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This page will document my own journey of building a Mame arcade cabinet.

PART I - The Mame Discovery

It started May 26, 2002 (Not very long ago). I have been a fan of old video games for a long time. In fact, in my basement I have a large collection of hardware and games from the 80s, most of it Atari. I have a functioning 2600 system hooked up to a TV in the family room, with about 50 or 60 games, and I have a room stacked with old Atari 800, 130XE, and 520ST computers. One day I was sitting at my pc web surfing and thought it might be interesting to see what emulators were out there that I could possibly use to run some of these old games on my PC. So I went to my search engine of choice, Google, and did a search. And that's when I came across Mame. Whoah! What? An emulator for my pc to play ARCADE games?? This I HAD to check out, as I was a big arcade game addict way back when, but had given up all hope of ever seeing my favorite arcade games again.

I downloaded the Windows 32-bit version of Mame (I really didn't want to mess with DOS), and installed it. Hmm... now, where to get ROMS to play? Well, that turned out to be a bit trickier, actually. I did some more web searching, and came across this site.  Well, for some reason EVERY rom I downloaded off that site had files missing, so I couldn't play them! In frustration, I forgot about that site and searched elsewhere, looking for WORKING roms. Somewhere in my search I came across a site where someone else frustrated with non-functioning roms had put up his own working version of Galaga (My favorite game, and the one I was searching for first). That worked, and my jaw dropped open when I saw Galaga from the 80s, on my pc screen, looking exactly as it had in the arcade 20 years ago! Well, I was hooked from that moment, and frantically started scouring the web for more roms. I came across this site, which, although in Spanish and not English, has TONS of roms to choose from, and the vast majority of them seem to work.

PART II - The Cabinet

I did alot of reading online about Mame and the people who use it, and it seems the natural evolution is the person discovers Mame, downloads lots of roms, plays lots of games on the pc, then decides Hey, I need an arcade cabinet to play these things on! I am no different. <G> I think I had played Mame games for no more than 24 hours before I decided I wanted a cabinet like the other Mamers out there. There are some really awesome cabinets out there, many of them hand-crafted originals. But I have almost zilch for woodworking skills, and no tools to speak of, so I've decided to buy an old cabinet and work with that. If my first project goes well who knows, I may decide to take the plunge and build one from scratch. Just in case, I've rounded up a bunch of blueprints, measurements, artwork, things I may need eventually.

My first step was to locate a suitable cabinet. From reading and thinking about what I wanted to do, I decided I wanted to try to find a non-working cabinet in decent shape. As long as the wood itself was undamaged, and it had a coin door, I would be happy, since I planned to gut whatever boards were in it and use a monitor (unless the game happened to have a functioning arcade monitor, which was unlikely). I hopped on over to Ebay and searched for arcade cabinets and came up in luck. An old Defender cabinet was for sale, a non-functioning unit that had been converted to a kung-fu game of some kind, and had no monitor or power supply. Pretty much I was looking at the wood cabinet and maybe some old non-working pcboards from a kung-fu game. The seller was even going to include a Defender marquee with the cabinet, which was a plus, to me. So I put in a bid on it. The cabinet looked in good condition, and even had some of the original Defender art on it. Pictures below.

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As you can see, there's not alot of the original Defender artwork left, but I'm hoping I may find more underneath a layer of black. I seesawed for a while over whether to try to restore the cabinet to an original Defender look or paint over everything and make my own artwork. I've decided to see how much of the Defender look I can get back and try to restore it. The original Defender control panel and bezel are gone, but since I planned to replace those with my own anyway, that's no big deal. I won the auction for the cabinet, and at this time I'm still waiting for the seller to contact me to tell me it's been shipped. As soon as it gets here I will take more photos of it and all the measurements I can to place them here.

PART III - The interface

In the meantime, while I'm waiting for my cabinet to show up, I thought I'd start work on the other pieces I'll need to complete my cabinet. I recently built myself a new pc, so I still have my old one. I plan to use that old one for my new Mame machine. It's a Pentium II 550MHz, with 256 megs of ram and 40 gigs of hard drive, a 32 meg vide card, and a sound blaster, so it's already set for playing any games on it I could want to. I also have some old monitors I can use for the machine, ranging from 14 to 17 inches. (The biggest one I can get working I'll use.)

So, I don't need to think about that at all, and I can concentrate on the controls and interface, things I'll have to buy and/or build myself. I said I'm not much of a woodworker, but I AM a programmer and technician, so I have lots of skills when it comes to working with software and soldering circuit boards. This will be a big help. The cabinet I bought has some rudimentary controls already on it, and assuming they still function, I'll probably start by hooking those up just to get everything working and see how it plays. Eventually I do plan to build a new custom control panel though, because I want a trackball and a spinner on mine, and space for two players. (I NEED my Tempest!)

Either way, I will need an interface to go between the cabinet controls (joysticks, buttons, and coin doors) and my pc. From my web research, it seems I have two choices: buy an interface for the neighborhood of $150, or build my own from an old keyboard at a cost of under $20. Hmmm.... tough choice there. <G> I have a load of old keyboards in my basement as well as other computer parts (I happen to be a computer dealer), so the keyboard costs me nothing. I took apart three different keyboards before settling on the one I used, seen below. It's an old Fujitsu keyboard, and it's not a PS/2 style keyboard, so I'll either have to use a PS/2 keyboard adapter to my pc, or simply chop the cable and wire in my own PS/2 connector on the end of the keyboard cable.

Keyboard2.jpg (11852 bytes)

This keyboard was fairly simple to take apart, but the main reason I decided to use this one for was the fact that its controller board was very small (a mere 2.25 by 3 inches in size), and had a layout I could easily use for hooking in my wires. See the image below for the controller board from the above keyboard.

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At the top, where it says CN2 and CN3, were two connectors where the ribbons to the keyboard itself used to connect to the board. I desoldered and removed the two connectors, and cleaned out the holes of solder, and I plan to insert my wires directly into the holes and solder them in place on the board, and run them into quick-connect blocks mounted on the inside of the cabinet.  The white connector on the side, CN1, is where the cable to the pc plugs in. The board also has three LEDs for Numlock, Capslock, and Scrolllock, which I may wire into lights on the control panel, since some games make them blink. I plan to use the two holes at the top of the board to mount it to the inside of the cabinet.

I mapped out the matrix of the board before I desoldered the connectors, and stored the information of which combinations produced which keystrokes in an Excel spreadsheet. Another reason why I chose this keyboard and controller is it was a very simple, straightforward keyboard, without alot of extra, programmable keys. 

PART IV - The construction

My cabinet finally arrived on June 22, and a big thanks to the man at Old Dominion Freight who brought it to me using his own pickup truck after work! The cabinet came in fairly good shape, and after initial inspection I've found that the original artwork IS still there, hidden under a top layer of black. So, I will eventually attempt to restore that old artwork. Also, my cabinet came with the Defender marquee. The control panel from the Kung Fu game used in the cabinet is pretty beat up, and it looks like the switches on the controls are pretty worn, so I will be replacing that panel with my own. But, as I wait for my order of controls to arrive from Happ, I will hook up the old control panel to see how it works. Updates and pics of what I've done below.

Update 6/23/02 - Marquee light, keyboard interface

Last update: 6/23/02