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UK Mike (miner2049er)

The Bi-Weekly British Backtrack – MAME Cab Part 2

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Q. What’s black and sits in the corner of a stable in Yorkshire for years?
A. My new arcade cab project.

So here it is in all its glory. Well, excuse the condition but it had been living in North Yorkshire, and that would test the mettle of any man, and indeed the metal too. Do you know any metal men?

Last time I mentioned that the ideal scenario would be to get a cab that was no longer functional then I wouldn’t have the guilt trip of sacrificing a piece of history. Now this is hardly The Antiques Roadshow I know but it is still a piece of history none the less and as it was indeed no longer working it fitted the bill perfectly. Originally the cab had been the eighth Solitaire Challenge cab sold by US Company Valley Dynamo in 1994 to a UK company, but somewhere in its lifetime the game had been removed and had been replaced with a PC running M.A.M.E.. However, once the then owner moved out of his parents house, his brother kindly stole the PC and the cab was abandoned until I rescued it.

When I brought it home the PC was no longer present but the monitor was, all 15 inches of it. The first thing I would be looking to do was upgrade that to a more respectable nineteen inch model but judging from the original bezel around the screen though it was clear that the original game had only contained a 15 inch monitor. While authenticity is one thing, squinting while playing games is another so a bigger monitor was the order of the day.

The Control Panel still contained the original controls of the Trackball and Fire buttons, but more had been added to create a single player three button setup along with an 8-way joystick. I would be looking to install a two player layout with two joysticks and four fire buttons for each player. As you’ll see from my prototype panel I had originally planned on having just three buttons, but playing Defender for example with three buttons is not the best way to appreciate it so I added a fourth button to my design.

Obviously the cab was dirty and dusty but luckily apart from a couple of bashed corners it was still structurally sound, and I would come to discover pretty solidly built actually. So much so that I wouldn’t in fact strip it completely and dismantle all of the panels, but I would only take it back to a bare carcass. The first job was to strip it out so that I could begin to check and repair the actual physical cab structure and once the insides had gone I took out the monitor shelf and coin door, then removed the kick plate and the damaged T Moulding.

Once it was gutted I could lie the cab down on its back and sides to work on it and I fitted some temporary wheels to the bottom so I could move it around more easily. That allowed me to spin it round to get to the sides as I needed to, and basically the main job just involved a lot of filling and sanding in preparation for a new finish. It was fairly standard fare filling and sanding the sides of the cab but I had to reconstruct two of the bottom corners where they had been bashed. I tried using an ordinary wood filler but it didn’t really work out the way I wanted it to. In the past I’ve used wood fillers and even sawdust and chippings mixed with wood glue, but this time I tried something slightly different, a glue gun (damn themz hot!) Yes just an ordinary glue gun. I made a mould around the edge of the cab just by bending stiff card around it to form the rounded edge, then tacked it in place with small nails and squirted hot glue into it. The glue knitted really well with the existing bashed edges and moulded right up against the card. Once it was dry I just removed the card and rubbed it down a little with fine sandpaper.

Will it survive a severe thrashing? No. Will it be strong enough to survive day to day to use? Absolutely.

With the corners taken care of, and it was only the two back corners at the bottom of the cab, obviously where it has been tilted back to be moved, I had to think about the routed edges. They would be mostly covered by new T Molding but if I didn’t get exactly the right width then there would be some bare timber showing through. All I did was apply a cheap matt black spray paint from a car repair shop and it worked a treat. Any little bits that got bumped later or showed through could be touched up with a black permanent marker pen.

Once that was done I had to think about getting a satisfactory finish on the front, back and side panels, and really the options were paint or a vinyl covering, and I decided pretty early on that I wouldn’t use paint. I was concerned that I wouldn’t get a smooth and good looking finish with a brush or roller so the only other option was to spray it and apart from having no equipment to do that, my garage is not really set up for spraying paint around. I did consider some kind of speckled or textured paint because then it wouldn’t matter too much how smooth the brush finish was as the speckling would hide it to some degree, but I didn’t find anything I liked, and throwing a bit of sand in the paint is a little too amateurish even for me. I settled on a vinyl covering and it came down to a straight choice between Happ Vinyl and Fablon.

In the end, and for the only time in this whole exercise, I made the choice on price alone. Yes the Happ Vinyl would have looked better when finished but it was the pricier option and it was shipped from America. Fablon I could buy either by the roll from B&Q or Wilkinsons or by the metre from Wallpaper Supplies.

The only trouble with a smooth finish Fablon is that it will show imperfections in the underlying surface, so the finish below it had to be good. If the cab had been in worse shape and had more knocks, dents and scrapes then that would have dictated the finish I applied, and the decision would have been different, but considering that this was a refurb project rather than a new build the finish was surprisingly good. In a couple of places if you look closely you can see imperfections but the finish is matt and not high gloss which helps hide things a little too.

Applying the Fablon is really easy but you need to ensure that the surface and the air if possible is dust free because if any dust gets stuck to the glue on the back of it, it can be difficult to get off, and even if you do manage to get it off you can leave a scar on the Fablon itself.

Once applied, the overhanging edges can be trimmed with a sharp Stanley knife and any small rectangular pieces of Fablon can then be applied to your top lip in a satirical parody of Charlie Chaplin. You family will find this most amusing. Oh yes, they will.

They may groan and call you stupid, but inside they are laughing as much as you are. They just can’t show it. It’s the law.

In general a renovated MAME cab will have four components that require Mains power and they are the PC, the monitor, the speakers and the marquee light. You could, if you wanted to, use twelve volt speakers and a twelve volt strip light in the marquee and the advantage of that is twofold:
(1) You can take a 12 volt feed from the PC itself.
(2) Both the speakers and the marquee will only power up when the PC powers up.

If you plan on including fire buttons with lights in then these will also be powered by the PC as the bulbs in them will either be 12 volts or 5 volts. Both of these voltages can be easily found using the Molex connectors on the PSU. The two black wires are negative while the red is 5 volts and the yellow 12 volts. My cab has no marquee and my speakers are Mains powered so I will need to power three components and to do that I will fit a four way surge protector inside and leave the cord trailing out of the back to be plugged into a wall socket. Here you can see the surge protector and the lead going through the back of the cab, and here on the left are the components stripped out of the speakers original case to help make the controls easily accessible via the coin door.

Another important issue to bear in mind is that you will have to rewire the PCs power button so that it is easily accessible and the cab can be turned on without having to reach inside and switch it on. To prevent having to hack apart the original button assembly I came up with an idea to reroute the cable out of an adapted PCI slot cover. One end will now connect straight to the motherboard connectors so I can just disconnect the original one and leave it untouched, and then on the other end I fitted a Molex Connector enabling me to run the other end to a power button on the cab somewhere. The beauty of this solution is that if I ever need to remove the PC from the cab at some point I can simply disconnect it here and leave all the other circuitry in place. I can also swap the PC for a different one very easily if needs be.

To hold the PC steady and in place in the cab I positioned it how I wanted it and then drew around the base with a pencil. Using the lines as a guide I screwed some thin wooden lats to the floor of the cab so that the PC wouldn’t move laterally and I then held it down with a ratchet strap.

Perhaps the most awkward part of the refurb so far was seating the monitor properly. You can see that the old monitor just sat loose on a shelf and underneath you can see where previous adjustments have been made to the shelf’s height, probably when the original arcade monitor was replaced.
As I was using a different sized monitor I would have to adjust the height again, and it wasn't so much that it was difficult, it was just awkward having to hold the monitor roughly in place and picture whereabouts the shelf would need to be then temporarily screwing it in place and trying the monitor on it. The idea was to find an optimal height so that when the front glass and bezel were fitted later the screen area would occupy a central part of it.

When thinking about fitting a monitor to a MAME cab there are a few things to bear in mind; the main thing is that in general a CRT monitor is the easiest thing to use. A TFT screen is no good for the job at all as arcade cabs had a wide variety of screen resolutions and refresh rates but TFT monitors have a fixed refresh rate. This means that if you play MAME on a TFT screen you will notice graphical glitches and ghosting as the picture is redrawn on screen with the wrong timing. An arcade monitor will give you the best results but;
(a) you have to get hold of one.
(b) you need to buy a specific graphics card to send an output to it.

A television would give you decent results but again you would need specific outputs on your graphics card for it and you would almost certainly have to decase it to make it fit inside the cab, and that can kill you. Literally.

Monitors are easily the most dangerous thing inside an arcade cabinet whether it is an original cab or a MAME cab and the monitor can hold a charge anywhere up to 30,000 volts. If you want to work on a monitor like this you will have to discharge it. While it can be done it is not something I will cover here as I have never done it. If you are going to do it yourself you must take great care. For example NEVER go into the back of a monitor with both arms because if you were to get a shock the current would cross your heart, and while that is a great commodity to have in a bra, it is not something considered wise when dealing with massive amounts of electricity, especially if your have wire in your bra.

I will be using a CRT monitor in my cab and initially I tried to fit a 19 inch monitor because the more gaming “real estate” you have the better, especially if you are sitting your monitor horizontally. While a horizontal orientation is great for games like Defender, any games that originally had a vertical monitor setup like Pacman will be re sized and squashed vertically so you want the biggest monitor you can get away with. Unfortunately due to the construction of my cab I was unable to fit a 19 inch monitor into it. Whenever I had the monitor in I couldn’t get the front glass in place over it, even if I completely decased the monitor it still wouldn’t go in.

Look at the difference between these various cabs and you can see how and where the monitor sits in the various constructions.
Upright Cab with reclined monitor
Cocktail Cab with flat monitor
Solitaire Cab with upright monitor

You can see that with a cocktail cab or a reclined monitor layout there is much more room to accommodate a larger and deeper monitor, but as it was I just didn’t have the space to fit my 19 inch CRT in there so I had to settle for a 17 inch CRT instead. Even that was a bit of tight squeeze as you can see from my modifications to it. I just had to screw a few little extra pieces of timber to the shelf to prop up the monitor so that it would sit both centrally, and at just the right angle so that it’s front edge sits roughly parallel with the front glass when in place.

The monitor that came with the cab was a beige one with the front fascia painted black so that it looked better in the cab, but luckily mine was a black Dell monitor so I didn’t need to worry about painting or removing the fascia.
Once all the components had been dry fitted I could test the cab to double check that;
(a) all the cables were the right length.
(b) the power button on the cab worked to power the machine both on and off.

Now I could remove everything again and make all those final finishing touches to the cosmetics without getting dust all over the components and without having to lean in and out of the cab too much when the final finish was on there.

So that’s about it for this entry, even I thought it dragged on a bit. Next time out we look at the control panel.

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