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My First Custom MAME Cabinet

April 17, 2003

The Stats / Parts:

  • Intel PIII 650MHz, 256M RAM, USB
  • 10 Gig SCSI Harddrive
  • SCSI CD-ROM Drive
  • NVidia GeForce 3-based video card
  • SoundBlaster audio card
  • Adaptec 2940 SCSI controller
  • 3Com NIC
  • 19" SVGA Monitor
  • 2 Ball-top ("Pac-Man style") 8-way Joysticks
  • 20 microswitch buttons (8 player buttons, 1 Coin button, 1 Start button / side)
  • Ultimarc I-Pac control interface card

Currently, I run the SMAME (arcade), Gens (Sega Genesis), Stella (Atari 2600), Nemu64 (Nintendo 64), and X64 (Commodore 64) emulators on the cabinet, in addition to a number of "standard" PC games which seem to work well with the arcade controls or game pads (Spin, Xenon 2000, Motorcross Madness 1 & 2, Ultimate Race Pro, Doom, Doom 2, etc.) My front end of choice is (of course!) MAMErunner.

The main components:


Mainboard Front Self-contained shelf to which the computer motherboard, CD-ROM and hard disk drives, computer power supply, and power switch assembly are mounted. As you can see in the top photo, both the power supply main switch and the computer power button (on the panel below the CD-ROM drive, dead-center) are both easily accessible through the cabinet’s coin door. A power connector off the main computer power supply harness also supplies the coin mechanism lights on the coin door, although the remainder of the coin mechanism has been removed.
Mainboard Top

Monitor Assembly:

Monitor A standard 19" computer monitor. With some minor metalworking modifications to brackets on the back of the monitor and the addition of some wooden legs, this assembly is easy to remove from the cabinet. There are holes drilled through the wooden base legs which are fitted with screw-down knobs for securing the monitor to the cabinet’s monitor shelf — see the circled areas below.

Control Panel:

Control Panel (Closed) Control Panel (Open)

The control panel is shown here in both its closed and open postions, the open exposing the wiring and control interface. The original control panel had been re-covered and re-drilled (rather poorly) to accommodate the extra buttons in the Clutch Hitter game (the original game in this cabinet, Joust, only uses a two-way joystick and one button). Since this control panel was in pretty poor shape and couldn’t be reworked to accomidate all the controls I wanted, it was scrapped, and we started fresh, building the control panel box you see completely from scratch (although it is almost identical to the original construction). I designed the control layout before actually performing the panel rebuild, the results shown in these mock-ups: Angled View / Top-Down View

The custom panel has two microswitch joysticks and 8 buttons per player, plus 2 coin and 2 start buttons to support two player games. All controls are wired up through an Ultimarc I-Pac. You can see the I-Pac in the foreground (with the PS/2 keyboard cables plugged into it), and the silver box on the far side of the control panel (the one with the wide, black, 48-pin D-Sub cable connected) is a connection panel which extends many of the ports found on the back of the motherboard to the front of the cabinet.

Connector Panel

This connection panel was originally put in so that I could use headphones on the front panel or to connect external game controllers (game pads, etc.), but it has turned out that I use the USB connectors the most: I didn’t include a floppy disc drive in the cabinet (why bother, really?!), but I soon realized that once this machine was installed (and no longer on my home network), that the only way to transfer new files to the machine was by burning CD-ROMs. This became really annoying, having to waste a whole CDR just to push a few files out to the cabinet, and there was no way to copy files from the cabinet machine! Solution: I had an IBM MicroDrive sitting around (a 340 Meg harddrive which fits in a Compact-Flash Type-II slot, slightly bigger in surface area than a quarter), so I purchased a Compact-Flash USB "dongle", and I now had a mobile harddrive roughly equivalent in size to a floppy disc which plugs right into the front panel of my cabinet, and holds about 300 times as much data as a floppy would anyway. After using this for a while, I highly recommend this as a solution for moving relatively small amounts of data around — I also use the "dongle" with a 128Meg Compact Flash card, and it’s a really convenient way to move data around (if you don’t have a network available, that is :-).

Monitor Mounts 1 Mainboard Mounts 1
Monitor Detail Mainboard Detail
Monitor Mounts 2 Mainboard Mounts 2

The monitor unit and mainboard assembly are both fitted with mounting knobs which unscrew for easy removal, allowing the entire machine to break down into 3 major parts (cabinet, computer mainboard / CPU assembly, monitor assembly) for transport.

Cabinet, Doors Open Here is the cabinet with the mainboard installed and visible through the open coin door. You can see how the CD-ROM drive and main power button are both easily accessible with the door open. The open lockbox door exposes the subwoofer for the sound system.
Audio Controls The majority of the audio system is hidden behind the marquee and a cloth covered speaker mounting board positioned above the monitor. This worked out well, putting the controls for volume, bass, and left/right balance within easy reach above the upper-right corner of the monitor, and yet being really unobtrusive (damn near invisible, in fact!).

The Construction Process

The original cabinet is actually from a "Joust" machine, but I didn’t know this when I bought it — it had been modified, covered, and repainted as a "Clutch Hitter" machine.

Here you can see the basic cabinet after the ‘original’ CRT, bezel, control panel, and doors were removed — broken down to the "bare bones" for cleaning.

Once the vinyl covering was stripped from the sides, the real origins of the cabinet became clear.
Next, the "guts" of the previous machine, the PCBs, power adapter, lights, and wiring were removed, and the cabinet was thoroughly cleaned. I also pulled the coin mechs, the coin drop tubes (the grey PVC jobs in the background), which dropped from the coin door down into the lock box in the bottom of the cabinet.

The cabinet was then thoroughly sanded and completely repainted. The coin and lock box doors were also repainted and re-keyed (such that the keys would match my R-Type machine 🙂 I also painted the MAME side logos and designed a custom marquee, although I think I’ll probably "cheat" and buy some side and marquee art for my next cab’. 🙂

The Finished Product

The cabinet settles into place next to my R-Type machine… 🙂

From → DIY, Gaming

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