For a post which actually contains original content, I figured I’d write up my experiences in building a MAME cabinet, which I did a couple of years back. Very basically, MAME is an emulator that allows you to play all the old arcade games (2D ones) on a PC. A MAME cabinet is a PC that is put into an arcade cabinet, so you end up with an arcade machine that has as many games as you want to put on it.
When building a cabinet, a good first thing to consider is budget. Altogether, my cabinet cost about $630 to build (not including cost for a spare PC, which I had lying around). The prices of major components were as follows:
Cabinet (Street Fighter 2 Champion Edition, of course), $500
Magic pieces (Components to bridge the arcade cabinet and the PC), $130
PC (I had used an Athlon 1 Ghz), $0
The cabinet before being modded:
First of all, I’m going to describe how to do this on a JAMMA cabinet (which almost all reasonably new machines are), if you try it with a cabinet that isn’t JAMMA standard, the process will be very tough. Basically, JAMMA is a standard that allows games to be swapped between cabinets just by plugging in a new motherboard. Think of a JAMMA cabinet as a nintendo, and the motherboards as the cartridges. Its a similar idea.
The trick then is, how to bridge the JAMMA interface to the interface of your PC. The PC needs to do all the processing, but the images need to get from the PC to the monitor on the JAMMA cabinet, and likewise joystick inputs need to get from the cabinet to the PC. There are a good number of websites which describe how to do all this (tricky) wiring yourself, but its a pain in the ass and its pretty easy to make an error along the way. If you make a big mistake, you could blow out the CRT (monitor) on the cabinet, so its not worth messing around with.
The company Ultimarc makes alot of hardware for building MAME cabinets (no soldering required!) There are two components which are necessary to buy if you want to take the safe route, as i did. The first is the ArcadeVGA video card, which allows the PC to safely use the tube in the JAMMA cabinet as a monitor. The second piece is the J-Pac bridge, which is the interface between the PC and the cabinet. (I should point out that I have problems with the ArcadeVGA drivers that make my machine freeze during booting about 50% of the time, but if that happens after another restart its good to go.)
Here is a shot of how to hook up the J-Pac to both the PC and the JAMMA harness (Click for high-res):
A great place to find old arcade cabinets is on craigslist. Expect a cabinet in working condition to be anywhere from $200 to $1000. I bought one with 6 buttons per player so I could play everything I wanted straight away without having to break out a drill.
As for the PC to use, A 1Ghz is probably close to the minimum, and any 64 bit AMD or Pentium 4 class machine should work perfectly. The ArcadeVGA drivers are for windows, Windows XP is the right choice for the operating system.
Now, once you have all the pieces (working cabinet, ArcadeVGA, J-Pac, PC, and some wires and screws), you’re good to go. The steps to carry out are:
Remove the old motherboard from the JAMMA cabinet.
Plug the J-Pac into the JAMMA harness that the old motherboard was connected to.
Mount the PC motherboard where the old motherboard was
Put the ArcadeVGA card in the PC motherboard
Plug the VGA from the PC to the J-Pac
Plug the PS/2 or USB cables (depending on which J-Pac you bought) to the PC
If you have more than 4 buttons per player, you’ll need to do some simple wiring from the button contacts on the machine to the J-Pac
In the end, your setup will look something like this (click for high res):
This takes just a few hours. Really. Getting all the pieces in one place takes more time than actually building the cabinet.
At this point you are basically there. In my setup I have a trackpad sitting next to the joysticks so I can mouse around in Windows, and roll up keyboard that sits nearby in case I need the keyboard, which is rare. Sound also won’t be hooked up at this point, you can just plug an old set of PC speakers in and put them inside the cabinet. At this point you are done!
Once you fire the machine up, you can install windows, and then boot it:
Me and Mike play on this thing all the time. I highly reccomend King of Dragons as the christening game on the cabinet.
Questions? Post them in a comment and I’ll get back to you with the answer!
In a future post, I’ll describe the software setup of my machine (home server? multimedia pc?), and how to tackle the project on a tight budget.
Update: My post on emulators that work well with the ArcadeVGA video card.
Update: Some people were asking about running the J-Pac without the power supply of the arcade cabinet. You can accomplish this with the I-Pac.
Update: A question about how to wire up the extra buttons was asked. Here’s a diagram:
What this image shows is a side view of the 2nd players controls, upside down (this is how it looks if you flip it open and look at it from the cabinet’s right side). The nice news is that the punch buttons and the joystick work automatically – nothing needed there. To get the kick buttons working, you first need to daisy chain all the grounds together and then connect it to the connector for the ground (GND) on the J-Pac, which just means wire each ground to the next one, and the last one goes to the J-Pac.
You wire the grounds to the middle contact; the lowest (from this perspective) contact isn’t connected to anything. The topmost contact is then wired to the JPac in the appropriate spot. Player2 short kick goes to 2sw4, player 2 forward goes to 2sw5, roundhouse to 2sw6. I dont think I need to point out you do the same thing for player 1, which goes to 1sw4, 5, 6, respectively.
Very easy stuff, no soldering needed – I used wire here that was heavier gauge than necessary. If you have speaker wire hanging around I think that would do the trick nicely.