Below is the history of how I came about building my arcade cabinet which I've called REBIRTH. In my own history of looking at other examples of people who built their own arcade cabinet I always found their personal stories behind their ideas interesting. If you don't care for the history, by all means go right to the guts using the menu to the left.
I was sitting at work during a lunch break around the summer of 1999, surfing the Internet. My favorite arcade game as a kid was Defender and was surfing around to see if anyone made a PC version of the game. To put the timeline in perspective, I went to high school from 1982 through 1985, smack dab in the middle of the arcade explosion. I think it was during 1982 when I used to spend every lunch hour in Andy's Luncheonette in Massapequa playing a Defender machine he had in the back. Thinking back, the place was an teenager's oasis. There was a jukebox with all the popular rock songs, chock full of Van Halen, two arcade machines, and about 40 high school kids hanging out (half of them smoking cigarettes, making the atmosphere all the more "cool" to a high school freshman - luckily I never did take up smoking). The second arcade machine would be swapped out every once in a while, from Tempest to Asteroids to Centipede to..., but the Defender machine always remained. I can vividly remember slapping a few quarters up on the marquee bracket to hold my spot in line, then take over the machine and try to hold on the rest of the lunch hour.
So fast forward to 1999 and I am now working in an I.T. department spending that particular lunch hour searching for a PC based Defender game. The planets came into alignment that day and I stumbled across something called MAME. I remember it as if it were yesterday, there eating my sadnwich and reading about this MAME software that would let you play Defender on your PC. As I read on I was shocked to see that it wasn't a clone of the Defender game, that would have been fine with me, but it was the actual Defender program that was running in all the upright Defender arcade games. Wow... So I could literally play the exact same program on my PC that I was playing in Andy's Luncheonette almost 17 years prior. To me that wasn't just a cool fact, it was amazing - people had figured out how to "suck" the programs right out of a real arcade machine and then get them to run perfectly on your PC using this MAME software. I had versions of Defender on my old Atari system, Commodore 64 - but this was the actual game. After my head cleared a second I read on to find out that not only could you play Defender, but 1000's of the arcade games ever created. I was in complete amazement. I quickly downloaded the MAME program and found a Defender ROM (I was quickly learning the MAME lingo) and spent the rest of my break playing Defender on my PC, and freaked out the whole time.
Almost immediatley after my head settled I thought that it would be awesome to build a real-looking arcade cabinet with a PC inside, with real arcade buttons, joysticks, etc. - and somehow play these real arcade games in MAME on an upright arcade machine. I am pretty handy making things and when I was a kid used to rip apart my Atari 2600 joysticks to make more arcade looking joysticks out of wood, using the Atari joysick and buttons, just spreading them out like they would be on an arcade machine. So I had a basis for the thought but at the same time the whole project seemed a bit overwhelming. Soon after that I did some more searching about MAME on the Internet and found that some people were already building their own machines. great, I didn't have to start from scratch, I could get help from these people.
I spent a bunch of time downloading more game ROMS and playing them, telling other people about my discovery and idea, but didn't do much planning at all on building my own arcade. I knew it would be a big project and really didn't have much free time to do it. I had some small kids plus a house which needed work which took up most of my free time. A few years went by and evey six months I would think of my arcade machine again and get the urge to build it.... then the urge would leave after a few weeks.
It took about two years of on again/off again thoughts of building a MAME machine to finally make the move and start. Nothing really had changed, I had even more little kids around and my house still needed more work, but I finally decided to take a few weeks/months and make an arcade. I spent a few weeks thinking up a plan of action. I decided I needed the arcade to having two special things. The first was a rotating monitor. Realizing half the arcade games were played with a vertical monitor and the other half a horizontal, I decided I needed my monitor to rotate. Many people had done this, and the one that set me over the edge was Raza's MAME Cabinet. Russ Prince who built that cabinet had what appeared to be a rather simple yet very effective way of getting his monitor to rotate. I emailed him and he was kind enough to give me some tips. The second and more important thing I wanted my arcade machine to have was a rotating control panel. I knew I had to have multiple control panels. I wanted a control panel to be the exact layout of a Defender control panel - that game was my main inspiration for building my own aracde and I just had to have a control panel to complete the authentic Defender feel. My other reason was that most people build one big control panel with multiple joysticks, buttons, trackballs, spinners, etc... Now those are fine and great if that is what you like, but to me they always seemed a bit cluttered. So I figured I would split all those controls over a couple of other control panels. In my searching I had found some people who had made multiple control panels which they would swap in and out as they used them. This seemed pretty cool but I thought it would be better to have these control panels attached together and just be able to rotate them as needed. At the time I had not found anyone who had done this but thought of a way to do it and I set off on the plans (note: I have since found a few other people that have done something similar, see the Links section to visit their sites). I made my plan. It was Thanksgiving Day, 2002 that I ordered all the parts (see Parts section for details). At the time I thought I might be able to finish in a month and have a cool arcade machine for my kids for Christmas. In reality it took me a few months to complete - again, much of my time being taken up by other things.
I finished it up. It came out better than I had hoped and it gets a lot of play. The kids love it, it is a hit with guests of the house, I can't praise the thing enough. Best of all I made thing thing myself - from the plans to reality. That is what I think is best about MAME and building your own arcade - you can plan the thing out from scratch, make it any way you want to - it is all yours. When you are done, you can step back and say "I did that". If you are reading this you are probably interested in building your own arcade. When planning/building mine I received a lot of help from others and this web site is my way of giving back. Feel free to email me if you need help. I'm still very busy but will do my best to help out. As I said, with MAME and building your own arcade, do it however you want. You want to follow someone elses plan 100%, that is great... you want to make it more simple than mine, don't rotate the monitor and don't have rotating control panels, that is awesome... A lot of people only make a control panel for their PC instead of a whole arcade machine, that is fine!!! Anything you want to do, do it. I found some people out there that had strong feelings about how an arcade should be made, and if you did it differently they would get down on you - I never understood that. The vast majority of people in the MAME "community" are incredibly helpful and friendly though, so reach out for help and tips... Enjoy the site and I hope it helps you build your machine!!!! If you build your own machine and this site helps you ins some way, I'd love to hear about it, just send me an email if you can.
Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org