For example, maybe using an XBOX 360 as opposed to a PS3 solely because of XBOX Live Arcade. Think about it: I could play Pac-Man and all that junk. Unless I’m missing the point, in which case I’d be glad to trade in my XBOX so that I could run this bad boy.

    Aesthetically, I was thinking of extending the roof of it a little to make it sort of look like a
    . You know, just one of those homely little touches. Could possibly even put a light in there so I can make it all cinematic.

    Either way, you’ve got an awesome idea.

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