Basic Guide to Building a Cabinet

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So you want to build yourself an arcade cabinet? Here is a basic guide to get you started. Some things mentioned here may seem a little daunting at first but if you take your time, do your research and ask the right questions you will discover that you too can build your dream arcade machine. Good preparation, including taking the time to read and research as much as possible can save you a lot of time and money as you get further into your project. If you have questions feel free to ask in the Build Your Own Arcade Controls forums.

Things to consider first

You don't want to rush out and just buy yourself a few pieces of wood, fire up your power tools and start cutting! First things first:

  • What kind of cabinet do you want?
Cabinets come in all shapes and sizes (see Arcade Cabinet). A list of sample plans is available via this wiki. There are also Vendors who sell full cabinet kits.
If you want to design your own cabinet, take a look here. Some things to keep in mind when figuring out your dimensions are:
  1. How tall are you? You don't want to end playing your favourite game with a control panel you can't reach comfortably and you don't want to be staring at a screen that is too low or too high for you either.
  2. The size of the monitor. If you want to put in a 36" screen, make sure it fits.
  3. The size of your control panel. If you want to have a lot of different controls on the control panel but you made it only 15" wide, you are probably going to run out of space.
Instead of building your own cabinet, you may also choose to restore or convert an existing cabinet. See also notes on converting a cabinet.
Whatever you decide, one very important thing to consider before ANYTHING is done, is how wide are your doorways? If you can't get it to the location you have planned, all your work will be for naught!
  • What do I use to run the software?
Do you plan to use a PC and run Emulators? If so, does the PC fit in the cabinet you designed? Do you plan to wire a JAMMA board? Are you planning on using console games?
  • What controls are you going to want on your cabinet?
What kind of games do you want to play? Take note of what controls those games use. How many players? The control panel needs more space if you want a 4 player cabinet. Generally, if you want to play fighter games, you will need 6 buttons per player. If you want a 4 player cabinet, keep in mind that there aren't any non-console games that support more than 4 buttons for player 3 and 4. Take a look at the Controls section for more info on joysticks, trackballs, spinners, etc. It is also possible to buy ready made control panels. See the vendors page on where to get these items.
It is also a wise idea when it comes to control panel design to 'test fit' your controls using a piece of cardboard, cheap wood, or a piece of ridgid insulation. Your layout might look good on paper (or in your design software), but nothing beats testing to make sure everything is to your satisfaction prior to making your final model.
  • How to interface the controls?
Once you have decided what controls you want, how do those controls connect to the PC? See the interfacing controls with your PC section for various options. Things to keep in mind when selecting an interface board, are the number of available connections and the amount of controls you plan to use.
  • What type of display device do you want to use?
There are various options, ranging from Televisions, PC Monitors and even real Arcade Monitors. Keep in mind that these have different connections and might need a special videocard. Also an arcade monitor is mounted diffently in a cabinet than a television (which might sit on a shelf in your cab). Flat Panel Displays are also being used in some projects. You also may want to consider if you wish to implement a Rotating Monitor
  • What about artwork?
Artwork can make your cabinet stand out and look authentic or personalized. What art are you going to use and what size do the images need to be? Do you want art on your Control panel?
  • Any extras?
How do you want to control your emulator software? Do you want special administration buttons on your control panel (or hidden elsewhere on your cabinet?). Do you want to add a drawer to have access to your PC's keyboard? Perhaps add a coin door or have 'insert coin' buttons? Do you want speakers with volume control? Any special lighting such as lighted buttons or a marquee?

Building the cabinet

Once you settled on your cabinet's design, it is time to start the hard dirty work. Your arcade experience is basically two parts. The cabinet itself and the computer that runs it. The Examples and Building portals will give you two great places to start when creating your cabinet. Many of the example links have step by step instructions and pictures, while the Building portal has information on materials and tools.

Building the guts

Once the cabinet is built, you can install the controls into your Control panel and wire everything up. The Controls portal has a list of various types of arcade controls and control interfaces that will make it easier to select and wire up your control panel.

Setting up the computer

The Software portal provides a staring point for getting various arcade emulators up and running on your cabinet. It is probably a good idea to get your emulators installed before you move your PC into the cabinet. While a cabinet is great for playing arcade games, it is not a very confortable working spot to fix your software's settings. If you have more computers in your home, you might want to consider hooking the arcade cabinet computer into a home network. This allows you to update files from another PC or even control the computer using a remote desktop client tool.

See Also

External Links

  • LuSiD's Arcade Flashback Many DIY cabinets have been based on this guide.
  • MiniMame PDF plans An excellent printable guide. The document describes a scaled down version of an arcade cabinet, the used techniques are usable in full scale projects as well.
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