Around the beginning of this year, Lucas was going on and on about how I just had to read Ready Player One. Listening to him chatter on about it I bought it and promised to read it, having some vague understanding that it was about a kid running around in a virtual world. I should have started reading it that day but I put it off until just a few weeks ago. What I didn’t realize was what an amazing read that book would be. Seriously, go buy it and start reading it now then come back to read about the Xtension Arcade Cabinet because in all likelihood you’ll appreciate this post all the more. I say that because if you’re familiar then you know that Ready Player One revolves heavily around 80’s culture and in turn a lot of the book features arcade machines. As soon as I was done with the book I begged Jason to give it a read with exactly the same fervor Lucas had when pleading with me. He did and we both came to the same conclusion.
We had to have an arcade machine.
MAME or Original?
Now for anyone looking to bring an arcade machine into their home there are a couple of routes you can take. You can buy an honest-to-God original arcade machine featuring Pac-Man, Street Fighter 2, or any other coveted game from your youth. If you’re a purist with deep pockets or you’ve got some patience to scour craigslist or eBay for a good deal this is the way to go if there’s only one game you just have to have in its original glory.
The other option would be to build a MAME machine. MAME stands for Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator and as the name suggests, it allows you to play many games. This involves using a PC to run emulation software that re-creates the arcade experience. The tradeoff for the convenience of being able to run hundreds or thousands of arcade machine titles from a single machine is that it takes some tinkering. Specifically you’ll need to find and configure emulation software to run the ROMs (the game files) and then you need to find the ROMs themselves. The official MAME site offers a handful of free ROMs to download, but if you’re looking for licensed classics you’re on your own in tracking those games down. It’s not particularly difficult to find ROMs if you know how to use Google but we won’t link to any of them here.
Gathering the Parts
Since I’ve got a background in IT and am not afraid to tinker, I opted for the second option. Knowing that I’d need a Windows machine for the best experience with MAME based on my findings, I started ordering parts from Newegg and put together a ludicrously overpowered machine for the task. Secretly I also wanted to get a gaming rig since Kyle and I can’t do Game Gab on an iMac forever so going after an arcade machine made this an easy justification. You can read all about the computer I built for it in a future post but truthfully you don’t need a super-powerful computer to run most arcade games. I don’t know the specific requriements but I’d say you could even get by with 2GB of RAM, any modern processor, and a hard drive big enough to hold a bunch of games which are usually less than a few MB.
With the PC problem out of the way, I immediately began scouring the internet for the best possible combination of cost and convenience so we could pay homage to the early days of video games with our very own arcade machine. In my research I ran across Rec Room Masters, a site that looked to be the IKEA of arcade machines. They offer a variety of very affordable (and some less affordable) options for anyone looking to get started with an arcade machine. The Xtension arcade machine I went for was the 32“ upright pro version. I loved the idea of a 2 player machine and while I could’ve saved some dough going for the 27” version, the Xtension Arcade Cabinet 32″ Pro seemed more appealing as it’d give both players a bit more room to spread out and allow for a bigger screen. The only other thing I really wanted to have on the machine beyond a sleek, new cabinet with a solid control board was a coin door. Rec Room Masters doesn’t sell one directly but if you go to X-Arcade they sell one for only $29.99 that lights up and everything.
PC? Check. Cabinet? Check. But what about a monitor? Well, this wasn’t as bad to find as I thought. The Xtension Arcade cabinet supports up to a 32“ monitor so long as that monitor isn’t more than 31.5” measured horizontally. If you go to any electronics store they usually list the horizontal width on the price tag for TVs so you can avoid the problem of buying one that doesn’t fit your entertainment center. In our case we opted for a 32″ 1080P Insignia that was only $200. I could’ve opted for something fancier but a lot of the old arcade games were on CRTs and didn’t have the crispest picture anyways so going for an off-brand TV at a lower price was completely acceptable. I also chose this model because it had vertical HDMI inputs instead of ones that poke out of the side. That’s helpful for the Xtension Arcade machine whose instructions say if your ports are side-mounted you may have to make some modifications. There are L-bracket adapters for HDMI as well that will alllow you to change the orientation of a port but I figured the Insignia would work just fine and had the VESA mounting standard needed for the machine.
So how much did all this cost? This is the rough breakdown not accounting for shipping charges/tax but remember, you don’t at all need a PC that costs this much for a MAME setup. You could pick up any bargain PC for a couple hundred bucks and do the job. I just chose not to because reasons.
Grand Total: $2330
Adjusted Total for a sane person: $1330 (Assuming you find a $200 PC that will do the job which is entirely doable)
So that’s a breakdown of the general parts you’ll need if you decide to go the MAME route. However there are some other considerations as well before you embark on the journey of building your very own arcade machine.
For starters, make sure you have a good idea of where you want to keep this beast. Location’s important for a few reasons. Not the least of which is that arcade machines are heavy. But beyond that you’ll also want to make sure wherever you keep it is near a power outlet for the power strip you’ll need to power the whole thing.
It’s also good to make sure that you’ve got good wifi access for the machine so you can download any needed software updates or games easily.
Finally, keep in mind that if you’re going to build an arcade machine it’s going to take a fair amount of work beyond the initial construction. There’s a lot of configuration depending on what emulation software you choose to run and the control board you choose. I’m not trying to scare you out of building it or anything as MAME’s been around for a while and has a lot of support, but it’s worth keeping in mind.
Well, now that you’re ready to move on, I’ll show you how to put all these pieces together in Wednesday’s post which will feature a complete video overview of the 32″ Pro Upright Xtension Arcade Cabinet! Check back then and in the meantime if you have any questions or comments let us know below!