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How To Build Your Own Dream Arcade Machine

An arcade machine in the home is a dream for many of us, but a reality for far fewer.

Today, it’s actually quite achievable and you can even build it for yourself, whether you want the classic stand-up style or the cocktail-table type that was popular in pubs back in the Eighties. It’s also perfectly possible to run elaborate multi-game emulation machines with MAME or grab the authentic circuit boards without the battered cabinets they used to live in.

So the only limit to the games you can now run at home is your imagination. There’s no single best approach to building a cabinet, but we can certainly help to get you started by making sure you’ve considered all of your options – and of course, avoided the common pitfalls. Once you’re done, all you’ll need is the dingy lighting and dodgy smells to complete the illusion of having your very own arcade.

Of course, the biggest question is what you should put in your own cabinet. For mass appeal you could go for Pac-Man: the timeless maze game featuring gaming’s first recognisable protagonist and a range of fruit that shames our local supermarket. If you’re a hardcore high-score chaser, another golden age classic to try is Donkey Kong – not only is it the first ever Mario game, it’s the most prized world record in classic gaming. If you’re a bit younger or more competitive, then Street Fighter II is the obvious choice.

Our Ryu can beat anyone – just saying.

Before you start making your machine, though, you’re going to want an emulator.

MAME is an excellent piece of software capable of running hundreds of arcade games, but its legal uses are limited. While some ROM files have been authorised for distribution on the MAME website by their copyright holders, it’s flat-out copyright infringement to download the vast majority of arcade games. So no, we’re not going to tell you where to get them or how to run them. Sorry! Of the ones you can definitely get freely and legally, we’re partial to Exidy’s Top Gunner: an awesome- looking wireframe shoot-’em- up that was the last vector graphics game to be produced for the arcade.


1.) Set Your Spec


Decide what you want to play and how you want to play it ahead of time – it will save you a lot of hassle later. Are you going for a stand-up or cocktail cabinet? How about a bartop? Vertical or horizontal monitor? Joystick, trackball, wheel or spinner controls? How many buttons? Which game do you want to play?


2.) My jam


If you want to run original arcade boards, most connect to arcade equipment via the JAMMA connection standard. You’ll have to purchase an adapter (known as a Supergun) to output to consumer monitors and speakers. Your chosen board might also need additional wiring for extra buttons, so do your research.

3.) PC Brigade


If you’re not using original hardware, it’s common to use a computer – often a small form factor device that’s loaded with multiple games. A Raspberry Pi with a RetroPie SD card image works well for the task. To connect arcade joysticks and buttons, pick up a USB encoder like the I-PAC.


4.) Gut check


Before you go screwing everything into a big wooden box, make sure you’re not missing anything and that you can play the games you want. And most importantly that it works! It’s also a good time to take measurements of your completed setup as these will come in very handy for the next step.


5.) Choose your shell


There are a number of plans available to view online if you’re confident with your carpentry – we particularly like one that can be made from just one sheet of plywood. There are also flat packs offered by eBay sellers. If you’re going for original hardware, be sure you have allocated enough space.


6.) Assemble and play


Now it is time to build your cabinet! If you want to give it a paint job, now’s the best time to do it — it does finish off the look nicely. If you’re feeling particularly flash, get some custom art printed on vinyl stickers instead. Once it’s ready, mount your pretested innards and enjoy!