|Building my own MAME
by Patrick Fonck
My first game-console was a Philips
VideoPac G7000. I remember the local supermarket had two demo systems on
which kids could play... a Philips G7000 and an Atari 2600. I can't
exactly recall why I went for the Philips system, but I believe it came
with a Space Invaders clone with very cute graphics including a big red
spider that came down to hunt you. My favorite game was the Pac-Man clone
"K.C. Munchkin" (or "Happelaar", as it was called here
in the Netherlands).
Invaders on the Philips G7000.
As I young man, I personally never spent much
money on coin-operated arcade machines, except for one week of the year
during my family holiday in a bungalow park which had an amusement hall. They
had Pac-Man, Bandits, Galaga, Phoenix, Scramble, Crazy Climber and a few
others that I can't recall.
However, that one week a year was enough to have me
hooked on arcade games. So when the ColecoVision came onto the market with
all its great conversions of famous titles, I just had to buy
it! Donkey Kong and Mr. Do! were my favorite titles on that platform, I
could play them forever :-)
Do! on the ColecoVision.
While at school, I recall getting BASIC
lessons - which I thought was awesome, being able to have a
computer under control - so I decided it was time to have a "real" computer. I found a real
bargain at an electronics store... the Atari 600XL. I was really
addicted to this system and spent every free hour between coming out of
school and going to bed behind it.
My Atari 600XL with
64 KB, internal SIO2PC interface and improved video
As lots of youngsters in their puberty do, I lost
interest in computers for a while, so I sold
my old systems but later bought a Philips MSX2 system because my
girlfriend's family had one (as well as loads of games on easy-to-copy floppy-disks).
Even though I never considered myself to be an
"Atarian", when I decided to get rid of all my old computer stuff, I ended
up keeping my Atari 800XE. I later expanded my 8-bit collection with an
Atari 600XL (read all about those at my web site, http://www.fonck.nl/atari/).
But anyway, this
article is supposed to be concentrating on the arcade experience...
Ever since I
started to discover the internet, I have been deeply interested in arcade
emulation. Emulators make it possible to play those old arcade hits on
your PC. First there were single-machine emulators - which were mostly
incomplete (missing sound, wrong colors) - but when MAME came along, things
really started to take off. Now although Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator
(MAME) offers perfect emulation for hundreds
of games now, I always thought there was something missing. To
me, playing games means relaxing, getting away from the daily terror of
unstable or even crashing PCs. So running an emulator on a Windows system
just doesn't cut it. I never got into 3D games except maybe for the
occasional racing game or pool simulator... nope, call me crazy... I want
big sprites dancing around on my screen!
I've got an emulator installed
for every system I have ever owned as well as a few to give my son access to
games that would require the purchase of a console like PlayStation and
One day while I was surfing my favorite second-hand
goods web site when I saw a section with arcade machines for sale. I
thought, what a good idea it would be to buy one of these and build a PC running MAME into
it. There was somebody who was clearing up his garage with old cabinets so
I called him to ask for a particular machine. That one had already gone,
but when I told him I only needed a defective machine, he offered me one for
free! So that same evening I went to pick it up.
cabinet just after I picked it up, standing in my
The cabinet was perfect... It's real eighties-style, one of those
you can "climb in to", shutting yourself from the outside world and the
controls are simple. I prefer games that only use the joystick and one
button... yep, like Atari games!
First thing I did was to strip the
cabinet from its old internals (the display was broken anyway) and clean
it thoroughly. I like insects, but only the ones you can fire at in a
field covered with colorful mushrooms ;-)
The next thing to do was
to fit a new display. I had an old Eizo 20" monitor laying around the
office that had become too fuzzy to display a high-resolution Windows
desktop (a.k.a. a write-off), so that one was perfect for my project.
At first I wanted to separate the monitor's electronics from the display
tube, but when I had removed the plastic from the monitor and looked at
the guts, I decided to keep everything inside the steel casing. This would
also prevent problems with electric shielding.
The only downside of
keeping the metal chassis was that it stuck out the back of the cabinet
(10 cm's or so), but when the cabinet is placed into a corner of the room,
you don't notice. The original display was bolted onto a wooden plate,
but as I hate working with wood (it always cracks and chips), I made one
from my preferred material... aluminium. I stripped the monitor from
its casing and bolted a framework of angular profile onto
Test set-up for the
Picture of monitor inside the cabinet.
As MAME supports
rotation of the display in all directions, I was free to select the orientation of the
display. Some people build a construction that
allows the display to be rotated, but as I only intend to play games that
are portrait, there was no need for that. There are various front-ends
(menu programs) that also support the rotated display, I use a DOS program
the monitor powered by a laptop and a normal keyboard. This is not the
best way to play arcade games so we need some controls!
After I had completed most of the construction
work, it was time to move to the electronics
and hook the
controls up to the PC. There is a very neat trick for this, you can
wire the micro switches directly to the little controller inside a
keyboard. The keyboard controller works using a matrix, connecting a
certain contact with another which generates a certain key press. The hardest
bit is making a map of that matrix by trying out all
combinations. Once you've done that, the wiring itself is
Keyboard controller (left) and color-coded wires that go to the
micro switches of the controls.
Here you see the micro switches wired to the keyboard
As I said earlier, I like simple games using
simple controls, so the standard buttons were all I needed:
- Two Players
- Joystick - also used in menu to scroll
trough available game titles
- Fire button - also used in menu to
- Exit button - to exit game and return to
The coin mechanism.
One of the
coin slots was still functional, so I wired that one in too. I had a hard
time finding some Dutch guilders though as Euros had been introduced a few
months earlier! Coins fall into a small cardboard box now as I'm using
the space of the coin collector box for the PC now.
guts, well hidden away.
The rest was easy. I just grabbed
some old PC internals I had laying around and put them into the empty coin
box compartment. I'm using my favorite Intel CPU, the Intel Pentium Pro
(over clocked to 233MHz). This very hot-running CPU required some
attention to the airflow, so a fan was fitted into the door.
first, MAME (the emulator) wasn't running games smoothly enough with some
visible frame-skipping and some sound problems. Now you would think that a
233 MHz CPU would have no problem emulating a 1.7 MHz arcade game. However,
the developers of MAME appear to prefer quantity above quality which implies that
every time they add support for more games the program becomes
slower. Downgrading from version 0.68 to 0.36 made everything running
The sound is taken care by a Sound Blaster Live!
PCI card, a bit of overkill maybe for the standard mono speaker inside the
cabinet, and MS-DOS 6.22 is booted from a 512 MB SCSI hard disk. The menu
program Launcher is started automatically from which game selection
is made using the joystick and the red fire button (which in turn starts the game
in MAME). It then works just like a real arcade machine. If it was
standing an amusement hall alongside original arcade machines you wouldn't
be able to tell the difference!
The menu system (Launcher).
Now that it's finished, it
really is a joy to play with. It is easier to operate than a Nintendo Game
Boy! Once you've played this machine you wonder why people pay huge
amounts of money on their collection of classic arcade machines... This
one plays them all in 99% authenticity and has cost
My eight year old son loves playing games on the
machine even though he hated them emulated on the PC. It's the charm of the
full-size cabinet that makes everybody love it. My high-scores double
easily compared to playing them on a PC using a normal game pad as I'm so
much more concentrated "inside" the cabinet.
If you're into classic
gaming, a MAME-cabinet is a must have and even if you're not in the
situation like me, where you've got 20" monitors and computer parts for
grabs, you still should be able to build one for the amount you sold your
PS-2 or X-Box for ;-)
A very good place to start looking for info is
where you will find the most amazing machines with 26" screens and
every control fitting you can think of.
The finished article.