Arcade Cabinet

Robotron - Live!

The “Hybrid” Arcade Console

Real arcade controls for your PC.

Like many kids growing up in the early 80’s, I was totally consumed by video games and computers. My favorite way to spend a perfectly good summer day was to stuff coin after coin into the following machines: Space Invaders, Galaxians, Asteroids, Pacman, Galaga, Sinistar, Defender, Track & Field, Q-Bert, Time-Pilot …

When I heard that these games could be run on any PC using the MAME emulator, I found myself singing “My Shirona” and sticking a huge comb in my back pocket. Cool!

I had the games, now I needed the real controls. The keyboard and the joypad weren’t cutting it. “I know! I’ll build my own control panel and never leave the house – ever!”.

After checking out all the cabinets and controls that people were building on the Build your own controls and Arcade@Home sites, I was psyched to build an arcade cabinet but was unsure on the design. I didn’t want a full-size cabinet and was thinking of alternatives that would still allow good game play.

My Goals

  • Use real arcade controls to play the classic games offered by PC emulators.
  • Be able to play some other PC games like NHL 200X (love that game).
  • Have a stable, semi-perminent enclosure to house the pc and controls.
  • Be able to easily mount, adjust and swap monitors/speakers.
  • Have the thing look cool.
  • Hence the Hybrid cabinet. It serves as a cross between a full-size arcade cabinet and an arcade control. It is basically a full size cab with the top third chopped off.
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Full Cabinet - RIP

Advantages – (compared to a full size cabinet)

  • Smaller and easier to build.
  • Easy to mount the monitor.
  • Easy to Interchange and adjust the monitor.
  • More subtle looking than full-size (a bit more family room friendly).
  • Easier to move around (about 1/5 the weight of an average big cab)

Disadvantages – (compared to a full size cabinet)

  • Computer monitor and speakers are plainly visible.
  • Doesn’t look quite as authentic.

I. Construction

I used 5/8″ particle board for everything. Since I can’t cut straight piece of wood to save my life, I had most of it cut at the local hardware store. I bought a big can of wood putty too. The dimensions are roughly 2′ wide, 20″ deep, 4′ tall.

II. Machine

The machine I use for the cabinet varies. It is usually my backup machine which currently is a 1Ghz AMD. The ram and HD are no longer a factor because any off the shelf PC these days has more than enough for classic gaming.

III. Controls

I wanted 2 players to be able to play at once and I wanted the 4-way games to work flawlessly. The super’s just do not work for the 4-way games – even in
4 way mode! That is because you need a diamond shaped plate underneath to restrict the joystick movements to only 4 ways. If you check out a real pacman game,
move the joystick around in a circle – you can feel the diamond shaped restrictor underneath. Anyway, the old Wico I found has it – plus it has the cool red ball
on top.

Here are the controls and what I have em mapped to…

  • 2 supers and 4 buttons for each player – joysticks and 4 buttons are mapped to 2 Gravis Gamepad Pro USB joysticks. I used to use a simple gameport interface but I really needed 4 buttons for each player. The USB provides a way to play other PC games that require 4 buttons.
  • Old Wico 4 way in the center for the 4-way games – mapped to the arrow keys.
  • Coin button for each player – Blue buttons mapped to ‘Enter’ and ‘4’.
  • Pause button – Green button mapped to ‘P’.
  • Exit button – Red button mapped to ‘Escape’.
  • Control Setup – Yellow button mapped to ‘Tab’.
  • Player 1 & 2 start – White “man” buttons mapped to ‘1’ & ‘2’
  • Trackball for mouse control and mediocre gameplay. I got the ball at Comp-USA for $20 and its pretty cool. I can play missile command nicely and a bit of tempest.

IV. The Guts

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The Guts

Here’s the mess that’s under the control panel.

1) Gravis Gamepad pro USB
2) Gravis Gamepad pro USB
3) Keyboard controller
4) Keyboard controller breakout
5) Wico 4-Way Joystick
6) Super Joystick
7) Super Joystick

V. Finishing

I had a dilemma here. I am no woodworker. The pieces fit together nicely and the cabinet looked good but there were blemishes (ragged edges, wood putty marks, protruding screw heads etc.). A coat of paint would need a lot of sanding and care in order to look decent. I refuse to spray paint because it takes 100 cans and gets everywhere. Plus priming, sanding and all that other crap that takes too much time.

So what I did is use a method that I’ve used for years to cover Speaker cabinets and cases for my music related junk: ‘Carpet’. You don’t see it as much any more, but in the early 90’s all guitar/bass amps were covered with this black carpet stuff. Its a durable thin carpet that looks cool and is pretty durable. It also hides all but the biggest mistakes on your project. At the hardware store, you can find material that is actually better than what the guitar-amp manufacturers used. Its usually called indoor/outdoor carpeting. It can be available is a bunch of colors but black or grey looks the best. Its pretty cheap, a 1 by 6 foot section costs about $2.20. I comes off a huge roll so you can get as much as you want.

The glue part can be a pain in the ass until you get the hang of it. You have to get “Dap contact adhesive” with the RED label. The green label shit absolutely does not work. The red label has a big flammable warning on it but its good stuff. I have covered about 12 or so items in different basements over the years and haven’t blown up anything yet (yes, the heat was on, I live in upstate NY). Apply a layer the stuff on with a cheap paint brush and let it sit for about 4 minutes or so – then put on the carpet. Work with one section at a time. For the corners and edges, get a sharp knife and a ruler as a cutting guide and go slow. After you get a side done let it for a few hours and then start on the next side.

VI. UPDATE

It has been a few years since the competition of the Hybrid arcade cabinet and it has now been modified to be a small portable game controller.

I have taken the control section out of the main cabinet and built an small enclosure around it. It now functions as a USB game controller that can be used on any PC. I found that the size of the original cabinet was still too big as the years went on.

The controls are all the same and it still plays great!

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