My MAME goals with this project

Welcome back to blog post number two. Number one rambled a bit, but I’m still trying to get up to speed. I’ll try to stay a little more focused!

I’ve established what this blog is all about and what my first project is. My MAME cabinet. I didn’t really state my goals for this project, did I? Here’s what I want to accomplish: 1. it has to look cool with custom designed art. 2. Cheap! I want to spend as little as possible. 3. It has to have a slick and easy to use interface. Simple enough, right?

Part of the allure of an arcade machine is the graphics, the lights and the sounds. When I started researching this project, I was hooked by all of the great looking home cabinets others had built. The comic book style graphics, the bright colors, the chrome, the flashing lights. Sweet. It appeals to my inner 14 year old that has fond memories of the Gold Mine arcade in the Coventry Mall. So, if I build one, I get to be a game cabinet designer! Woo hoo! I’d really like to build a cabinet that could pass for a Japanese Dekotora truck, but that’s a little ambitious for a first build.
Since I got a crappy cabinet that had the art stripped off, I have a (bumpy) blank slate. At first I was going to do a mish mash of arcade graphics. Some Pac Man here, Donkey Kong over there, a little Space Invaders to spice things up… All hand painted of course! But then I decided to name this beast (and I can’t take credit for the name, since I’m liberating it from someone else); Monstarcade! Great name, eh? I was thinking Frankenstein, but that’s too far removed from the all-in-one build I’m doing.
Of course, every game needs an icon/mascot. At first I was thinking a stylizedGodzilla, but I remembered this freaky looking monster that showed up in the Ultraman opening credits. This thing always freaked me out as a kid, so he’s the beast going on the sides.
Of course my 7 year old daughter wants a Hamtarro theme. She will be disappointed, but she will move on.

The key factor in deciding to build one of these now, is that I can do it cheap! Once I found a free cabinet, it was merely a matter of rebuilding my old AMD based PC, getting the free software and making do with what I could afford. Since I haven’t really spent much money on this thing, I’m really down with keeping this thing as dirt cheap as possible. That includes finding parts on Craigslist and eBay. Or what ever pieces I can find laying about mine and extended families houses. Of course, when you do things cheap, there is always more labor and frustration. After throwing my Windows PC together, I found Win 98 2nd ed was completely incompatible with some of the soft/hardware I wanted to use. The minimum I could get away with is XP. Try finding XP now… try finding XP for free… It’s possible, but it takes work!
Finding CRT TV’s for free is easy! In fact, you should never have to pay more than $0 for any TV that’s more than 6” deep. On Craigslist I found a sweet 32” Zenith that had HDMI, Component, composite and VGA plugs. And it was free! Plus it was only in Broomall, and it was right near the arcade machine auction that’s held every few weeks in the Marple Sports Arena. So, I got to get a TV and check out old arcade machines. Great deal. Of course the TV was way too big for my cabinet, so I traded it to my dad and got his old 19” CRT.
Anymore, hooking a computer up to a TV set is child’s play with modern PC’s and TV sets. Getting my old PC and this old TV to work together, was not. I threw in my old 3DfX Voodoo 3 card with the TV tuner and video out feature. Unfortunately, I can’t find the dongle that handles the TV out portion. So, now I’m back to using my old Liquid Video 19” LCD. It’s really not a bad option. This monitor is kinda crappy anyway, so it’s display mimics the fuzzy CRT’s. Plus it stays powered on constantly, even when power is cut off to it. So, I don’t have to worry about figuring out a way to turn the monitor on and off and I don’t have to spend $50 for a cheap video card. Bonus!

Enough about TV’s… But, as you can see, being unwilling to spend money, means there has to be serious design changes, lots of compromise and some outside the standard thinking. At this point, I have $25 invested in clear plastic and paint. I want to keep total expenditure to less than $200 (not including gas!). I think It’s easily possible. Basic controls (enough for 2 people) are cheap (www.xgaming.com, http://www.ipac.com, http://www.happcontrols.com). Other than controls, it’s more about little details.

Having a slick, Windows free, interface is a given. For people to play this thing, it’s gotta be easy to do. Right now, I launch Windows and have to play with my keyboard. That sucks. Not only is it hard to do, (some games it’s totally impossible), it doesn’t have the right feel. Some of these games truly suck without the right interface. For the moment, I’m going to probably buy a license for Maximus Arcade (www.maximusarcade.com). I think there are others, but I’m not sure. I did get a trial copy of M.A. And got it running (which was a huge hassle and the main reason I had to find and install Win XP) but after 2 days, my 25 day free trial ended. WTH!?!?! This doesn’t bode well. I put hours into getting it to interface with MAME, and the other game machine emulators I’m using, there were tons of dumb little issues. It’s an awesome looking interface, but if I’m putting $25 down on it, I hope there are no more huge hurdles to overcome.

A little long winded… but I’ve laid out my goals. Next post will revolve around actual construction. I’ve been working on this thing for about 2 weeks now and the basics are almost complete!

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