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Building your own arcade console

Started by Louis L, March 21, 2019, 12:52:34 PM

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Louis L

If you enjoy old arcade games and would like to play these games as close as possible to their original form, you'll be happy to know it's not all that hard to do. Here are some options:

  • Many games are already available on the internet, playable inside your favorite web browser. If this level of play is all you want, just search for your favorite game and play.
  • If playing with a keyboard is not your cup of tea, many games can use USB game controllers.
  • If you want to run the original code for these games, you'll want MAME.
The rest of this post is about option #3 above.
MAME is an open source emulator capable of taking original games in the forms of ROMs and translating them for modern computing platforms. It handles user inputs, sound and video. Along with user interfaces and setup packages, there is a rich set of options out there -  it's up to you to decide which is best for you. I've found that the world of MAME is a moving target so it's not really possible to recommend any one installation. Your best bet is to do some online research.
All that said, you still need to make some decisions.

  • Are you building a dedicated arcade console? Ours has gone through many iterations over the years.
  • What computing resources will you be using? MAME can run on a cheap Raspberry Pi all the way to expensive laptop/desktop. We've run on both a Pi (original model B) and a Windows laptop.
  • What's your budget?
  • Do you have a space or power limitation?
  • What type of user interface do you want? We have an interchangeable console that houses joysticks and a trackball. We use Ultimarc adapters to convert input hardware into keyboard codes delivered to the Pi/laptop over USB.
  • What type of screen do you want? Most old arcade machines used a large, heavy CRT over 20 inches wide. We used a 19 inch 4:3 LCD monitor with HDMI input - these were not easy to find on the used market. 4:3 monitors are old compared to today's widescreen formats and HDMI is a relatively new interface. So the overlap between the two is pretty small. Most old games are made for 4:3. Most new compute platforms use HDMI.
  • What games do you like to play? Make sure the game(s) of your choice are available for download. You'll have to experiment to see if they run properly on your platform. I found that most games run on Windows MAME but not all run on the Pi MAME. It could be user error on my part too!
  • What about sound? Our console uses an old PC speaker driven by the raspberry Pi. A Laptop can do the same thing.
That's about it. Take some time and learn more about MAME, then see what implementation makes the most sense to you. The keys to all this is MAME and the ROMs.
Good luck!