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Manarc (MAME Cabinet)

In August of 2004, I took on the task of converting an old arcade machine into a MAME cabinet. For those of you who are not familiar with MAME, it is an emulator that allows you to play all kinds of old classic arcade games on a modern PC. By combining the emulation technology on a PC, and the classic controls from an arcade machine, you can actually play pretty much any old arcade game just like you did ages ago.

How did I do it? Well, I bought an old Street Fighter arcade machine, ripped out all of the electronics, mounted a 19″ CRT monitor to the cabinet, purchased all new controls and glass, and wired it all to a computer.

There were a few obstacles. First off, how do I get the classic controls to work with a computer? Thankfully, lots of other people build these cabinets as well so there was a board I could purchase called an I-Pac which translates button and joystick controls signals to various keyboard keys. This was the best thing I ever bought for classic gaming because you basically hook it up to your PC, program each “port” on the board to map to a letter. So when someone presses a button, as long as it is wired into the correct port, it sends the corresponding letter to the keyboard port on your computer and the computer doesn’t know the difference. So if I press “up” on the joystick, it sends the “up arrow” key to the computer. Worked amazingly well.

The other problem that I had was that I wanted to be able to play MORE than just arcade games. I wanted to play Atari & Nintendo games as well. I also wanted to play a lot of the re-made games that had been released. There are a LOT of kickass remakes of Pacman, Space Invaders, etc, so I wanted to include them as well. The two big hurdles with having all of these types of games were making each game use the exact same set of controls (since there would only be a joystick, and a few buttons when all was done, no actual keyboard), and finding a way to be able to pick and choose what I want to play from a single screen.

It resulted in me writing a program called Bender which basically was a front-end used to launch the emulator with the game, or the actual game itself. Lots of tinkering here and there but I got it working.

One other thing I had a hard time thinking of was a name for it. I didn’t want to just put “MAME” on it. I wanted my own name. So I called it Manarc. Matt’s Arcade Nintendo Atari & Retrogaming Cabinet. Works for me. I made a marquee that has the name with a pile of old cartridges in the background to show more retro stuff.

Regardless, it’s not something I play a lot of, but I go through phases and when I do, the machine sees a lot of action. Otherwise, it looks pretty cool in my office and I can honestly say that I did it all myself.

I do have some photos so feel free to check them out. Read the comments to get the full idea of what you’re looking at. Feel free to send me an email if you have any questions about it or need pointers on how to build your own. Also, feel free to check out my old page about the cabinet. This link may die in the future but it is an actual log of things I did as the cabinet was in progress.

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