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Insert Coin…

By Steve aka PressPlayOnTape
SteveWhen I was a kid, there was one thing I wanted above all others. An arcade machine. Having spent holidays in Butlins, trips to Blackpool, Camelot Theme Park and when we were really lucky, Alton Towers, there was one thing that was a constant source of excitement during family excursions: the fact that I would get to visit the arcade. Not the dull expanse of bingo and fruit machines that it has now become, but the bright, intoxicating, smokey, noisy arena of gaming that it used to be. Nowhere else could you sample the latest games, and every time you visited you there would be something new. Games with incredible graphics and sound that you could only dream of playing at home. My first experiences of games like Green Beret, Commando, Space Harrier, Star Wars, and later R-Type, The Simpsons, Golden Axe and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were all first sampled in the arcade. There was something simply magical about these larger than life cabinets, something unapologetic about the way they would attract you with their flashing lights, colourful graphics and loud noises. The artwork on the side of the cabs was sometimes even more impressive than the game itself and I would stand in front of them mesmerised by these seemingly monolithic machines demanding my attention and money. As a kid it seemed to me incredible that there could be a machine built for the sole purpose of playing a single game. At home I loved my Commodore 64 and would eagerly buy conversions of my favourite games all of which promised me (and seldom delivered) “arcade perfect graphics!”, but for me the absolute pinnacle of gaming was an arcade machine. The idea of one day owning my very own arcade machine was something I frequently fantasised about but the reality of it seemed fanciful at best.

Well, about two years ago I decided that the time had come. I was sharing a house with four friends, all of whom enjoyed a spot of gaming and I brought up the idea of getting an arcade machine for the house. Obviously they thought it was a great idea and from that point I didn’t get a moments peace as they continually badgered me about it. Unfortunately, one thing I hadn’t really taken into consideration was just how much it might cost me to purchase a machine. Certainly I could get a bargain if I was prepared to buy a battered old cab and try to restore it. But having never attempted a restoration project, I didn’t fancy my chances, so I found myself left with three options:

1. Buy a cabinet in good condition and working order.

2. Buy a newly built MAME cabinet.

3. Build my own.

After a good search on eBay and online, it seemed to me that the first two options looked fairly expensive. So, having only ever built a wooden bird box in school at the age of 11, I decided to embark upon building my very own MAME cabinet. Working from some rough diagrams I had drawn up, it took about two weeks to build it with, it must be said, a hell of a lot of assistance from my DYI expert brother. He came round on the first day, when, after marking out guidelines with a pencil for cutting out the side panels, he found me attempting to cut out the first side using a six inch hand saw. He pretty much stopped me in my tracks, before I did any real damage, and essentially took over most of the hard graft – relegating me (or in my eyes promoting me) to project manager.

Whilst we were working on the build of the cabinet, I was continually scouring eBay for components and in the first week I had a huge stroke of luck. I managed to purchase an arcade CRT monitor for just five pounds. The screen had been removed from an old arcade cabinet and the owner had converted it for use with a PC. Originally it was meant for his own MAME cabinet project, but as he’d never got round to building it, it had been gathering dust in his loft. Unfortunately for him, and luckily for me, the item was so unique that he’d had no bids on eBay at all and I swooped in at the last minute to meet his reserve price of five pounds. At first he was a little annoyed at how little it sold for, but when he realised it would be used in another MAME project he was quite pleased.

And so, with the screen sorted and the build going well I headed off on a Sunday morning to the local car boot sales where I managed to pickup some more useful components: a set of car speakers for two pounds, a cheap amp for ten pounds and a fairly average PC for fifty pounds. I already had a spare graphics card at home capable of running MAME so I just needed a PC that could run Windows XP and Mala – the font end for MAME. I’d also purchased two authentic arcade joysticks, lots of buttons, wiring and a J-Pac circuit board from to connect to the PC.

Once the cabinet construction was complete, we painted it black and added some final touches including adding a strip light and Asteroids print for the marque, which I later changed to a MAME print, and adding a plexiglass cover to go over the screen.

When I finally took the cabinet home, my housemates were impressed. I don’t think they really thought I would go through with building it and even if I did manage it they thought it would be a heap of junk. To be fair to them if I’d been left to my own devices, it would’ve been nothing more than some badly sawn wood, but with a bit of luck, some hard graft and a lot of help from my brother, I finally managed to make my childhood dream of owning an arcade cabinet come true. OK, so it’s not quite as good as owning an original cabinet and it’s a bit rough around the edges but hey, it cost me a lot less, plays far more games and goes down a storm at parties. So, if you have the time, the space, a spare bit of cash and a brother who can do most of the work for you – I recommend building yourself one!


2 thoughts on “Insert Coin…

  1. mrsid says:

    Fair play Steve for doing this. It must have taken a lot of time, effort and money but the end result is stunning. Love the C64 music blasting out on the vid!

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