This project was a nice little Christmas present for my kids, and a prototype for Me. Using MAME, the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator, I built a “universal” arcade machine. The style of the case is a 3/4 scale version of Defender, one of my favorite arcade games.

The Box of Fun

Day 1 - Requirements

The Building has started for the Kids Mame Machine v1! I have taken plenty photos from the shop and sprinkled them throughout this page. This evening I made a template, the basic box, and threw a quick undercoating on the inside of the cabinet to keep it looking nice.

I laid out some of my requirements for this project, to guide the project – and keep it on track. It could be very easy to try and make this version do everything. I’ll just have to keep in mind, “this one is a prototype.”

Required Features

  • Play arcade games
  • Have arcade style controls
  • Be able to play the classics: Frogger, DigDug, PacMan
  • Maybe play newer games like Gauntlet
  • OS Should not be apparent while selecting games or playing
  • Show game snapshots for selection by kids that cannot yet read
  • Be able to limit games available for easy selection
  • 3/4 scale size for my kids to play easily
  • Colorful graphics and cabinet
  • Monitor that can play horizontal or vertical games without too much trouble
  • Minimal cost (less than $200 - with free computer)
  • Easy to replicate
  • Rugged enough to handle little fingers and inquisitive minds
  • No take too much time to build and setup
  • Easily Movable
  • As few external wires as possible, power, network
  • lockable - so kids wont destroy

Optional Features

  • Ability to play existing PC games: PuttPutt, FreddieFish, Scooby Doo
  • CD-ROM accessible w/o opening box
  • Keyboard accessible w/o opening box
  • Trackball for mouse
  • Play MP3’s from remote server
  • Photo-show facility
  • Remote management of machine

Days 2 and 3 - The Build

The Building continues on the Kids Mame Machine. These two days, I did quite a bit of layout and building on the basic box completed yesterday.

Some of the software is starting to come together. I have MAME, and MAME32 working (very) slowly on the 166MHz/200MHz computer that I have. Will have to look closer at this as deploy time approaches.

Days 3 and 4 - Software and Hardware

Now that the cabinetwork is done, and its not the weekend anymore, things have slowed down a bit. I have been working on the software trying find a decent front-end program and get MAME setup with all the games I would like (and legally have).


Most of front ends are not really that good. They are difficult to install, and expect to be in the MAME directory. I have tried several and have not had much luck, or confidence with any of them. My requirements are that “Windows” or “Linux” not show through on this box at all. You would think as a Software professional I could get software installed!? Perhaps I’ll roll my own.


I bought a few used buttons and a 49-way joystick from a local vending supplier for a relatively good price. At least they can be used to lay things out until the real ones come in. I have laid out the control panel. On this mini-machine space is real tight. WIll not be able to get a trackball in.

The layout has a 8 way joystick, 6 game buttons, three mini buttons for ESC (quit game), P (pause), and TAB (change settings). The coin and player start buttons will probably go on the front panel where the coin slot would be.

The computer I have is seriously underpowered. A 200MHz will not cut the mustard. So now I’m poking around for an upgraded motherboard. Still looking for details on what the real minimum requirement should be for this. Opinions seem to vary quite a bit.

Short Break

Well, due to (1) parts not arriving yet and (2) pending Plan9 Robot Sumo on Friday (today) I have had to take a break these past few days from working on the Kids Mame Machine 1. Hopefully the buttons and joystick will come in from Ultimarc today or tomorrow. They have been shipped and are flying across the globe somewhere as I write this. At that point, I can get back to the wiring and making things go. Then again, it’s supposed to 70degrees out tomorrow – so I might be outside enjoying one of the last warm days this year!.

Nearing Completion

After a weekend of activity the Kids Mame 1 is nearing completion. I received all my parts from UltiMarc on Friday (what a wonderful surprise). I made a new control panel, tore a computer apart, and added a wire channel to the case.

The parts from from UltiMarc all came on Friday. With these in hand I could actually lay out the control panel. In doing this, I discovered the trackball would fit between the buttons and joystick. Wa Hoooo! I was hoping I could get it in there. Using the new layout, the control panel was cut up in MDF. Then using a scanner, I scanned the control panel and brought it into a drawing program. Using the drawing program, with the scanned image as a background, I laid out the graphics to go on the panel. This was printed on card stock and then cut out and scotch taped to the panel. Yes, this is a temporary solution to ensure the layout is acceptable before printing on laminate or something more costly.

Most of the buttons were the “used” ones from local Skillful Vending. Why not, the kids will destroy them anyway. I put new micro-switches on them, which helped the “feel” quite a bit. Wiring was relatively easy - I labelled every wire, switch, and connection point with a number from a sticky pad. The wires are also wrapped with wire management conduit stuff to keep them together. And of course, color coded based on where they go (joystick=green, buttons=yellow, coin/start=red, ground=black).

A channel was cut on the right side of the monitor area of the box to allow the power and audio cables to be routed. Saving me from plugging and unplugging every time you want to rotate the monitor. Just a simple 3/4” wide and about 1/4” deep grove. At the ends a small section of metal that is screwed in to keep the ends in the grove. And along the wires, hot-melt glue to keep them from popping out and catching the monitor.

The computer is an old 450MHz that I completely ravaged and rebuilt on a wooden frame. The frame slides in and out on the bottom of the box for easy access. I reused the CD and hard disk mounting parts to mount these parts on a shelf in the front. My hope is to make the CD accessible from the front without having to open the front door. I’ll have to cut a hole and slide the CD forward a little bit. A second shelf has the power strip, cords, and control panel interfaces on it and can slide forward and back for easy access.

For software, I have gone (back) to poking at MameWAH. I had been using AdvanceMENU, but it does not appear to have “grouping” or “favorites” support. MameWAH is not well documented, but at least there is active development and discussion about it online.

As for other software… well I have not yet tried the PC Games that we want to have on there. Fortunately I can also use the trackball as a mouse, so these should go easily. I need to get that CD accessible from the front though.

At least now the project is at the point where I have a “punch list”. So there is light at the end of the tunnel.

More Software

The software to run the Kids Mame 1 continues to be the focus of activity these past few days. I had switched back to MameWAH but there are some features I don’t like. Like the inability to have a single menu with games from multiple “emulators.” I’m back to pondering my own.

On the good side, I have managed to make a few batch files to run CD-based PC Games from ISO images (which are on my server). Thus eliminating the need for the actual CD’s, which tend to get trashed. Using FileDisk, which mounts ISO images (and others) as drives under WindowsXP and VidRes to set/reset screen resolution from a batch file.

Software Currently in Use

Soon to come?

  • MESS, console emulator
  • Nintendo Emulator, not chosen
  • Super Nintendo Emulator, not chosen
  • Sega Emulator, not chosen
  • PlayStation Emulator, not chosen

Cost Analysis

So now you are wondering how much has this bad boy cost me so far….

Well here is the current accounting of the costs. Note that the computer, monitor, and related parts were free! And with a decently equiped shop many of the screws, etc. would be on-hand.

Kids MAME 1 - Cost Analysis
Item Description Quantity Cost Total Category Total
2x41/2" MDF 5 $5.86 $29.30
4x4 1/4" Hardboard (template)* 1 $5.99 $5.99
2x4 8' Lumber for bracing 1 $3.99 $3.99
Home Depot, Lumber$39.28
3" Hinges (pack of 2) 2 $2.99 $5.98
16x18 Plexiglass* 1 $5.00 $5.00
Lock Set* 2 $5.00 $10.00
Casters, rotateable 2 $3.99 $7.98
Casters, non-rotateable 2 $2.99 $5.98
13" Flourescent Light 1 $18.99 $18.99
Screws* 1 $5.00 $5.00
Home Depot, Hardware$58.93
Spray Paint, Purple 3 $2.79 $8.37
Spray Paint, Black 2 $2.79 $5.58
Spray Paint, Clear 2 $2.79 $5.58
Sandpaper, 150 and 220* 2 $1.00 $2.00
Home Depot, Finishing $21.53
Tapered Screws (for control panel 8 $0.25 $2.00
Cooks, Hardware $2.00
Mame Roms on DVD 1 $18.90 $18.90
OnLine Mame Burners $18.90
Arcade Buttons 6 $1.90 $11.40
I-Pac Interface (USB) 1 $43.00 $43.00
Opti-Pac Interface 1 $44.00 $44.00
J-Stik joystick (oval) 1 $15.00 $15.00
LED Harness 1 $15.00 $15.00
PCB Mounting Feet 1 $3.00 $3.00
2-1/4" Trackball 1 $26.00 $26.00
Shipping 1 $7.00 $7.00
UltiMarc $164.40
Momentart Pushbuttons (RS) 4 $2.50 $10.00
Lighted 120V Switch (power) 1 $1.99 $1.99
Knob (for volume control)* 2 $0.75 $1.50
Wire* 1 $5.00 $5.00
Power Strip 1 $9.00 $9.00
Soderless Wire Connectors* 50 $0.05 $2.50
Radio Shack, Electronics $29.99
450 MHz Computer 1 $0.00 $0.00
20 GB HDD 2 $0.00 $0.00
CD-ROM Drive 1 $0.00 $0.00
15" Monitor 1 $0.00 $0.00
Powered Speakers 1 $0.00 $0.00
Stephen Houser, Computer $0.00
Total $333.03


I’ve made a little progress on the artwork among the software dealings the past couple of days. I snagged a real low-res marquee off the ‘net to use. Mostly so I can see if I like it enough to buy a high-res version. I think after playing with some side art, I will leave the sides blank purple.

The software battle continues, I’m still with MameWAH, not sure for how long though. I have ripped more CDs for the on-the-machine PC-games. Seems Harry Potter and the Sorcere’s Stone has some bad-sector copy-protection to overcome. And the latest Putt Putt: Pep’s Birthday Suprise (now from Atari) is a bit strange as well.

In other news Alan’s (defunct) cabinet is looking prety sweet!


Since the major activity has long since past, there have been a few modifications to the Kids Mame 1.

Recent Details Completed

  • Wireless networking (done)
  • Plexiglass control panel overlay
  • Redesigned control panel background

Things Not Going to be Done

  • Side Art (I tried some prototypes, but liked the plain look)
  • Tweak the interface (develop own?)

Things left to work out

  • A persistent problem with the ISO image mounter causes excessive system time and system slowdowns.
  • Secure a few wires and plugs inside the box.
  • New Marquee to match control panel
  • deployment of new CD-Games.
  • HarryPotter Needs CD to run!?
  • Write a “complete” article on construction and deployment.