In a recent conversation with my friend and expert arcade machine builder, Emily, I discovered some secrets that had previously kept me from building an arcade machine and also from thinking that I could afford to do so. Emily shared with me some key tips for people just getting started in the process and busted some common myths associated with arcade machines these days.
First of all, going into the conversation, I was totally unfamiliar with what was included in the construction of a machine and, more importantly, what the machines can actually do these days. So as Emily and I were talking I took out my notebook and jotted down some notes that I'd like to share as they may prove to be valuable to you.
- When constructing the arcade machine, the first step comes in properly understanding what games you're intending to play. First off, I wasn't even aware that today's arcade machines are capable of playing hundreds of games on the same machine. I was only concerned with Street Fighter 2: Turbo and, as Emily pointed out, I could play that and several other games on the same arcade machine. However, what powers today's arcade machines that people are building are primarily Windows based PC's. Games from Playstation and before can usually be run on an old Pentium 2 with 64 Megs of RAM. Just about any game can be transferred to the PC but if you're going to run recent games you'll have to consider using higher level hardware components in the machine itself.
- Start with a clean system. One of the first things Emily does when programming the arcade machine is to reformat the hard drive and install a fresh copy of Windows as the operating system. After this you'll want to learn how to optimize Windows for maximum game play as these will be the only programs running on Windows in the arcade machine. Doing so will allow for a smoother operation for all game play. Partitioning the hard drive during the reformat process can also be beneficial.
- Don't fret over the controllers. One of the main reasons I never got started before was because I really didn't understand the anatomy of the arcade machine. I assumed there would be so many wires that I wouldn't know where in the world to start. Actually, it's quite simple to just order a pre-constructed dual-joystick control for around $100. If actually creating the controls is your thing, then great. However, most people want to get the thing playing and looking decent. It's just a lot easier to order the controls and then just install them with everything else.
- Building the cabinet is easier than you may think. This is kind of a natural lead in from the previous tip. With the proper dimensions and pieces outlined, you can often have these cuts done for you at the lumber store leaving only the framing to be put together which doesn't require you to be an expert carpenter.