The arcade I decided to build would be enormous. A four sided cocktail table of epic proportions. I had always wanted an arcade machine, and after seeing my friend Spystyle build cabinet after cabinet, I decided it was time.
To start, I acquired this ridiculously huge 31.5 inch Mitsubishi VGA monitor. I work at a high school and this was among a ton of other stuff that was donated by some insurance company. I forget the name of the company, so we will just call them "awesome" and move on. Ultimately, we had no place for a 50% functional monitor, and while it was sitting on a pallet jack taking up space, the janitorial staff were getting annoyed.
First of all, it was huge. It weighs one hundred and seventy two pounds. No joke. It came with the manual and its precise dimensions (in metric) is printed in the back. Unfortunately, the picture was horrible, the controls on the front don't work and the remote control sensor is botched. Being the tinkerer I am, I was able to completely disassemble it, re-tune the picture tube and get the power and source buttons to work so I could turn it on, and even select between inputs. I was not however able to make the remote work again, nor any of the picture adjust buttons for the front. Thankfully, the picture is now pretty damned good, and I have a 31.5" VGA monitor to use in this ultimate machine!
First problem. The TV barely fits through doors... It is two feet tall, two feet deep, and 30 and half inches wide. My doorways are only 28.5 inches wide! If I wanted to make this as big of a cabinet I planned on, I needed to work out some way of making it modular and portable. the solution? build a box to fit the TV in, with very little extra space, and build a separate top to put on it with all the controls in it. piece of cake!
I knew that cocktail arcade games can be very hard on the neck, and I knew that with a TV as large as I was using, it would be difficult to see all the way across that enormous screen. So I had to experiment with different heights for the screen to be at. this cab was going to replace our kitchen table, so it also had to be of appropriate height for that use.
I settled on a base of 27.5" x 33.5" for the base, and a total height of 29.5 inches for everything. this meant that I would have a pretty damned hard time making it all fit. I knew I wanted casters underneath it, so I got casters that were about 2.75" tall.(that's talked about in the Base section.) The top was built around the ideal size I could produce with a single sheet of plywood. The control deck basically came together in the wood, not on paper like I would prefer to tell. you can see in this picture, that my 48inch long deck boards didn't intersect very nice in the corners, but rounding them off worked very well in the end. almost like I planned it that way. :) (more on This later)
Another problem I faced was the price of lumber. I refuse to use melamine, plywood generally looks like crap, and GOOD plywood is expensive as hell. After Much consideration, I bit the bullet, and bought a nice 4x8' sheet of 3/4" birch hardwood plywood for almost 50$. I also bought a 4x8' sheet of 3/4" MDF, which turned out to be garbage, and if I did it again I would just buy more birch plywood. the problem with MDF is, you cant put a screw into the end of it. it splits. you cant use it for small places and supports because it falls apart. WASTE OF MONEY.
I like to think about things. I like to think them through, and see if there is a better way. but I find that I spend a lot more time thinking, and less time Doing, so nothing ever gets done. SO, If I am standing in a store, looking at all my options and thinking to myself, "there has to be a cheaper way", if I spend an hours trying to decide if I want to use MDF or plywood on this entire cabinet, those are hours I didn't get to work on it because I was too damned cheap to buy the 50$ sheet of the really nice wood. So I make my decision. 50$ nice sheet of really nice wood, and since I wanted to have a nice wood grain surface to go with our kitchen theme, it was really what I should have just grabbed as soon as I walked into home depot.
Note: I used this policy to decide to buy a I-pac4, and the Opti-Pac from ultimarc.com. Once I got sick of trying to find the perfect mouse to hack and butcher, and spent hours at the soldering station trying to make it all work Right, I said screw it and got the optipac. the Ipac-4 was a necessary purchase, as I was going to have a 4 player side with 4 buttons each, and I needed all the butts to be operational without matrixes.
The structure of the base was quite simple actually. I originally planned on making it a little taller, but when the cost of the wood was so steep, I decided I would modify my plans a little to make all my pieces fit on one sheet of plywood. this meant I had to cut off two pieces to length, and then rip the pieces in half. (2 each 24"x29" and 24"x31.5") I assembled them together edge to edge, since I didn't plan on putting t-molding on them, I wanted square corners. I attached 2x6's in the bottom for support, attached my casters to it and then just screwed the four sides together, leaving the bottom wide open for access and ventilation. Next, I experimented with different ways of mounting the monitor, and decided on three 2x4's of appropriate lengths. once I figured out how high I wanted the monitor to come up, I cut the boards to fit and then mounted them.
When shopping for casters I was looking or something that would be able to hold up to 400lbs. the table isn't quite 400, but its close enough. I was told that 4 casters rated for 100lbs each would carry 400lbs. This isn't entirely true. While these casters will hold it all up, they don't "manage" it very well at all. they don't pivot like they are supposed to, they jam up and cause me no end of grief when I try to move this thing around. These casters SUCK. the only reason I haven't replaced them is because they were 6$ a pop, and I cant put anything taller in there. Space is a big issue.
The corners of the base were made so I wouldn't be able to hide the ugly edges easily. This wasn't deliberate, but once I had the boards cut and the wood screwed together, it was obvious t-molding wouldn't work and I had some unsightly edges.(First Timer) The solution? Aluminum L-bar from home depot. I cut some short lengths of this, sanded them smooth and uniform, and then glued them to the edges. This looks okay, but the downfall is that its a LOT harder than the wood, and if you ram your knee into it, you are gonna feel it for sure.
The Monitor is a Mitsubishi xc-3315c and it is 172lbs. its a "33inch" with a vga/bnc input, and a half dozen other input options as well. The monitor is huge. Huge and heavy. we had no place for it at work, so when it was offered to me, and I jumped at it. I got it home and left it site for months due to lack of motivation. The buttons on the front of the monitor were shot, and the picture was bad, so I eventually decided to take it all apart and see if I could fix it. I knew a little about TV repair and I had access to some repair manual stuff online, so I was eventually able to resurrect the picture on this thing, and two of the buttons on the front: Power and Source. once I had a good picture on the thing and the ability to turn it off and on, I knew I had a monitor worth "mameing"...
The next step was designing an assembling the control deck. Due to my space limitations, I was severely limited on several things:
I settled on a design where my decks would have a 20° pitch to them. This allowed me to maximize the effective 'work area' between the glass and deck, while still giving me the area I needed underneath the deck to mount all my controls and wiring.
after seeing how much space I finally had, I am confident I could even raise it up another inch and still have comfortable play... But that would be a lot of work.
Creating a sloped control deck created its own major problem known as "the compound miter". The problem here is that the intersection of these boards at the corners was not "flat", and therefore I couldn't just cut my corners at 45 degrees and call it good. No way, not a chance. The solution is to calculate the precise angle that your blade has to be at, and then set your miter gauge to the corresponding miter setting, and hope and pray you don't screw up. This is much easier said than done! Calculating the compound miter involves some pretty steep trigonometry, and without prior knowledge of this function, you should probably use an online calculator and experiment with scrap. I spent a day on this alone, and still screwed it up due to a 100$ table saw with a a miter gauge that wiggled 5 whole degrees. Ultimately, I did the best I could. With my miter set to 46.78°, my blade set to 13.97°, and my eyes closed I cut away. The end result was not as nice as I had hoped, but I would deal with that later. Right now I had other work to do.
Who would have thought, Formica is expensive! It is as much for a 4x8 sheet of Formica as it was for the 4x8 sheet of plywood! I got a little sheet of it because I am cheap, and made it work by creative cutting. This stuff is tricky to use. you can use a table saw to cut it, but your edges will be rough. its better to rough cut it and then use a laminate trimmer to finish it. The laminate trimmer is a bit you put in your router that has a bearing that runs against the side of your wood, so you glue your laminate into place with a little bit overlapping the edge and then buzz the edges with the trimmer. The result is very crisp clean edges and obscene amounts of laminate dust.
I bought my molding from www.t-molding.com and had a hard time deciding between chrome or plain black. T-molding.com will send you free samples of any color/style you pick, and I got a sample of the chrome with my purchase of 40 feet of black... The chrome looks amazing! It was a very tough choice, but since I had the black already I decided to just get it over with.
To install this stuff, you will need another tool for your router, a T-Slot cutter. since I was using 3/4" plywood, the T-molding requires a 16th" slot. at this point I will say, it is IMPERATIVE that you experiment with scrap first. you only get one chance to cut a slot in your work, and screwing it up is Not an option at this point.
I went to Portland Glass to look at my options in the glass department. I settled on a sheet of .25" thick bronze smoked glass. Since I needed a piece of it that was 48"x42" in size, and I wanted the edges ground and rounded, I had to come back the next day to pick it up. At first I was leery of going with bronze instead of just grey smoked, but I got what was available and the price was right(80$ us). It really looks amazing, and doesn't change the color of the screen. I have been told that I really should get it tempered, but the guy at the glass place told me it should be fine. (it is only overlapping 5 inches on each side) Currently the glass is free floating on the surface of the table. I intend to put something between the glass and top that will keep it from sliding around.
After much careful consideration and planning, I decided to go with a 'Neo-Geo' style layout for my controls. Each player station will also have a full sized coin-up button and player start. I considered using smaller buttons for these but didn't like the look of them.
I wanted to use all four sides of the table for different types of games, and leave myself with the ability to play 4 player games as easily as tempest and pacman with the maximum screen area, etc etc. Having all four sides to use really helped me keep my controls spaced out nicely as I planned my layout strategy around the board.
Simply put, a keyboard hack wasn't gonna work. Even if I tried to do a very complicated matrix, I was eventually going to have ghosting or blocking when I played the 4 player side, or worse, when playing the 2 player H2H side. I shopped for a while for a decent controller board till I found the I-Pac4 from www.ultimarc.com and bought it right away. This thing RULES! it has enough inputs for 10 buttons per player, 14 if you count the joysticks, 4 players total, with no ghosting or blocking! Every input has its own dedicated terminal on the board, just strip the wire and screw it down. Simple!.
I got my joysticks and buttons from www.x-arcade.com. I had considered getting joysticks of various colors, but it was suggested that it would be tacky and I wanted this thing to be neutral. So, all black it was to be.
I needed 8 joysticks and over 60 buttons, so price was also a big factor. X-Arcade was selling 'kits' with 2 joysticks, 18 black buttons, and 2 player start buttons for only 26-29$ or so. Perfect! I bought three 'kits' and two additional joysticks from them. As expected, 'Bargain Price' often means 'Bargain Quality'. Don't get me wrong, these would be fine, but they needed some doctoring before they would fit in my control decks.
The joystick stems were an inch and a half longer than they needed to be. I believe that this was intentionally done so you could adjust the height of them. Well, I needed them to be SHORT. and I couldn't have any extra stem sticking out the bottom of them either. Off to the shop I go.
I contemplated different ways of modifying them, and settled on the" simplest way is the best way" method. I chopped an inch and a half off the stems, and then used a band saw and a special vice to cut a new groove in the step for the E-clip to attack to. Then I took the various pieces of plastic that they came with and chopped those to bits too. The product was a fully functional 8 way joystick with a very low profile, and ultra low stick length below.
There is a big difference between bargain buttons and quality buttons. That being said, i wouldn't do it differently if I knew. The x-arcade butts are cheap. They are cheap plastic, fine threaded and use a very noisy switch, and the printing on the player start buttons is completely random, making installation in tight spots tricky at best, and the color on the white player start buttons is more of a milky beige than stark white. But hey, at about 50 cents each they were worth every penny. I had two extra buttons in this whole shebang, and two of my buttons 'nuts' stripped out, so I got lucky. if any more strip, I will use hot glue or something to keep em in line.
I also 4 additional player buttons from Ultimarc. a player 1,2,3 and 4 (start) buttons each for the 4 player side. these were $2.90 a piece I think, and they are very bright white, the plastic is a solid ABS or something, the switches are very quiet, the printing is perfectly square and the threads are big and juicy. (no stripping here) I am very pleased with these buttons, and if I were rich, I would buy more(nah, I'm too cheap).
On close inspection, you can see the difference in color between the ultimarc(happs?) buttons and the x-arcade buttons, but you really have to look closely. All in all, I am happy with everything I got from both places.
I had originally built my spinner using a PS2 mouse hack, and it worked fairly well. I just didn't like it... I wanted the top of my rig to be modular, and I didn't want to have half a dozen wires to connect every time I needed to take the top off. I had already bought a ultimarc trackball at this point, and was looking for a good way to hook that up. I could have just hooked up yet another mouse, or try to run both spinner and trackball off the same mouse, (maybe using the scroll wheel optics for the spinner) but the optipac board is only 39 bucks! why do I insist on wasting time instead of spending money??? I am so CHEAP!
I bought the optipac and installed it. It is a dream come true. It is made so you can have up to 2 trackballs and 4 spinners... God knows why I would need that many, but for 39 bucks, Ill take it. Installation was a snap, but there are some things you should know about first.
On the ultimarc web page they explain all you need to know about the jumpers on the optipac and what they are for. Learn from my mistakes when I say "I suggest reading them." the instructions explain how to make the optipac communicate with your optic sensors, setting a jumper to A-LO or A-HI for instance, will be the difference between your stuff working or not working.
There is another added feature of the Optipac that is designed to prevent accidental 'control override' if someone hits the spinner while you are playing with the trackball. This means that when you are playing centipede and someone hits the spinner, it doesn't move your dude around. However, this also means that when you are playing Tempest, and you wait five seconds as you move from one level to another, your spinner stops working, and you have to sit there perfectly still for 5 seconds before it switches back to "spinner" input. This feature sucks! Thankfully, it is super easy to disable!. Just follow the directions and move the "P1, P1+2" jumper to the "P1" position and hook the spinner up to the Port 2 Trackball position. There you go, no delays, both spinner and trackball work together at the same time. just don't let anyone else screw with you when you are playing Tempest!
I purchased the trackball from Ultimarc for a fraction of the cost of a trackball from any place else. I cant believe they want 130 and up for these things elsewhere. I don't care how good it is. this Ultimarc trackball totally kicks ass. its fairly large, 2.25" (ball) but without being so large that it wouldn't fit in my cramped little controller space. Ultimarc also sells a trackball mounting kit that you can use to flushmount the ball in your deck, but it looked like hell, so I never used it. instead, I took the trackball apart and routed out a section of my deck to fit it in, and just left the ball open. This worked very well, but in all of my test fitting, I got dust in the 'unsealed' bearings, and they don't roll for shit now. so I bought another trackball! I wanted the optical board out of it anyway. (see above) this happens to be my ONLY complaint about the trackball from ultimarc. the bearings are unsealed. To keep the ball in place, I used a peiceof Formica and machined it into a donut shape then glued it down over the ball. in my opinion, it looks alot nicer than the bezel I purchased from ultrimarc. see for yourself.
The spinner could have an entire page dedicated to just itself, but I will try to keep it brief. I knew I needed a spinner on there, but i didnt want to spend a ton of money on it, so I actually started building the spinner before I built anything else. I have hordes of old computer and electronics parts in boxes throughout my home, and I found the guts of an old tape deck that had been dismantled. the motor from it had a good sized metal flywheel spindle, a 8th inch shaft with a bronze berring in a metal plate attached. the problem with using a motor for a spinner is that you have to gut the motor, or you get electromagnetic friction. so i took the motor all apart. - this was easy since the only thing holding the spindle on was a tiny little e-clip, (wich I promptly lost and miraculously found about 20 times) then I took out all of the electronics and discarded them. this includes all of the copper windings around these funny shaped metal things, and then the metal things themselves, etc etc. basically, I was left with a metal plate with a berring in it, and my flywheel. I started out using a mouse hack for this, but eventually decided against it, (see Opti-pac section above)
Okay, now I took a different approach from my spinner design than most people do. instead of making a wheel and cutting "spokes" into it, I built a cylindrical "light filter" that worked amazingly well. to do this, I experimented with different widths of lines, from 3 points to 8 or 9 points each. I would print these out onto clear laser transparency film using a laser printer, and then cut them out, and stick them to my spinners flywheel with two sided tape. it took MANY tries to get the filter just right. if the size was wrong, then the cursor would travel too slow, or backwards, or not at all. I still have to adjust the sensitivity in games, but the final size I settled on (5.5 points) has firtually NO strobing, unless you really wail on the spinner to get it going mach 4.
Next, I used an optic board out of an ultimarc trackball. - when I first started experimenting, I thoguth i fried the optics in my trackball, so I contacted Andy about getting replacements and he offered me a great price, however, by the time I was ready to buy them, I had allready gummed up the bearings so bad, that I just bought a second trackball altogether. for 36$ for a fully working backup ball, you cant beat it!! - Anyway, I used the optic board and fed it right into the opti-pac and it works wonderfully.
Finally, the spinner knob.. I have to say, having access to a fullly functional machine shop has got to be the most unfair advantage I have ever had. I can build ANYthing there, in fact, I built a fully operational Rubiks Cube out of solid alluminum there, but thats a story for another board. - Back to the spinner knob. - I have seen a lot of really nice spinner knobs in my mame related searches, but none of them would fit over the shaft that my flywheel had. all of the spinner knobs are made for a quarter inch shaft, and mine was only an 8th. so I machined a shaft within a shaft so to speak, - a sleeve that went over the 8th inch shaft, and had a threaded allen head set screw in it so i could fasten it to my little 8th inch shaft. then I machined a knob out of a peice of alluminum and drilled it to fit over the sleeve I made. (drilled and threaded another set screw for this as well.
I had intended to knurl this as well, or put some sort of rubber traction stuff on it for grip, but in the end I found it to be great without all the frills. its very plain and smooth, but you have no problem operting it, and it looks pretty cool just the way it is.
Keeping in mind that this arcade is going to be kitchen furniture, * Simple is better. * I left it alone.