I first saw MAME back in 1997 about a year after the project started. I was excited when I found it, but I didn’t really enjoy playing the games on a computer keyboard. I tried new versions once in a while, but I was more interested in the documentation aspect of the project than playing the games. Keep in mind that this was before I ever even thought it was possible to actually own arcade games. That was only for rich people like on Silver Spoons, right? lol So I got into console emulators some, but I still had more interest in the MAME project. In 2003, I found an online forum that finally made me want to use MAME to play some games.
The site is Build Your Own Arcade Controls (in the forum links at the bottom of this site), and this was finally what I was looking for. These crazy people were putting a computer running MAME into real (or homebuilt) arcade cabinets! I was hooked. I started reading everything I could find on the forum, and there was a lot of information there. I decided that I wanted to buy a cabinet to use for my own project, so I set out to find one. I looked on eBay for a while, but they all seemed really expensive when adding in the ~$300 shipping. I called the local game distributors and operators, but their prices were even worse. The best deals were $500 for an empty cabinet, then I would still have to find a monitor and whatever else I needed. This was before I found Craigslist and started meeting collectors, so my options were pretty limited. I finally found a Tekken 2 cabinet on eBay, and I liked the way the cabinet looked for my project. It turned out to be a 4 player Konami cabinet (I had no idea at the time, of course), which turned out to be a great base for the project. With shipping, I paid $730 for the game, and I still had to go pick it up from the shipping dock here in Reno. In hindsight, I way over payed, but given my lack of experience and resources, not too bad. I bought the cabinet in May of 2004.
My MAME cabinet is currently in the planning stages of the 3rd version. All 3 versions are, or will be, documented here on the site if you are interested in reading about them. The first version only required the addition of the PC, a JPAC encoder to connect to the jamma harness in the cabinet, and a new top with new controls for the control panel. I had this basic cab done within a couple of months, and it served me well for 3 years. This version was completed around July 2004.
There were a lot of games that just didn’t feel right with the controls I had. 4-way games like Pacman and Donkey Kong are hard to play with 8-way joysticks, and it really wasn’t much fun. I decided that I wanted to create a modular control panel that would allow me to swap any controls I wanted to use. The build log is here on the site, so I won’t go into that here, but this was a very fun and rewarding project. I have made over 30 panels with different controls, and I still have enough controls to make another 50 or so. Yeah, I went a little crazy buying some of this stuff. Version 2 was fully functional around July 2007. There are still a lot of panels to build, and I update and tweak everything pretty often, but it works fine as is.
Fast forward to 2011, and I decided that the whole thing needs to be redesigned. I was tired of fighting with the arcade monitor all the time. Games run natively at different resolutions and frequencies, and it is a lot of work to try to display each game correctly. I never could find the right adjustments to get every game correct on the monitor. There was always some compromise to keep everything playable. A while back, the MAME Devs added artwork support so we can now display bezel and other artwork while running games in MAME. As you can imagine, this artwork doesn’t look great on a low resolution arcade monitor. I decided to switch to an LCD TV to solve both of my problems; quit fighting with the arcade monitor, and display Hi Res artwork while playing games. The cabinet I was using was not suitable for the 32″ LCD TV I bought, so I took the Control Panel off and the computer out and retired the old cabinet. I am writing this on Christmas Eve, 2011. Currently I have the control panel sitting on a portable table with the computer on the floor next to it. The TV is mounted to the wall behind it, and everything is working fine. I just need to build a new base cabinet to mount the control panel to. The cabinet will be separate from the TV to allow me to hook it up to the TV in the living room for parties.
That is where I am at on the project. I am hoping to complete it in 2012, and I will post updates when they happen. Please check out the gallery and the project pages for more information.