Arcade Machine Construction

Last summer a colleague at work had spent sometime insisting that I check out the Nottingham hackspace where her partner attends. As I was into programming and computers they felt that it would be something that interested me. But me being me, I was reluctant to go. In the end I relented and went along to an open day with my housemate to see what the space was like. There I saw someone who had built their own arcade machine.

I grew up on the Amiga, loving games like R-Type, Wild Cup Soccer, The Clue, James Pond, Mortal Kombat, Gauntlet and so forth. As I got older I continued to use Amiga emulators to play some of my favourite games. But as a child I used to play them with a joystick, a PC keyboard just didn’t do the childhood memory justice. So upon seeing that arcade machine (coincidently made by that co-workers partner, Michael) I had an idea.

There are plenty of Mame based arcade machines. I was after something a little different: an arcade machine that played Amiga games, but was also open to running other indie and open source games.

Pretty soon I was down on an open hack night learning about how to make an arcade machine. Within a couple weeks, and some help from Michael, I had a joystick and buttons hooked up to my PC and playing wild cup soccer.

It really wasn’t much: just a piece of plywood with some holes in for buttons and a joystick – kindly lent to me by my Michael, wired into a keyboard controller that I could then plug into a PC (I wish I had a photo of the prototype now). The next step was to build an actual arcade machine. To actually do this it was time to become a member of the hackspace.

The first steps were difficult. I hadn’t done any wood work since high school so I got some guidance from Michael and some training on power tools by another member David. I never really had much of a solid plan about the shape or how it was all going to fit together. But with a vague plan based on a few different classic arcade machines’ construction was ready to begin.

With a lot of help from friends and support from the hackspace members it all came together. I really enjoyed the woodwork aspect of this project, and so the construction moved forward I became a lot more confident with the power tools. And I never once injured myself during the construction! The whole cabinet was built from MDF. It wasn’t the nicest material to work with, but it is affordable. It’s also solid enough to withstand some heavy usage. I think the biggest challenge during the construction was that the tools available at the hackspace weren’t always up to cutting such large pieces of wood. However, with some extra pairs of hands and some careful thinking about each cut it was possible.

I’m pleased with the final cabinet and there isn’t a huge amount I’d do differently. Perhaps, if I was to build another one I might put a bit more effort into planning it. Particularly how I fitted the control panel, and maybe curve the front/screen rather than have it flat. Little things that don’t retract from the final product in my mind. Construction did take longer than expected due to my own availability, still, it was nice to have something I could spend an afternoon working on here and there.

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~ by Jay on March 26, 2012.

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