This page is intended for those who want to build their own arcade machine or classic game controllers. If you're planning to restore an existing arcade cabinet, please take a look at the topic restoration.
There are a dizzying variety of skills, disciplines, methods, materials, and resources involved in this hobby. This FAQ is intended to provide a a general overview of basic topics and common terms for newcomers to the arcade and emulation community. It is designed to be a starting point for choosing useful search terms and asking better/more effective questions in the BYOAC Forums.
The original FAQ written in 2003 by CitznFish is available via the Internet Wayback Machine at http://web.archive.org/web/20081006130304/http://www.arcade-at-home.com/mame_faq.html
- 1 Cabinet Basics
- 2 Controls
- 3 Encoders
- 4 Basic wiring
- 5 LED Lighting
- 6 Displays (Arcade CRT/Computer CRT/LCD/LED)
- 7 Software
- 8 Forum tips for asking questions that get good/faster answers:
Arcade cabinets (often shortened to 'cabs') is a gaming machine that includes the screen to display the game, controls to play the game and the computer hardware that runs the game.
Types of cabs
Arcade cabinets come in various shapes and sizes. Commercially build and operated cabinets are often build to play a single game and are therefore created to match the target audience or recreate the atmosphere of the game.
A standing cabinet is the most common cabinet in North America and Europe. Players are standing in front of the machine while playing the game.
- Regular, the iconic, archetype, arcade cabinet. The monitor is usually above waist height with the marquee overhanging.
- Cabaret, a slightly smaller version of the regular cabinet.
- Low-boy, a standup cabinet where the marquee is in the same plane as the monitor making the cabinet much lower, hence the name.
- Pedestal, a arcade where the screen is not part of the arcade setup. The monitor could be a TV or projection attached to a wall.
- Showcase, a setup where the screen is in a separate housing as the control panel- but still visually part of one setup. Setups like this usually feature a large screen positioned in such way that onlookers may view the action. The 'showcase' may both refer to the player being able to showcase his or her gaming skill as to the elaborate arcade setup itself.
Seated cabinets come in two distinct categories; arcade cabinets intended to sit at for easier long play sessions or themed cabinets that involve an activity where sitting down mimics the action of the game (such as driving a car).
- Candy, the most common cabinet in Japan. The cabinets are often made of hard plastic- the shiny plastic appearance owes them the name 'candy cabinets'. These cabinets are quite similar to standup cabinets except that they are lower and have and often have a larger controlpanel surface.
- Cocktail, the most common sit-down type in North America. An arcade that much resembles a table with the screen embedded in the table surface. The surface is made of hardened glass so people can place their drinks.
- Cockpit, an arcade that mimics the cockpit of a racecar, fighterplane or spacecraft. The controls are often matched to the type of vehicle portrayed- such as a steering wheel, gear shifter and flight yoke.
- Ride-on, similar to the cockpit arcade, a ride-on often is build specific to the activity of the game(s) played. Ride-on cabinets may feature a motorbike or jetski seat but also a miningcart.
Parts of a cab (diagram)
-- Marquee, retainers, light
-- Control panel (CP), latches, overlay, player buttons, admin buttons (Coin, Start, Exit, Pause, etc.)
-- Kick panel
-- Coin door
-- Sideart (vinyl, stencil)
-- Power supply
-- Game board/MAME computer
-- Wiring harness
-- Smart strip
-- Leveling feet/casters
What type of build meets my needs? (flowchart?)
-- Start by considering where you want to put/use the cab (measure doorways and available space)
-- Make a list of games you want to play, consider the number of simultaneous players you want to support, and select the computer you want/need to use.
-- That will lead you to what emulators and other software like front ends (MaLa, Hyperspin, etc.) you want/need.
-- From there, you can figure out what kind of controls (Joysticks, player buttons, admin buttons, spinner, trackball, gamepads?) you'll need to work with the games and emulators you want.
-- That leads to chosing the right encoder(s).
-- Browse for artwork/themes/design cues to use in the following steps.
-- Arrange the controls on the control panel. (CP) Cardboard test panel highly encouraged.
-- Select a monitor.
-- Design the rest of the cab around the monitor and CP.
-- Should I build a four player setup?
-- Regular vs. swappable vs. modular panels
-- What controls should I include?
What is the difference between an original arcade cab and a MAME cab?
What is JAMMA/JAMMA+?
JAMMA is a wiring standard developed in 1985 by Japan Amusement Machine and Marketing Association, Inc.
It allows you to easily change between JAMMA compatible game boards without re-wiring the cabinet.
The JAMMA standard uses a 56-pin edge connector on the board with inputs and outputs common to most video games.
- Power inputs (5v and 12v)
- Inputs for two players (each player has a joystick, three action buttons and one start button)
- Analog RGB video output with negative composite sync
- Mono sound output
- Inputs for coin, service, test, and tilt
JAMMA Games that have more than 3 action buttons, more than 2 players, or different control types use the JAMMA+ standard.
What type of wood to use?
What tools do I need?
-- Forstner bits, spade bits, holesaw
-- Circular saw / sawboard
-- switchable, auto-switch
-- 3 terminal buttons (NO, NC, COM)
-- 2 terminal buttons
-- Leaf buttons
Other specialized controls
Yokes, steering wheels, trigger stick, rotary joysticks, light guns, etc.
-- Mounting plate
-- Under-mount (non-recessed)
-- Under-mount (recessed)
-- Carriage bolts
-- Threaded inserts
-- Support blocks
What is an encoder?
What ports do they use?
What type of encoder(s) do I need?
(keyboard, gamepad, optical, combination/hybrid?)
How many encoder inputs do I need for my control panel?
Quick disconnect sizes
Most microswitches use 0.187" QDs. (4.8 mm)
Some use 0.250" QDs. (6 mm)
Most two tab buttons (Sanwa, Seimitsu, Goldleaf, etc.) and leaf switches use 0.110" QDs. (2.8 mm)
Commonly used AWG sizes
Displays (Arcade CRT/Computer CRT/LCD/LED)
Types of connections
(composite, component, arcade, VGA, DVI, HDMI)
Input lag (Not response time)
(MAME, console emulators, pinball, flash games)
What is an emulator?
A software program that duplicates the hardware, firmware/software, and gameplay of an older game system.
What is a ROM?
For the original games - Read Only Memory chip(s) on the game board/cartridge that holds the program code for a game/game system. For emulators - .ZIP file(s) containing a dump of the game/game system code.
What are the different "flavors" of MAME?
MAME - The command line program that the other variants are based on. MAME32, MAMEUI, or MAMEUIFX - Graphic User Interface (GUI) versions of MAME.
Why won't this ROM work with the newer version of that emulator?
The game may not be fully functional yet. (Encryption issues, driver problems, incomplete ROM dumps, etc.) There may be a more accurate "dump" of that game's ROM used by the newer emulator -- emulator and ROM versions must be compatible. You may also need other driver files or a .CHD (Compressed Hunks of Data) hard drive image.
How can I tell if my ROMs and emulator are compatible?
Use clrmamepro http://mamedev.emulab.it/clrmamepro/ or your emulator's "Audit" function (if available) to check the version and filenames of ROMs compared to your emulator program version.
Other useful software
(Joy2key, DrVenture's controller remap?, AHK?, mrotate?)
Forum tips for asking questions that get good/faster answers:
- Search first, somebody else has probably encountered this problem before -- don't ask people to retype the same old answers to the same old questions.
- Take your time editing the post so it is specific, clear, and easy to read.
- Whenever possible, include decent pics/screencaps/diagrams.
- Include software/OS versions if applicable.
- Include your location when asking about parts/vendors or electrical wiring. (different countries use different wire colors and/or voltages)