Mame Arcade Cabinet. part 1

I've done a bit of research and some planning and will probably use this as my main resource for the cabinet build, although I expect it will take a bit longer than 24 hours! 

Before I build a massive 6ft cabinet out of at least 3 sheets of mdf Im going to make sure I have all the kit up front, including the software and electronics. I already have the emulator, a bunch of roms, an old motherboard and cpu, monitor and a drawer full of odd components. Iv'e sourced a website where I can get the joysticks and buttons and I have some plans for the cabinet itself. 

I intend to make it as realistic as possible and It has to have all the 'classics'. Im not building it as a mame interface to play all the mame games on, I'm building it to be as realistic as possible and true to an original arcade machine as I can. 

So, thats it. On with part 1.

The software

This should be the easy part. I have mame and a bunch of roms so whats to do.

Up to now, I've been using Mame32 and Mame UI32 but I'm not sure these have the right look. I want this to look as real as possible so I'm going to need a new front end. I can't decide which front end to use just yet, Mala and mameWah seem to be quite popular. Having thought about it, It would be really cool to have a front end looking just like an actual game 'insert coin' screen and as mame is just a command line application I'm thinking of writing my own. In my mind I see the machine booting up into an actual game front end sequence, then changing at random to a different one. Game selection would just be a matter of using the joystick to scroll through them and hit start. So, Im leaving the front end for now until I decide. 

I've downloaded the latest mame version, at time of writing 0.147b and updated all my roms.

Next, scanlines, this is a must! As I said earlier, it has to look right and without scanlines the project may be dead in the water. This version of mame has better support for this sort of thing and soon managed to set the hlsl settings to get a pretty nice looking effect.

 

galaxian screenshot

Galaxians, just look at them there.

At least hes got his pants on this time.

 

After some testing, I noticed that some games such as Galaxians and Pacman weren't saving hi scores. I was hoping this was a config setting but nothing was working. I checked and it seems that mame's emulation is so acurate that games that didn't have a permanent memory and lost all its scores when you turned the machine off is emulated the same way.

However, after some searching there are a number of suggested fixes for this and I found this site to be offering the best of them http://highscore.mameworld.info/ where you can download v0.143u9 which is a modified build which allows all games to save scores. Exellent! 

The PC

Before I started, I knew I had the components to build the PC part of this project. There is an old CRT Monitor in the garage that miraculously still works and I have an old motherboard, cpu, and some memory from a past upgrade, also some HD's and a CD/DVD player. No case but hey, I don't really need one.

Or so I thought. I completely forgot about the PSU! Still attached to the case I threw away a few years ago!

So, this put back the build a few weeks while I sourced a replacement, ebay of course! 

P4 3.00 ghz cpu

1 gig ram

Radeon 9200 gfx

onboard sound

80 gig HD

17" CR monitor 

So, on delivery of my PSU, I put together my system, realising I also need ribbon cables for the drives and luckily finding some in a drawer!

bare bones pc

'Son, this is how computing used to be in the olden days'

This is where I start to realise how lightly I have taken this project and how many things I've taken for granted. With all the parts assembled, I cant even switch it on! Apart from the PSU, the case also has the on off switch! So I hotwired it with a screwdriver and away it goes, miraculously it boots straight into Windows? I had half an idea that one of these HD's may have still had an OS on and I was lucky with my choice.

 

Luckily, the small voltage was not enough to kill me, hotwiring the motherboard using an all metal screwdriver.

Software and OS configuration

Now that I have a PC to work with, it's time to install my mame files and roms, configure the keyboard and controls and graphics settings and decide on a front end. 

This is where it all went wrong.

There are no sound drivers for my onboard sound installed and of course I don't have any disks. I managed to find some drivers I best guessed at being the right ones to no avail until one of these actually broke the machine! After installing numerous realtec and via drivers the last attempt stopped the machine working and wouldn't reboot. So, I reinstalled XP again. This went on all week, adding service packs, reinstalling. I didn't want to install Windows 7 as I thought it was too much for my hardware but I did hoping it would magically fix my driver issues. Not only did it not detect my sound drivers but I was to find that my graphics card was incompatible! Back to XP and reinstall yet again.

 

installing xp

And you thought this was going to be a fun project

Eventually, after examining the motherboard chip numbers and googling them I find just what I needed and at last I had sound. I copied my mame files over and lo and behold, it's not working. I was close to aborting the project at this point, so with the crappy mouse and keyboard that I had hooked up to this thing I started to debug the system. 

Mame configuration

In fairness, I've spent just £4.99 on this so far so I shouldn't complain but I didn't expect this much trouble with what I thought was going to be the easiest part.

I had done all my setup on my desktop PC which was a dual core with a pci graphics card and an LCD monitor. I knew the cabinet pc was a much lower spec than this but didn't think mame would be too affected by the pc spec, sure it might run a bit smoother but graphicly I thought it would be ok. I had setup my mame.ini to use the hlsl settings and with just some minimal configuration I had a nice scanline effect. 

Transfering this to the cab pc was a major fail! The cab pc wouldn't have it at all. There was sound but just a black screen. It turned out to be the hlsl settings.

So, I had to turn hlsl off and try various combinations of the video and scanline effect settings. Also, I had to do this on the cab pc as there was a significant difference between LCD and CRT monitors, in fact the settings from the LCD screen where not even visible when ran on the CRT. 

In the end I was basically back with the default mame.ini settings and decided to start playing about with the effect png's. The artwork folder contains some overlay scanline effects that you can set with the effect parameter. The standard scanlines.png was fine on LCD but not even noticable on CRT so after some trial and error with the deault set and not being happy with any efforts I had downloaded, I had a go at creating one myself. I finally found one that seemed perfect which was simply the original scanlines.png scaled up by 2. Happy at last!

 

An authentic looking old arcade game from the 80's

Was really happy with this except for some games with horizontal screens such as galaxians and paman. The scanlines for some reason are vertical, so the solution was to create vertical versions of my scanline effect and create custom ini's for these games. Mame will load an alternative ini file if it finds one with the same rom name.

 

 

Next, was vector and 3d based games such as asteriods and virtua fighter, these don't need scanlines so this is just a simple case of creating cutom ini's with the effect setting set to none.

 

 

My horizontal and vertical scanline effect png's

My horizontal scanline effect My vertical scanline effect

Part 2