Project Arcade: Build Your Own Arcade Machine (ExtremeTech Series)

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You can go back, and here's howRemember the days--and quarters--you spent pursuing aliens, fleeing ghosts, and gobbling dots in that beloved arcade? They're hiding in these pages, along with diagrams, directions, plans, and materials lists that will enable you to build your very own arcade game. Construct joysticks, buttons, and trackballs; build the console and cabinet; install and configure the software; crank up the speakers; and wham! Step across the time-space continuum and enjoy all those classic games, ...
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You can go back, and here's howRemember the days--and quarters--you spent pursuing aliens, fleeing ghosts, and gobbling dots in that beloved arcade? They're hiding in these pages, along with diagrams, directions, plans, and materials lists that will enable you to build your very own arcade game. Construct joysticks, buttons, and trackballs; build the console and cabinet; install and configure the software; crank up the speakers; and wham! Step across the time-space continuum and enjoy all those classic games, plus dozens of new ones, whenever you like.

Start Here

1. Plan for your space and budget
2. Design and build the cabinet
3. Construct the controllers
4. Build the console
5. Pick an old game's brain
6. Install the emulator
7. Convince a PC it's a game
8. Connect a monitor and speakers
9. Add a marquee
10. GO PLAY!

Includes diagrams, detailed instructions, essential software, and more

CD-ROM Includes
* Complete cabinet plans and diagrams
* MAME32 software
* Paint Shop Pro? evaluation version
* Links to hundreds of arcade cabinet projects

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Did you misspend your youth in arcades, shooting aliens and wasting quarters? (Or maybe you’re doing it now?) Why not build your own arcade machine? The brains: a spare computer. The rest? For that, see Project Arcade for complete plans and step-by-step directions.

John St. Clair, host of the Build Your Own Arcade Controls FAQ, covers every step: building your cabinet; integrating spinners, trackballs, joysticks; mounting monitors and speakers; then hooking up the computer and transforming it into an arcade machine. (Including everything you need to know about ROM emulators.)

St. Clair shows how to find parts and kits, troubleshoot the thing, even create “classic” arcade artwork. Whatever your guilty fantasy -- Asteroids, Pac-Man, Tempest, Centipede -- this book will make it come true. Bill Camarda

Bill Camarda is a consultant, writer, and web/multimedia content developer. His 15 books include Special Edition Using Word 2003 and Upgrading & Fixing Networks for Dummies, Second Edition.

From the Publisher
“…breathtaking detail…the passion is infectious…” (Edge, December 2005)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780764556166
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 4/26/2004
  • Series: ExtremeTech Series , #8
  • Edition description: BK&CD-ROM
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 504
  • Product dimensions: 7.30 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

John St.Clair, like most children of the ‘80s, spent much of his childhood immersed in arcade games. Although he’s now a respectable network engineer, he remains an avid gamer and serves as Webmaster for, the favored site of hobbyist game builders.
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Table of Contents



Part I: Playing Your Games the Way They Are Meant to Be Played—with Arcade Controls.

Chapter 1: Picking Your Path to Game-Playing Nirvana.

Chapter 2: Building Your Arcade Cabinet.

Part II: Designing and Building Your Dream Arcade Control Panel.

Chapter 3: Pushing Your Buttons and the Joy of Joysticks.

Chapter 4: Taking Your Game Out for a Spin—Spinners and Trackballs.

Chapter 5: Arcade Controls for Power Gamers.

Chapter 6: Building the Control Panel.

Part III: Hooking Things Up Under the Hood—Time to Trick the Computer.

Chapter 7: How It Works—Turning a Computer into the Brains of an Arcade Machine.

Chapter 8: Using the Keyboard Connector for Arcade Controls.

Chapter 9: Arcade Controls Using the Mouse Connector.

Chapter 10: Miscellaneous Bits of Arcade Trickery.

Part IV: Putting Together the Final Pieces.

Chapter 11: Audio—Silence Isn’t Golden.

Chapter 12: A Picture Is Worth a Thousand . . .Tokens?

Chapter 13: Installing the Computer.

Chapter 14: Choosing and Loading Software.

Chapter 15: Buttoning Up the Odds and Ends.

Part V: Like the Concept but Not Sure You Have It in You?

Chapter 16: Stuck? Frustrated? Out of Quarters?

Chapter 17: Buying Your Way to Gaming Nirvana.

Chapter 18: Online Places to Go.

Appendix A: Where to Find Arcade Parts for Your Project.

Appendix B: The Great Debate—Preserving Versus MAMEing the Past.

Appendix C: What’s on the CD-ROM.


End-User License Agreement.

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First Chapter

Project Arcade

Build Your Own Arcade Machine
By John St. Clair

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-7645-5616-9

Chapter One

Picking Your Path to Game-Playing Nirvana

I remember vividly the feeling I had when I realized I was really going to do this-that I was really going to build my own home arcade cabinet! I didn't really have any idea how I was going to get there, but I knew that if others could do it, then I could, too. All I needed to do was pick my goal, plan out the steps, buy a few things, and then I'd have my own arcade cabinet. Nothing to it, right? Well, of course, there were a few minor details along the way, like actually building the thing. Still, after dreaming about it for well over a year, there I was, finally getting started! Now it's your turn. I'll walk you through the process from beginning to end, starting with goal setting and planning in this chapter. Are you ready? I almost envy you for just starting the book-for you, the magic is just beginning!

Where to Start? Finding Your Muse

The hardest part of any project is deciding where to start. It's tempting to jump right in and start hammering and sawing, but a bit of homework now will pay off in the end. Before you start on your own project, you should devote some time to browsing the examples of those who have gone before you. At the time of this writing, there were over 775 examples of arcade projects listed on the Build Your Own Arcade Controls Web site (also known as BYOAC) and on the companion CD-ROM for you to see.

Cross Reference

It's a fact of life on the Internet that very little stays the same. By the time this book makes it into your hands, many of the project examples included on the CD-ROM will have been updated, and many more will have been added. Be sure to visit the examples page on the Build Your Own Arcade Controls Web site, located at, for the latest and greatest!

Some projects are works of art, and some only a parent could love, but all have one thing in common: Each was lovingly put together by its creator and might have a feature or two you wouldn't have thought of and won't be able to live without once you've seen it. The bar has been raised many times during the five years I've been involved in this hobby. It's unusual to have a month go by without some project inspiring me to bigger and better things in my own endeavors.

As meaningful as every project is to its owner, in every field there are examples that stand out from the rest. In Chapter 18, you'll find several arcade cabinet and desktop arcade control projects to inspire you. Although it's worthwhile to browse all the example projects available, doing so can literally take days! If you're looking to fast-track the inspiration process, skip ahead to Chapter 18 and read through those.


Now would be a good time to get out a notebook and start jotting down ideas as they come to you during this process. The number of possibilities in this kind of project can be overwhelming, so good organization from the start will help. Be sure to include the address of any project's Web site that you make note of. When it comes time to implement the ideas from your notes, you'll want to be able to quickly find the site again to check up on the finer details.

Choosing Your Goal

By now you're probably beginning to realize that there is no one model of what an arcade machine is. As you browse through other people's projects, you'll encounter upright arcade cabinets, sit-down cocktail cabinets, desktop arcade control panels, and contraptions that defy description. How do you decide where to begin? I'll describe each of these in the sections that follow, and include pictures to help you make some decisions. Start by asking yourself the questions found in Table 1-1.

Take a few minutes to assess your personal situation. Do you have a limited amount of time to devote to the project, or are you in it for the long haul? Where will you put your creation when completed? Be thinking of considerations such as these and the questions in Table 1-1 as you go over your project options.

Building a desktop arcade controller

A desktop arcade controller takes the control panel from an arcade machine and adds a box around it to hold it and protect the insides (see Figure 1-1). The top panel holds the joysticks, buttons, and other arcade controls. Inside the box are the underside of the controls and the electronics needed to interface the controls to the computer. The back of the control panel has a hole or holes for the cables that hook into the computer.

What are the benefits of a desktop arcade controller?

Building a desktop arcade controller is a good project for those with a more casual interest in game playing. You get the benefits of playing with real arcade controls without having to lose floor space in the house. I keep a small one-player unit on my desk for when I get that gaming bug, and I slide it out of the way when I want to work. Not only do desktop arcades save space, but you also do not have to dedicate an entire computer system for game playing. They are also portable for those times when you visit arcade-deprived friends.


Warning! Visiting friends with your contraption or letting them play at your house can have one side effect: Shortly after playing, the question "How can I get one of these?" will come up. This is your cue to tell them where they can purchase a copy of this book. By no means should you allow them to borrow your copy. You will need it when you begin your next design!

Desktop arcades are also easier to build than full-sized arcade cabinets, but they can still contain the same mixture of arcade controls. Although the design and layout work is the same, the woodworking is much simpler and you don't have to worry about the audio and video systems.

What are the drawbacks of a desktop arcade controller?

Desktop arcade control setups have a couple of downsides. For one, you lose your desktop space. Wait-wasn't I just praising these units as a way to save space? Well, yes, but it's relative. You're not dedicating floor space, but you are giving up workspace. Even the smaller one-player units can measure a foot and a half wide by a foot deep, and the larger units can be 2 to 3 feet wide-that's a lot of desk space to give up!

After the initial thrill of playing wears off, the realization will set in that you're still in front of a computer screen. Playing a game with real arcade controls on your desktop is definitely fun, but it's not quite an arcade cabinet. If you're trying to recapture the feel of an arcade, you'll want the arcade cabinet atmosphere as well as the controls. Don't get me wrong-I think a desktop set is a project worth building, and I believe I'll always have one on my desk. It's just no substitute for the real thing.


Some arcade game collectors will scoff at calling a home-built arcade cabinet the real thing. There's actually a bit of controversy on the subject, with valid points on both sides of the debate. You'll find more on this topic in Appendix B.

Building an arcade cabinet

An arcade cabinet is essentially a box containing the monitor, speakers, arcade control panel, and miscellaneous electronics that make an arcade game work. In our case, the miscellaneous electronics include a computer that runs the whole operation. Many variations of arcade cabinets can be found. The following descriptions cover the most popular (see Figure 1-2).

Upright arcade cabinets

You're probably most familiar with the stand-up, upright arcade cabinet seen in arcades and convenience stores everywhere. They typically stand about 6 feet high and have 19- or 25-inch monitors, though later models can have much bigger monitors. These cabinets will support up to four players easily, depending on the design of your control panel. There is also a variation of the upright cabinet called a mini, which is a scaled-down version with a smaller monitor and cabinet that usually supports only one or two players. Roughly two-thirds of the build-your-own cabinets made are uprights.

Cocktail arcade cabinets

You're likely to have spotted the cocktail arcade cabinet also. They are popular in arcades, and for some reason pizza parlors tend to favor them as well. These units are about 4 feet by 4 feet square and about 3 feet high. The monitor rests face up in the middle of the cabinet with players looking down on it as they play. These cabinets are usually limited to two players sitting opposite each other and taking turns. About one-third of the build-your-own cabinets are cocktail cabinets.

Cockpit arcade cabinets

A cockpit arcade cabinet (not shown in Figure 1-2) is a full-sized enclosure with a seat included as part of the cabinet. There are fewer of these than the other types of cabinets made, presumably because of the sheer size. They typically take up the space of two or more upright arcade cabinets. These are usually one-player machines, though I have seen at least one two-player unit. I am aware of only a small number of cockpit cabinets that have been made by the build-your-own crowd.

Countertop arcade cabinets

The last main variation of the arcade cabinet is the countertop, or bar-top, model. These machines are not much bigger than a set of desktop arcade controls, primarily being taller and deeper to house a small monitor. You will typically find these machines in taverns and bars, hence the name bar-top. They are most popular for trivia and puzzle games (like Tetris). Again, only a small handful of these cabinets are made by folks who try their hand at an arcade cabinet.

What will you gain by building an arcade cabinet?

Building an arcade cabinet has to be the most rewarding variation of this hobby you can find. It's as close to the real thing as you can get without putting a full arcade into your basement. Depending on the type of cabinet you make, you can get a full-sized arcade control panel with genuine arcade controls custom-designed for the type of game play you're after. Add a monitor shrouded in darkness that minimizes distractions and a moderate sound system, and you can immerse yourself in the arcade experience. There's also plenty of space available to have such fancy things as removable steering wheels, sophisticated speaker systems, and four-player panels.

You can also customize your software setup to hide the fact that the brain behind your arcade cabinet is a computer. With a combination of a front-end menu system and an arcade-themed background and sounds, it's possible to completely disguise the non-arcade origins of your creation. Throw in a working coin door and you'll begin to believe you're standing in front of a real arcade machine-one that can play an unlimited number of games! I'll go through all of this in later chapters.

An arcade cabinet is also much easier to share with your friends, particularly if it has a two- or four-player control panel. Add music jukebox software (see Chapter 11, "Audio-Silence Isn't Golden"), and your legally-obtained collection of music files, and you've got an entertainment centerpiece for your next party that will be the envy of your friends. If you have the time and resources, building an arcade cabinet is definitely the way to go!

What are the drawbacks of an arcade cabinet?

Building an arcade cabinet is more of an effort than building a desktop arcade controller. They are also more expensive, running anywhere from the $500 range for a small project to $1500 or more for the mother of all arcade machines. Arcade cabinets also tend to suffer from feature creep as they are being constructed, turning a simple project into a mammoth (and more expensive) one. This may not necessarily be a bad thing, but it does tend to be wearing on your family members' patience.

Arcade cabinets can also occupy a significant amount of floor space, and unlike desktop arcade controls, they cannot be put away when not in use. They also require dedicating a computer system solely for their use in most cases, although a couple of folks have managed to make do with external laptops or shared computers. Assuming you'll be dedicating a computer to the project, you'll need to factor in the cost of any computer components you need to buy for the cabinet.


If you own a computer, the odds are that you've upgraded at some point and have an older computer lying around. These computers make excellent starting points for arcade cabinet projects. They will limit you to somewhat older games because of hardware requirements, but there are still hundreds of games that are great additions to an arcade cabinet. Using an old computer also makes an excellent bargaining point when trying to convince a reluctant spouse. You can always upgrade computer parts once the cabinet is built.

Buying your way to gaming Nirvana

For every build-your-own project in this book, there's an already-made solution you can buy instead. Since I became involved in this hobby, a variety of vendors have cropped up who are eager to sell you what you're looking for. They can be sorted into two categories-small shops building products in their garage and large operations that have added new product lines. I'll present a look at offerings from both types of vendors in Chapter 17, "Buying Your Way to Gaming Nirvana."

The smaller shops tend to come and go, although a few have stood the test of time. These vendors are usually much more willing to customize their products to your design than are the larger operations. They also tend to offer better customer support, because the person you contact for assistance may also be the person who built your product in the first place. They tend to have slower shipping times, however, due to the realities of being a smaller operation, and are often more expensive.

The larger operations have the benefit of mass production, financing, and a distribution infrastructure such that they can get their products to you faster than the smaller vendors. Their product lines are fixed, however, and they are less likely to be willing to customize a solution for you. At least one large vendor has been known to do customizations, so it never hurts to ask. Support from a larger company can be hit or miss, with some vendors providing faster and better support than others. Pricing should also be lower from a larger vendor.

What do you gain by buying?

If you've got the money but not the time or patience to build your own, buying a pre-made product can be a great solution. You'll get a professionally made piece of gaming equipment that's attractive and comes with a warranty. If it stops working, there is someone you can go to who's responsible for getting you back in business. Depending on your access to tools, and factoring in what your time is worth, it may actually be cheaper to purchase rather than build your dream arcade machine.


Excerpted from Project Arcade by John St. Clair Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 20, 2011


    This is not worth the money

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2004


    This book is the ABSOLUTE DEFINITIVE GUIDE on how to join in on this great and addictive hobby. It's an easy read, covers every important topic (including pitfalls) in real depth and detail. It also includes a CD ROM to give you a quick start and access to various websites that will further your knowledge. Go for it! won't regret it!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2004

    A MUST HAVE for any project arcade newbie!!!

    Project Arcade is JUST what the doctor ordered!! I am a relative amateur when it comes to all things technical. I commishioned an expert to make a cocktail arcade cabinet for my in-laws for their anniversary and immediately wanted to learn how to do this for myself. After reading many message boards and websites I found myself question whether or not this was something I could handle. I decided to order Project Arcade after hearing about it on the BYOAC message boards. BOY, am I happy I did!! This book is a COMPLETE step-by-step guide on how to put your own MAME cabinet together...from scratch. I even learned how a keyboard and mouse work after reading this book! I read it cover to cover in under a week and now I'm off to start my own project. If you're interested in putting a MAME cabinet together and need a little guidance (or alot!) I HIGHLY recommend this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2013


    This is my dream book!
    It is amazing!
    Purchase some awesomeness!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2012


    I've always wanted to build my own arcade machine.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 21, 2005

    Retro-Gaming with a passion .....

    This ia a well written, in-depth, book . At over 450 pages, it covers almost every aspect. My only minor gripe is that the pictures are all black and white.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2004

    several audiences

    Remember 1979? When Space Invaders conquered Japan and then stormed overseas to crush everything in its path? Then, in the space of 3 short years, it was rapidly obsoleted by Missile Command, Defender, PacMan and others. Yes, the world was young then, and so were you. Now you are grown up and respectable. But you want to go back? It is no coincidence that St Clair and his publisher painted the cover in a hazy sepia glow of nostalgia. What is it, a photo from the Civil War? Shameless tugging at your fading youth. St Clair shows us an amazing cottage industry that has sprung up in the shadows, to supply items like arcade spinners, trackballs and keyboard encoders. Unsurprisingly, the book is heavily hardware oriented. For the most part, it is about new versions of old hardware. Emulations or simulations on current PCs aren't really the attraction here. Instead, it is the entire retro ambiance. Like the full arcade size versions of the games. Now it is possible, if you plonk down enough cash, to buy these items, in toto. But he writes for several different audiences. One is the person who likes to build such games for herself. Another is the person who can't afford to buy a finished game. A third is someone who wants to make and sell such games. Naturally, these audiences may overlap.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2004

    Retro gaming heaven

    John St. Clair and Wiley publishing have really put together something special here. From the first sniff of sawdust and solder to the finished product 'Project Arcade' will be the retro gamers bible for years to come. The best money I've spent on a book this year.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2004

    I wish I had this when I made my first project!

    I've been visiting the author's web site for several years & have already built a 'prototype' arcade control panel. The site is a GREAT resource, filled with extremely helpful & experienced people, but I feel that I would have been MUCH happier with my project if I'd have had this book next to me the whole time. What the book does a great job of doing is consolidating all of the information available on the web & using it to provide a reference project to work by. This book has inspired me to begin planning a full arcade cabinet & it will be the FIRST place I look to guide me through its construction.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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