May 12, 2015 2:46 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking to build an upright MAME console from a kit. I have a budget of about $700-900 total, including the screen and PC and any other bits and pieces I'd need. I'd like a dual joystick setup with a trackball. I have no idea what's out there, other than what Google searches show me, and I don't know what the "gotchas" are. What are the best options for doing this, with the budget in mind? What issues should I watch out for?
posted by a lungful of dragon to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
aliexpress has tons of jamma joystick kits that are ubercheap. RaspberryPi2 could be an acceptable CPU for your engine, you may consider getting one of those grey-market multi jamma boards that has hundreds of games on a instant on - no maintenance.
posted by edman at 3:07 PM on May 12, 2015

Will it be running MAME and only MAME or something like Hyperspin?
posted by griphus at 4:12 PM on May 12, 2015

It's been years since I did stuff like this, but back then was a very active site for this.
posted by jclarkin at 4:15 PM on May 12, 2015

Response by poster: I hadn't heard of Hyperspin until now. Looks interesting, thanks.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 5:38 PM on May 12, 2015

ok, I mentioned it bc I think Hyperspin would have bigger system reqs compared to just MAME so heads up.
posted by griphus at 5:43 PM on May 12, 2015

Best answer: I built The Midlife Crisis Machine about 12 years ago so any advice I can give is at least that old. I'm sure things have changed and there are more options now.

Depending on what era games you want to use, you may not need a very powerful PC. Mine is mostly focused on 1980s games and I think I have, like, a Pentium III or something and everything runs fine. So you might even be able to find free or next-to-nothing PC hardware. Newer games will take more processing power.

Same with a screen. I think most of those old games used something silly like 640x480 resolution maximum so I found a 20 inch CRT that probably cost someone two grand in 1994 but I found on the curb in 2001.

I bought all my controls (except for my spinner... for Tempest) from Happ Controls. They supply the real things to arcades.

The majority of games, at least from the 80s, will use 8-way joysticks. I put in two 8-way and one 4-way (for VERY old games) but have never, ever used the 4-way.

I put six buttons for each stick but almost never use more than three.

I used a Happ trackball.

You'll need a way to interface the controls to the PC. I used an iPac interface. Looks like they still make them. In twelve years it's worked flawlessly. This little device let's you wire all the joysticks and buttons up and plug it into your USB port. Then you just map them all to keyboard keys. Very easy to use and program.

I have a separate interfaces for the trackball-->mouse port and buttons/sticks --> keyboard port but I think the new ones are all in one.

There was no soldering required. The buttons and joystick all have male connectors for terminals that you just crimp onto the wires and the iPac has screw terminals.

I bought a spinner from some guy who I think made them in his basement on a lathe. I'm sure you can find one if you really want one though I think I only use it for Tempest. It was worth it for that one game though. Metafilter's own not_on_display currently holds the high score in Tempest, beating out the previous high score set by Jessamyn. I should invite them back over for a rematch.

I built my cabinet from scratch out of MDF. It weighs a ton. Sounds like you've got that covered with a kit.

If I built it today I'd use a flat panel and reduce the cabinet size so it takes up less space.

Almost all the information I needed I found at the arcadecontrols site jclarkin linked to. Looks like it hasn't changed much over the years.

Once you get it up and running you'll want a front-end so you can select games using only the joystick and buttons. I used MAMEwah, which I see is still around. I'm sure by now there are much better options.

Feel free to memail me if you have any questions, or just ask here and I'll follow up. Again, though, I'm sure a lot has changed since I built my cabinet.

I'll tell you this: I hardly use my cabinet these days. For me it was more about building it than using it (I'm weird that way) but I built it, I have it, and it's always there to play games on, and when people see it, especially people around my age (45), they completely lose their shit. You will always be super proud of what you've built.

Good luck, and have fun.
posted by bondcliff at 5:53 PM on May 12, 2015 [12 favorites]

I think Kotaku or Gizmodo just showcased a special Linux distro that's dedicated to MAME and other emulators. So you just need a good joystick.
posted by kschang at 2:19 AM on May 13, 2015

Best answer: I'm in the same boat with bondcliff. ultimarc iPac interface. happ controls. I've been using combination 8/4 way controllers (similar) so I can play older games. Older games (donkey kong, frogger, etc...) respond _very_ poorly to 8 way controls.

I was able to get away with a low budget comp because I ran MAME directly. However, with my new self built steam machine, I'm (trying to) running hyperspin. Hyperspin is great, but it takes A LOT of configuration and doesn't seem to work super well with the xbox controllers for navigation. Also, it takes a lot more resources to run well, so you may want to decide which route you want to go.

Here's my path of evolution (and also my recommendation): Consider building a multipurpose gaming platform (steam machine) that also runs MAME. Otherwise you could end up with a piece of furniture that isn't used very often. However, if you require a full cabinet, try building a control board first. I was able to bring that to parties, etc... and put it away when not in use. Basically, this consisted of an iPac with the controls, which hooked into a pc via USB and hooked the PC into the television. I built mine in a way where I eventually built a full cabinet, but the control board sits in the cabinet and can be removed.

If you're repurposing an older computer, you can build a control board fairly cheap (>$200). I was then able to build my cabinet for about $150.

As I said, my cabinet basically collects dust now. I've got hyperspin running on my steam machine hooked into my TV in the living room. This seems to be a more approachable setup for people who are not 'gamers' but want to play galaga (and mario kart 64). You can build a steam machine with 4 xbox controllers in your price range if you use your TV as your monitor. That gives you some future proof because you can get plenty of steam games for $5-$10 (local multiplayer, full controller support)
posted by kookywon at 8:57 AM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I definitely want to play Ms Pac Man and Galaga, etc. with few technical problems. How do combination 4-/8-way joysticks work? Do you flip a hardware switch to toggle between modes?
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:59 PM on May 13, 2015

Best answer: A lot of joysticks have to be dismantled to switch from 4 to 8 way. In my panel, I have one Omni 2 joystick, which can be switched easily from the bottom of the panel, and one 8-way stick. Games that require 4-way sticks usually only require one joystick. I picked up a nice dedicated 4-way joystick as well, but haven't installed it as the Omni 2 works well enough for me, despite the inconvenience of having to switch it from the bottom of the panel. You can also get joysticks that have a motor for automatic switching (e.g., Servo STik), and there are a few designs out there like the Omni Stik Prodigy that can be switched from the top of the panel. Lots of other designs out there like the mag stick and the mag stik plus that offer other methods of easy switching.
posted by fimbulvetr at 8:45 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have 2 8-way sticks and one 4-way stick that I installed for older games like Pac Man or Donkey Kong. I've always just used the 8-way sticks for these games, without switching them to 4-way and I've never had any issues. YMMV.
posted by bondcliff at 9:08 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

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