As a child of the 80's I learned two things.
- Whether you're oogling Cherly Ladd on "Charile's Angels"
or finding out that that "Charles In Charge" is the boss
with Chachi...err Scott Baio, TV was and still is more
addictive than crack and twice as sweet.
- If Ricky Schroder can have an arcade game table in his
"Silver Spoons" home, I too should possess such a fantastic
So at the tender age of seven, I vowed that I would not
rest until I owned my very own arcade machine. It's been 20
years and I've finally decided if I can't afford one, I'd
build the darn thing. What follows here and on "Call for Help"
is a brief overview of my quest to assemble a personal arcade
Sky's the limit
I thought long and hard about what I wanted. Do I want a
fully upright unit? The same classic shape and form as the
arcade machines from my youth? Or do I want the sit down
cocktail table version from my local Shakey's Pizza Shack?
While the classic shape is irresistible and would make for an
excellent conversation piece, I went with the cocktail table.
Not only can I eat and drink while I videogame but the thing
can double as a cool appetizer or fondue table.
Next, I had to decide if I a single game unit or a
MAME-like machine with many games on it? Seeing as how I bore
easily, I figured a multi game setup would work best. When I
tire of Pac-Man I can switch to Ms. Pac-Man!
In the beginning
All right, I'll admit it; I'm not a carpenter and
definitely no structural engineer so I can't do it from
scratch. Besides I have an aversion to power saws and hate
getting splinters. So I started my search on the Internet. I
though I could maybe buy a complete unit and skip the
I was elated as I came across several manufactures for
completed units. Great! Except for one tiny thing: They were
expensive; too expensive for someone on my budget. But if
you're interested and have lots of cash to spend, throw Game Cabinets
Inc some business. It has cool MAME-based cocktail cabinet
machine starting at the low, low price of $3,499.
Next item I came across was Mr. Chung's Macintosh
Mame Cocktail Cabinet page. Turns out Mr. Chung created
the exact type of cabinet I was looking for (I just want it
sans the Macintosh). He even gave me the idea for using the X
Arcade joysticks for controllers instead of wiring my own: a
big time saver.
So I followed his links and ended up at Arcade Depot, a store
dedicated to building and selling cocktail styled arcade
cabinets. You can purchase several different models including
a kit version. After talking to the owner, Scott (who is very
open to customizing his product for consumer tastes), I
ordered the cabinet kit. According to Scott this is probably
the best value of all the products he sells. Plus, the flat
shipping costs for the kit are much cheaper than shipping a
The kit comes in several versions. The basic kit sells for
$195. Scott also offers a range of additional products
including glass clips, table top glass (a must), wood staining
and sealant, and control panels (if you plan on assembling
your own controllers). I got everything and customized the
control mounts to accept the X-Arcade
No computer, no monitor, no gaming
Since things take time to ship, I started working on
assembling the various computer components that need to sit
inside video arcade machines. I had a couple things to
consider before I started.
The monitor is crucial to the home arcade experience. Too
small and it's out of place. Too big and it won't fit. Since
most of these units had a 19" monitor and the cabinet was
designed around one, I figured an old 19" monitor was the way
CRT or LCD? CRT definitely. After a short discussion with
Scott I found out a lot of the older MAME games run at
extremely quirky resolutions that most LCDs aren't able to
handle. So I settled on an old 19" CRT monitor. Plus I
coincidentally had an old 19" Gateway monitor. If you don't
have a spare 19-inch, plan on buying a short-neck model.
Believe me, you'll save yourself some aggravation.
Another thing to consider is how easy it is to remove the
monitor's bezel and case. You'll need to do this in order for
the monitor to fit properly. Unlike older computer monitors
from the early 90's and eighties, most of today's larger PC
monitors have an internal metal cage that surrounds the
delicate CRT tube and magnets.
Warning: The metal cage keeps you from
touching a capacitor and potentially injuring yourself.
Removing it can be dangerous and will void your monitor's
warranty. Be careful!
I suggested short neck 19" monitors because traditional
monitors have large backsides. Still, the computer has to be
very slim or you need to take the PC components out of the
case and mount them inside the cabinet. Lucky for me we have
dozens of Dell
OptiPlex GX60 floating around the office and I drafted one
for arcade duty. It's slim enough to sit at the bottom of the
cabinet without and real modifications (besides taking it off
its stand) and it's powerful enough to run most MAME games
without any problems.
Next I installed the latest version of MAME32 (The MAME
version for Windows) at Mame32QA.
This is must for anyone planning to use the X-Arcade sticks.
Earlier versions did not have the key configuration for the
X-Arcade, which means you have to manually map it out. I then
proceeded to load every MAME ROM that Darci, from "The Screen
Savers: left me. Since the acquisition of MAME ROMs is a
highly contentious and potentially legally problematic issue I
won't tell you how to get them. But I figure you're
resourceful enough, or else you wouldn't be reading this.
'The Cabinet' arrives
As soon as I received the various pieces of my kit I
immediately set out to build the thing. But before I get ahead
of myself, here's a brief overview of the tools you need to
- Power drill with drill and screw bits. You won't need
the latest Makita or DeWalt, just something that will let
you drill pilot holes and turn screws. The bought mine on
sale for $10 when Montgomery Wards tanked.
- Rubber Mallet. You're working with wood and sometimes
pieces need some "persuasion" to fit. Do not use a hammer
unless you like marring the wood finish.
- C-Clamps or similar grips to hold pieces together while
you screw them together.
- Some extra pieces of 2x2 and 2x3 pieces of wood.
- A saw (hand or powered) to cut the aforementioned wood
- Decent pair of pliers to pull out dowels you put in the
- Screws to assemble a monitor mount from the extra
Assembling the cabinet is pretty easy. Just follow the
instructions. Since the whole cabinet is assembled with wood
dowels and glue, it shouldn't take you more than a weekend.
Try assembling it without any glue to begin with so you head
off any problems before you glue the pieces to together. When
you want to undue the practice run, use the mallet and a small
block of wood to pop out the pieces. When you're done, screw
in the various metal braces to add rigidity and strength to
the entire cabinet.
The tricky part
The hardest part of making this table is assembling a
monitor mount. Here's how I did it.
- Make mounting posts. Place two equal-height 2x2 and 2x3
pieces of wood, on end, one at each corner of the cabinet
and screw them into place.
- Mount a 2x3 across the newly formed wood posts width
wise and screwed it down on each end. Do the same for the
opposite side. This now creates two abutments that the two
sides of the monitor will sit on.
- Place the PC at the bottom, attach power, keyboard,
mouse, joystick and one speaker to the PC.
- Attach everything to a power strip that will sit inside
of the cabinet.
- Set the PC's BIOS to turn on whenever you plug it in so
you can turn the unit on from an outside switch, like a
power strip, without having to constantly open the cabinet.
- Plug power and video from the PC into the naked monitor
and mounted it on top of the wood braces.
- Close everything up and test it.
As soon as you're satisfied, add a glass top and retention
braces. Also, consider getting a gaming bezel to plug the gaps
between the monitor and the tabletop.
That's it. Buy the kit and knock yourself out.