Posted on June 28, 2010
1000s of Games! Project: MAME
My latest project that I just haven’t had time to post about, but this is a cool one. I’ve been wanting to build a MAME cab for years. I’ve always ran MAME on the computer, but its just not the same playing POW or Battle Toads with a keyboard, you need the full set up for an authentic arcade experience. After I did some research on which version of MAME to use, I decided to go with MAME32 which has the best GUI and runs great in Windows XP. Turns out there are a bunch of front ends you can incorporate with MAME that act as a launcher for the program – MALA (Mame Launcher) and Maximus Arcade are two most well known. I demoed both of these, but MAME32 seemed to be the best of both worlds that looks great in XP and loads screen shots of each game in the launcher.
Anyway…I got the idea to build this thing so I started looking around for the cabinet to build it in. After a couple weeks of digging around on Craigslist, i came across this gem:
An original, gutted, Super Street Fighter 2 cab. All of the controls were still intact with all the wiring, and it was already wired up to keyboard encoders (a circuit board that translates joystick movement and button presses to a corresponding keyboard press that the computer can interpret). I had a decent older desktop to run this on (you don’t need a powerhouse, any older system can hack MAME. I used this old P4 with an integrated intel graphics board) and a 19″ Dell LCD that fit perfectly where the old CRT used to go. The guy I got it from had previously used it for a mame cab years ago, so he already had a sub and speakers wired up that just needed to be plugged in to the computer. After hookin everything up, she was ready for her trial run.
Everything worked fine initially until some control issues started coming up. It turns out the keyboard encoder that the previous owner had built had some pretty questionable wiring. I went through and tried to re-solder all the connections and clear up the wiring, but it was just too mixed up. So, I ordered the I-Pac 32. A company in the UK called Ultimarc makes these things, and if you are building a MAME cab, this is the way to go!
With one of these bad boys you just wire straight from the control to the I-pac board. Everything is clearly marked showing exactly what connector the control goes to. The only thing not obvious was the control switches. If you are new to the guts of arcade games, you probably don’t know that joysticks and buttons have 2 different settings: Normally Open and Normally Closed:
basically when wiring the buttons and joysticks up, the common terminals can be daisy chained together and connected to ground. The Normally Open terminal goes to the corresponding terminal on the Ipac (for example if that was the connector for the joystick left, the NO terminal wire would run from there to the Player 1 Left terminal on the iPac). Easy as that!
So that was about it, after getting that thing wired up, control issues were solved, and we were ready to rock! Now its just hours on end of free-play Ninja Turtles, POW, NARC, Operation Wolf, Cabal, Michael Jackson Moonwalker (Note: this game is Extremely inappropriate after the fact – you play as MJ dancing around and saving children!) and 2 hours of Rampart that I logged tonight. There is nothing better than having thousands of the classic arcade games I grew up on available for free and on-demand in my living room. I will definitely never be getting rid of that thing, so hopefully my kids can grow up on the same rad games I did!
Total cost for this rig: $80. $40 for the cab on Craigslist, and $40 for the iPac. Already had teh computer and monitory, and all the software and ROMS are free if you know where to look 🙂