Posted by DetectiveSpecial (464 posts) -

Last summer, one of my favorite pieces of equipment passed away. It was neither fancy or expensive, but I truly loved the tone I could weasel out of my VOX 15 watt amplifier. It was an import model, not worth much of anything, and had no analogue components.. I had just finished remodeling a Fender Jagstang, and the new pickups and amplifier seemed to get along perfectly. Ultimately, it's cheapness was its demise – the input jack slowly developed a short. In the end, the cost of repair was more than buying a new one. Instead, I decided to pay homage to my amplifier by turning it into something I had always wanted to try building – a bartop arcade cabinet. So now, in three parts, is the story......

The Brain

My fiancee had, years before, abandoned a Dell Inspiron laptop after the hard drive died. It was running a Pentium 4 with an integrated ATI graphics card. Not great, but powerful enough to drive MAME, and I liked the idea of being able to use all of the components of the laptop, keeping everything linked to one power supply.

As the hard drive was a goner, I needed to find a cheap IDE 2.5 inch drive, a task much more difficult than imagined. I was trying to build this thing for as little as possible, and didn't want to drop fifty bucks on a hard drive with lots of space that wouldn't be used. At this point, I had settled on using a variant of Puppy Linux as the OS, so I didn't need much hard drive space at all.

I found the best solution – a 4 gb CF card and a CF to IDE converter. I got both from Amazon for about twenty-five bucks.

The laptop only had 256mb of RAM, which I upgraded (a headache worthy of its own post) to one gigabyte.

With the memory in order, I took the whole thing apart and got rid of any component that wasn't used.


The Body

The amplifier was then gutted in the same fashion. Aside from the speaker, there really wasn't much going on inside of it. That being said, I found that cheap VOX equipment is assembled much better than cheap Fender equipment, or at least it was in the nineties.

At this point I got smart enough to start taking pictures of my progress, so I'll let those do some of the talking.

 The body, with drilled control assembly temporarily attached.


The Controller

Knowing nothing about arcade cabinets going into this, I was amazed to learn how many resources there are for this particular hobby. I initially thought that building the control panel would be the hardest part, but it turned out to be the easiest. You can import genuine Sanwa or IL arcade sticks from a multitude of sites, but the best bet is Lizard Lick Amusements. Based in North Carolina, they import the parts themselves and sell them direct from their website. I wound up getting an IL “American” style joystick, four Happ pushbuttons, two Yenox pushbuttons, and a Happ “1 Player” pushbutton for thirty dollars.

All of the controller parts need to be able to talk to the computer, and for that I found the best option to be the Ipac, a circuit board specifically designed for building your own controller for a PC. The Ipac is made by Ultimarc, a British company specializing in arcade machine components. As of now, they offer an inexpensive version of the Ipac, dubbed the “VE” for “Value Edition”. It sells for about forty dollars, which includes international shipping.

After all of this comes the boring parts, namely wiring everything together and then getting all of the software to work. I used a build of Linux called "Puppy Arcade", that is nothing short of awesome. So we'll cut to the chase.....

It should be noted that while this machine is running an emulator, which some people find inherently illegal, there are a great deal of MAME games that have been released by their owners - and can be found here. I didn't build this thing in an effort to play smuggled games. 

I strongly advise anyone with some free time to consider building your own cabinet, as it was the most fun I've had in a while and was a lot easier than I thought it would be. I also discovered the value of "Gorilla Tape". Holy shit, that stuff is amazing.

All of these parts came together in the end to create a pretty cool arcade machine that sits on my kitchen counter. My fiancee is still coming to terms with this, but I'm sure she'll eventually appreciate it.

 I know I do.

     

   - Added this video of the machine working, and me not really working the machine. I added paneling to the sides and top of the body, and attached a trackball mouse to the right side. 
#1 Posted by DetectiveSpecial (464 posts) -

Last summer, one of my favorite pieces of equipment passed away. It was neither fancy or expensive, but I truly loved the tone I could weasel out of my VOX 15 watt amplifier. It was an import model, not worth much of anything, and had no analogue components.. I had just finished remodeling a Fender Jagstang, and the new pickups and amplifier seemed to get along perfectly. Ultimately, it's cheapness was its demise – the input jack slowly developed a short. In the end, the cost of repair was more than buying a new one. Instead, I decided to pay homage to my amplifier by turning it into something I had always wanted to try building – a bartop arcade cabinet. So now, in three parts, is the story......

The Brain

My fiancee had, years before, abandoned a Dell Inspiron laptop after the hard drive died. It was running a Pentium 4 with an integrated ATI graphics card. Not great, but powerful enough to drive MAME, and I liked the idea of being able to use all of the components of the laptop, keeping everything linked to one power supply.

As the hard drive was a goner, I needed to find a cheap IDE 2.5 inch drive, a task much more difficult than imagined. I was trying to build this thing for as little as possible, and didn't want to drop fifty bucks on a hard drive with lots of space that wouldn't be used. At this point, I had settled on using a variant of Puppy Linux as the OS, so I didn't need much hard drive space at all.

I found the best solution – a 4 gb CF card and a CF to IDE converter. I got both from Amazon for about twenty-five bucks.

The laptop only had 256mb of RAM, which I upgraded (a headache worthy of its own post) to one gigabyte.

With the memory in order, I took the whole thing apart and got rid of any component that wasn't used.


The Body

The amplifier was then gutted in the same fashion. Aside from the speaker, there really wasn't much going on inside of it. That being said, I found that cheap VOX equipment is assembled much better than cheap Fender equipment, or at least it was in the nineties.

At this point I got smart enough to start taking pictures of my progress, so I'll let those do some of the talking.

 The body, with drilled control assembly temporarily attached.


The Controller

Knowing nothing about arcade cabinets going into this, I was amazed to learn how many resources there are for this particular hobby. I initially thought that building the control panel would be the hardest part, but it turned out to be the easiest. You can import genuine Sanwa or IL arcade sticks from a multitude of sites, but the best bet is Lizard Lick Amusements. Based in North Carolina, they import the parts themselves and sell them direct from their website. I wound up getting an IL “American” style joystick, four Happ pushbuttons, two Yenox pushbuttons, and a Happ “1 Player” pushbutton for thirty dollars.

All of the controller parts need to be able to talk to the computer, and for that I found the best option to be the Ipac, a circuit board specifically designed for building your own controller for a PC. The Ipac is made by Ultimarc, a British company specializing in arcade machine components. As of now, they offer an inexpensive version of the Ipac, dubbed the “VE” for “Value Edition”. It sells for about forty dollars, which includes international shipping.

After all of this comes the boring parts, namely wiring everything together and then getting all of the software to work. I used a build of Linux called "Puppy Arcade", that is nothing short of awesome. So we'll cut to the chase.....

It should be noted that while this machine is running an emulator, which some people find inherently illegal, there are a great deal of MAME games that have been released by their owners - and can be found here. I didn't build this thing in an effort to play smuggled games. 

I strongly advise anyone with some free time to consider building your own cabinet, as it was the most fun I've had in a while and was a lot easier than I thought it would be. I also discovered the value of "Gorilla Tape". Holy shit, that stuff is amazing.

All of these parts came together in the end to create a pretty cool arcade machine that sits on my kitchen counter. My fiancee is still coming to terms with this, but I'm sure she'll eventually appreciate it.

 I know I do.

     

   - Added this video of the machine working, and me not really working the machine. I added paneling to the sides and top of the body, and attached a trackball mouse to the right side. 
#2 Edited by clush (410 posts) -

One word: very awesome!

Can you make a video of the thing in action? Would love to see that.

Great stuff, duder! And 2 bonus points for the dr. Strangelove reference.

#3 Posted by HitmanAgent47 (8576 posts) -

That's cool. What kind of games are you running on it? It's a very irregular layout for buttons, might not work with street fighter games.

#4 Posted by Vinny (1599 posts) -

That is really cool, love that it used to be an amp. Very inspirational, and well done!

Staff
#5 Posted by zyn (2591 posts) -

Wow. Nice work!

#6 Posted by DetectiveSpecial (464 posts) -
@HitmanAgent47:  Classic arcade games - I find the processor can handle most things made up to the mid '90s. I also run some SNES games on it, mainly to enjoy how much harder Mario games are when played with a joystick. And by enjoy I mean loathe. 
As for the button layout, I don't know what the hell I was thinking. I wanted to have a layout that would work for Mortal Kombat 2, but not be a hassle for other titles. 
Finally, in hindsight, I should have avoided the Ronald McDonald color scheme. Red was the only color joystick they had at the time, and I'm relatively impatient.
#7 Posted by DetectiveSpecial (464 posts) -
@clush:  I'm on it. I'll try to post some video tomorrow. 
#8 Posted by DuskVamp (681 posts) -

Good work! I wouldn't even know where to start. Looking forward to seeing some video of it in action.

#9 Posted by RJPelonia (853 posts) -

That is really awesome. It's one thing to buy your own machine, but to make your own I think gives you something to be even prouder of.

#10 Posted by Sin4profit (2908 posts) -

pretty cool! wanna build a full upright cab, s'on my "to do list" along with other crazy ideas like building a full virtual Pinball table and an isolation chamber/entertainment cockpit..

#11 Posted by Daveyo520 (6653 posts) -

Even Vinny thinks it's awesome and even linked this thread on twitter.

#12 Posted by gakon (1945 posts) -

It's been my very, very far-off dream for a few years to build a MAME cabinet (much time was spent on sites like arcadecontrols.com planning it out). I might still have the computer I had set aside for it. At this point if I ever did it, I'd probably build a bartop like you did, instead of a full stand-up. Seems like it would be a hassle.

#13 Posted by Skytylz (4030 posts) -

I wanna do something like this someday, I'm probably gonna go bigger if I do it though.  A two player cabinet that I can play street fighter and stuff on would be super awesome.  Awesome work!

#14 Posted by UnderWing (30 posts) -

Nice job! Looks very nice. I'd love to see some more shots of the internals (I'm a wiring whore).

I'm a custom stick builder myself, generally avoid cabinets (I do controllers for tournaments, so I've got to be able to move it about and all that. Thought I'd weigh in on the interface decision -- the I-PAC is a great solution for arcade cabinets, due to the sheer number of inputs (it'll easily do multi-player cabinets) and some of the MAME-optimized features, but they run a bit expensive (especially after shipping to some regions). They're also optimized for PC's, so their flexibility if you want to integrate consoles into your setup is limited (involving a multi-PCB hacks, etc. It may work on the PS3, due to HID support there.) A couple alternatives to look at, if you're building a single-player setup like this, would be the " Cthulhu" or " DualStrike" PCB's. Both were developed by members of the fighting game community on SRK, so they're high-performance, and each has a unique set of advantages. Depending on what version you buy and where, you can shave $10-20 off the cost of the IPac. The Cthulhu has a version available that supports almost any console under the sun (save the 360) going *way* back, and the DualStrike is fully optimized to sit alongside a 360 PCB; they're also both very well supported, with firmware updates that add new features fairly frequently. Luckily, basically any USB board will work with PC's/Linux and MAME, with a little configuration, so you have lots of options.

Sounds like the I-PAC worked nicely for you, and if you want to experiment with more cabinets (which you should!) then the it'll let you play around with multi-player set-ups; just thought I'd drop some knowledge for anyone else looking to do this sort of thing.

#15 Posted by commandercup (500 posts) -

LizardLick is great and they have awesome customer service! I'd love to make a cab, but all my construction projects end up having problems. Most people measure twice and cut once, but I cut without measuring at all. :P

#16 Posted by jozzy (2041 posts) -

Much respect! would love to see a video of it running.

#17 Posted by Winternet (8006 posts) -
@jozzy said:
" Much respect! would love to see a video of it running. "
Agreed. Video of this thing running would be awesome.
#18 Posted by scarace360 (4828 posts) -

AWWW was hoping for a sitdown cabnit.

#19 Posted by Vexxan (4615 posts) -

Holy shit that's awesome. Great work!

#20 Posted by StrawHatLaw13 (166 posts) -

Holy crap.  You made that, that's yours!  Lol that's very cool man, very cool. 

#21 Posted by DuderBattalion (269 posts) -

Wow .. just wow. Serious respect duder !

#22 Posted by Tally_Pants (591 posts) -
@DetectiveSpecial:  Very cool arcade machine! It must make an awesome conversation piece too.
PS. Sweet thread title!
#23 Posted by destruktive (1069 posts) -

Good job dude.

I'll hopefully get around to making one of those myself one day :D
#24 Posted by DetectiveSpecial (464 posts) -
@UnderWing:  I checked out the Cthulhu boards as well, and ended up ordering one to make an arcade stick for my PS3. The IPac is a pricey mistress, but I wanted to make the unit as self functioning as possible. The Ipac has enough keystrokes programmed into it that they can be mapped to handle the OS features pretty easily, making it seem more like an arcade machine than a laptop super glued into a cabinet, and ensuring that you won't have to plug a keyboard into it unless you really mess something up.
My wiring is not something that would make a pretty picture. I've got the components wired and organized in clusters, so its not a total mess of cables, but I didn't take as much time measuring out cable length as I should have.
My soldering is not the best - I do a lot of wiring on guitars, and they don't require the precision that circuit board electronics does - so I never really got good at it. 
I've spent the last couple of weeks trying to find an empty upright cabinet to rebuild, so yeah.....I'm gonna keep going.  Once you start........


#25 Posted by DetectiveSpecial (464 posts) -
@Vinny:  Thank you sir!  It was my favorite amp, I couldn't think of a better way to keep it hanging around. Also, you guys should challenge Will Smith to turn something in the office into an arcade machine. Preferably blind-folded, and possibly while drinking.  
#26 Posted by UnderWing (30 posts) -
@DetectiveSpecial: Awesome, good to hear you're going to keep building stuff! If you need any advice or tips on building the standalone stick; I'm always happy to blabber on about that hobby. I look forward to seeing more stuff from you in the future.
#27 Posted by chilibean_3 (1622 posts) -

This is really neat.  Unfortunately, it's got me thinking about giving this a try also.  

#28 Posted by Bolt (154 posts) -

Very VERY nice. Would love to have something like that setting on my bar.