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Make Your Home Arcade Dreams a Reality

High Priest


I think a common dream for most retro gaming enthusiast is owning their own arcade machine. The ultimate goal would be a basement full of authentic arcade cabinets that covers all the bases of retro arcade goodness. That is a pretty lofty goal that would require an excessive amount of space, money and understanding from your significant other... Luckily, in 2021 you have never had more options to cover as many arcade machines in one machine than ever before. With the large amount of affordable home arcade options I am hopeful that seeing some sort of arcade setup in basements and rec rooms will become as common as dart boards, pool or foosball tables. Let's take a look at some of the options available!


Form Factors and Your Choices


Before you decide on what arcade setup to go with, you should look at all of your form factor options. This is going to be dictated largely by you space, how many players, and possible your budget. Another thing to consider is your button layout. A six button setup will cover the vast majority of games, but if you have aspirations of emulating anything modern, an eight button setup would be really nice. I will talk about ways to play modern games on an arcade setup later in the article.


Bar Top




The bar top is aimed at two player setups that are low on floor space. This is probably the most practical setup to go with. You have a lot of options when it comes to bar tops since they are one of the most popular options. The downside for the bar tops would be that they are exclusively two player setups and will restrict your options when it comes to screen size as well. You have some great options when it comes to making your own bar top setup. I would recommend to just order the panels and find the rest of the parts on your own. The joysticks and buttons that come with the kits are not always the best quality. They will feel ok in the store, or while you are installing them, but when you go to pull off a combo in Marvel vs Capcom 2 or are dodging bullets in a "shmup", you will wish you had splurged on better sticks and buttons. Your sense of nostalgia expects something like an authentic Sanwa joystick, even if its a worn one, covered in pizza grease.


DIY Kit-Panels only

Micro Center Bartop Arcade Cabinet 22" - Unassembled - Micro Center

LVL23 Easy to Assemble 2 Player bartop / tabletop arcade | Etsy

LVL27 23 to 27 screen 2 Player bartop / tabletop | Etsy


Full Kits

Micro Center 22" Bartop Arcade Kit - Unassembled - Micro Center

Bartop Arcade Multicade Bar Top Fully Customizable | Etsy


Full Size Cabinet


This is what people think of when you say that you have an arcade machine at home. The full size cabinet will open your options up to four players and a larger monitor if you wish.


The freestanding cabinets also introduce the option to buying arguably the easiest way to get into the arcade scene by getting an Arcade 1up machine. A couple guys on the "Emulate This" Discord have modded their Arcade 1up machines to really be impressive setups. The picture below comes from @Daniel_LA or as the show dubbed him "The Smog Strangler". He added new buttons, joysticks, integrated Wii motes for light gun games, and is running it off a nicely upgraded office PC.




If you want a little larger footprint, there are lots of DIY kit that send you the panels to assemble and leave it to you to come up with everything else. You can put a Raspberry Pi or try to fit a smaller form factor PC to run your games off of. There are a ton of guides and videos online that show you how to take an older smaller office PC and pop a low end graphics card in it to make an amazing emulation machine. If you are new to PC gaming, maybe stop by the "Emulate This" Discord so we can walk you through it. It is a rough time to build a PC, and its easy to spend money on the wrong components. This is where you want to decide if you want to have a two player or four player setup. The trend is to have all of the players have the same button layouts, but when you really think about it, there really is not need a for player 3 or 4 to have full six button setups.


Micro Center Full Size Arcade Cabinet 32" - Unassembled - Micro Center

LVL32B4 Flagship 4 Player Upright Arcade Cabinet Kit for up to | Etsy


Fight Sticks/Pedestals


The last option is what I have recently built for my own setup. This is not your traditional arcade setup, but to me it is the most flexible. I went with a four player, six button pedestal setup and have been really happy with it. You could even skip the pedestal setup all together and just get a fight stick and set it on a table in front of a TV. I got my setup from a vendor on Etsy (LEP1Customs) and was pretty happy with the end result. I may try to drill out 2 extra buttons for players 1 and 2 to make them 8 button setups, but the way it sits now I am having a lot of fun with it. I just mounted a spare TV I had on the wall and parked the pedestal in front of it. The setup was pretty affordable and something that I would recommend anyone with basic DIY skills to tackle!






Building Your Setup


Regardless of your choice in style, you will have to decide what you want to power the system, your hardware and your finish.


Finish

I went with just a clean white paint that would let me apply graphics to it down the road, but painting the unfinished MDF was an epic pain in the ass. I had to apply two coats of sanding sealer, sanded the hell out of it and then apply three coats of paint to it. I am thrilled with the outcome, but it took so much time to get it to this point. The easier, but more expensive option is to get custom graphics printed on a vinyl wrap. This removes all of the painting steps and gives you an really cool finish. A lot of the companies that make these arcade kits, will help you with custom graphics as well. I added some cheap LED's on the back of mine to give it a little pop of color against the white. I can set the colors/scenes with an app on my phone. It is an arcade machine after all!




Powering Your Setup


I went with what I was familiar with and put a Raspberry Pi 4 in my arcade setup. It can run most games Dreamcast and down without issues, and even does well with some of the 3D arcade systems like Atomiswave and Naomi. These are some of the best arcade experiences I was looking for, so I have been leaning into those games heavily so far. If you already have a decent PC, but don't want to cram it into your arcade setup, the Raspberry Pi can run "steamlink" which lets you stream anything in your steam library to your Raspberry Pi, and use your arcade controls. This is when you will want to have an 8 button setup, or at least it is when I started thinking about it. With an 8 button arcade setup, you could map every button on a modern controller, with the exception of the "L3/R3". Modern fighting games like "Marvel vs Capcom 3" and Soul Calibur VI really would be better with 8 buttons to fully take advantage of the steamlink functionality. I did test out Streets of Rage 4 with the arcade setup and it is the only way I want to play that game now. You should also consider some of the more simple N64 games. Mario Kart 64 with arcade controls is an absolute blast. Look at Dreamcast and N64 for good four player games that would be fun with friends. I will be playing a lot of NFL Blitz with buddies.


Hardware


The easiest place to cut corners on is your joysticks and buttons. There are endless options on Amazon for arcade buttons and joysticks, but I would really recommend you go for higher quality hardware, for at least players one and two, which is going to be used the most, and for the games where it matters the most. Sanwa is one of the most well known companies that make hardware for real arcade cabinets. I ended up replacing the buttons and sticks on player one and two on my setup because I was unhappy with how the knock off sticks and buttons felt. This is another aspect of your build that will really impact the overall look of your arcade setup. I went with all black buttons and sticks since the area it is going in is pretty well finished off and I did not want a bunch of bright colors all over. You can go with multi-colored buttons with LED's in them if you want to go wild. The only thing I will say here is that you need to make sure that you wire your buttons and sticks to your USB encoder exactly the same as the other in your setup, or some of them will not work, or will not work correctly. My first attempt had the other players with inverted joysticks or buttons mixed up. It sounds simple enough, but there is a ton of wiring going on and its easy to mix up a black and red lead.



Closing Thoughts


The best advice I could offer someone about building an arcade setup is to just do it. Don't worry about getting the best of the best or waiting until you can find the money/space for a giant all encompassing cabinet. Grab a DIY kit or an Arcade 1up and start enjoying it!