Wednesday, 18 April 2012

My MAME Cabinet Project

In my last article I talked about some of the design decisions I had to make when designing my MAME cabinet.  Here, I will elaborate on that a bit and show how the project ended up coming together.  I started out with the intent to document the process intensively with pictures, but unfortunately that effort fell by the wayside as I focused on just getting the job done.  Still, I managed to snap a few photos along the way, which I will share later on in this post.  

As an homage to the archetypal arcade machine, I knew I wanted to have a back-lit marquee displaying some kind of name, but I didn't want it to be overly cliched or cheesy.  I really shouldn't pass judgment on the work of others, but I'd be lying if I said I'd never seen a MAME cabinet marquee emblazoned with a ridiculously stupid name.  Of course, what I came up with might very well seem dumb to others, but what I like about it is that it has meaning; not only to me personally, but to most people my age who grew up in this city.

If you read my previous article about remembering the arcades of yesterday, you might recall the story I told about the undisputed king of arcades in my hometown--a downtown hangout known as Fast Eddy's.  It seemed fitting that I should name my machine "Fast Eddy" in tribute to that once-great local venue.  Excluding folks who did not live in this area through the 80's and 90's, I'm not sure I've had a single guest over to my house who has not instantly understood the reference; the name alone has been a wonderful conversation piece.  

To design my cabinet, I used a neat little piece of software called Google Sketchup, which allows you to model things in 3D using a very creative interface.  I think you have to pay to get the full version of the software, but there is a free version available, which was more than enough for my needs.   

I tinkered around in Sketchup with a few different designs that incorporated elaborate curves and other complexities, but ultimately I settled on the basic design shown in the picture below.   

Sketchup model of Fast Eddy.
The angle of the screen and the height of the marquee ended up being a bit different in the final product, but this is the general idea.  I figured that I'm a novice woodworker so I should employ a "design for manufacturability" philosophy--hence the preponderance of straight cuts as opposed to curves.   For a reference during fabrication, I primarily relied upon the 2D section, which shows the guts of the cabinet.  As you can see, the old 20" CRT monitor is ridiculously large in the depth direction, which necessitated a deep cabinet to house it. 

To layout the controls on my control panel, I used Microsoft Visio.  When I was happy with it, I imported it into Adobe Illustrator so that I could design some artwork for the control panel overlay.  It took me a while to come up with something I liked, but I knew I wanted it to be subtle and not too busy.  Growing up as a hardcore Atari kid in the 80's, I decided to make the venerable Fuji logo the centerpiece of my design. 

Design of control panel overlay.  The crosshairs show the locations of the controls.

I built the cabinet out of 5/8" MDF.  Man, is that shit heavy.  I had a friend bring me to Home Depot in his  truck to pick up the materials.  I was kind of nervous the first time I took a saw to the MDF, but luckily I didn't have any costly screw-ups.  I did the vast majority of the cuts using a circular saw, and kept them straight by means of a guide I fabricated myself.  A router with a flush-trim bit ensured that I was able to cut one side panel and perfectly clone it.      

Matching side panels.
One of the most exciting moments of the whole project was the first time I was able to stand the cabinet upright.  Of course, it still looked like a mess, but at least it was standing.  

Little did I know how many more hours remained.

To allow access to the inside of the cabinet I considered making a hinged door, but was afraid I'd screw it up, so I came up with a rather elegant way of simply hanging a panel using L-brackets.  The weight of the MDF keeps it solidly in place; it's very easy to remove, and it provides a nice clean appearance when assembled. 

The 2.1 PC speakers I used had little metal feet on them that made them very easy to install.  Admittedly I kind of hacked in the openings for the speakers, but they would ultimately be hidden by speaker grilles, so it was no big deal. 

As I mentioned in my previous article, I decided to include a ventilation fan.  I'm not sure if it's even necessary, but it wasn't expensive, so I decided to err on the side of caution.  This particular fan contains blue LED's that emit a neat "halo" effect on the wall in my basement behind the cabinet when it's powered up. 

Getting the monitor in place was one of the more tricky aspects of the project.  A 20" CRT weighs just shy of a metric ton, so it was very cumbersome to work with.  As mentioned above, the angle of the screen was changed a bit from the original Sketchup design.  I made a bezel by spray-painting the underside of the plexiglass black and masking off the area required to make the screen visible.  

Dry-fitting the speaker panel and bezel.
Once the cabinet was fully assembled, I painted it using a black oil-based paint for a durable finish, then installed the t-molding to trim out the edges.  This thing was extremely heavy, and it took a fridge cart and the assistance of 3 friends to get it down into my basement on April 10, 2011.  

From concept to reality: Fast Eddy lives.  Some disagree with the beer holders, but for me, they were mandatory.

The 8-way sticks are Happ Competitions, and the trackball is the excellent Ultimarc U-Trak, which interfaces via USB.

The black joystick is a Happ Super 4-way.  The controversial admin buttons are seen on the left.  I like 'em, personally. 

Well, that about wraps up the story of how Fast Eddy came to be.  The machine has been in my basement for a year and continues to occupy way too many of my free hours.  Until next time!  



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