How to Build Your Own Arcade Machine From an Old Computer

Choosing an Arcade Monitor and Computer

The first thing you need to keep in mind is that the designers of MAME wanted to create a way to preserve video games — the ability to play the games is simply a byproduct. That means that while the goal of the emulator is to recreate the arcade machine hardware’s behavior as faithfully as possible, it doesn’t always translate into a playable game. Programmers are always working to improve MAME, and older versions may not support all ROMs. Some games may run but will be extremely slow. You should test your ROMs with the version of MAME you prefer before jumping into an arcade machine project.
According to the MAME Web site, the minimum requirements for running MAME on a computer are:

  • Any MMX-capable AMD or Intel processor
  • Windows 98 or later
  • DirectX 5.0 or later
  • A DirectDraw or Direct3D capable graphics card
  • Any DirectSound capable sound card

Most modern PCs blow the doors off of these minimal requirements. The more powerful a computer is, the better it will be at handling the processing requirements of MAME. Computers that have a graphics card with a graphics processing unit (GPU) may fare better than machines with basic graphics cards. Because MAME is attempting to reproduce the behavior of hardware, it requires a lot of processing power. Because of this, some games may run poorly no matter how fast your machine is.
There are other versions of MAME called ports that will run on machines with a Mac or Linux-based operating system. If you download the basic PC version of MAME, you’ll see that it’s a command-line system. That means you must type in commands to change settings and run ROMs. If you prefer, you can download a MAME frontend that incorporates a graphical user interface (GUI). A good GUI will eliminate the need to incorporate a keyboard into the final arcade machine.
Arcade Machine
You’ll also need a monitor for your game. Some MAME enthusiasts prefer cathode ray tube (CRT) television sets to computer monitors. They argue that computer monitors provide too sharp a picture and detract from the real arcade experience. If you choose a television, make sure your computer and TV can connect with the right cables. A CRT with an S-Video port and a computer containing a graphics card with its own S-Video port works well, but there are other options. To find out more, read How to Connect Your Computer to Your TV.

Deciding on Your Arcade Controllers

What kind of games do you want to play? Arcade games like Centipede work best with a trackball. The classic game Tempest used a dial-like rotary controller. Several driving games used a combination of a steering wheel and pedals for the gas and brake. And of course, hundreds of games had a combination of joysticks and buttons.
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MAME supports many different ­controls. You could install standard game controller ports on the computer you’ll be using and hook up standard computer joysticks, steering wheels or gamepads. You can even use game controllers that connect to your computer via USB. MAME doesn’t automatically enable the controller function — you’ll have to turn it on either by a line command or through a GUI.
These controllers should work with most games, but they don’t necessarily reproduce the feeling of a real arcade machine. For that, you need to go out and buy actual arcade controllers and buttons. Some vendors sell prefabricated game control panels that you can purchase and incorporate into a cabinet. A prefabricated control panel will cost more than the sum of its individual components, but it will save you time when it comes to wiring and encoding your controls. Still, many enthusiasts like the freedom they have when they buy each component separately and design their own game control panels.
Some MAME arcade machine fabricators like to include multiple control devices on a single machine. MAME enthusiast Jeff McClain built what he calls the Ultimate MAME Cabinet and included four joysticks, a spinner control, a trackball, a light gun and more than a dozen buttons in a custom-built cabinet [source: Ultimate MAME Cabinet]. Many vendors sell arcade machine controls — you should be able to find most standard controls without too much trouble. If you want something specific — such as the Star Wars flying yoke or Spy Hunter’s custom steering wheel — that might require a bit more effort to seek out.
For more detail: How to Build Your Own Arcade Machine From an Old Computer

About The Author

Ibrar Ayyub

I am an experienced technical writer holding a Master's degree in computer science from BZU Multan, Pakistan University. With a background spanning various industries, particularly in home automation and engineering, I have honed my skills in crafting clear and concise content. Proficient in leveraging infographics and diagrams, I strive to simplify complex concepts for readers. My strength lies in thorough research and presenting information in a structured and logical format.

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