Designing the Mame Cabinet

So you’ve decided to build a Mame Cabinet. As with any project, you need to make a plan on what to do. Here’s the areas I looked at, and some of the decisions you might need to make.

THe first thing to do is go visit Build Your Own Arcade Controls, which also covers a lot of cabinet design. Spend as long as you need to on this site, visit all the links and as many of the Example Projects as you can. Once you’ve absorbed all of this, it’s time to stop thinking about other people’s designs, and work on your own.

The Cabinet Look
Upright or Cocktail is your first decision. I guess a lot depends on what you remember as a kid. I never really saw a cocktail cabinet when I was young – they are a sort of sit down coffee table like machine… apart from Sean Connery’s Risk game in Never Say Never Again, but I don’t think that counts. so going for an upright cabinet was an easy decision. It also takes up less floor space, and means I didn’t have to worry about tilting a monitor on its back to use it.

It’s vitally important you measure how wide your house doors are. While you can construct a cabinet in the room you will use it, it’s going to have to move around at some point. So make sure it fits!

I personally wanted a classic look to my cabinet, and for it not to be too overpowering (strange as that sounds). So the default style of cabinet, with a 25″ monitor and controls for four players was not for me. Besides it would be way too big. I decided to go for something based around a Defender Cabinet.

Remember, no matter how impressive the whole thing looks, it’s nothing more than a box that holds a PC. So in the design, you need to look at three main components…

The Monitor
Most dedicated Arcade Gamers will tell you that a proper screen is needed, and you’ll need to have a proper arcade monitor, stripped out and hanging with no cover on it. And it should be at a jaunty angle.

Now remember I’m goign for simplicity here. So Let’s not play that game. A decent PC Monitor on a shelf in the cabinet was more than good enough for me. It also means that there is no complicated PC Cards to get the monitor hooked into the PC, it just goes straight into the graphics card. And it can easily run other Windows based games.

The Sound System
Look, it’s a couple of speakers through a standard Sound Blaster style sound card. I splashed out here and got a three speaker mains amplified system that consists of two regular speakers mounted inside the top sectoion of the cabinet (that overhangs the monitor), and the amplifier/subwoofer in the very base of the cabinet to shake the ground.

The PC Itself
Mame is not your top of the line 3d Polygon driven game, so it doesn’t need a high spec PC. I’m happily running a P3 450mHz with 64mb of Ram. It plays all the classics, and can load and play Roms up until around 1995/1996 quite happily. That gets in all the classics, and to be honest that’s all you need. But if you’re planning on running Mame Roms from 2000 or so, or you want to play other PC games on the cabinet, then you should invest in a better system. but to start with, you don’t need much, and should be able to pick up something usable for £100-£150 at most.