The DIY Road to Retro Gaming – Part 2

Hello, fellow retro gamers, welcome back. Let’s begin our journey for our very own retro arcade machine.

In part 1, I wrote about how my interest for arcade gaming began, my background in all things DIY, and my quest to bring home the experiences I grew to love as a child. In this part, I want to share how I started along my path to that “Holy Grail” of retro gaming, my personal home arcade. I will attempt to condense what I learned after the first month of dedicated research and try to boil down the many different setups available out on the market. I will give you my opinion of the pros vs cons of each of the different options in case any of you reading want to try your hand at your own build.

So strap in, and let’s go!

After watching that first video mentioned in part 1, it sent me into a frenzy of YouTube and Google searches, and what I found surprised me. There are a number of companies that build and sell brand new, licensed classic arcade machines.There are also companies that sell custom multi-game machines. In addition to these, there are many others that sell refurbished cabinets. I also discovered a number of local sites that have cabs for sale, such as Facebook Market Place and Craig’s List. Both sites had lots of cabs in good to fair condition and also some that have seen better days, in need of a lot of attention and tender loving care.

While I could see how these options could appeal to many people, there were a couple of factors that held me back from going this route:

  1. PRICE. A new licensed Pac-Man or Donkey Kong cab starts at around $1,000 USD and goes up from there to as much as $2,999.99 USD, and let’s face it, as awesome as it would be to have, that’s just one game. The companies that do offer multi-game setups can run as much as $3,500 USD and up.
  2. In addition to cost of the cab, the shipping cost is crazy, in some instances almost a third of the cost of the cab.
  3. If you are thinking of buying used, be prepared to pay $200 to $600 USD.
  4. Where to get replacement parts for the monitors, PCB (printed circuit boards) and other components used in these old style machines.

I have to admit, I was bit discouraged, but then I stumbled on another option: companies that sold “DIY kits”. These kits come in the form of empty, unfinished cabinet shells, flat packed, and shipped to your door with all the needed hardware included to put together your own arcade. Again, cost was the main factor, starting at $400 USD plus shipping for a full upright cab. Whilst, to some, that may not seem too bad a starting point, but remember that is just for the empty shell. Let’s not forget all the internal electronics and accessories, and you can see just as I did, the potential for the price to make a dramatic jump (yikes! My poor little wallet is still thanking me for taking the time to figure that out.)

So that was the moment when I really made the decision to build my own cab, source my own parts, and in the end truly make this “MY OWN ARCADE”. With that decision, the next choice was what type of arcade? With the number of options available, I knew I had to take my time and decide just what the best option was. Again, this is strictly my opinion, and I will go over them from largest to smallest, but keep in mind, all of these take the same basic internal components and can be finished similarly with accessories such as a track ball/ spinner, light guns, and custom lighting and graphics in order to get you into that arcade gaming sweet spot.

 

Choices

Full Upright Arcade Cab

2 to 4 players. Typical dimensions are approx 41″ deep x 48″ wide x 72 ” tall (104 x 121 x 181cm), and a starting weight of 250lbs (114kg),depending on options added. If you have the room in your house or even a dedicated game room, this is the obvious choice.

Pros: Give you that authentic “arcade” feel. It becomes the centerpiece of any room it’s placed in. If you opt for the 4 player version, you can take advantage of those awesome 4 player classics like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Simpsons, or X-Men (and let me tell you something, there is nothing like getting your button smashing groove on playing these with 3 of your best buds). Large size gives everyone plenty of space for long gaming sessions.

Cons: Weight and footprint of machine. This is a big boy, and it will take up a lot of real estate no matter where you put it, not to mention how heavy it is. Once you put this monster in place, I can guarantee you are not going to be wanting to move it around very often.

 

Pedestal/ Cocktail Arcade

2 to 4 players. Typical dimensions are approx.  23″ to 29″ deep x 34″ to 39″ wide x 30″ to 38″ tall (54 to 74 x 87 to 99  x 76 to 96cm) and 110 to 115lbs (50 to 53kg).

Pros: Smaller footprint/weight than full upright cab. Pedestals can also be configured to 4 players. Both setups are typically sit-down instead of standing. A pedestal setup can be used with existing large screen TV. Pedestal arcades come in a number of different styles to choose from.

Cons: While smaller and lighter than a traditional upright cab, these still take up a bit of room and can be a pain to move.

 

Bartop Arcade Cab

1 to 2 players.. Typical dimensions are approx 22″ deep  x 22″ wide  x 24″ tall (56 x 56 x 61cm) and 75lbs (35kg).

Pros: Small footprint and relatively lightweight makes this perfect for people with not much room to spare. Can be placed, as name suggests, on a counter top, a small desk/table or it can also be placed on a plynthe or solid base, and it essentially turns your bar top into a small upright cab. A single-player or 2-player setup can easily be modified to accommodate up to 4 players by using game pads via a USB hub. Portability, you could take this unit on the go with minimal effort.

Cons: Smaller footprint means smaller display. Typical size displays are 19″, 20″, or 24″(48 cm to 61cm). The smaller size can cause a crowded feeling, especially if you have 2 large hombres side by side.

 

Control Panel/ Fight Stick

1 to 4 players, Typical dimensions are approx:

Single-player: 8″deep x 12″ wide x 4″ tall (20 x 31 x 10cm) up to 10lbs (3 to 4kg), 2-players: 17″ deep x 35″ wide x 5.5″ tall (43 x 89 x 14cm) up to 25lbs (11kg), 4-players: 21″ deep x 48″ wide x 5.5″ tall (53  x 122 x 14cm) and up to 40lbs (18kg).

Pros: Very small footprint and weight, even for a 4-player setup, making these truly self-contained and portable. These can be connected to existing TV or projector (which I can tell you by my own experience, gaming on a 110″ projected screen is awesome!).

Cons: These standalone setups need a table for playing and a shelf for storage, like a typical home console.

 

As you can see, my friends, there are a lot of options when it comes to choosing a setup for yourself. I was amazed to find that there are so many different types, and I also learned it is important to pick the right cab for your needs and situation in order get the best gaming experience.

Stay tuned, fellow gamers, in Part 3 I will reveal what I chose for my first build, my choice of building materials, and where I sourced my parts, as well as where I discovered my most valuable resource that truly put me on The Road to DIY Retro Gaming!

****Please note that dimensions and weights I have given are approximates only and depending on the materials you choose to use and the components/ accessories installed could effect final over all dimensions and weight.