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So, we have an arcade in our house. I feel it necessary to mention this because anyone who comes over to our house, even people like contractors, always comment on how amazing it is.
In late 2009, about six months after we moved into this house, Ken and I were finally getting around to planning a housewarming / end-of-summer party. It would be the first big get-together we’d have at our house. About three weeks before the party, Ken says: “I want to build an arcade for the house and have it ready by the party.”
This is a relatively normal conversation for us. My first question was “How much will it cost?” The second question was, “How much space will it take up in the basement?”
Both of Ken’s answers were reasonable, and to be honest, I was pretty excited at the prospect of having an arcade in our basement! So, like most projects in our house, packages started arriving at our door a few days later.
Building your Own Arcade
So, what is involved in building your own arcade?
There are six main parts:
- Arcade Cabinet – this is the housing of the arcade and what makes it look like more than just a computer playing old games.
- Arcade Controls – This is also key, using professional grade buttons makes it feel and play authentic.
- Video & Sound
- Computer Hardware – You can use an old desktop computer your have laying around.
- Computer Software
- Accessories & Enhancements
You don’t have to complete any of these steps in this specific order. For instance, you can get your computer set up and software ready to go while you are still building the cabinet. Also if you plan on using a CRT TV (a big tube TV) as your video display (more on that later), you should keep an eye on Craigslist because you likely won’t be able to buy a new CRT TV.
First, you’ll need to figure out how you want to house your arcade. You basically have three options:
- Build the cabinet yourself. This is an option and you’re a handy person, you may want to build your entire arcade cabinet from scratch. If you have the tools, desire, and talent that can be a fun way to go. Building it yourself ensures that you get the look and features that you want. You can also get existing blueprints and information online to help get you started [find links].
- Retrofit an existing cabinet. If you aren’t handy enough to do it yourself with saws and routers (which includes us), then another way to get a cabinet for your arcade is to retrofit an old cabinet. If you can get your hands on a broken arcade machine retrofitting a cabinet can look awesome. Be aware in the arcade modding enthusiast community (this is a real thing!) it’s considered bad form to modify a working arcade machine into using a computer like the arcade you’re going to build for your house. Although if you do have a working one and you want to play other games on it it would probably be more economical to sell that one than to destroy it. Also, depending on the shape of the existing cabinet, you might need to do some sanding and painting.
- Assemble a new kit. Finally if you can’t find a used cabinet or you just want something new, pre-made kits are a great way to go. They ship in flat packs and go together just like Ikea furniture. The company we used is called North Coast Customs and they have many different styles to choose from.
If you are building it yourself or buying a kit, the next step is you have to decide what style cabinet do you want. This depends on what you are looking for aesthetically as well as how much space you have. There are many variations but these are the main categories:
- Upright – If you’re a child of the 70s, 80s, or even 90s, this is what you think of as an arcade machine
- Bartop – Think of this as an Upright with the bottom cut off. You can set it on a desk or table without taking as much room. Although this takes a little bit extra planning because you don’t have as much room for all the hardware.
- Cocktail – These were popular in the 70s. This is a good compromise if you don’t have much space because it can be used as a table when not in use.
- Showcase – This splits up the display and control areas. If you want to use your huge 100 inch TV as our arcade display this is the way to go. Although least authentic this can be really fun.
In our next posts about the arcade, we’ll talk more about assembling our arcade and figuring out the software and hardware.