Building your own MAME arcade machine is not as difficult as it may seem. However, it is rather easy to get lost and become confused given all the different components, decisions, and information available online.
By reading this simple overview you will gain a good understanding of how all the parts and pieces come together to create your very own arcade cabinet. There are many different ways to get to the end product but all arcade machines are essentially made in the same fashion (especially for our purpose). These are the basic components that will come together to make your arcade machine:
- Cabinet – Generally made out of ¾” plywood or medium density fiberboard (MDF) the cabinet can come in many different designs and types. All cabinets essentially do the following:
- House the computer
- Support the display (monitor/ TV) and the speakers
- Allow the control panel to be mounted
- Are often finished with side art, marquees (signs at the top) and/or coin doors
- Control Panel – Like cabinets, control panels can come in all sorts of designs and can provide different levels of functionality based on the arcade controls you decide to include. Basically the control panel is a piece of wood or MDF that has been drilled and cut so that all the individual arcade controls can be mounted (joysticks, trackballs, buttons, etc.).
- Interfaces & Wiring – Once all the arcade controls are securely mounted to the control panel board it is time to connect them together via wiring. All of the controls are wired to what is called an interface card. The interface card then connects to the computer either through the PS2 port or the USB port. Once connected to the computer your arcade controls act as input devices such as a mouse, keyboard, or game pad depending on how they are connected/ what the controls do.
There are many different types of interface cards and it is important to make sure you know what you have and what parts you need, that is why after reading this you should check out Planning and Designing your Arcade Machine.
- Computer – Nothing too fancy here, most MAME arcade machines use an average PC. Your arcade can play regular computer games, if the game itself is configured to use the controls. MAME is what is known as an emulator which basically tricks the computer into thinking it is an arcade machine. Emulators then use ROMs, which are the individual games, to allow you to play arcade/console games on your PC. This site doesn’t offer any ROMs but a simple Google search for MAME ROMs or ROMs in general should provide you with more than enough information. You also should check out the home of the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator.
In summary the cabinet is essentially just that- a cabinet for all the parts. A good arcade cabinet will provide:
- Good support for your display
- Room for the speakers
- A place for the control panel to be mounted
- Room for the computer inside
The control panel is simply a piece of wood or MDF that has all the arcade controls securely mounted to it. These controls are then wired together and to some sort of interface card. This interface card then connects the arcade controls to the PC as input devices like a mouse, keyboard, or game pad. Using your computer you then run a PC game or an emulator with a ROM of your choice loaded in order to play. As long as your arcade controls are configured properly within the game, you should be able to successfully play the game using your new arcade controls.
The basic goal of a MAME arcade machine is to use arcade controls (joysticks, buttons, trackballs, etc.) to act as input devices (like a mouse, keyboard or game pad) while playing games (PC or ROMS) off your computer.
For more information on any of these components check that particular part in the main guide.