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How to build a Home Arcade Machine

Updated on April 9, 2013

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Building An Arcade System

Have you ever wanted to play all the old school arcade games in the comfort of your living room? Well, now you can! I've created an easy-to-follow guide to help you build your own arcade system so you can play all the arcade classics you want!

Here are my step-by-step instructions to create an amazing gaming system with thousands of classic arcade games and even some newer games. In these easy steps, you will have your dream arcade up and running, letting you re-live the amazing times you had as a youngster at the arcade! Follow these simple steps and enjoy!

  1. Computer
  2. Emulators (Video Game System) and ROMs (Games) -Click to have it done for you-
  3. Cabinet
  4. Controls/Joysticks
  5. Marquee, decals and side art
  6. Monitor/TV
  7. Sound
  8. Smile! You now have your own Arcade System!


1. Computer

In order to build your own Arcade System, you don't need an extremely powerful computer. The old video game systems required very little memory and processor speed. Every one of the Emulators (*I'll explain in step 2*) I recommend will run smoothly on almost any computer. Find and old computer in your house or buy a cheap one on Craigslist and you'll be fine. Gaming computers are not needed at all, so don't spend money on one!


2. Emulators and ROMs

Now this may seem a bit "techy" to some of you, but trust me it's easy! First thing's first, you need some emulators. An emulator is a program used to “emulate” video game systems. It’s just a piece of software that acts as the console to play video games. Each system has its’ own emulators and there are plenty out there! I’ve compiled my top recommendations just to help you save time and energy. These have all been tested and work great.

After you have an emulator, you need to download ROMs (games) to play. ROMs are the games, like an old school Nintendo cartridge. There are tons of them on the web and they are pretty easy to find. You'll need to download ROMs and run them on your Emulator in order to play the games. You can Google the ROMs you want or follow these link to find them, but check to see if you are legally allowed to run them before you download because they may be under a copyright :).


Emulators

MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator):

MAME is the most well-known emulator out there and it's very easy to use. Download MAME32 from mame.net or do a Google search for MAME32 to run the majority of your Arcade Classics games like Ms. Pac-man, Galaga, Joust, Asteroids, Space Invaders, Donkey Kong and 1000's more.

Atari:

Atari 2600 runs best with the Stella emulator. This is perfect for Pitfall, Frogger, Berzerk, Gravitar, etc. This is a great emulator! AtariAge.com has both the emulator and the ROMs.

Copy and paste this URL into your browser: www.atariage.com/2600/emulation/

Here you will find easy downloads for the Stella Emulator and a huge ROMs Pack in ZIP format. Under "Emulators" click the Stella link to download the emulator for free. Under "Game ROMs" click the hyperlink and you can download 1000's of Atari games in ZIP format in only a couple minutes.

Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Sega Master System, and Sega Genesis:

All other consoles can be found right on one site. Go to emulator-zone.com, and on the top left, click on the Emulators you want to download. I recommend the following:

Nintendo: Rocknes.

Super NES: ZSNES.

Sega Master System: FreezeSMS or GensPlus!

Sega Genesis: GensPlus! or Fusion


ROMs

I've already given you a few links to help you get great ROMs, but you can also do a Google search for individual ROMs or ROM zip packs. Another great resource is romhustler.net. They have a ton of games available for download. If you are pretty techy, you can search for ROM torrents to get ROM zip packs, as well. I'll cover some of my favorite games later!


3. Arcade Cabinet

Ok look, I've tried (successfully) building my own cabinet and I've bought 3 empty cabinets from arcade shops/dealers, so I know a little bit about cost and how much time these projects consume. I'll just give you the straight of it---the most affordable and least time consuming Stand-up Arcade Cabinet is the Xtension Arcade Cabinet for the X-arcade Tankstick. ***Click the above right pic for more info*** This cabinet is perfect for any room and it fits the Tankstick Control Panel to a tee. **I'll explain what the Tankstick Controller is in Step 4**. This Arcade Cabinet comes with pre-made parts and is pretty easy to put together. You just have to put in the Monitor/TV, Controller, and the Computer (I'll explain these later). It's simple, affordable and it'll get you playing your own arcade system in no time. Trust me, this is the way to go.


The X-Arcade Tankstick is perfect for the Home Arcade System!
The X-Arcade Tankstick is perfect for the Home Arcade System! | Source

4. Controls and Joysticks

Some people build their own arcade controls buy purchasing buttons, trackballs, joysticks, etc, which is great if you need something highly customizable and you don't have a budget (these things get expensive!). However, if you want the perfect arcade control at an extremely affordable price, you'll want to get the X-Arcade Tankstick with Trackball. This thing is perfect for the home arcade system and it fits flawlessly onto the cabinet mentioned above. It's easy to plug in and setup, plus it has a trackball (for games like Centipede, Crystal Castles). Each Emulator has its' own button configuration, which you can change to your liking. It took me, at most, a half hour to plug in, configure, and start playing. This is a no brainer.


5. Marquee and side art

For a Stand-up Arcade Machine, the easiest way to order an amazing marquee is through gameongrafix.com. They have a great selection and can also do custom orders.

Another affordable way to get marquees and sideart is through ebay or amazon. Either of these two will have a pretty decent selection of marquees and sideart, which come in a standard size.





6. Monitor or TV

Whether you are building a stand-up arcade system or a system to play right on your computer desk, you will need a monitor or TV. For desktop use, any monitor will suffice. On the other hand, most TV's 24"-29" are perfect for a stand-up arcade system. Just connect your computer to the TV with an S-video cable and you're done. It's just like having a real arcade system in your home!


7. Sound

I wouldn't spend too much money on a killer speaker system for an arcade because the old school sounds aren't very appealing at high volume. Any standard computer speakers will do just fine. Search for a decent set of speakers that aren't too expensive. Plug'em in and your ready to start playing!

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8. Congrats! You just built your own Arcade System!

See, that wasn't too difficult, was it?! I hope you've enjoyed this easy-to-follow guide on How To Build Your Own Arcade System! I'm gonna go geek-out with my Arcade System so feel free to leave comments and ask questions.

I have over 10,000 games and the games I play most are:

  • Galaga (MAME)
  • Ms Pac-man (MAME)
  • Super Mario Bros (NES)
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis)
  • RBI Baseball (NES)
  • Gauntlet (NES)
  • T&C Surf Design (NES)
  • California Games (NES)
  • NHL Hockey (Genesis)
  • Life Force (NES)
  • Super Mario World (Super NES)
  • Street Fighter II (Genesis)
  • Alex Kidd in Miracle World (Sega Master System)
  • RC Pro-am (NES)
  • Metal Gear (NES)
  • Excitebike (NES)
  • Choplifter (Sega Master System)
  • Space Harrier (SMS or Genesis)
  • NBA Jam (Genesis)
  • Altered Beast (SMS)
  • Frogger (MAME)
  • Off-Road (Genesis)
  • Golden Tee (MAME)


Comments

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    • peejay1980 profile image

      Paul Jellicoe 

      5 years ago from Neston, UK

      Oh how I pray for free time, this is getting built, one day!

    • profile image

      steve 

      6 years ago

      why is it necessary to add three buttons to the tankstick for the spinner

    • profile image

      Dan Cormack 

      6 years ago

      I am at the tail end of building my arcade cabinet and wanted to note a few things here..

      1) If you go with the Xtension cabinet which you suggested, you need to use a flat panel and it can't be bigger than 22" or some 23" ones will work (which I have). You can't use an old CRT TV and can't use anything larger as it will not fit.

      2) Recroommasters (which sells the Xtension cabinet) also sells marquee and side art. It's not easily found on their web site but I selected side art which someone else had submitted and a marquee and it looks absolutely amazing. It's worth the extra $100. I had them lay it on permanently (so they do this in the shop) but you can get ones that you can swap off yourself. I personally prefer and recommend the permanent, factory installed ones. If interested, contact them via email to arrange

      3) The cabinet is available in a premium version which includes a backlit marquee and full sheet of plastic to cover the monitor area. I also ordered a monitor bezel with graphics to math what I bought for side art.

      4) I am moddding my Tankstick. I did a lot of research into this and I decided to buy spinners (for games like Tempest) and to replace the two joysticks with ones which can be set fo r4 direction or 8 direction. This apparently makes a huge difference in games like Pacman, Donkey Kong, etc. I also am replacing the controller board in the Tankstick with an iPac as there are many reports of issues with the stock version related to max simultaneous inputs.

    • Quang Truong profile image

      Quang Truong 

      6 years ago

      Hi,

      I am really interested in this arcade, just wonder whether you have the king of fighter game 2002 or 03 with MAME? Please email me at qualen_truong@yahoo.com. I do have some other questions regarding your thread. Thanks

    • profile image

      Troy. 

      6 years ago

      If you want 4 Player, just mount some USB ports at the BACK of your cabinet, and plug in some game pads for the couple of games that can accommodate them. I use a standard LOWBOY cabinet with an IPAC and PC/20" CRT XGA

    • TheAth1ete profile imageAUTHOR

      TheAth1ete 

      6 years ago

      Unfortunately Maximus doesn't work for Macs, so it's not something I want to put on here. It is awesome, though. Thanks!

    • profile image

      MameArcade 

      6 years ago

      Maximus arcade that's the software people are using now.

    • TheAth1ete profile imageAUTHOR

      TheAth1ete 

      7 years ago

      4 player sticks are rare and only (to my knowledge) on certain games like Gauntlet, X'men, tmnt, etc. Tankstick is perfect for everything else.

    • profile image

      Kraig 

      7 years ago

      I can't help but notice that tankstick does not offer a 4 player joystick controller. Any recommendations for a 4 player controller?

    • TheAth1ete profile imageAUTHOR

      TheAth1ete 

      7 years ago

      Thanks for the comment. The Tankstick was $199 (and is a must have), the speakers vary depending on what you want, and the monitor can be free if you have an old tv laying around. The most expensive thing is the cabinet $399. Games are FREE! Good luck.

    • profile image

      Bryce 

      7 years ago

      So, about how much did this set you back? I'm very very interested in building my own. I love building and I love arcade classic so this is an obvious project for me to tackle.

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