Building a full sized arcade

how to build a full size arcade and not get divorced
October 06, 2008
Well well well, it seems that i haven't written an article on retrojunk in awhile. my other articles, g.i. joe toys part 1, star wars toys part 1, galaxy high, and atari nintendo tandy game systems were written back in 2006. Here I am again because I want to share with the world my insanity at having built an arcade system from scratch! Why? Because if you are on this site, you are a few things:
1) lonely and have time to kill.
2) like me you love retro stuff and old arcade games is just that.
3) and lastly there are few places left on the web where we can talk about this stuff and see pics too!!

Anyway, back to the article. First off, let me give props to the guy who wrote the plans and posted them for free on the net! the man who inspired me to make my own. I used his blueprints and shaped mine to my liking. That's the guy responsible :). once you get the plans, you can start on the road to playing classics like marvel vs capcom, dragon's lair, space ace, pacman, etc. etc. mame is a beautiful thing.

Anywho, the first thing you need to do is clear it with your wife or loved one. Trust me on this. I cleared it after it started taking shape and she realized what i was doing. Divorce is just an arcade away people, even for us Catholics. They put a new rule now, you can get divorced for cheating, not being able to have kids, and building arcades. Anway, after you get the ok, go to home depot or lowe's and buy wood called MDF 1/2" if you're like me, or 3/4" if you want it alot heavier and plan on using a big tv or monitor over 20". I used a 19" monitor.

Speaking of monitor, here is a quickie list of what you'll need (REFER TO THE PLANS FOR SPECIFICS PEOPLE):

1) spare 19" monitor (tube type you have laying around and that way you spend no money)

2) pc that is at least a pentium 3 or higher with at least a 64mb video card (trust me for the games like marvel vs. capcom) you have a spare pc in the garage remember?

3) about $300.00 in cash

4) speakers. I had a 5.1 surround sound system from walmart that cost me 29.99 so i used that. sounds great! you can use those old pc speakers in the garage.

5) go to radioshack and buy 2 red led lights 12v each for the dragon eyes (trust me I know i'm teasing you but it'll be worth it. this is not in the plans from arcadecab) and also 2 cheap push buttons (i bought a red and black)

6) 2 surge protectors. also a 10 or 12in white light (those that you see in kitchens) this costs like 10 bucks at walmart.

7) go to google and type arcade buttons and buy the joysticks and buttons. it'll cost you about 60 bucks for 2 8-way joysticks and 6 buttons each player and a 1 and 2 player select button. I won't mention the website i bought it from but you can search for it on google. trust me there are tons. the buttons are about 1.25 each and the joystick is about 8 bucks for an 8 way (like 2000 games use that joystick, you don't need a 49 way joystick).

8) alot of patience, a buddy to share the pain with, and beer. lots of beer. oh, and also a continous tape of louis louis (yes i said tape not cd) or star trek ds9 seasons 1-7

9) the rest you'll get at home depot. hence the 300 bucks. you also have to own some power tools. mainly a jigsaw, sander, and a router to route the edges so you can put t-molding in (that's the plastic you put around the edges so it looks modern.) I got my t=molding at i mention this site because you won't find it on google. lastly, you have to know what mame is, what a frontend is ( and you've played a rom before.

10) choose an awesome name for it. mine is called the moomoo. that's right the moomoo. i have a startup video that says 'the moo moo, mad cow infected..ahhhyeah" ROFL. that's right i went there.

Ok let me save this article.......

Ok, back. now, remember that my posting this is to get people excited about building their own machine. i won't be exact or anything, that's why you need plans. there are lots of plans but essentially the machine will come out about 6ft tall (plus wheels to roll it around) about 20 inches wide (depending on your monitor), and about 3ft deep. go measure that space between the kitchen and the hallway that you will put it in. hehehehe.


The first step is to buy 3 slabs of the mdf wood. they come in 8ft sections. you buy 3. 2 are for the sides, the 3rd piece is for all the smaller cuts like monitor shelf. the pic shows you basically what i bought. also haul out the tools. i never used the circular saw. the jigsaw was easy. buy a bit for mdf wood.

start cutting to the plans you have:

and cut some more

Ok next, once you cut the pieces and sanded them with the sander to match exactly with rough sand paper (like 60 or 80)............ cut the back and the monitor shelf as well as the bottom and the top pieces. refer to plans.

REMEMBER TO MODIFY THE PLANS TO THE SIZE YOU ARE GOING TO USE. I MODIFIED IT SLIGHTLY FOR A 19" MONITOR. If you use a 19" lcd monitor it'll be the same but less heavy. i used parts i had laying around to save money. remember this is to use that old stuff lying around as much as it is to build a new arcade so don't run out and buy stuff.

i used my plasma tv in the living room with the plans on it to make my life easier.

once you have the sides cut and sanded, lay them down one at a time and attach the shelving and back pieces. these pieces is how you attach the entire thing together. this way you don't have drill holes from the outside. this make it looks smooth. see below

clean your mess as you go

once you attach the sides to the center monitor shelf, back, bottom and top.......

stand it up and say ahh at your handy work. at this point drink a beer and pat yourself on the back.

see that white spackling in certain areas like the bottom? when you make booboos, fill them with wood filler (cheap) and sand it after it dries.

next up i went to ebay and bought some speaker grills. these happen to be from a pinball machine but look great. you probably have some speaker grills that came with car speakers and you never used them. use that if you want. i put the grills on the speaker area and cut the holes.


here it is attached

i then made the drawer for the keyboard/mouse that goes underneath the joystick cabinet. trust me you have to put that in. i spend more time changning things around than playing.

i put hinges on the drawer door and a magnet to hold it

next up i spray painted all the corner and joints (any area that you may see) with flat black paint for about 1.50 at home depot each can. i used 2 cans. remember i didn't paint mine, i used something else we'll see later.

i put a blue cheap neon 12volt light i bought at an auto parts store that works off of 12volt (the pc molex) and put it in the keyboard drawer. that way i have light if i use the keyboard. you only see this if you open the keyboard drawer.

after this i built the joystick cabinet box. it's basically a box that you build to house the joystick buttons and cabling. this goes separate from the arcade so you can work on it as you go. see pics.

i then put in the cheap white light from walmart. this is where the marquee is going to go that says arcade classics or jim's arcade, or whatever

this next part is optional. you will have a special button for telling the pc you put a quarter in (credits) but it's cool to have a dollar door or a quarter hole. you can buy those where you buy the buttons.

ok now comes my tour du force. instead of painting, which i hate, i went to ebay and typed black vinyl. some guy was selling a roll of 100ft for 9.99 plus shipping. he has like a million colors. buy that!!! it's awesome. here is a pic as i put it on

i'm looking smooth........


notice how my wife is now enthusiastic about the arcade as it takes shape. notice also the star trek ds9 playing in the background. long live DS9!!! and my wife! ahem.

here is a 90% completed pic. this pic has not plexiglass cover over the monitor, no marquee yet either.

ok now i cut the plexiglass i bought at home depot for 9 bucks. you get a big piece and cut it to your size. you do this almost last because you need to cut it exact to fit in the hole where the white light is. you then print your marquee and put it behind the plexiglass or go to google and type game marquees and buy one for 15 bucks like i did.

here is a pic of the marquee lit up but still no plexiglass cover over the monitor


ok remember those push buttons you bought at radio shack and the red led's? the pushbuttons you wire up to the controller to act as a credit button. the more you press it the more credits you get in the game. the other is to exit the game back to your mame frontend. i use frontend. it's free and easy. you can load your roms up and play them and select them using your joystick. this is way cooler than using a keyboard.

this leads me to an important topic. how do you make joysticks from arcade units talk to a pc? using a small ittle device calls a jpac. google it. see it in the pic below? everything gets wired to the jpac then usb to the pc. simple. each time you hit a button it acts like you are pressing a keyboard button, so if your mame frontend is setup to shoot when you hit button b, you map it like that. simple.

here is a semi completed look at the joystick box. this pic doesn't have the pushbuttons when i took it and no plexiglass covering the monitor.

ok remember the red led's? go to google or and download a picture of dragon's lair. then upload it to and print a poster size of it. tell it you wil pick it up at your local staples. go get your poster a day later (they have it even if you don't get a call) and bring it home. cut out the eyes on the dragon, put in the led's and run both wires to a 12volt molex on your pc sticking out the back of the computer. voila!!! hehehehe

and with the lights out........

since these pics i printed a 20" poster thru snapfish for 20bucks and it's even cooler! that poster you see there was like 16" inch. lame.

so how do you cover up your monitor? buy a plexiglass at home depot (same as the one for the marquee) but make sure it's the same size or bigger than the hole where your monitor is. cut it to size (what a pain) and then go to officemax and buy cheap black cardboard paper and cut out a hole in it the size of your monitor screen. attach the poster paper to the back of the plexiglass. voila! noone will ever know!!!

here is a head on shot of the arcade playing marvel vs. capcom in demo mode (before you put "quarters" in)

and now...........drum roll please............

turn on your arcade, the marquee light, the dragon eyes, dragon's lair the game or marvel vs capcom, turn on your plasma and your laptop and pump louis louis. then video tape yourself gaming! woot!!!!!!!

if you found this article fun, then let me know. if you are looking for details, pm me and i'll send everything i know to you. or hit up and get the instructions series 2 (not 1). also, see all the pics on my website

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