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Building The (Im)Perfect Beast: Part 1
This past summer I, with buttloads of help from my brother-in-law, built a MAME cocktail arcade cabinet. The goal was to see if I could build relatively decent machine for as little money as possible. The final damage, not counting parts I already owned: about $280. That includes the cost of beer that I used to bribe my bro-in-law as he preferred to be paid in alcoholic currency, but that and other unconventional costs will be elucidated eventually.

the big black beast

This is a documentary of the building process. I am extremely indebted to many other nerds who have aging Web 1.0 websites that chronicled the building of their own cabinets, as they provided invaluable information that helped me to not make major fuckups while building this, and I want to return the favor and pay it forward to anyone else out there who is fumbling through the construction of their own MAME machine. Eventually I plan to put all this info into an actual website under a domain name that I own, but for now I'm cramming everything into LJ while I sort everything out and decide if I want to learn Perl or PHP or just say fuck it and use ancient HTML for the site.


Ever since I heard about MAME in 1998 and started illegally downloading arcade game ROMs, I've wanted my own impostor arcade machine so I could play ALL the games, and how they were intended to be played. Keyboard buttons and mouse controls just don't cut it for me, that's now how Pac-Man and Tempest were designed to be played (Eugene Jarvis, the guy who created classic games such as Defender and Robotron 2084, walked up to me at one of the recent Midwest Gaming Classics in Milwaukee while I was losing my last life on a Tempest machine, and I lamented to him about how Xboxes and other modern consoles no longer have spinners; he grinned and said "Yeah, they FUCKED IT UP!").

Step one for me turned out to be finding an extremely generous relative who knows how to build things with wood. My dream remained a daydream until I found a beaten up Pole Position cabinet by the dumpsters near my apartment, and I asked my sister and brother-in-law Shane to help me get it up my stairs. It was stripped of all the controls, the stickers were falling off, and it probably had rain damage among other abuses. It didn't quite make it up the stairs as it's ungodly heavy so it remained in my garage, but Shane suggested we rebuild the outside of it from scratch using his power tools. I didn't want to take apart a classic machine that either me or someone else could potentially repair and get working as it was, but kept that idea on the back burner. Later at Christmastime my parents gave him a table saw for a present, and one of the first things he said was "cool, we can build Sean's arcade game". So I knew he was serious about helping, and once the weather warmed up enough to make it not so painful to build things in Shane's outdoor shed (and also after some lengthy procrastination) I figured I could bribe him with beer to help me, since he drinks lots of it and I know jack shit about wood and nails. He agreed. Turns out he had 3 saws in his shed and was an experienced wood builder despite not working in that field. I had known him for years but never knew that he spent all of his summers in college building decks and had built the decks, bars, and patios in his current and previous homes. Help was right under my nose for eons and I never knew it, as it usually is.

I decided on a cocktail style cabinet due to space and convenience considerations. Not only could I use it as a general table in my smallish apartment when it wasn't in use, but if everything went horribly wrong and I never got it working at least I'd get a neat looking table out of the deal (you can see the extreme lack of confidence that I had venturing into this). I found blueprints for a Pac-Man cocktail cabinet here, and figured I'd use it as a general guide and not try to make an exact replica. Many extreme liberties would be taken.

We went to Menards to shop for wood, and Shane suggested that we build a frame out of two by fours and put wood siding on it, like what he did for the wood bar he built at his previous home, instead of using particle board for everything. I was skeptical at first as I worried about stability, but decided to try it since it had the advantage of less weight, and getting the size of particle board we needed would have meant buying a big sheet of it that wouldn't fit in any of our vehicles, as my sister was out of town with their SUV that day. It turned out to be a good decision.


So the cabinet, to be eventually named Dahlia, had humble beginnings as a bunch of two by fours nailed together by a couple of guys sucking down beers (Shane preferred Miller 64 as he was trying to lose weight; I'm always trying different things but at the time I was consuming various brews from Lake Louie and big 22 oz bottles of Chocolate Bunny beer from Rhinelander Brewing Co.). We used Shane's chop saw to cut everything to the dimensions in the blueprints and connected them with 2 and a half inch wood screws. Apparently the proper way to screw in a wood screw is to first drill a nail hole that is slightly smaller in diameter than the hole that the screw needs so that it goes in easily and doesn't crack the wood.

Part 2 will be shat out next week, or next year, whenever I feel like doing it.
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