This long road to a home arcade
machine began in about the Summer of 1992.
In the early nineties, myself and a
group of friends began playing the arcade game "Mortal
Kombat". My roommate at the time, Keith Kalet, discovered
the game at the arcade in the student center at Georgia Tech (Atlanta,
GA) and his description of the game was compelling, to say the
least. We began playing the game regularly, and after we became
good enough at the game to challenge other people, we used to
search out the machines in different arcades to find other
players we could challenge and learn from. Thinking back, we met
a lot of really scary characters back then, and they usually got
nicknames associated with them according to playing or personal
hygiene style. There was "stinky", Raiden (the guy was
tall and always played that character), the "p*ssy-kick"
guy, the 'switchers' etc.
Anyway, around that time I
discovered you could buy classic arcade games rather cheaply, and
bought a number of games and boards in a single deal from a guy
that had his parent's garage full of them.
Here was the haul around that time
* Complete Millipede, which still
lives on in my parents pool room
* Pac-Man cocktail (monitor is bad), boardset works and is
actually "Pac-Man Plus" (official Namco)
* Two different Nintendo-style cocktails. One was Phoenix, which
was lost in a job-loss/left behind at the office incident by a
friend. The other was a Route-16 cocktail with a bad board, but
good monitor. I swapped in an extra Phoenix board I got in the
deal and it still lives on in my parents pool room.
* Haunted Castle boardset. Sold to a Castlevania nut in 1999 or
so, probably too cheaply. ($50) I was later told the board was
worth more due to Castlevania popularity but a little Ebay
research didn't bear that out. I didn't like the game.
* Punch-Out boardset
* Gyruss boardset
* Terra Cresta boardset
* An extra Phoenix boardset
* Galaga boardset THAT USED TO BE A DIG-DUG. Apparently, this was
a very rare conversion that I didn't know the significance of at
the time and stupidly traded to someone on the 'rec.games.video.arcade'
newsgroup for a "working" Galaga boardset. Of course,
when I finally got the boardset from him, it did *not* work. No
loss gameplay-wise, but that was before I had a digital camera
and all where I could have documented it. It was a single-board
Dig-Dug set with little parts of the board covered in epoxy, and
jumper wires going everywhere. All it did was power up with trash
on the screen, but is was a rare piece and I wish I still had it.
The guy I bought it from got it from guy he said did the mod
himself-- I remember he called him an "idiot genius".
How much did this haul cost me back
then, you ask. 4 complete machines, and a half dozen boardsets
set me back only about $400.
Never was a deal like this to be
found ever again.
Moving along, after I got married
and moved back to Augusta in 1996, I got the home arcade bug
again. I found that official Mortal Kombat boardsets could be had
for a mere $50, so I jumped on that and bought a revision 2 board
and marquee. I then set about figuring out how to play the thing
without a cabinet, so I drug out the old Amiga 1084 monitor and
got the video up, only to find that it isn't very fun to play
arcade games by shorting the pins on the edge connector (although
I'm sure I spent several minutes doing this). So, on to develop a
controller for it. I bought all the buttons and joysticks from
Happ Controls and went to Home Depot to see what I could find to
build a control panel. I ended up getting some MDF that had a
white formica-like side to it so it wouldn't be bare wood and
could be wiped clean of the sweat of MK competition. I got enough
to build a box about 4 feet wide, 1 foot high, and about 1.5 feet
deep. This was enough by my estimation to work comfortably as a
control panel for 2 players. I made the box, cut the holes,
hinged the top, and then put all the wires and the board in the
bottom of the box with an old PC power supply. It was an absolute
mess of wires, the buttons were too far apart, and it was heavy,
but I had arcade Mortal Kombat in my house!
After the box was built, my friend (Chris Hurley) and I realized that if the wiring was more
standardized in the box, you could swap in other games and have a
multi-arcade machine. I only had one other JAMMA board besides
the MK (Haunted Castle) so that wasn't helpful. He came up with
the idea of using old floppy cables (we work in a PC shop and had
tons of them) wired up to female edge connectors for each board.
This way you could plug in the female floppy connector to the
male one in the box and swap games. Power was supplied by
attaching a standard PC power connector to the female board
connector also. Great idea! We rewired MK and got that working
and were able to swap in Haunted Castle, then wired up one for a
Moon Patrol boardset. That worked too, plus a bonus! We had a
Kung-Fu Master boardset with the same pinout as Moon Patrol, so
now we could play 4 different arcade games with about 2 minutes
After a lot of neglect, I forgot
about the project. I had thought of trying to make a PC joystick
out of my control box at different points to play MAME, but after
disassembling different keyboards at different times, it didn't
look like you could easily solder the wires anywhere. As it
turned out, I just picked the wrong keyboards, as many people
have done it this way since then. Fast forward to about 2001 and
I discovered the I-Pac. This little device was fairly inexpensive
and let me connect the wires from my old control box directly to
terminals on the board, then plug it straight into the keyboard
port. What an innovation! No special drivers, and it was made for
MAME specifically. I bought one and wired it up and was off and
running with a huge control box in front of my T.V. The MK board
came out and still sits on a shelf in my office. It really
deserves more respect.
From there, another coworker got a
few old complete machines for free, including a Pac-Man,
Carnival, and an *old* Depth Charge. The Carnival cabinet seemed
to be the most generic and easy to get apart, so I was able to
get it from him to build my own real MAME machine. I removed all
the buttons and controls from my box and destroyed it (without
taking pictures, d'oh!) and relanded them on a new control panel
that fit on the Carnival. Now, Carnival is NOT a wide cabinet--
it's only a 19", so 2-player fighting games are tight
quarters, but it works if you're friendly enough with your
opponent. (And they aren't "stinky" of previous fame).
I bought a cheap 20" TV with S-Video inputs from Wal-Mart,
and got an old ATI Rage card with video out off Ebay and was very
disappointed with the picture quality overall. I guess I expected
more from the TV, as it was great for DVD's and the like, but
looked terrible with MAME at the close-range an arcade monitor
needs. On top of that, the ATI is far too slow to handle anything
like hardware stretching and D3D modes, so it had to go. I
scrapped that setup and bought an old IBM Workstation 20"
Trinitron (P200) display from a local PC liquidator, and Chris
gave me his old Kyro II video card. This was the ticket. First of
all, the monitor is in a black case, so you can't see that it's a
PC display behind the bezel and front glass. Secondly, it handles
every video mode perfectly, so even vector games look good.
Thirdly, it's an old monitor with a *slight* convergence problem,
so all those classic games look authentic! :)
Now, this cabinet is ugly. It's
entirely wood grained with no art of any kind, so I guess Sega/Gremlin
weren't into stylish cabinets back then. I know it's original
because Carnival has all the little stickers inside, as well as
the complete manual and everything (hand typed, no less). This
cabinet did end up being a good choice overall, though, because
it has several switches behind the coin door, as well as a volume
control. The cabinet already had some controls inside the coin
door and all of these were retasked to power, reset, and volume
for the PC and speaker/subwoofer combination. The coin doors are
faithfully wired to the I-Pac, so you must bring quarters to play!
It was originally a Pentium 3 @ 866MHz,
which was *barely* fast enough to play emulated Mortal Kombat. It
did not have nearly enough CPU speed to run MK2 or MK3, though,
due to the DCS sound system. I recently upgraded it to an AMD
Athlon 1800+ and it runs them all at 100% now.