Build Your Own Arcade Controls

Manifesto: A public declaration of motives and intentions by a government or by a person or group regarded as having some public importance --- Websters


You are presumably here because you are interested in or are at least curious about building an arcade control cabinet for your home.  Most likely this is due to happy memories of time spent in an arcade feeding quarters into some machine that you were determined to beat or be high scorer on.  To put it in a nutshell, most of us are trying to recreate a part of the past where we can visit it whenever we wish.

Please don't destroy that past as you attempt to recreate it!

Classic arcade cabinets - Tron, StarWars, Galaxian, etc... are a dying breed.  They suffer from the ravages of time and the conversions to other games.  Barring a scattering of reproduction projects, they cannot be replaced.  On the other hand, there are a bunch of not-so-classic cabinets, generic cabinets, and the aforementioned already-been-mutilated cabinets out there.  A message posted on my wwwboard summed it up nicely:

Posted by Anonymous on September 12, 1999 at 12:38:36:

I like this forum. I visit daily, post messages, and appreciate the cooperative environment here. For these reasons, I immediately thought the contributors here should see this commentary I came across.

I am also in the process of building my own cabinet, and am partially guilty of the "sins" mentioned in this commentary. It really made me stop and think.

Please take a moment and read it:

"Arcade cabinet design is a personal favorite of mine, second only to playing the actual games themselves. In fact, I enjoy the look and feel of these consoles so much that I felt inspired enough to invest some hard-earned money into one. I'm creating a MAME machine as we speak.

There are numerous sites with different projects. It's a lot of fun to see how gamers have overcome their design obstacles. Plus, there is a LOT of self-expression in these different mutations. I have incorporated what I think is the best of these original creations into my own project (budget permitting).

But, just as we have to endure ROM beggars and "lamers" elsewhere, we have another undesirable element forming in our midst.

Let's call them The Mutilators.

Who are The Mutilators? What is a Mutilator? How can you identify them? Are you one? Am I one?

As each day passes, arcade cabinets are rotting in fields and warehouses. Machines break and are thrown into dumpsters. We've all seen pictures on the Internet, haven't we? Hell, I've even endured a hornet's sting scavenging for parts while climbing over 30-40 muddy, abandoned cabinets in a barn. Classic cabinets are not renewable resources. They can not be replaced. But there is hope.

The Video Arcade Preservation Society ( is a group of collectors who rescue these cabinets and restore them to their original glory. (I am not a member. I'll need more money and more rooms in my house if I ever aspire to be a "collector".) Just as MAME seeks to document the history of game code, VAPS is attempting to preserve the last physical manifestation of these machines.

But now, well-intentioned retrogamers are coming along who want to build their own MAME machine. (Myself included.) He/she seeks out cabinets, essentially competing for the same equipment that preservationists pursue. But there are differences.

The Mutilator will rip working PCB's out of the cabinet.

The Mutilator will reconfigure the control panel.

The Mutilator will throw away an original monitor bezel.

The Mutilator thinks little of damaging a marquee trying to remove it.

The Mutilator will slice off the control panel overlay.

The Mutilator will forever hide the original artwork with a can of spray paint.

I beg those of you who want to build your own MAME machine to do what I did. PLEASE find a machine that no longer works. PLEASE find a machine that was a mediocre conversion with no original artwork. PLEASE find a cabinet that is in poor shape. If you must use a good cabinet, carefully remove the items listed above. There are dozens of collectors that will buy them from you on And you can always find a sucker who will overpay for them on ebay (or Dave's boards, if they even know what a PCB is).

Sure, it takes a little more time to use a less-than-desirable cabinet. And it might take $25-50 more to complete your project. But consider the consequences. Leave the unpolished gems to the pros. I know my place in the universe. I can only hope everyone else does."

So there you have it.  Please be mindful of this as you look for a cabinet, and don't become a mutilator.  With a little patience and ingenuity, anyone can put some wood together and create a thing of beauty...  None of us can undo destruction of arcade history.

Thank you.

There is a flip side to all this though...  Here's what else can happen to the treasures of our past -- compared to this, resurrection as a multi-game cabinet is a good thing...

Arcade junkyard
Arcade graveyard


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