Let’s Build an Arcade Cabinet: Episode V

The project is finally complete. It’s been roughly nine months since we got started, but we finally have a working cabinet in the office. This final post in the series will cover the following items:

  • Final painting
  • Routing
  • Internal hardware
  • Hyperspin Front-end
  • Custom artwork

Believe or not, there were no significant changes to design this time! And that was good because it would have been very difficult to make additional cuts with the entire shell primed. And speaking of paint…

Fade to Black

We decided to coat the entire shell in glossy black. We used Rustoleum Gloss Protective Enamel which was probably overkill, but it ended up looking pretty fantastic. It is important to paint everything even if you plan on doing custom artwork (which we did). The vinyl will stick much better to a painted surface than a flat wood (or even primed) surface.

We took the same approach as with the priming: coat, sand (with a very fine grain sandpaper), and coat again. When all was said and done, we put three total coats of paint over everything.

Routing the Edge

Routing the edges of the shell permits the use of T-molding later which serves two purposes. First, the molding will add to the authenticity of the finished machine. Secondly, it cleans up the edges and prevents the artwork from peeling up.

You’re going to want a good router (don’t settle for a dremel, or your lines will be all over the place). Carefully set the machine on its side and run the router around the entire edge.

To use this molding, buy this routing bit. I found that 20 feet was more than enough, and we chose to also put molding around the edge of the front along the Tankstick as well. Cut carefully and slowly because there’s no turning back once you get started.

Figure X: Results of the Routing

Figure 1: Results of the Routing

The Hardware

We were fortunate enough to have some fairly beefy spare hardware lying around the office. For the monitor, we chose an HP 2159m. We considered trying to track down a decent CRT monitor, but in the end, I’m glad we went LCD. Shad0wman was kind enough to donate an old Panasonic SC-XH105 (we just used the front two speakers and the sub woofer) for audio.

Figure X: Sounds System

Figure 2: Sounds System

The guts of the machine rest in an old HP Pavilion. Here are its current stats:

  • Processor: AMD Phenom II X4 945, 3 GHz
  • RAM: 6.0 GB DDR3
  • Hard Drive: 250 GB for the OS, 2 TB for Hyperspin + everything else (see next section for more details)
  • Video Card:

We’ve kept a USB keyboard attached to deal with the occasional Hyperspin crash.

The control panel, as we’ve written about a few times, is an X-Arcade Tankstick. I’ve had no issues with it whatsoever, though I know that they’re not a favorite of the arcade community at large. The stick itself is just a weirdly configured keyboard. I would recommend plugging it into a normal computer ahead of time (before you start configuring all of your individual emulator) and determine what keystrokes correspond to individual button presses and stick movements. Changing the keystrokes is easy, but you have to use a PS/2 keyboard to make adjustments. X-Arcade’s guide can be found here and is very straightforward. Mark down all of the keystrokes! That will come in handy when you do get around to configuring the emulators themselves.

The coin door we picked up from X-Arcade plays really nicely with the Tankstick. You simply open up the underside of the control panel and then connect the wires from the door to the button you’re using for coins in MAME.

Figure X: Questionably Mounted Coin Door from the Interior

Figure 3: Questionably Mounted Coin Door from the Interior

Finally, we purchased a 24 inch LED light bar to sit behind the marquee at the top of the unit. We could have gone the fluorescent bulb route, but the LED should be more efficient and last longer. All of the electronics are plugged into a surge protector which we mounted to the inside of the unit in the rear.

Figure X: Light and Speakers Mounted Inside the Cabinet

Figure 4: Light and Speakers Mounted Inside the Cabinet

Figure 5: Sound System

Hyperspin

Hyperspin is a pretty fantastic front end for emulators and a perfect fit in terms of visuals and usability for any custom cabinet. The Hyperspin website and the connected forums are a great source of useful configuration information. I won’t go into the specifics of where to find games and emulators, but I’d like to provide some useful hints for the configuration of the system as a whole.

If you should choose to make use of a Tankstick for your build, you’ll have access to every button except the rear two buttons on the sides of the unit. Those correspond specifically to the left and right mouse buttons (the track ball moves the pointer). As I mentioned in the previous section, you’ll likely want to reconfigure the stick when you receive it. Many of the buttons in the initial build correlate to Ctrl, Alt, and Shift which are keys that do not typically play well with (or serve specific functions for) emulators. Stick to the letter and number keys, and you’ll have an easier time getting it all to work correctly.

Hyperspin comes with a separate configuration program. In our build, we used an older version of Hyperspin, and the configuration program is called, “HyperLaunch.” It is my understanding now that the program has been rebranded, “RocketLaunch,” and includes a number of new and useful features. In any case, all of the emulators, artwork, and in-Hyperspin button configurations will be set through this program. Hyperspin will call other emulators to run individual games; those programs will be set from within HyperLaunch (or RocketLaunch), but to configure the controls for those individual emulators, you have to run each separately outside of Hyperspin.

Figure X: Hyperspin Opening (and a reflection of the handsome author...)

Figure 6: Hyperspin Opening (and a reflection of the handsome author…)

Custom Artwork + T-Molding

Our own Graphic Designer put together the beautiful artwork in which our shell is now wrapped. Everything is vinyl and was measured meticulously. For the sides, you’re going to want to leave a quarter inch that can be folded down and covered by the t-molding. This will hold the artwork in place over time and creates a really clean-looking edge. If you’re not looking for something completely original, I would recommend checking out the options over at GameOnGrafix. I used some of their artwork for my own custom build a few years ago.

For the marquee and bezel, I would recommend getting front-sticking vinyl if possible. Otherwise, consider purchasing an extra layer of protection (ie: clear cover) to layer over top of the vinyl. That is what we ended up doing for the monitor bezel artwork. You’re going to want rigid plexiglass so that you don’t end up with bends or warping. I won’t provide specific measurements for those pieces, because they’re going to be dependent on the minute differences in builds. Our bezel sits very snugly, and unsupported, between the cupholders and the bottom of the speaker board. The marquee is foam-taped to the front of the space between the two edge panels.

If you went with the Tankstick for a control panel, there are all kinds of skins available for it. Check out Game Room Graphics or Rec Room Masters for some good options. If you would like to design something custom, Rec Room Masters also has a template option available.

The t-molding can be applied while the cabinet is upright. You’ll want to use a small rubber mallet to bang it into place. For externally bent corners (like those around the marquee), use a utility knife to cut out a square chunk of the lower “T” portion of the molding so it doesn’t bulge out of itself (Items 1 in Figure 7 below). Conversely, for internally bent corners like those on either side of the monitor, make small incisions along the lower “T” portion of the molding so that it can stretch without distortion (Items 2 in Figure 7 below).

Figure X: T-Molding Cuts

Figure 7: T-Molding Cuts

The Final Product

Once the artwork went up, we had a working machine. Here is a shot of the finished cabinet.

Figure X: Finished Product

Figure 8: Finished Product

Conclusions

We all had an absolute blast with this project. I think for the next build, I’d like to tackle the construction of a fully customized control panel. Also, I would spend more time measuring; we ended up with some off-kilter cuts that no one notices but the builders fortunately. If you’re looking for a good entry-to-mid-level wood working project with a fun electronics/computer angle, I recommend you give a cabinet build a shot. It can be a little costly if you don’t have the materials on hand, but you end up with something pretty fantastic in the end.

patchwork

patchwork

Former military intelligence. Physical security and network penetration testing.
patchwork

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