Welcome back, fellow DIY retro gamers, to the 4th and final leg of my journey!
I would like to take a moment to thank all of you that have accompanied me on this recap of my journey. And thank you all who have read this feature and offered your support and words of encouragement. For those of you that have not read parts 1, 2, and 3, I encourage you to take a moment and read them. There is a ton of great information that can help you to get started on your own personal quest to bring the arcade experience home.
In this installment, I will talk about my build experience and some of the things I learned. So now that we have our parts, our plan, and our tools, let’s get started building.
I mentioned earlier in part 3 that before I built my bar top, I built a control panel to first figure out what kind of button setup I wanted and how to interface the controls with the Raspberry Pi I was using to run my arcade. For this I used an affordable, generic 2-player joystick/button bundle with zero delay USB encoders that I bought from Amazon. For a complete list of parts that I used, see part 3. After a quick Google search, I found a couple of different templates for button layouts, and I built a down and dirty control panel from some scrap wood that I had lying around. For me, that was the easy part. Next came the wiring. I must admit, I was a little intimidated by this pile of parts, but with the help of the awesome people from the various arcade building Facebook groups and some great YouTube tutorials, I was soon able to make sense of it all.
Raspberry Pi/Retropie setup
After I built and wired my control panel, it was time to set up my Raspberry Pi. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of YouTube videos that cover setting up Retropie on your Raspberry Pi. I recommend checking out ETA Prime’s channel. There you will learn all you need to get started, including the links to downloads you will need to get up and running. This was where I learned my first lesson. That lesson was that not all USB encoders are created equal. Retropie is Linux-based, and when I tried to use a single dual USB encoder, I found that they did not play well together. It caused a “mirroring” problem with the 1 and 2-player joystick configurations. I was a little stumped by this, so I popped over and asked the great peeps in Madlittlepixel Gaming and got right back on track. The simple solution, as I learned, is to use two separate encoders, one for each joystick/button setup. If you are knowledgeable with Linux, there is a solution that involves writing a script, but for me that was way too complicated. After that, I had my controls setup and my Pi up and running, so I treated myself to a nice session of retro gaming!
Layout and Build
The first step in any build is your layout. Remember the old adage: Measure twice, cut once! Unless you know you have bought more building materials than you will need for your build, doing a layout will help make sure you have enough and reduce wasted cuts.
First, I converted all the measurements from the drawing I found online to inches, rounding up to the nearest inch. This made cutting my pieces to length much easier as I didn’t have to deal with fractions of inches.
Secondly, I made templates out of cardboard and did a quick mock up. This gave me a chance to see the actual footprint of my soon-to-be home arcade. Later, I used these same templates to help me with the side panels. Afterwards, it was just a matter of cutting out the rest of my pieces and start assembling. I used 3/4″ blocks to give myself an offset and something to attach the other pieces to. I recommend using wood glue in addition to either nails or screws at all your joints. This will ensure that all your joints are nice and strong. I installed a door with key locks on the back for access, additionally I cut out a hole for an external power switch. I installed a power strip inside to power all of the cab’s electrical components and embedded computer speakers below the marquee. I made sure that everything fit the way I wanted and then glued and nailed everything together.
Sanding and Painting
After assembling comes sanding, but before that, I used wood filler or putty to fill in any blemishes in the face of the wood or gaps at the joints. After letting the filler cure overnight, I used a palm sander and sanded the entire outer face of the cab, starting with 220 then 300 grit sandpaper. Once that was completed, I wiped down the entire face with a damp cloth and allowed it to dry. I used a grey filler primer spray paint and applied 3 coats, sanding with 400 grit sand paper between coats. For the primary color I chose to go with Matte Black spray paint. I applied 4 coats, sanding with 400 grit sandpaper between coats to ensure I got the smoothest finish possible. To finish my cab off and to give it a bit of retro flair, I used a pack of Super Mario Bros. children’s vinyl wall decals that I bought at my local Home Depot to decorate the outside of my cab. For the final step, I used spray clear coat to seal the decals and give it that beautiful, glossy finish.
This was one of the best experiences I have ever had building a project. I found that with some research and planning, it was not complicated at all. The biggest and most pleasant surprise was that it didn’t cost me a small fortune either. Because the monitor I used was free, I was able to build this for around $150.00 USD.
So have I slowed down since building it? Not at ALL! I have continued to learn and have built a number of arcade control panels/flight sticks, as well as begun to design my own bar top cab and full size sitdown pedestal.
The Finished Arcade and Reaction
Whatever happened to the bar top I built? Well, as chance would have it, around the time I finished building it, my niece and two nephews had their birthday. Can you guess who ended up with a cool retro gaming birthday gift, and can you also guess who got the award for “Most Awesome Uncle in the Whole Wide World”?
And the kids’ reaction when playing some of these games for the very first time? Why don’t I just let the videos speak for themselves?