Arcade Cabinet Conversion

For a couple hundred dollars you can have nearly every video game ever made.

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To make a system like this, you really only need the following:

  • Old Arcade game console from Craigslist                                 $50 is what I paid
  • Newish Pentium-Based computer and Power Supply          $100
  • Program Called Hyperspin plus all the game ROMS              $0
  • New control joysticks, buttons and controls                           $200-300
  • Replace CRT monitor with LCD Monitor                                   $120

You can get more fancy and add LED lights, new marquee placard, replace worn console parts, etc. I think I have roughly $500 into mine but it is beautiful and exceptionally quiet. Basic woodworking and computer building skills is all you need.

It took me 5 days to start and complete all the hardware work. Some of the delay was waiting for parts and some was waiting for paint and bondo to dry.

The software work I did in advance on my primary machine and that took me several weeks. This is where I can save you some time since I can image my folders so you don’t have to do any of the menu and UI work.

NOTE: The computer I describe in this document will play most video games made prior to 2001. Many games made after 2001 will struggle unless you use newer equipment like an i7 CPU and a modern, gaming PCI-E video card. Some “3D” games like Gauntlet Legends and Judge Dredd (made after 2001) will never play due to their dependency on a RISC processor. If you want to play newer standup arcade games, I would buy a used i7 computer on Ebay for $150 and use the parts as I used them in this document.

Console

This is the game I bought; Beach Head 2000. The game board had been stripped out and it didn’t work but it came with a wide control panel and other than a couple of banged corners, the wood was in good shape. This was the shape of the newer arcade games and not as traditional as some would like. I chose it because it was cheap and it has a wide control panel so I could add plenty of controls.

Here is the before and after photo.

The first order of business was to remove the CRT and all of the wiring. I also removed the controls and all the trim. I patched the broken corners with bondo and fiberglass mesh, slotted new parts for the plastic trim and then painted the whole thing with an automobile epoxy used for undercarriage. I didn’t want quite so much red so I ordered 20’ of black T-Molding trim from Ebay.

Lights

The old unit had bulbs for the front coin door and a fluorescent light on the marquee. I wired a 12v RV LED fixture ($15) in the marquee and wired 12V led bulbs behind the coin slots then wired both of them into the computer power supply so they only come on when the game system is on. Since there are LED, they draw very little power and they stay cool.

This is the 12V light I bought on Ebay for $15. I ripped out the fluorescent light on top and installed this with new wiring down the computer power supply. The old hard drive connectors on the power supplies (4-Pin) provide 12V, 5V and a Neutral. I used the 12V and Neutral for the lights and they are perfect and cool.

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The coin lights were already wired so I spliced a 4-pin connector for the power supply and replaced the 12v incandescent bulbs with small LED wedge bulbs. The photo on the left shows the original coin slots with new low-voltage LED bulbs and the photo on the right is how I wired them into the computer power supply.

 

Monitor

The next order of business was the monitor. There are purists who prefer to use a CRT but I wanted higher resolution so I could emulate newer systems like Nintendo 64. Once you get the old monitor out, measure the width and then hit the local WalMart and Best Buy to find the absolute widest HDMI TV you can find that will fit. I had to expand my unit by 1/8“ to fit a 28” LDC screen.

Since I bought an existing system, I was fortunate enough to have the original CRT bezel that surrounded the old monitor. I trimmed the bezel to make it more shallow and then cut and riveted it to make it shorter since the LED is not square like the old CRT. It came out far better than I expected.

Here is a photo of the bezel work I did and you can see the hole I had to drill through the plastic to ensure the remote control for the TV works well. That is the only real wrinkle since the TV has to be manually turned on if you boot up the system.

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Computer

I did not have a reasonably new computer lying around so I ended up buying parts and making a computer on a board so I could remove it easily from the system. The balance here is high speed and low noise. You want a system to run very, very cool so no fans are required. You also want it fast enough to handle the newer games. My parts are as follows:

  • ASRock Mini ITX Motherboard with Quad-Core Pentium Processor N3700     $99
  • 8 GB Ram                                                                                                                                 $39
  • (2) 128 GB SATA III SSD                                                                                                      $40 Each

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I also added a Mini PCI-E WIFI card I had laying around and I bought an antenna on Ebay. I was fortunate enough to have a small Dell Power Supply and that worked well for the system. Windows 7 was the oldest OS I could find as I wanted speed and reliability. I wired a Power Supply button on the console that runs to connectors on the motherboard so I can power up and down the unit easily.

This setup is cheap and low-maintenance but it will struggle to emulate arcade games made after 2001. Foe newer arcade games, I would recommend an I7 and gaming video card.

Software

The software is the primary reason why I was sold in building the unit. HyperSpin is a menu system designed for emulation machines and is based on a wheel menu system. You first use a wheel menu to choose the emulator you want (Mame, Nintendo, Atari, etc) and then you choose the game you want within the system. HyperSpin is a modular menu system only so you have to download the emulators and games you want and build the system to your specs. It has some badass features though for example the wheel supports logo images for names and there is a window you can use to display working videos game play. This allows you to browse games one by one and see gameplay, the game box graphics and the game logo.

Navigation is simple since you can use the joystick to navigate and you can map control buttons to select or exit a game. When you let the menu sit still for a couple of minutes, it will randomly spin the wheel and then play a short preview of the selected game. It will then change to a different random game, play the video and then continue forever. This creates a pretty awesome ambiance that draws people into the machine.

Hyperspin is so popular there are add-ons made to help you build the menu XMLs files from a menu building software and sites dedicated to providing game sample video and graphics for the menu. I was fortunate enough to find a 100GB treasure trove of menu videos and graphics on Newsgroups and I have everything laid out where the menu and graphics are located on a C:\ drive (87GB) and the emulators and games I have downloaded are on the D:\ drive (40GB and growing.)

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http://www.hyperspin-fe.com/

Here is a YouTube video of the software running https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjKdCT9_X1s

 

 

Controls

There are so many options and it is a simple, simple thing to do. There is a single generic way arcade buttons work and they cost about $2 each for the button, the electrical switch and the retaining nut. You basically just choose the colors. There are lighted options as well but they are higher maintenance so I skipped those. Joysticks are also cheap. I bought mine from a local game supply house and they are generic knock off 8-way joysticks and I think I paid $12 each.

I wanted a trackball for Golden Tee and Missile Command and I am glad I did since it doubles as a computer mouse when you are in Windows. In addition, Golden Tee is the best bar game ever made and my kids and I play it for hours and hours. There are hundreds of games that support the trackball. Make sure you get one that supports USB. The one I got supports USB and PS2.

I also elected to get a USB 360 Spinner for games like Tron, Tempest and Wheel of Fortune. It was $60-70 and we don’t use it often but it is nice to have.

I elected to build a 2-Player system but if you had a large enough control deck you could build a 4-Person for games like Gauntlet.

Wiring the controls looks daunting, but it is simple. The Trackball and Spinner are both USB so they each have a USB cable that runs down the computer.

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The buttons and joysticks all run to a very small controller board that I bought for less than $20. Each button has a common ground and then a single wire for the individual control. The control board then has a single USB that runs to the computer.

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Windows sees this board as 2-Player Joystick so there are NO drivers to load whatsoever. In fact, all of the devices I plugged into the computer required no drivers.

I then drew up a control deck image in Publisher and send a PDF file to a local printer who made me a Vinyl Decal to put on a board I made and drilled out. The result is a pretty cool control deck.

A Bluetooth Keyboard with volume control buttons will finish it off. You can map the keyboard volume buttons to an arcade button and then leave the keyboard turned off and stored somewhere in the machine in case you need it later.

Interior Work – Before

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Once I got the carpet and dash out, the surface rust was clear and evident. Even the roof was covered in it. This first photo also shows that a small fire had occurred at some point under the dash. Time to get out the Wire Wheel and the grinder!

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Fortunately all of the rust was just on the surface so no structure damage was done and very little pitting.