Friday, February 29, 2008

MAME cabinet...working top down.

Here's a top down progress update.

No good arcade machine is complete without the marquee to draw you in. I wanted mine to reflect that it is running MAME and all my favorite games from yesterday. I took measurements and calculated sizes, then printed a montage of old game marquees. The pictures came from the internet and I used Powerpoint to do the work.

I cut out the 3 parts and taped together. Then I cut two pieces of plexiglass and put the paper between them, making a sandwich. Then set in place and held with the retainer strips. I like it, and it wasn't difficult. If and when I want a new marquee, or if this one fades, I can just reprint.

Next, working down, is making the monitor area look nicer.

Not easy to tell what is going on in the picture. I'm using black foam board to surround the monitor and need to cut out a rectangle that exactly matches the frame of the monitor. The first time I did this just measuring and it did not come out good at all. So this was my second attempt. Using scraps of the foam board I made an exact replica of the monitor frame. I traced this on light colored paper and cut that out, so I have an exact template of the glass area of the monitor (inside the frame). Using the light paper I taped it to the foam board and cut out the rectangle. Then I took measurements from the edges of the rectangle outward to trim off the ends so it would fit inside the cabinet. That worked perfectly.

It turned this:

into this:

The foam board is held in place with rubber cement, applied to the monitor frame and the back of the foam board. When it dried, I pressed the 2 pieces together. The foam board can come off easily if needed, and rubbing the cement with a finger makes it come off...I like that.

To complete the monitor area I cut a sheet of Lexan to fit, trimmed off 3 inches on all 4 edges of the paper cover, and painted with 4 coats of black spray paint (formulated for plastic).

When the paint was dry I peeled off all the paper...

and and set in place.

Here it is displaying Ms. Pac Man...

...and Burger Time.

As you can see, the foam board and black paint don't make for a seamless transition into the monitor, but it looks good enough for me.

The next step will be to build the new control panel, and box it in. In some of the above pictures you can see the old blue and red metal control panel, sitting on the floor. That panel/box fit between the sides of the machine correctly and matched the side angles just right, so I am going to use it as a pattern, but replicate it in wood.

Stay tuned.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Good MAME progress

Made wonderful progress over the weekend.

Power switch.
The toggle switch is installed and turns everything on. Here are the parts needed. A power strip, electrical box and cover plate, orange extension cord (8 ft), toggle switch, and heat shrink tubing. Look carefully at the connector on the orange cord. That's why I no longer used it, but just knew that one day I would have use for the wire.

Fisrt thing I did was strip some of the wire in the orange cord...the white and the black. There is no ground connection needed so I cut the green wire flush. I then soldered the wires to the toggle switch and covered the connections with heat shrink tubing. I've now brushed up on my soldering skills...not to be used for another 20 years?

Then I cut the power cord on the power strip leaving about 8 inches. I mounted the blue plastic box to the base of the cabinet, then pushed the 3 cables (2 blacks and one orange) into the box. Made all the connections and closed it up. The picture have to mentally block out any wire that is plugged into the power strip. There are 4 things plugged into the power strip...2 black wires and 2 white.

Then I mounted the toggle switch in the top. In this picture the switch is on ( because the fluorescent light is on).

I removed the old monitor and cut a board to fit. Drilled finger holes in the corners for if and when I need to pull it out (have already done that several times).

To mount the monitor I needed 4 threaded studs to fit into holes on the back of the monitor. I got a threaded rod and used a Dremel to cut it into 4 pieces. The nuts in the picture are to "clean up" the thread after the cutting is done.

Then I put on nice little brass Knurled nuts.

I made a template of the mounting holes on the back of the monitor, drilled the holes in the board, put the studs into the monitor holes, laid the board onto the studs (so they come through the holes, and then secured with the knurled nuts. Getting ahead with this picture, but you now see the completed monitor installation.

Windows XP boots up sideways, but the arcade front end launches at startup time and the games come up in the correct orientation. When this is all done there will not be a keyboard and mouse in easy reach, so it is important to start up right to the arcade front end and exit that into shut down.

If you look closely you see a white button coming through the bottom left hole of the monitor board.

Power button.
Today's PCs have a power button on front of the tower. If you turn off a power strip, then turn it back on, the PC goes into a standby mode...not ON. So you have to push the button. Well, in this system that tower is inside a cabinet. So I did a little research. Found that the power button is a switch that is "normally open". When you press the button the switch "closes" and the power supply detects the little 5 Volts that are sent along the two small wires.

No problem!! The arcade buttons are set up with normally open switches and 5V is nothing! So I mounted a white button on the front of the cabinet, way up above the monitor, by the speakers. The picture above shows how I had it when I was getting it all to work. The picture below shows it in it's final location.

Then I used some old telephone wire to hook it up. I cut the power button wires inside the PC and hooked the other end of the phone wires to those wires. Works absolutely perfect! To turn on my system I now flip the toggle switch and press the button. The tan colored wire in the picture below is the one that runs from the new white power button and into the back of the PC tower.

So you can see in this picture where the button is mounted (by the left speaker above the monitor) and my son playing PacMan.

NEW PC !!!
At the flea market I found a Pentium 4 tower for $150. Brought it home, dumped the software onto it, and rigged up the power button. It runs perfectly. The system works so well that I have placed all the components inside and started bundling the wires. I am going to staple wires to the cabinet sides later for neatness, but for now just wanted to have them untangled and fairly neat.

The arcade cabinet had 14 brass tokens in the bottom. They were very dirty and tarnished. Since I want this machine to be run by tokens I thought these could use a cleanup. We soaked them in "Tarn-X" for a little bit. Most of the discoloration came off and they look vastly improved. But I think they can use some more cleaning (the picture shows the best 2). Here's a before and after.

What's next.
So next up will be to start working on the control panel and also a monitor "bezel". A bezel is the trim piece that masks all the ugliness behind. For raw material, I picked up a piece of black foam board at an arts and crafts store. It isn't the exact dimensions needed, but the bezel will also be covered by a piece of plastic that will be painted black around the edges, so together they should make for a nice screen appearance.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Progress on the MAME arcade cabinet

I've had successes and failures.
First, I could not interface the arcade monitor to the computer that I have. I've tried two video boards and disabling the video on the mother luck. So I punted and bought a nice 19 inch rectangular LCD monitor. I noticed, in a movie theater, that older games tend to have the monitor set up in "portrait" mode. And I learned that MAME will play the games in portrait mode. But Windows will not play that way. Since everything will be all closed up it would be impossible to rotate the monitor at will.

So I did some research and found a "front end" program called "MaLa". It will display in portrait mode and it will kick off the games in portrait mode as well. If I put this into the Windows Startup folder then one will see some sideways Windows stuff UNTIL Mala gets going. This will only be if the machine is ever turned off. But booting in this manner is hands free anyway, so it is not even a problem. Once MaLa is going, operation is done using a joystick to select a game from a menu and then the player 1 start button to load it. To run, one then will put in a token, then press player 1 start again. Pretty simple.

Was having difficulty with some of the games regarding sound and video, but I found out that I was using TOO current of a version of MAME. The current versions rely on newer and better hardware. When I installed an older version all of the problems went away, except for one game, Joust 2. I will keep my eyes and ears open for a newer FREE computer to swap out in the future. Swapping out should be pretty simple if and when the time comes.

On top of the cabinet is a toggle switch for the OLD arcade system. I would like to utilize that for a 6 outlet power strip that will have all the plugs for the new, speakers, monitor, marquee light. I thought about it a little and figured that I could wire the switch in SERIES with the switch that is ALREADY on the power strip. The power strip will be permanently enclosed in the cabinet and will always be set to ON. So the toggle switch, in series will interrupt the power going to the power strip. But I looked and the old toggle switch is only rated for 3 amps (it was connected to a transformer). I need to get a new toggle switch rated for 15 amps because that is what the power strip needs. Also I need to get a length of wire that is good for 15 amps in order to hook it up.

I removed the old arcade monitor and cut a piece of plywood to match the space. Next I will mount the new monitor to that plywood and can actually put all the computer hardware in the cabinet at that point. It will be a self contained, playable system at that point, but will still need a control panel to replace the keyboard. Then several touchups.

Pictures once I get the monitor mounted.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


This may not interest you, but I am putting together an arcade system called a "MAME cabinet." MAME (google it) is a piece of software that runs on your computer and emulates different video game systems, including the arcade systems of the past few dacades. It runs the actual game software from chips that were on the original equipment. So PacMan "IS" PacMan, not some clone of PacMan. etc.

I currently have MAME and about 28 old arcade games on my PC but they don't quite have the same arcade "feel." My son loves the games too and I have found that I can bargain with him for play time. So I did some research and found that there is a whole "slew" of people who either build or renovate their own home arcade system.

There are two ways to do it. Start from scratch, or start with an existing system. I chose the latter.

I got a used, non-working arcade machine, and the fellow that I bought it from delivered it. Too heavy to move around I laid it down and modified the bottom to have recessed casters. Now it looks the same but rolls nicely.

I removed a good deal of the guts and control panel. I got an older computer from a friend. That PC needed a new power supply, but it is now working and running the same games as my normal home PC. It will be dedicated to the MAME cabinet.

I designed a new control panel that is flexible enough to play dozens, if not hundreds of games. This is important because a game like PacMan only had a joystick, Donkey Kong had a joystick and a "jump" button, and Missile Command had a trackball and 3 "base fire" buttons. Most games are a joystick and one button, but I wanted to provide for more. The plan is complete, but I needed to figure out the spacing. When all the controls arrived, my son and I built a "mockup" of the panel using a drill and a piece of thin plywood. It looks neat, but pointed out that the spacing needs work. So we will soon make mockup 2. When that is all figured out we can make the real panel and do the wiring.

Now, that wiring thing may sound difficult, but I am standing on the shoulders of giants. I am not the first person to do this, and there is a ton of reference information on the web. I actually bought a kit and a little circuit board that will make it all simple.

I need to adjust the video output of the PC to sync with the monitor in the arcade cabinet. It is not your typical VGA monitor. I modified a VGA cable so that I can plug it into the PC and the monitor, but I need to make sure that the video output of the PC graphics card syncs up correctly. Again, lots of information on the internet.

The machine will actually be coin operated. This is where the motivation comes in with my son. Like I said, I have already determined that I can bargain with him for behavior when it comes to games. He will earn tokens to use in the arcade machine. I currently have 14 tokens (they were actually in the cabinet on the floor) and can easily go exchange some dollars at a game room to get some more. When my son does something good he'll get a token. After he uses it, I can reclaim it from inside the machine. In that way we both get what we want.

I figure this will take a few more weeks and will be done. Nothing is particularly difficult and I have experience with PCs, soldering, woodworking, and a little bit of metal working. I'm keeping a journal on this, rather than blogging all the little details. Later on I will copy the journal into blogs.

The original non-working game machine.

Modification to the bottom for recessed casters.

Gutted machine with mockup of new control panel.