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Author Topic: Diving back in with a bartop build...can you share your dos and don'ts?  (Read 336 times)

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sdrob04

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Some quick background:  I built a full-size MAME machine back in 2004 with my then-young son and am now wading back into the arcade waters with a vertical bartop build.  I'm sure many things have changed with the hobby over the last (gulp) 17 years, so I'm hoping to get a high-level overview of what works/doesn't work for these smaller builds. 

I plan to use a 5:4 19" LCD in portrait mode (perhaps with a scanline generator), and maybe a 4/8 way switchable Mag Stik Plus, but outside of that, it's unclear whether what worked back in the day (Win PC + MAME w/front end, Ultimarc encoder, etc.) is a viable or obsolete approach.  Is a Raspberry Pi good for smaller builds that focus mostly on classic games?  For reasons I haven't yet figured out I cannot seem to search within the forum categories like I remember doing, so my  efforts to learn the latest have been a bit stifled.  Thanks in advance for any guidance you might offer to get me back up to speed!
« Last Edit: January 13, 2021, 02:25:18 am by sdrob04 »

Cynicaster

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Re: Diving back in with a bartop build...can you share your dos and don'ts?
« Reply #1 on: January 13, 2021, 10:17:44 am »
I'm kind of in the same boat - a longtime user of my main upright cabinet, with my next project (if I ever find the time to do it) being a small bartop that I can pick up and take somewhere. 

The PC vs. RPi decision is very important.  I've got an RPi (version 3) that I set up "just to see" how well it runs MAME and you know what?  For most of the types of games I enjoy playing, it's not bad.  Better than I was expecting, to be honest, so maybe the low expectations helped.   

Using a PC for MAME is still objectively better in every way except for size and power usage, though.  The main MAME build that runs on PC is constantly being updated meaning you can be sure you have a path to playing any game that has been successfully emulated (assuming your PC is strong enough.)  The Pi, on the other hand, only runs specific versions of MAME, and they're pretty old.  So if a game you like wasn't brought into MAME until later, you'll be out of luck.  Other games will not look or sound quite right; whether or not you even notice will depend on your level of familiarity with the source material. 

Emulation power aside, there is also the availability of help and resources to think about.  Tinkering "under the hood" on a Pi can be a major pain if you're not familiar with linux.  The online communities are fleshing out more and more with time, but it will be quite a while before the level of community support for MAME on Pi will hold a candle to the years and years of accumulated experience and wisdom associated with running MAME on PC's.   

I've decided that I'm willing to accept the limitations of the Pi for my small project, because the tiny size/weight and low power draw are huge advantages for what I'm looking to do.  But if I were building a bigger bartop unit where portability was less of an issue, and which would see "regular" use rather than just "occasional" then I would absolutely find a way to shoehorn a small PC in there, to reap all those benefits.

The Ultimarc encoders are still a thing, but if you decide on the Pi route with a single player setup, then there are lower cost options for encoder.  Google "zero delay encoder" for example.  I use one of these with my Pi and it seems to work just fine. 

 

 

meyer980

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Re: Diving back in with a bartop build...can you share your dos and don'ts?
« Reply #2 on: January 13, 2021, 10:58:57 am »
For most builds I would advocate a Windows PC. Very flexible and has all the benefits that Cynicaster already pointed out.

There are a few recent upgrades in the Pi world though that continue to make it interesting. You can now run the most recent version of MAME in Retropie. It's a hog on resources, but the RPi4 can still do all the classics it seems. And while "tinkering" as Cynicaster mentioned is probably more difficult on a pi - setting one up and having it "just work" is very easy. Download the image, extract it to an SD card, turn on pi.

Lastly, if you're willing to do a little setup, there are many very cool options for controls on the pi that connect right to the GPIO pins, meaning you don't have to have something dangling off a USB ports. If you're building a very slim or small bartop, that really comes in handy.

Anyway, long story short: If I was building something big enough that cold hold a PC, that's what I use. If it can't, then pi it is.

javeryh

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Re: Diving back in with a bartop build...can you share your dos and don'ts?
« Reply #3 on: January 13, 2021, 11:56:49 am »
There are a few recent upgrades in the Pi world though that continue to make it interesting. You can now run the most recent version of MAME in Retropie. It's a hog on resources, but the RPi4 can still do all the classics it seems. And while "tinkering" as Cynicaster mentioned is probably more difficult on a pi - setting one up and having it "just work" is very easy. Download the image, extract it to an SD card, turn on pi.

Does this have to be done via Retropie or is there an image out there that will run MAME only and boot to a game list?  Part of the reason why I put my bartop on hold was because I couldn't stand the way Retropie worked with the admin menu.  It just made it seem clunky and disconnected from the project since any user could go in and change things.  I know there is a kids mode and a kiosk mode but neither of those removed that menu.  So I was always able to back out to "MAME" and "Retropie" instead of turning the cabinet on and always being in the MAME list. 

I'm probably not making sense because literally no one else complains about this but I wish I could press power, boot to a game (last played or a specific game) or the MAME game list and then there was no way to Exit/ESC to the "main" menu.  Then when I'm finished, press power again and safely shut down.  This way, the software would appear completely integrated with the bartop making the user think it was designed this way.  Being able to navigate the Retropie menu breaks the illusion and also leads to people inevitably screwing something up.

meyer980

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Re: Diving back in with a bartop build...can you share your dos and don'ts?
« Reply #4 on: January 13, 2021, 02:38:08 pm »
There are a few recent upgrades in the Pi world though that continue to make it interesting. You can now run the most recent version of MAME in Retropie. It's a hog on resources, but the RPi4 can still do all the classics it seems. And while "tinkering" as Cynicaster mentioned is probably more difficult on a pi - setting one up and having it "just work" is very easy. Download the image, extract it to an SD card, turn on pi.

Does this have to be done via Retropie or is there an image out there that will run MAME only and boot to a game list?  Part of the reason why I put my bartop on hold was because I couldn't stand the way Retropie worked with the admin menu.  It just made it seem clunky and disconnected from the project since any user could go in and change things.  I know there is a kids mode and a kiosk mode but neither of those removed that menu.  So I was always able to back out to "MAME" and "Retropie" instead of turning the cabinet on and always being in the MAME list. 

I'm probably not making sense because literally no one else complains about this but I wish I could press power, boot to a game (last played or a specific game) or the MAME game list and then there was no way to Exit/ESC to the "main" menu.  Then when I'm finished, press power again and safely shut down.  This way, the software would appear completely integrated with the bartop making the user think it was designed this way.  Being able to navigate the Retropie menu breaks the illusion and also leads to people inevitably screwing something up.

Haha you ARE making sense, and it's something I would appreciate having. Especially as someone who likes builds that appear as "authentic" as possible with very limited gameplay options. I don't know of a built in way to accomplish exactly what you're asking, sadly. Retropie is really designed for that full emulator experience. I bet it can be done (or find ways to work around) but I wouldn't know the best way how.

Another, potential, option would be to use Ubuntu or Raspbian on the pi instead of retropie. Just treat it like a PC running Linux, essentially. This guide shows one way it can be done: https://www.raspberrypi.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=273854

The same person posted a thread here on the forums: http://forum.arcadecontrols.com/index.php/topic,162889.0.html
And I believe includes an image ready for download for the rPi4
« Last Edit: January 13, 2021, 02:44:45 pm by meyer980 »

SGT

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Re: Diving back in with a bartop build...can you share your dos and don'ts?
« Reply #5 on: January 13, 2021, 10:12:01 pm »
For reasons I haven't yet figured out I cannot seem to search within the forum categories like I remember doing, so my  efforts to learn the latest have been a bit stifled. 

Since the board's search function seems to be broken, you can use google to search specific forums only on this website by using the following if you were searching for VGA, for example in the Monitor/Video forum.  Google the following:

Quote
site:forum.arcadecontrols.com "Monitor/Video Forum" "VGA"





« Last Edit: January 13, 2021, 10:15:06 pm by SGT »

sdrob04

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Re: Diving back in with a bartop build...can you share your dos and don'ts?
« Reply #6 on: January 14, 2021, 01:01:15 am »
Thanks for the feedback, everyone.  Seems the tried-and-true method (PC+MAME w/key encoder) is still a common approach .  I have one of Haruman's bartop kits on the way, so I'll see how much room there is to install everything and share what I learn.  I didn't see a specific bartop/mini-cab category - perhaps there should be one!

javeryh

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Re: Diving back in with a bartop build...can you share your dos and don'ts?
« Reply #7 on: January 14, 2021, 09:34:06 am »
There are a few recent upgrades in the Pi world though that continue to make it interesting. You can now run the most recent version of MAME in Retropie. It's a hog on resources, but the RPi4 can still do all the classics it seems. And while "tinkering" as Cynicaster mentioned is probably more difficult on a pi - setting one up and having it "just work" is very easy. Download the image, extract it to an SD card, turn on pi.

Does this have to be done via Retropie or is there an image out there that will run MAME only and boot to a game list?  Part of the reason why I put my bartop on hold was because I couldn't stand the way Retropie worked with the admin menu.  It just made it seem clunky and disconnected from the project since any user could go in and change things.  I know there is a kids mode and a kiosk mode but neither of those removed that menu.  So I was always able to back out to "MAME" and "Retropie" instead of turning the cabinet on and always being in the MAME list. 

I'm probably not making sense because literally no one else complains about this but I wish I could press power, boot to a game (last played or a specific game) or the MAME game list and then there was no way to Exit/ESC to the "main" menu.  Then when I'm finished, press power again and safely shut down.  This way, the software would appear completely integrated with the bartop making the user think it was designed this way.  Being able to navigate the Retropie menu breaks the illusion and also leads to people inevitably screwing something up.

Haha you ARE making sense, and it's something I would appreciate having. Especially as someone who likes builds that appear as "authentic" as possible with very limited gameplay options. I don't know of a built in way to accomplish exactly what you're asking, sadly. Retropie is really designed for that full emulator experience. I bet it can be done (or find ways to work around) but I wouldn't know the best way how.

Another, potential, option would be to use Ubuntu or Raspbian on the pi instead of retropie. Just treat it like a PC running Linux, essentially. This guide shows one way it can be done: https://www.raspberrypi.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=273854

The same person posted a thread here on the forums: http://forum.arcadecontrols.com/index.php/topic,162889.0.html
And I believe includes an image ready for download for the rPi4

Thanks - I'll look into it.  I'm not at all familiar with Linux but how hard could it be?  :lol

All I'd want is a simple image to power on and MAME loads - you see the list of games.  No fancy movies or art or anything.  Just the list.  Power off and it safely shuts down the pi.  Seems like someone with experience could knock that out in an afternoon but what do I know...

Zeosstud

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Re: Diving back in with a bartop build...can you share your dos and don'ts?
« Reply #8 on: January 14, 2021, 12:53:03 pm »
You know, depending on the list of must have games, the MiSTer might be an option.. It can for sure boot up to the last game played and can be shut off and on without any concern and takes up like no space.

https://github.com/MiSTer-devel/Main_MiSTer/wiki

Just a thought, for someone who really wants a minimalist approach visually but really appreciates gameplay, this device does a lot, it is not crazy cheap, but not crazy expensive either..

- Zeosstud