Disclaimer: This article mentions the requirement of installing emulation software. Gaming Respawn would like to highlight the grey area surrounding emulation and point out that it is illegal to download video game software without owning the original medium, and we do not encourage you to do so.
Welcome back, fellow DIY retro gamers, to Part 3 of my journey. In the previous parts, I discussed how I discovered the possibility of bringing home the authentic arcade experience I fell in love with as a child. If you haven’t already read parts 1 HERE and 2 HERE, I would encourage you do so before reading on.
In this part, I will discuss my choice for my first build, including the 3 things you will need to build your arcade and the approx. cost of parts and building materials. I won’t touch on cost of tools as I am assuming you already have tools or access to them. But if you don’t, then instead of going out and buying a full set of tools just to build, perhaps buying an empty cab shell, as I discussed in part 2, and sourcing your parts may be a better option. Let’s jump in and get started!
What you need:
- Plans and designs for your build.
- Parts, building materials, and tools.
I actually chose to do 2 builds. The first would provide me with “proof of concept” or evidence that my designs and ideas would work, but more importantly, it would show me if I possessed the necessary skills required to build my very own arcade. So for the first build, I did a simple 2-player arcade control panel or a fight stick.
The second build would be a 2-player bartop arcade with a 24″ monitor using a Raspberry Pi to run Retropie. I chose the bartop design because I live in an apartment in Chicago, and as much as I would love to have one, I don’t have the real estate available to accommodate a full size arcade cab. It’s also here where I tied together everything I learned from the panel build in order to bring my dream to life. So now that I had made my choice of what to build, where do I get the stuff that’s needed?
Plans and Designs
Where did I find inspiration? The obvious first place: Google. A quick image search got me hundreds, if not thousands, of images both from commercial companies and regular people who have built and shared their custom creations online. A great website for finding plans and tutorials is instructables.com. I found an awesome project tutorial, complete with drawings in PDF format, that showed button layout and a cut sheet for the various parts of the cab that I printed out and used as a reference during my builds.
For a ton of great ideas, both for overall build design and cosmetic finish ideas, I highly recommend Pinterest. Even to this day, I am continually amazed and inspired by the awesome work fellow DIYers post on their boards.
Where to find low cost but quality parts? The best place is where you can get the best bang for your buck, but depending on where you are located, the options will vary. In the US, you can find parts on a variety of online sites like eBay, Wish, or AliExpress. I prefer to use Amazon. Some might argue that you pay slightly higher prices on Amazon, but I like their buyer protection and return policies. If a part arrives damaged or, in rare occasions, not at all, it’s very easy to get them replaced. If I need to return an item for any reason, the process is easy. Also, as an Amazon Prime member, I can take advantage of discounts for express shipping for those times I just have to get my stuff quickly!
So now you know where to get your parts, now you are likely asking, “What parts do I need?” The following parts are what I ordered for my build. Your parts list may vary depending on what kind of setup you want to build. You can buy all of these separately, but I have found that buying these as a bundle whenever possible is a great way to save a little money. This helps ensure I get every thing I need without the hassle of realizing I forgot to order that one crucial item, which brings my build to a grinding halt.
For the heart of my arcade, I chose the Raspberry Pi 3 (RPi3) Model B. For those of you that are not familiar with the Raspberry Pi, it is a small single-board computer developed in the United Kingdom by the Raspberry Pi Foundation to promote the teaching of basic computer science in schools and in developing countries. With a quad-core 1.2 GHz 1 GB RAM, on-board WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity and a starting price of $35.00 USD, it really did give me the best bang for my buck! But most importantly to us, thanks to the great team at the Retropie Organization and all of the talented people who contributed and continue to contribute, it has been transformed into one of the most popular DIY retro gaming devices in recent history.
Arcade parts list:
- 2 Joysticks
- Set of buttons for each player (I typically run 10 buttons per player)
- 2 Zero Delay Encoders (These will allow you to use your joysticks to play your games)
- Wiring Harnesses
- 1 Raspbery Pi Single Board
- Power supply-5v 2.5 Amps
- HDMI Cable
- Micro SD Card- min 32gb
- Power strip with 3 ft cord (You can order from Amazon, but I found a better price at my local big box store)
- Male Power Socket -with built in fuse and rocker switch
- Computer Speakers (I found mine at Microcenter for $5.00)
- Computer Monitor or TV. with DVI/HDMI inputs (I used an old 24″ computer monitor that was donated to me for the project. Facebook Market Place and Craig’s List are good places to look for local deals.)
- HDMI to DVI adaptor if using a monitor that does not have HMDI inputs
Total cost not including monitor but including the the power strip and computer speakers:
Tools and Building Materials
The tools needed to build your arcade are very subjective and, depending on who you talk to, will vary. The list I will provide, in my humble opinion, is of the very basic tools you will need. Again, I won’t touch on cost of tools as I am assuming you already have these or have access to them.
Essential tools needed
- Jigsaw- Used to make curving cuts and cut outs. You could, if you had no other saw, build your arcade cab with just this tool.
- Circular Saw- For straight cuts and ripping down large sheet material.
- Router- For creating decorative or rounded over edges and cutting slot for T-Molding if you choose to add it.
- Flush Trim and Round over Router Bits
- Drill Bits-Various sizes
- Tape Measure
- Screw Driver
- Clamps – 2 or more 24″ to help hold working pieces in place or to clamp down material to work bench during cutting operations.
- Straight Edge- To layout your work.
- Table Saw
- Band Saw
- Palm or Orbiting Sander
- Miter Saw
Building Materials- I bought all my materials at my local big box hardware store.
- 1 sheet-1/2″ (12mm) or 3/4″ (19 mm) MDF
- Various Wood Screws and/or Wood Glue
- Sand Paper, 200, 300, and 400 grit.
- Wood Filler/Putty
- Paint or Stain- You can use either brush or spray paint. If you use spray paint, be sure you get a primer filler as well.
- Pack of children’s vinyl peal and stick vinyl wall decals. This is a great alternative to buying custom vinyl graphics.
**Prices will vary slightly by location.
Total cost of materials: approx $50.00.
Where did I learn how to put all the parts and materials together so that, at the end, I have my arcade? My first stop, YouTube, believe it or not. YouTube is not just a place to find those crazy cat videos that go viral, it was an invaluable tool where I was able to learn how to actually physically build my arcade and how to set up the software on my Pi. In my humble opinion, the best gaming-related content out there comes from 3 guys, Simply Austin, ETA Prime, and Ron Pixel aka MLP. All three have their own YouTube channels and work very hard to put out a ton of awesome content, including step by step tutorials on how to set up the Raspberry PI and Retropie so anyone can build their own arcade. Without these three dedicated and talented guys, I would never have made any progress. If you haven’t watched any of their videos, I highly recommend you check them out and subscribe to their channels.
Where did I go to ask all the questions that the online tutorials left unanswered or to get a little encouragement when I hit a bump in my build process? The answer, my fellow DIY retro gamers, is the community! What is the community? The community is what I like to call all the awesome, passionate, talented and like-minded people I met while I was learning, planning, and building. During the last year, I have gotten to know some great guys from all over the US and the world. Guys like Sammy from Chicago, Julian from Florida, Pascal from Germany, Chad from Alabama, and Wajid from the UK, all of whom I have collaborated with, learned from, bounced ideas off of, or who have convinced me to buy some really cool retro gaming gear; and to this day, I still talk to them on a regular basis and consider them as my friends.
As you may know, Facebook is chock full of all different kinds of groups discussing and sharing ideas on any topic you can imagine, including gaming. I myself am a member of several different groups, but one group stands above all others, and that one is Ron Pixel’s (MLP), Madlittlepixel Gaming. Not only has Ron done an excellent job of building this group, the members of the group themselves are some of the most generous, talented, and knowledgeable people out there. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen a member, including myself, post a question, even a common one, and within a short amount of time, several members, even Ron himself, will come forth willing to help without the usual troll answers to “Google it” or ” that’s a common question, look in older posts” you tend to get on Facebook. So if you are interested in joining a great group of people who love all things gaming, become a member of Madlittlepixel Gaming today. You won’t regret it, and who knows, you might meet some great peeps as well!
So fellow gamers, there you have it. All you will need to get yourself ready to build. Thanks for coming this far along with me, and I invite you to come back for part 4 where I will share my build experience. See you guys next time!