Saturday, January 30, 2016

Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator

About 12 years ago a friend of mine from university approached me about building an arcade cabinet. It seemed like a fun project so for about a year we periodically got together and pretended we knew what we were doing and in the end we had a very presentable Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator (MAME) cabinet for him to take home. At the time I had no interest in the electronics so he took it home to finish after we were done the woodworking.
Over the past few years the Raspberry Pi and the Maker culture has taken over and I begin to regret not having helped with the electronics. After a bit of research I realized there was a wealth of information on what to do and it looked pretty straight forward. I've started a tradition of making the kids a game each Christmas and although I was a few weeks late this seemed like a good project. (Let's just pretend I made this one for the kids.)
Almost every post I've found on how to make one of these things seems to include the line "I am not a woodworker so you'll have to excuse my construction methods." Luckily this is the one part I did understand at the start of the project. There are plenty of posts out there on the intricacies of creating a MAME controller so I'm not going to make this post be a step by step. Instead I'll detail the experience of going from idea to finished product.
I really had no idea where to start though I did know I wanted to do the following;
1) Try out wiring.
2) Not build the entire cabinet.
3) Try out a Raspberry Pi.
4) Keep things cheap.
As mentioned there are a lot of great resources out there for this kind of thing. was a great location for the software for the PI and had several good posts with the necessary steps.
I did spend a lot of timing trying to figure out the best place to buy the buttons, controller module etc. had some packages for the buttons but it included a wiring harness and that seemed like cheating. I quickly learned there are very few local electronics stores anymore so online seemed like my only option. I eventually came across which caters to the various Playdium's across the country and they had everything I needed. This was when I realized this was going to be a pretty simple project. The IPac2 is pretty much idiot proof.
The measurements for the case were a mix of online research and a cardboard template to figure out what I liked. The plan was for a two player game with joysticks and not too much clutter. I'm not much of a gamer so I didn't plan on downloading any 8 button arcade games or needing a trackball which was rather expensive. This gave me the general layout and a few random measurements for the height and I was ready to build. The case was finger jointed poplar and the top was baltic birch which is a high quality plywood. (I had a scrap piece lying around.)
The button install was very straightforward. I had to buy a pair of wire crimping pliers and I splurged on a better wire stripper. The automatic ones are way better than the manual pair I had. The Pi setup was relatively painless. The hardest part was trying to image the memory card from my Mac. Everything was locked down and it took a bit of time to figure out which security settings I had to turn off. The only issue I had on the inside was that I put in a full plugin and the PI DC converter was offset by 90 degrees so it didn't fit until I added a 90 degree adapter.
I put a few vent holes in the bottom though I don't expect the PI to get very hot. I also had to add an extra hole for the HDMI cord. I do plan on putting a proper HDMI port on the outside but haven't found one I like.

This whole project took about three weeks  of evenings from planning start to completion so it really doesn't take a lot of time to get something functional. So far I've managed to install Super Mario Brothers which was my favourite game as a kid. Now I don't have to share with my brothers.

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