I finally did it.
After months of hesitation, of wondering if I had the space for it, or the time for it, or the skill for it, I decided to build my own arcade cabinet.
The first choice is probably the easiest: what kind of cabinet do I want? The perfect build would be a full upright cabine, but I simply do not have the space in my home to house it. So, bartop it is. For that, I WILL find the space, whatever it takes.
At first, I won't deny that the project as a whole really looked overwhelming (still does, to be honest). So many different skills are required (woodworking, electronics, software) that it seemed hardly possible that I could make it. But you know what? This is a project I'll be doing in my spare time for fun, so no obligations, right? If I will make it, great. If I won't, who cares? The important thing is having fun while trying, and that I definitely will.
Having put my fears aside, I started considering the biggest challenge I would have to face: building the wooden case. As for every respectable software developer, my woodworking skills are less than zero. I am a true menace with a hammer or a sander in my hands. I'm used to working with abstract stuff (bit and bytes, you know?), so that's not so strange after all, I suppose. So, building the wooden case from scratch was out of the question.
Bit and Bytes to the rescue: I started looking for online shops that sell arcade cabinet kits more or less ready to assemble.
Well, I found A LOT of them, more than I anticipated. And there are several kind of kits, varying from the cheaper ones that simply provide the cnc-cut wooden boards, to the more expensive that included also screws, washers and the likes.
Interesting enough, most of the more reliable-looking shops are UK-based. The retrogaming scene is strong there.
My idea was to build the cabinet on a budget, but buying one of the cheap kits involved some risks. What if assembling it required woodworking skills and tools that I did not have? That seemed not so far-fetched.
So I decided to go on the cheap on everything EXCEPT the kit.
After a lot of consideration, I chose the B19C bartop kit, built by XCADE and sold by Arcade World UK. It simply looked like the most professional of the kits around. It's also not exactly cheap, but I assure you, it's worth every penny. But more on that on later posts.
I went for the 19" display because going for the 24", though cool, would have been very problematic in finding an accomodation in my house.
The B19C kit also comes in 2 flavors, with 5:4 or 16:9 bezel cut. Going for the 16:9 would have been easier (and cheaper) to find a suitable monitor (since most monitor nowadays have that aspect ratio), but it also meant having a lot of unused display space by the sides (because stretching the original 4:3 image is NOT an option). So I went for the 5:4 aspect ratio.
The next big choice is about the hardware I would use to run MAME. Because, I forgot to mention, I'm talking about a MAME cab, not a JAMMA one.
The options here are basically 2: the cheaper one is the omnipresent raspberry pi, the other, using an old PC.
Advantages of using the Pi:
* Cheaper * Easier to have up-and-runnig. You can even find SD card images of hyperspin or attract-mode frontend configurations ready to run, including all the roms.
Disadvantages of using the Pi:
* It uses VERY old mame versions (varying from 0.375b to 0.139. Current mame is 0.182). * It does not support newer HLSL effects. Have you tried them? Well, they look really cool. They emulate the looks of a CRT display on a modern LCD screen in a beautiful and realistic way. And that's an essential part of the project, in my opinion. Because, without some tinkering with shaders, mame games look terrible on modern displays. * Pre-configured SD images are filled with stuff I did not want. Dozens of console emulators that i did not want and that I would have to remove from the configuration. Because yes, I only want arcade games in my arcade cabinet.
In the end, the HLSL issue made me decide for a PC-based build. I did not need a particularly powerful PC, even though HLSL uses DirectX, so a decent Graphics Card was necessary. Luckily, I recently upgraded my desktop PC, so I have a few unused PC old parts around I can use.
So, I ordered the Bartop Kit and I'm awaiting delivery any moment now. The first step will be to assemble it. More on that soon.