Nicolas Will is an award winning creative director who's worked with top interactive & advertising agencies
throughout the country. He possesses over a decade of branding experience with a strong background in visual, motion, and sound design. He currently works at Olson in Minneapolis.
In the spring of 2006 I purhased an old cocktail arcade cabinet in fair condition from a guy in Oakland. The plan was to refurbish it and turn it into a MAME Cabinet (arcade cabinet). After a few months of on/off work I completed it and can now give you the thorough rundown of the process.
I was poking around on the classifieds around SF when I came across an ad for a cocktail style arcade cabinet for $50. I emailed the guy and a few hours later I found my self driving around Oakland with a crappy old arcade cabinet in the back of my car. It was heavy, old, rusty, and dusty. A most perfect addition for my living room.
The original game that was in the cabinet was some sort of space shooting game. Unfortunately the name wasn't printed anywhere on the cabinet and the unit was non-functional so that was that.. I attempted to plug it in and boot it up but that was a no go. I checked out the components and everything seemed to be in ok shape. The wood panels were a bit beat up, the glass was severely scratched, the monitor had a bit of burn and the controls were worn from years of use.
After giving the entire cabinet a good inspection I had decided that the best thing to do was to gut it out, test the monitor to see if it was usable and do a bit of measuring to figure out what sort of components to put inside. There were also additional options to consider, such as attempting to use the original quarter slots, fix the small lights behind the "quarter" marquee, and install 1 and 2 player buttons.
Prior to gutting the cabinet I had to be take apart first. The monitor was attached to the top of the cabinet and it simply lifted off the top. After laying it on the floor I considered testing it to see if it was usable, but decided that since I could see the old game burned into the screen from too much use (and the fear of incinerating my arms) I decided to remove the monitor and put it on the corner of the block to let some homeless person electricute himself.
Pulling the cabinet outside to air out (it had a bit of bar funk to it), I began to rip out it's guts. I took out nearly all the wires, cables, slots, and connectors. Cleaned out the spiders eggs, and washed down the sides. From there I removed all of the vents, controls, and metal casings.
Jumping the gun, I decided to see how far I could refurbish the metal casings. I took the quarter slot and buffed it up with a can of Brasso. Walla!
After getting all of metal off, I had originally quickly repainted over all of the surfaces with a glossy black paint. After it had dried I realized I should have gone with a flat black, so I repainted it. After THAT dried I decided that the coats of paint I put on looked like shit. So took a can of Jasco Liquid Death (see next figure) and stripped the paint off everything and repainted.
Before I head into the details of putting the cabinet back together, I want to introduce to you the most vile liquid I have ever come across in a can. Jasco Paint and Epoxy remover is a blessing and a curse all at once. It is one of the few liquids that will burn my hand ferociously on contact, but will continue to eat away anything I've thrown at it. For Christ's sake look at that can, it even eats through it's own skin. If you ever need to remove anything from anything, buy a can of Jasco.
Back to the task at hand, lets move over a second to a bit of tech. I had originally planned to use the original controls of this system to use with the Mame system I plemented into it. To do this, I purchased a PC interface card called the I-Pac from Ultimarc. This card allowed me to take the original wiring from my controls (joystick and two buttons) and wire them into the card, which is connected to your computer via USB. It works flawlessly and allows me to run my computer with the original controls.
Along with I-Pac card I ordered a pair of wire crimps (to add to the tool arsenal) and a package of colored wires to allow my self enough wire to rewire the controls.
With everything removed, the cabinet was ready for a bit of elbow grease. Stripped down to it's bare frame I fixed anything major such as corner supports and cracks, but left quite a few paint chips and marks to still give the cabinet an old feeling.
After the cabinet was soundly enforced and ready, the metal casings and vents were placed back on. The vent on the top helps quite a bit in letting air into the cabinet so the computer won't overheat.
Unfortunately I was unable to setup the quarter slots for real use, because as I found out later, I needed all the room I could get with the monitor and computer being placed inside.
Cleaned up and ready for wiring, the controls proved to worked well once hooked up to the I-Pac. I still considering getting some new buttons as they seem a bit warn.
Here you can see how much wiring was left with from the original controls. In order to wire into the I-Pac card I needed several more feet of it.
I ended up buying a flat screen 19in Dell Monitor for the system and screwed the top into the monitor. I then took the braces and attached them to the sides to the monitor was firmly attached to the wood. The plastic piece on top was part of the original setup, and hides the sides of the monitor, as well as helps with glare in the corners. *UPDATE*! I replaced the CRT monitor with a Dell flat screen.
Placing the monitor on top, I found that it fit perfectly within the cabinet. It appeared that there would be JUST enough room available at the bottom to allow a computer to fit in.
To make sure you couldn't tell that it was a computer monitor you were looking at while playing, I painted the sides of the monitor the same colored black.
After the monitor was figured out, I moved on to fitting the computer into the system. I took my old Athlon XP 2400 system and tower and place it into the bottom of the cabinet sideways. I then proceded to attach the controls to the I-Pac card pictured below.
After the card was wired up, I attached it to the inside corner of the cabinet directly behind the detachable door for easy access.
Slipping the computer case underneath the monitor, you can see that it fit perfectly into the cabinet with not an inch to spare. The back of the computer is accessible through the swinging change door on the front.
No cabinet would be complete without the proper marquees to stylize it, so I ended up buying an original 1981 Galaga marquee. Here you can see it being placed on before I applied the new glass top. Finding the right marquee and glass took me a bit of time, but in doing so I found some awesome places to keep in mind. First, is a place called Arcade Art which has a ton of original arcade art in VECTOR. The second great place is called The Game Doctor where I purchased a new glass top.
After placing the glass on top, then securing the glass clips on the side, I was completely finished. With a couple tweeks in Mame, the screen worked absolutely perfect. It's now been a few years since I finished this cabinet, and it's been on quite a ride moving from San Francisco, to Seattle, to New York and then back to San Francisco. It's had many homes and continues to be my little piece of fun as move from place to place.
Over the last decade I've worked with a variety of high profile clients, in some fantastic cities and on some amazing brands. With a broad range of experience in digital and traditional media, I go at my work with an open mind and a strong holistic view. email@example.com
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