So You Want Your Own Arcade Cabinet?

So You Want Your Own Arcade Cabinet?

September 26, 2016 10:22 am 1 comment

arcadecabinettitle

To paraphrase the great Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, Button… button… who’s got the fire button?

If you’re like me, then among other pipe dreams you grew up wanting your very own arcade cabinet.  Pac-Man, Frogger, Zaxxon and Defender were played until your fingers bled or the quarters ran out.  Even after purchasing multiple computers and consoles trying to re-capture the feeling you had playing on those cabinets, it was just never the same.

Now thanks to the miracles of modern technology and the geekiness of like-minded individuals there are multiple ways to make that dream come true.  The options range from budget-friendly to very budget-ow-quit-it.  Let’s start somewhere in the middle with:

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Cabinet Kits from Rec Room Masters (http://www.recroommasters.com/)

Rec Room Masters produces several models of arcade cabinets that are built to house PCs with connected speakers and monitors.  They have traditional cabinets, cocktail cabinets and pedestals to choose from.  Most of their models were designed around using X-Arcade (http://shop.xgaming.com/) products as controllers, such as their “Tank Stick” line.  Now the folks at Rec Room Masters are manufacturing their own controllers as well, and they’re getting rave reviews.

As indicated, each of these requires a PC, 32” monitor and speakers purchased separately.  It is highly recommended that the speakers include a subwoofer for the best depth of sound.  The PC doesn’t have to be a gaming PC, it can be any standard Windows 10 PC.  The software that provides the arcade game emulation is called MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator), and is a free download from http://mamedev.org/.  I highly recommend a front-end such as Maximus Arcade (http://www.maximus-arcade.com/) which simplifies the configuration of MAME and delivers your games through a beautiful menu.  MAME works off of “ROM” files.  Google is your friend.

Bottom line:  This approach gives you a great arcade feel while also serving up multiple different games.  Expect to spend $1200 – $1500 for a complete setup.

 

Real Classic Arcade Cabinets

This is the “real deal” approach.  Find a vendor in your area (such as http://www.tntamusements.com/ in the Philadelphia area) that sells reconditioned classic arcade machines.  Because these are the original gaming machines, inventory is based on availability.  You may have a hard time finding that sweet Tron machine.

Bottom line:  You don’t get any closer to a real arcade machine than a real arcade machine, but you’re also stuck with whatever one game you pick.  Expect to spend $1500 on average.

 

Arcade Legends, or the Like  dalogo

Moving on to ow-quit-it, we come to the Arcade Legends style cabinets.  Around the holidays, your local Costco usually carries these “All-in-one” arcade cabinets that have between 100 and 200 classic games on them.  One alternate flavor is Dream Arcades (http://www.dreamarcades.com.)  The feel is right, but you’re stuck with their interface and usually stuck with their games.  Some manufacturers, such as Dream Arcades, give you the ability to load more games via USB stick.

Bottom line:    Like the Rec Room Masters kit, this option serves up the arcade feel with a selection of different games.  Expect to spend $2000 – $3000 for full-size cabinets or $1300-$2000 for tabletop cabinets.

 

Low Budget Options (aka Honorable Mention)

The following are solid options if you just want to play the games, and don’t care as much about playing them on anything resembling a cabinet.  On the bright side, they are much cheaper than the other arcade options, not to mention the current generation of consoles.

Because MAME is available in many flavors, it can be installed on any Windows, MAC or Linux PC.  Anyone can download it, install it and play with controllers of their choice including keyboard and mouse.rasppi

You can even craft your own TV-connected emulator solutions using Raspberry Pi (no “e” because it’s the Greek symbol, you can’t eat it) single-board computer.  With a $75 Raspberry Pi 3 kit from Canakit  (http://www.canakit.com) and a RetroPie (https://retropie.org.uk/) image on its micro SD card, you can easily load and play arcade games along with games for NES, Super NES, Genesis, etc.   Any USB gamepad can be hooked up and the system automatically launches the control mapping configuration on boot-up the first time the controller is connected.

Another lower cost option is an FPGA (Field-Programmable Gate Array) board.  FPGA boards mimic the behavior of whatever “core” is loaded on them.  For example, they can be configured to mimic Frogger hardware, so when it boots up the user is getting an accurate representation of a real Frogger machine instead of a software-based approximation.  One example would be MIST by Lotharek (http://lotharek.pl/product.php?pid=96.)  Most USB gamepads can be used, and it has a VGA connector and a 3.5mm headphone jack which combined can pass through a VGA to HDMI adapter.  They’re definitely for someone more tech-savvy, and are pricier (around $230) than the other low-budget options, but for those that want the most accurate representation without footing the bill for a real classic arcade cabinet, this is a good way to go.

Bottom line:    You can spend as little or as much as you want to recreate your favorite arcade memories.  It all depends on how accurate you want that recreation to be.  If you’re just in it for the games, you can have a lot of fun for little or no money!

 

recallbutton   By: Recall, vintage entertainment enthusiast

1 Comment

  • Jamie

    Great article, very informative. FYI for the DIY’ers out there you should probably put in a disclaimer regarding ROM licensing.

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