This summer, I finally got around to getting my first arcade machine. I've wanted to do this for years, but only recently (1 year ago) got a house to hold one, and a garage to work in. Apartments just aren't very arcade friendly.
Prior to this project, my woodworking skills and tools were non-existent, as was the case for soldering or messing with emulation software. Fortunately for me, there are forums like this to teach me everything I need to know.
Given my inexperience with woodworking and lack of power tools, I decided that my arcade machine would be a MAME conversion of a generic JAMMA cabinet. Plus I don't have a truck to haul large panels of plywood anyway. So in late June, I went to my first arcade auction to find a candidate. After about 3 hours, I realized that the kind of machine (non-collectible) I was looking for wouldn't be sold until the end of the auction, so I went home and monitored the auction online. I came up with a list of potentials, and ended up winning my top choice for $75 at 1 in the morning. A week later, it was delivered into my garage:
It was a pretty beat up Soul Edge, which I would later discover had started life as a Mortal Kombat. The monitor worked, and I liked the cabinet design. I wanted something with a modular control panel box, so I could easily replace it with my own frankenpanel and box combo. I also liked how the front was built; I thought the 3 panels made it look more interesting, would provide better support for the controls, and would make it more comfortable to reach the coin doors once my larger frankenpanel was in place.
I spent the next few weeks taking it apart:
Repairing holes with glue, dowel rods, and toothpicks:
And stripping it down:
There was some rot and other damage at every edge and corner around the bottom of the cab:
Which I repaired with bondo:
I wanted smooth sides, so I replaced the carriage bolts holding the monitor brackets with countersunk T-nuts:
Which I then smoothed over with more bondo:
After all the repairs and a good bit of sanding, it was time for some laminate. I took this pic while waiting for the contact cement to dry:
I bought a set of blinds for $5 so I could use the slats as spacers:
After rolling, trimming with a compact router using a flush trim bit, and hand filing edges:
I wanted easy control over audio volume without littering my control panel with more buttons, so I bought a mini amp with volume control, along with power brick and speakers:
While the cab was on its back, I cut the holes for the speakers, and covered the round holes of the originals with 1/4" MDF. This was all painted black later:
Time for paint:
On the subject of paint, I also wanted to repaint some of the metal trim, as they were pretty banged up. I used a product called Citrus Strip to remove the paint:
It worked way better than I expected, for something that smells like a creamsicle:
Anyway, back to the cab. After the paint dried, I put on some new T-molding and stood it back up:
Time to start actually building something! My work area was a bench (a sheet of MDF on saw horses), and my tools were clamps, measuring tools, a jigsaw, and a leveler as a straight edge:
I started with the base of the control box:
Then I cut the side panels. This part was tricky because I wanted my control panel surface to slope down towards the player. The original panel on the machine had a 10 degree slope, but since my panel would be deeper, I decided a 5 degree slope would be perfect. With a lot of careful measuring, I was able to make the compound miter cuts I needed with my jigsaw:
To assemble the box, I bought screws by Spax which are made for MDF or hardwood. They're self starting and don't require pre-drilling, which saves a lot of time. However, drilling into the edges would split the MDF, so I also picked up some 3/4" square dowels. So instead of gluing and screwing the panels directly to each other, I glued and screwed to the dowels at each joint:
All the panels put together:
Then I flipped the box over and ran my compact router around the bottom with a flush trim bit to square up the bottom panel to the sides. I later chamfered the bottom edge with a 45 degree bit, but that isn't shown in this pic:
With the box built, it was time to start on the control panel!
First order of business was cutting a hole for the trackball. To do this, I made a circle cutting jig with a piece of 1/4" MDF and a shelf pin:
I drilled a hole in the center of the circle to be cut and hammered the shelf pin into it. I drilled a matching hole into the 1/4" MDF so that it could be placed onto the pin and spin around it. I then used double-sided tape to stick my router onto the jig, and ran the thing around and around, plunging 1/8" each pass. It worked pretty well:
I was going to laminate the top of the panel, so that meant all the controls needed to be bottom mounted so they can be replaced or maintained. So that meant more routing to seat all the controls at the proper height. I made a 1/4" MDF template to rout the recesses for the joysticks:
After all the routing (I freehanded the space for the trackball):
To secure the parts, I installed countersunk T-nuts on the top side, which I then covered with bondo. I used a bit of masking tape over each one so the bondo wouldn't fill up the holes. Then I cut all the button holes using a spade bit (drilled pilot holes, then cut the holes halfway through from the top, and finishing from the other side). I also used the router to create a countersink for the metal trim at the back of the panel. Here what the bottom side looked like after all that work, in addition to a coat of paint and added retaining blocks to prevent the panel from sliding off the box:
I then laminated, trimmed, and filed the top side:
After cutting the slot for the T-molding, and installing that plus the back metal trim:
In the meantime, I was working to get the computer side up and running with the arcade monitor:
The monitor color and brightness were pretty good, but there was a horizontal warble in the top third of the screen:
So, I bought a cap kit from mouser:
Then followed standard discharging procedures to detach the chassis:
After I got the chassis off, I could see that someone had already done some repair work on it:
Anyway, I got myself a soldering iron and got to re-capping:
I started off a little slow, but got much faster with practice. My first joints:
After all that work, it didn't fix the problem! Oh well, I may hire an arcade tech later to see if they can make it better. The monitor still works, and the warble is only affecting certain resolutions. I then tackled the marquee light, which I replaced with LEDs:
The LEDs are powered by the computer, so the light comes on when the computer is on. It goes off when the computer sleeps or is turned off.
Last step before re-assembly, wiring up the controls:
I installed a USB hub so that it will be easier to connect and disconnect the panel. I also recycled some of the JAMMA harness to make connecting to the credit buttons (which are on the box, not the panel) a one plug affair.
Finally, everything assembled!
I put the original marquee back in for now, so I wouldn't be blinded by the LEDs. Here's a closer look at the panel:
The trackball fitment:
And the controls on the front of the control box:
The lock is a lock switch that controls the power. I love that the keyhole looks like a power switch icon. The knob in the middle is volume control (turn it all the way down, and it "clicks" to shut off the amp). Below that is a headphone jack for quiet gaming when my wife wants to watch TV.
The monitor and amp are hooked up to a Smartswitch power strip, which is controlled by the PC. So one turn of the key powers everything up, and shutting down or sleeping the PC shuts everything down. I still kept the original power switch on the top of the cab in case I want to force the monitor off with the PC on.
The controls are 4 UltraStick 360s (with 8-way restrictors, extended shafts for bottom mounting, and stiffer springs), GoldLeaf buttons, and a U-Trak trackball, all from Ultimarc. The spinner is a TurboTwist 2 from Groovy Game Gear. The start buttons were sourced from Paradise Arcade.
Designing the control panel was an exercise in compromise. Trying to balance a lot of variables, such as size, usability, flexibility, ergonomics, and aesthetics. I could write about all the reasons for the choices I made, but since I want to go play with my machine right now, I'll hold off until someone asks.
Stuff still left to do:
Design a marquee (ideas are welcome!).
Hook up the coin mechs (despite the free credit buttons, I think it would be cool to be able to stick a quarter in every once in a while).
Maybe decide on some side art, but I'm kinda liking the minimalist look right now.
Maybe customize the front end graphics a bit (I'm using HyperSpin).
Get the monitor repaired or replaced (low on the list since the current monitor works pretty well).
Maybe add some light guns later!
Anyway, it's been an educational journey for me, and I hope you enjoyed seeing it!