I've always thought of myself as young at heart, but I am starting to notice that I am physically a little older than that! The other day, I was reminiscing (yes, that was one of the first things that clued me in to the fact that I was getting older) about an entertainment venue that has literally disappeared: the arcade and arcade cabinets. I spent a large part of my youth dropping quarters into these gaming machines and there are days when I really miss it.
Of course, in a fit of sentimentality, I installed the MAME emulator and thousands of ROMS on my iMac, easily replaying the great games of my youth. But something was missing; part of the fun of the arcade was getting to play on a stand up console, with controls that were meant to be used forcefully. And that got me thinking. Wouldn't it be possible to build a stand up cabinet that would essentially be a large PC case running MAME (and/or other existing emulators), with hard drive storage to hold thousands of ROMS and more. That idea really got me going, so I began to do a little research into the hardware that would be required to make this gaming cabinet a reality and any other related information.
The cabinet itself can be built using MDF or another similar material, and is not beyond the skills of most people. Several plans are available online, but it is quite easy to design your own cabinet. A friend suggested using cardboard from furniture and appliance boxes to build a life-size mockup, as it would allow the designer to refine the cabinet design before actual construction can begin.
It is possible to purchase monitors in the required sizes, for these exact purposes from manufacturers like Vision Pro. Nowadays, it is also possible to get an LCD panel of the correct dimensions, for a more energy-saving cabinet. For some cost savings, it is possible to substitute a regular tube television, which are now available for a fraction of what they were worth only a few years ago. If you do choose this route, make sure that you select a flat tube television, as it will make your cabinet look that much better.
For the CPU, the sky is really the limit; any system that will run MAME or any other emulator, with support for USB, audio and video will do the trick. An astute builder might also consider that the CPU and motherboard will determine the overall limitations of the cabinet, and could also help to provide additional functionalities (the gaming cabinet could also be a modern jukebox!).
This is the portion that I thought might be difficult to find, but was I ever wrong. Several companies build hardware for arcade consoles, including the best I found, X Arcade as well as other manufacturers, such as Arcade Controls and Suzo-Happ.
This is commercial quality hardware and should help to build a durable, high quality cabinet.
It is even possible to get a coin-operation panel for your custom-built arcade cabinet. Yes, you can make your machine coin-operated as well (in my opinion, it would be an excellent way to keep your kids off of your cabinet!!!)
Why not try your hand at a project like this? A quick Google and Wikipedia search revealed dozens of related sites, images and tutorials, so go ahead, build a little flash from the past and have fun. Take a look at some of the following links for more information:
BYOACWiki - A fantastic resource for the DIY Arcade cabinet builder.
Webb's MAME Arcade Cabinet - A DIY guide to a great MAME cabinet.
MAME Arcade Cabinet - Another DIY site, with lots of information.