I’m a picky guy building the ultimate arcade machine so naturally I’m not completely satisfied with a pre-drilled control panel. I like most of it, or I wouldn’t have bought it. I just want to make a few minor adjustments.
I want to bring the center – top joystick hole down about 1 1/2 inches. I plan on installing an old-school Tron joystick and so there will need to be some room between the Tron stick and the protective glass in front of the monitor. I don’t want it too close to the trackball hole but I really want it further away from the glass where it will be easier to reach.
Originally the plans called for a 4-way joystick to be installed there for games like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong since an 8-way joystick just won’t work as well. But I am satisfied with my 8-way joysticks and how well they handle 4-way games. What I really want is a Tron stick. Since a Tron stick is much bigger in size it needs more room. Therefore I need to pull it away from the monitor but not so far as to block the trackball.
So I got a hole saw drill bit for my cheap cordless drill, carefully mapped out where I wanted it to go and drilled away.
The first picture shows the new hole (towards the bottom of the picture with the 4 small indentations around it). To fill the old 4-way joystick hole, I glued and taped a wooden “plug” I had previously cut into the bottom of the old hole. Then I put in a healthy dose of spackling. And when it all dried, I removed the tape and carefully sanded the top.
I also had to increase the size of the spinner hole (the one with the brown square in the first picture) since the spinner I want fits the same size hole as a push button and not the smaller hole of an older spinner. In order to flawlessly drill a bigger hole over an already existing smaller hole I placed a circular piece of drilled out Lexan (coming up next) into the hole to act as a guide holding my drill with the hole saw bit dead center.
I was very satisfied with the results on both counts. I believed the artwork would cover the texture of the filled hole as if it never existed.
So I was sitting in my dentist’s chair undergoing another semi-annual checkup when he asked me the question all dentists eventually ask: “So Jeff, have you considered adding a coin door to your arcade machine?” It was hard for me to say. I had considered the option and I wanted to add that level of real arcade machine look and functionality but the cost was prohibitive and the payoff minimal since I wasn’t going to be charging anyone to play anyways. The coin door alone on suzohapp.com was going for $150 alone, not including each coin mechanism ($20 x 4) coin box ($10 to $16), and wiring. That’s a lot of money for a super cool but superfluous hardware component. Since its only true purpose in my machine would be a visual aesthetic I was considering something like the $15 door sticker from Groovygamegear until something better came along. But why do dentists ask us such questions while cleaning / drilling our teeth? Its not like I can provide a coherent answer.
Anyways, this was one of those “winging it” issues with my machine. I did not want to spend $200+ on a coin door. So I turned to ebay.
Man, sometimes I love ebay. I got this bad boy for around $50 including shipping. A thorough inspection revealed all 4 coin mechanisms worked properly, switches were functional, and a thin layer of dust needed to be cleaned up. I ordered a few small screws from suzohapps just to hold the coin mechanisms in place a little better but all in all I am very pleased with my new coin door. Just can’t wait to get an arcade machine built and plug it in.
By the way, I have an awesome dentist.
Next up, the true start on my road towards building my cab. Behold! My control panel-inator!!!
So I order this awesome Quad Control Panel Kit and red T-molding from the good people at North Coast Customs (mameroom.com) and it is beautiful. I was crazy excited to open the big, flat box awaiting me on my porch. I went with the quad instead of the Classic Control Panel (controls for 2 players instead of 4) because I plan on only making one arcade like this so I chose to go all out and make the ultimate party machine with a 4 player set up. The kit is machine crafted to perfection meaning the holes are clean, spaced appropriately, and all were drilled at perfect 90 degree angles. Every part of the kit is covered on both sides by a nice layer of black laminate creating a very professional looking product. The price was $250, T-molding was $7, and since the whole package weighs around 40 lbs shipping came out to around $40 so the total was almost $300. I considered this money well spent.
Well, almost. When I ordered this kit from their website, I had requested it include button holes on 2 of the side panels so I could play some emulated pinball (a common request, North Coast Customs even has a box to check for pinball holes when ordering) and was a little disappointed to get perfectly flat side panels without any button holes. I fired off a polite email the next day and got a response almost immediately with an apology and a promise the correct parts were now in the mail. They arrived a few days later. I am very pleased with North Coast Custom’s customer service and how fast they resolved my complaint. Problem solved.
Well, almost. Taking a closer look at this panel reveals its pretty cheap plywood. It’s thick and very sturdy but its not the kind of wood I would choose to use for my cabinet because of its inability to hold screws tight. This has been circumvented with the use of liquid nails and some drilling tricks but I’m hoping and praying the screws holding the joysticks never move. That would render the control panel useless. I will cross that bridge when I get there and I will take you with me but for now, I can move on.
Well, almost. As I was looking over the instructions I noticed if I followed them, I would have a very hard time opening my control panel without removing screws. Not very convenient if someone needs to access the wires under the controls. Especially with 5 joysticks, 1 trackball, 1 spinner, and 47 light-up buttons (no middle button on the front panel, I just don’t like it) you bet I’m going to need to get inside there once in a while. Some minor adjustments to the plans adding some hinges are in order.
Well well well. Turns out it wasn’t quite what I expected, but then again I shouldn’t expect North Coast Customs to cater to my exact specs for my own cab. I mean, if they used a nicer quality of wood it would definitely cost more. They are making a solid product for a large community of arcade enthusiasts who don’t want to carve their own control panel. I’m sure many of them will be able to create an amazing control panel that they will never need to open but I will have to modify this kit in a few places. I’m still very pleased with the overall product but I think next time I might try and do it myself. I just need a drill press first, and some laminate, and some… never mind.
That’s an excellent question. Lets start with finances. I plan to finance my machine fully with money from ebay sales, any outside jobs, and charity. Ebay sales have been working out real well. In fact I bought my first piece for the arcade back in November 2012. So what did I purchase first, you ask?
This is an Aimtrak light gun from the Ultimarc company, based out of the UK, and it is beautiful. This box set retails for $95, it may seem a little steep but do some poking around and you will find this is THE gun you want for your arcade. It is a very sturdy gun that came highly recommended by many different satisfied users. I looked into a competitor’s more affordable and wireless option but found far too many complaints to consider it as my trusty sidearm.
The front of the gun has a button on each side easily accessible by the other hand’s thumb and forefinger to use as reload and grenade buttons. This kit also includes a 4″ thin black sensor bar that reports the movement of the gun back to the computer as an extra mouse. The trigger is set to the left mouse button and the other two as left click and middle mouse buttons. Most common set ups don’t even require any driver installation. I did, however, have some difficulty getting the gun to calibrate but by following their simple instructions on their website it was a painless set up.
Basically the sensor bar works the same way the receiver on your Wii does. It receives the signal from your device and it tells the PC where the device is. This way, the gun can work on ANY projection device. LED? Check. CRT? Check. 1972 black and white TV with rabbit ears? Check. What about projection screens? Can it be calibrated for a wall? You bet. The sensor bar comes with 2 velcro strips glued to the bottom so it sits firmly on top of the monitor or most any type of display device imaginable. Its only limitation is range which I’m guessing is somewhere around 5 meters, due to the 4 meter USB cable on the gun. Over time, the USB cable on my sensor has been constantly pulling on it so its starting to tilt upwards slightly. This will be fixed when I attach it to the monitor in the cab as I am planning on removing the velcro and mounting it straight to the monitor, making a slight gap in the bezel just to make sure it can still receive a signal.
My plan is to make 1 (one) arcade machine to run them all, and it will be awesome.
So I’ve had this idea for a few years now. At least since I’ve been playing games on MAME. Two things have given me the motivation to finally get off my butt and do something about it.
1. The book Project Arcade: Build Your Own Arcade Machine by John St. Clair. Like I’ve said before, my sister gave it to me awhile back and it’s full of products, ideas, and how-tos, including full plans for making your very own Ultimate Arcade machine. John does a fantastic job of laying out a wide range of products from the big name arcade parts vendors, showing you every strength and weakness; then he tells the reader which one he chose for his build. I suggest you go get yourself a copy.
2. While checking out the suggestions for a front end I found Hyperspin. Here’s an older but still excellent video showing off what Hyperspin does. Basically a front end is software that helps the user find the games they want to play. While there are many excellent choices (some more suited for a home PC listing game details, history, more artwork, etc.) I went with Hyperspin because it’s flashy and gives me what I would want in my arcade experience. It’s pure eye-candy. You can’t help but be drawn in by its beauty. Hyperspin has tons of themes for different games. The builder sets up the front end with the themes he wants for the games he wants to play. The themes include simple artwork (usually taken from the side of the actual machine or the marquee) and a short video clip demonstrating game play. Once set up, it is very easy to use and as you can see, it is beautiful.
Hyperspin isn’t without its problems. To set it up can be frustrating. It takes a while to download the themes you want,
unless you use their FTP address to get them all at once. The real trick is getting all the emulators to work nicely with Hyperspin. I can understand why it’s difficult to get each of them to mesh with one user interface and play nicely. On the one hand, you have a great front that organizes and manages any number of emulators you want. On the other hand, those emulators aren’t made with integration into Hyperspin in mind, so they don’t always want to work together. Luckily, there’s an extensive forum with a great community of users who are ready and happy to help out. Thankfully MAME is quick and easy to get going.
With Hyperspin you can add whatever software you want. I’ve got PC games, movies, and soon I’ll be adding a jukebox player, too. This all takes some poking around forums and learning the ins and outs of Hyperspin but for me it fuels my fire to make the complete entertainment machine.
From here, the ideas came pouring in. Do I want a 2-player set up or a 4-player? 4-player for party games! What games do I want to play? As many of the classics as I can while staying open to playing modern arcade-like games. Trackball? Spinner? Yes and yes! Flashing lights? Ohh yeah! What about classic emulators for the Atari, NES, Genesis, etc? Yes yes yes yes yes! I will install external USB ports for controller plug in. Light gun games? That’s the one thing my wife MADE me include. It has to be able to play Area 51. “OK honey, if I have to.”
What will my overall theme be? I loved GI Joe as a kid and now I have a son who loves GI Joe; plus I found some GI Joe artwork that will look very nice on my machine, so I’m good to go.
I have this dream where I go back in time to the 80s. I’m in the arcade at Golf n’ Stuff, and I find my younger self (10 or 11 years old) feverishly shoving quarters into every game that catches his eye. Younger me knew these games were so mindblowingly (it’s now a word) amazing that home consoles (Atari 2600, Colecovision, at the time) were never going to have games that could compete. Arcade games also had these menacing looking black-framed machines with lights and sounds and cool 70s and 80s sci-fi art plastered all over them. This was truly my youthful nirvana. Younger me loved arcades so much that even when we went to Disneyland as a family, younger me would try to slip away and go to the arcade.
So this younger me is now down to his last quarter, frantically scanning all the arcade marquees looking for which one he should play last before he leaves this oasis of 2-D electric joy for the bland, fully 3-D desert of life. As younger me fights back a tear, not knowing which game to play, not knowing when he will come back again with another pocket of quarters, one thought comes to his mind: “What if I could own my very own arcade machine! How awesome would that be!” A flicker of a smile appears on his face and quickly disappears as rational thoughts push out joyous ones. “How could I ever afford an arcade machine of my own when I’m struggling to come up with a few quarters to put into a game. This will NEVER happen.” Right then, I lean over to my younger self and say: “Someday you will have all these games on your own computer, and it will be amazing.”
At the end of my dream, younger me high-5s older me and then puts his last quarter into skeeball. That punk.
No, wait, that’s not how it ends. Bear with me here. It ends with younger me becoming older me, finding MAME online, tarding way too hard with the classic games of arcades long gone, and then receiving a copy of the book Project Arcade, Build Your Own Arcade Machine. Having read the book several times, scoured the interwebs, done the research and put my time into finding what I want my machine to look and sound like (Cobra from GI Joe theme), younger me, now much much older, is ready to build his very own arcade machine, with almost every game ever created inside. And it will be awesome.