There are many different ways one could complete this project. This was my first attempt to build an arcade and for the most part, it worked out for me. With that said, there are many different tools and customization’s that can be done to make this project unique and your own. My intention here is to share what I did and hopefully provide a starting point for anyone looking at tackling this project.
- Plan the layout
- Purchase all parts
- Make a half scale model with cardboard (optional)
- Transfer plan on 4’ x 8’ 5/8” mdf
- Cut the pieces with jig saw and circular saw
- Cut the acrylic glass for the controls, screen, and marquee
- Sand with orbital sander
- Cut slot for T-Molding
- Cut amp hole, buttons, power rocker switch, momentary switch, usb extension hole, speaker holes, LED pass though holes, coin selector, venting holes, and ethernet port
- Use router to add a recess for joysticks, smaller buttons, and the amplifier
- Design graphics and print
- Mark blocking placement on side panels
- Glue and nail 1” blocking (leave the monitor blocking until the cabinet is assembled)
- Assemble all parts by predrilling pilot holes for screws (leave monitor mount for now)
- Remove bezel from monitor
- Mark location of monitor with screen for affixing blocking
- Pre-assemble buttons, joysticks, and switches to ensure everything fits
- Prime, paint and sand
- Measure and paint bezel on acrylic glass
- Install speakers and wiring
- Line marquee box with foil
- Affix LED lighting strips in marquee box and underside of cabinet
- Mount power rocker switch
- Mount ethernet port
- Wire power strip
- Mount power supply
- Mount raspberry PI
- Affix graphics and cut out all holes
- Attach T-molding
- Install front
- Mount amplifier
- Install usb extension and momentary switch.
- Connect momentary switch to GPIO pins 5 and 6
- Install European hinges
- Install cabinet stop
- Install buttons, joysticks, and acrylic glass
- Attach marquee
- Wire buttons to encoder and led lights to power supply
- Wire coin acceptor and program
- Install PI image
- Install screen
- Configure controls
- Install control panel
- 5/8” (16mm) 4’ x 8’ MDF
- 20’ length T-Molding (16 mm)
- LED joystick and buttons with encoders (10) x 2
- 22” Monitor
- DVI to HDMI converter
- 1” x 1” blocking
- Brad nails
- Wood glue
- Acrylic glass used for marquee, monitor, and control panel
- Spray paint
- T-nuts with bolts varying lengths for control panel, monitor mount, acrylic glass, etc.
- 4” Speakers
- Raspberry Pi B+
- Ethernet jack
- Ethernet cable (cat 5, use the wire for soldering leads, its easier to work with)
- LED light strip for marquee and under cabinet glow (I used 30’ but it was overkill)
- Aluminum foil tape
- European hinges
- Power halo switch (better to use a momentary switch)
- USB extension
- Power supply. Not required unless power adapters are not included with leds.
- Coin acceptor (optional)
- Light switch
- DVI to HDMI adaptor
- Micro SD Card
- Cordless drill
- Corded drill
- Drill press
- Drill bits
- Forstner bits (used 16mm, 20mm, 24mm, 28mm, and 35mm
- Circular saw
- Table saw
- Mitre saw
- Orbital sander
- Jig saw
- Soldering iron
- 120V power switch
- Power bar
I used autocad (CAD) for the planning process and for producing cut sheets to scale. CAD is a very useful program for checking against conflicts and making changes. The general shape was taken from similar bartops I’ve seen on the internet which I then modified to suit what I found more aesthetically appealing and functional.
Why re-invent the wheel, my CAD plan can be found here: Bartop ARCADE CABINET
TIP: Always plan for some adjustments to be made. Nothing is ever cut perfect.
Graphics and Theme
I kept my theme simple from the start. Chrome trim, white background with black shadings (not sure what to call it but its subtle), then blue and white. The graphics were random art pictures of retro game companies, input devices, and characters I found on the internet which I photoshopped into a collage as black and white with the odd blue fill. To make it more personal I also included a photo of both of my kids gaming which I also photoshopped to give a more cartoony appearance.
Once the artwork was complete, I exported the files to .png And overlayed them in CAD. I then stretched the image on the side panels with a 15 mm overlap. The marquee, control panel, and front were overlayed excactly to scale. Then the CAD drawings were printed to pdf. and sent to a local printing shop. The graphics are printed on vinyl and laminated with a matte finish.
TIP: Adding a scale bar for reference helps to confirm the print is to scale after printing.
If you want a visual of what everything looks like, to scale, you can print the cut sheets at half scale, then glue them to some cardboard, cut, and tape the it together. This step is not required but highly recommended and takes little time and effort to print everything.
The next step was determining the width of the arcade. I found that 550mm was just wide enough to fit the 22” monitor I had along with the 1” blocking and kept the bezel width to a minimum. It was also the sweet spot for 2 player controls with enough room to avoid elbow bumping. All parts fit easily onto one sheet of 8’ x 4’ mdf.
TIP: All pieces (except the side panels) are the same width. Sandwich and clamp them together and use an orbital sander on the one edge. This will help ensure that all pieces fit at the same width for a nice clean look.
There are many different button layouts to choose from and modify to your liking. Most retro games use a maximum of 6 buttons (plus start and select). 8 buttons, however, allows you to use the sticks for more modern fighting game titles. There is a “steam link” app you can download for the Raspberry PI which makes use of the 8 button layout.
There are multiple layouts of controls to choose. I ended up choosing the Japanese arcade layout for its ergonomic fit as shown below. My start and select buttons were placed randomly at the top left (not shown in this configuration).
Coin Acceptor (optional)
There are multiple coin acceptors to choose from on the market. Be aware that most require a 12V power supply to operate. The arcade emulation uses “coins” which is essentially the select button when mapping retropi. So when wiring your coin acceptor, tie the coin wire (usually white) to the select button input on the encoder. The coin acceptor sends a 12V pulse to the encoder which needs to be reduced to 5V for the encoder to read.
To accomplish this you can add a 5V Zener diode as shown in the diagram below. This dumps the excess voltage to ground and emits the required 5V pulse. If you interrupt the select button with a switch you can disable the select button forcing the use of coins to play. It’s a great way for limiting kids play time and teaching the value of money. It’s a more retro experience too.
Lighting makes any project look better so I am a big advocate for led lighting and try to add them wherever I can. The marquee is setup to be easily removed and changed out if needed. Its two pieces of acrylic glass with a print sandwiched between. The glass is held in by an L shaped aluminum edging and 4 screws.
TIP: Add aluminum foil tape to the marquee box for better light distribution and when attaching the blocking, keep it as far as possible from glass or you’ll get dead lighting in the corners. You can see mine are too close in the image above.
Under Cabinet Lighting and LED Voltage
I am a big fan for back lighting. I think it makes everything look more sharp and professional so I added some lighting under the cabinet by connecting the LED light strips to the Marquee lighting. Use cat5 wire and solder leads on the connector.
You might not want to have the LED lights on all the time so I added a switch inside the cabinet. I had an old one laying around from some remodeling I’ve done in the house. This is fine for inside the cabinet but ideally a nice rocker switch mounted outside of the cabinet would be better.
LED light strips are relatively cheap but be aware that there are different voltages and applications for each. 12V seem to be cheaper but require a 12V power supply or adapter. They are also better for longer run runs where voltage drop is a concern. 5V LED’s are more than enough for an arcade build. They are also easier to connect to a power source since a standard usb plug could be soldered to the lights. So if you don’t have a power supply on hand and you don’t mind paying a little extra for 5V led strips, then go with 5V strips.
Speakers and Amplifier
I went with 4 inch Pyle Speakers and a cheap 20 watt amplifier and they sound great. The holes were cut with a jig saw. Take your time cutting and don’t over cut the hole.
Mounting the amp in the front makes it easier for adjusting the volume just be sure to recess the hole about 7 mm so the knobs accessible.
Take your time cutting out the hole for the amplifier and recess about 7 mm. I also included a momentary switch for turning the PI on and putting it into standby. The 2 port usb extension is also located on the front panel which is useful for additional retro controllers or keyboard & mouse.
The switch is illuminated by LED which requires 12V power with the switch connected to gpio pins 5 and 6 on the PI.
There is a script that can be programmed into the PI that runs when these two pins are temporarily bridged. BarryHubbard.com gives a step by step procedure for installing the switch On/Off PI Switch How to
You can choose to mount a fan at the back for better ventilation but I opted to drill holes as an Atari logo and monitor how much heat output came from Pi. So far the CPU hasn’t climbed above 45 degrees Celsius with this setup. A fan can always be added later. I strongly suggest adding an ethernet port too for faster connection on your network. It’s important for using the steam link app and for transfer roms from your pc to the PI.
A power rocker switch wired to a power bar is a nice and clean way for turning on/off the power. Wire as follows to the power bar.
Emulation and Roms
Google is your friend. There is a lot of information available to find what you need to add emulations station, roms, flashing cards, etc.
Additional Stuff, Photos, and Tips
This is probably the most enjoyable project I have ever worked on. It’s like a time machine bringing me back to my childhood. I can still remember the hours spent plugging quarters into the machine at the local convenience store. Even my kids are finding love for the games I once enjoyed.
As simple as the games were back then, they were well thought out and are still fun to play today. As you can see in one of the images above, I still haven’t reached 1st on the Burger time leader board. I guess I better get back to it before one of my kids takes the spot.