MAME Arcade Cabinet

Reviving the MAME Project

I spent far too many hours and quarters in the sketchy arcades of my youth. The classic video games that I used to play are still available through MAME, the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator project that emulates the original game hardware and uses the actual code of the game. I had great aspirations of having MAME setup on a computer running in an actual arcade cabinet and started to collect the parts to build one. Soon I had boxes filled with pushbuttons, joysticks, spinners, trackballs and even a steering wheel. Other things distracted me and this project faded into the background.

Years passed and my MAME project sat collecting dust. That changed recently when I found an ad for a Tekken 3 during a Craigslist surfing session. The game was in a Midway cabinet from the early 90’s with a 25” monitor.  Since it was only $100 my long dormant MAME project was put back on the active list. UPDATE - I found a quarter and a Tekken 4 Magic Gate card that I sold on eBay. Price of the game is now less than $80.

The game was in ok shape. The cabinet was painted black and was a little worn along some of the edges, nothing too bad.  The game worked but the controls were flaky and the monitor was dim. There was also a sickly sweet smell coming from the cabinet that it had absorbed from the previous owners game room.

Phase One - Restore and test Tekken 3

The first thing to to do was to get all the existing hardware working, especially the monitor. I updated the monitor chassis with new capacitors and flyback transformer. The results were great and the monitor was bright and the colors vivid. The control panel needed some work so I replaced several switches, shot some contact cleaner into others and rewired the rat’s nest. Tekken 3 was fully restored and working nicely. Several days of testing took place.


These Midway cabinets are huge and heavy.  Moving them is never fun.  I knew that there wasn’t anyway that I was getting this upstairs to my apartment or anywhere else without a struggle, even with help. I decided that the best route to take would be to cut the cabinet in half.  This way the machine could be moved in three smaller parts - the upper half with the monitor, the lower half and the control panel. This would make moving it much easier and it gave me a few other options.  I also wanted to make use of the large amount of space inside the cabinet figured I could get a decent sized subwoofer in it. Shelves for the computer and a receiver would be easy to make and a door in front to access the stuff would be a nice feature too.

Phase Two - The Cabinet

The next step was to work on the cabinet. I emptied the cabinet out of all the parts until I was left with the shell. Using CitriStrip I removed the paint and found that this was a generic Midway cabinet that was covered in black vinyl. There were some sweet 90’s graphics at the bottom of both sides. Like others, I found that CitriStrip tends to eat away at the white on vinyl. I was surprised that the vinyl was in fairly good shape. There were a few gouges but nothing too major. The bottom of the cabinet wasn’t so great.  The wood had started to flake up and vinyl was coming off. Rather than try to restore it I decided to just trim off about ⅜” from the bottom.  I used a Makita plunge saw with a guide to make the cuts. This is a pretty sweet saw and it made nice, clean cuts. The bottoms of the cabinets now have a sharp edge to them. The difference in height from the sides to the front of the cabinet are noticeable so I didn’t trim the front.

The best place to cut the cabinet seemed to be where the control panel sits.  It’s about 30” up from the bottom. The plunge saw made two more beautiful cuts and the cabinet was cut in half.  I added two scabs on the inside of the cabinet to hold the two halves together while the cuts were being made.  Using these I could turn the cabinet over and stand it up even after it was cut in half.  After removing these supports I pulled the top off.

2x2 braces were added to the top and bottom to add support and keep things the same width.  I decided to try out a pocket screw jig and it worked nicely with the braces. To help align the two halves and cover the seam I ordered some h-channel aluminum extrusions from Brunner Enterprises. I had thought about using a full H extrusion decided that the h section would make putting the top half on easier. All I had to do was slide the top on the h rail rather than trying to get the panel in it. Although a 6 foot section was cheaper with shipping it was more expensive than ordering 2 - 4 foot sections.

I filled in and sanded some of the gouges on the side panels. Sanding pulled some of the top layer of black off the vinyl siding. I decided to try out some Duplicolor Vinyl Spray.  Much to my surprise you can hardly tell the difference from where the cabinet was sprayed from the original vinyl. Sides are not perfect but I don’t have the time or desire to make the sides perfectly smooth. This is an authentic arcade machine so a few dings, scratches and imperfections are ok with me.  I may add some graphics of arcade characters or logos later.  They’ll help cover up the not so great parts. I also painted the h-channel with the vinyl paint.

COMING UP - reassembling the cabinet, setting up the computer, building the control panels, adding a sub and amp, designing a door or drawer for the bottom half.