Years back, when I first interviewed for a job at dealnews, things weren't going so well. That is, until I mentioned I was building my own MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) cabinet. Suddenly, my discussion with Chief Dealguy, Dan, took a decidedly up-turn. I was hired shortly thereafter.
Alas, even though it never came to be, the MAME cabinet idea was always a project I had in the back of my mind ready to be unleashed upon the world. So, when we opened offices in New York City, I spoke in favor of building a MAME cabinet. This time, however, I made it seem like something appealing for us to have in our premises, for, you know, strategic deal-writing purposes. Um, anyway, the boss agreed! So the MAME cabinet will finally come to be.
For those of you who are not familiar with MAME, it's essentially a software emulator that allows you to run almost any arcade game (provided you own the ROM for the game) on regular computer hardware.
Since here at dealnews we're all about getting a good deal on tech (and lots of other stuff, too) it's not enough for us to just build the game system. No! No! We're going to build it for the cheapest total price we can find! That's the challenge.
But, what is a good price to pay?
More on that, in a second. First, I have to say that, for my money (or, rather, the company's money) there is no sense building an arcade cabinet unless it's one of those old-school cocktail cabinets -- the type where you and a friend sit opposite each other and play head-to head Pac-Man or, even better, BurgerTime. So, with that idea in mind, I searched for companies that offer pre-built cabinets.
The lowest total pre-built price I could find was at DreamArcades. For $1,157 you can get their no-frills package which includes a trackball ('cause, c'mon, you gotta be able to play Centipede!), generic control panel overlays, and custom color buttons. There's no coin door, no underlay, no woodgrain look (it's black-lacquered press board, for god's sake!); in short -- it has no "awesome".
Another company, ThePinballCompany.com, has a much nicer machine for $2,795. It includes a working coin door, underlays, graphics, and it even comes pre-loaded with most of the games I'm hoping to get running on the dealnews machine. However, it doesn't have a trackball (even though one of the pre-loaded games is centipede -- blasphemy!).
But it's the closest I could find to what I had in mind, so my goal will be to assemble a MAME cabinet for under $2,795.
My first step is to start pricing parts to build a computer with. Yes, before I get to the fun part of game testing, I have to build the computer that will snuggle inside the wood cabinet. So, really, this whole project is about building a computer inside a fancy-modded case that looks like an arcade machine and has one purpose: to play games.
Keep your eyes on this space, as I'll be updating you on the progress of this very ambitious adventure.
Jeff Somogyi, Senior Staffwriter (and part-time modder)
Next installment: Step One: The Computer Guts