Since I installed Retropie several months ago on the Raspberry Pi lying around at home, I had planned to set up an arcade cabinet when I have some free time. It is now done, confinement requires. Let’s take a look at the different steps and the points to take into account if you want to embark on the adventure.
Arcade cabinet: The project
The possibilities offered by the Raspberry Pi are enormous. Looking at the different ideas for use, I ended up coming across the Retropie distribution (there is also RecalBox as an equivalent) which allows you to install many emulators (NES, SNES, Sega, Gameboy, Playstation, NeoGeo…) . What for those of my age to find memories of times spent playing on a computer or console between the end of the 80s and the beginning of the 2000s.
We will come back later in this article to the installation part of Retropie. And by pushing a little research, we come across examples and tutorials from people who have installed their Pi in an arcade terminal.
You will find many articles on the subject. For my part, I ended up retaining these two articles to learn more and refine my project:
By educating yourself on the subject, you will see that there are many points to look at, and choices to be made. Rather bartop or with pedestal? What kind of buttons? Paint or sticker?
We will come back to this in the different stages of implementation.
Arcade cabinet: the choice of components
The wooden body
The structural element of your arcade cabinet will be the wooden body.
At the level of the terminal you will have two possible choices:
- Bartop : you will only have the top of the terminal. The advantage is that you can move it, store it. The disadvantage is that you will have to reinstall it each time to play.
- With pedestal : the advantage is that the terminal is installed in one place and it will not move. The disadvantage is that you will have to find a little space in your accommodation. With the pedestal, you will also have the possibility of quickly transforming it into a bartop if necessary.
Then, for the realization of the body itself, you will also have several choices:
- Realize the body from A to Z from plans
- Buy a set
Everything will depend on your tools, the space you have to tinker with and the time you have to devote.
You will see that in the two links above, one starts from a kit, the other from plans.
If you want to get started in the realization of the body, here is another useful link:
In particular, there is a lot of information for choosing your wood.
Typically this will be MDF (which is also what most kits you will find are made of).
Among the kits, you will have all the prices (sometimes single or double). Be careful, in general this will be felt on the thickness of the wood. Most of the time, the thickness used is 18mm.
For my part, I went with this kit for economic reasons, but the thickness of the wood is 10mm. You will also have much less finishing than in a more successful kit.
In the case of the kit, you will probably have to choose different things, such as the dimensions for the holes for the buttons. In general, you have to start with 28mm (to be checked according to your choice of buttons, we are getting there).
Note that on most kits, you will surely miss a finishing element, namely the wooden outline around the screen.
The idea is to join the part with the buttons and the top of the terminal, leaving only the image of the screen visible.
This also makes it possible to hide all the wires, in short to have a nickel finish. The kits generally do not offer it to you, because it depends on the screen you are going to install, so it is tailor-made.
It will not be too long and not too complicated to do, for example with a miter saw, a small blade for the parts that the miter saw will not be able to handle and a little sanding for a top finish.
The decoration of your arcade cabinet
Once you have your structure, you’ll probably want to give your arcade machine a nicer look than just plain wood.
To do this, you can paint your body. Be careful, if the wood is MDF, you will probably need an undercoat before painting. But you also have paints that can be applied directly to raw MDF. Be sure to read the instructions for the paint you have chosen.
Another solution, stickers. If you take a kit, the seller will probably offer sticker kits with the dimensions of the kit. Count between 30 and 80 euros approximately, in the high range if you also have a pedestal.
For my part, I went with a mix of the two. I first painted the whole body so that it matches the color of the furniture around it, and for a touch of fun I added stickers. I went with another solution than a sticker that goes with the kit. On this online store (also accessible from the first link I gave you at the top of the article), you can find some designs to download for free. You will then have a PDF, and the shop then explains how to have it printed. It will cost you less than 20 euros. Afterwards, the dimensions are not necessarily those of your kit, and the rendering of the blow is not as homogeneous as with dedicated stickers.
Buttons and joysticks
Undoubtedly one of the elements on which you will have the most choice. There are many brands. I learned during this project that there are two reference brands, namely Sanwa and Seimitsu, but it comes at a cost.
For my part, I went with the following kit which is complete and bright. You will have on this site ( Fabulous Arcade ) a lot of choices. Incidentally, I recommend this seller, who was very responsive when I had a technical question, and who was also very responsive when I had a small problem with the LEDs. If you start with a light kit, you will need a 12v power supply for the LEDs with Molex tip (or you change the connectors to go with a 12v power supply that you have on hand).
For the sound, you are rather free if you have enough sound for your arcade machine. There are also dedicated kits, like this one I used. Note that it will also be necessary to provide a 12v power supply. For this one, I recovered an old power supply that I had under the elbow.
I started on an old 19 inch. He wasn’t 4/3, but it looks good all the same. Attention, on somewhat old 19 inches, it’s VGA where the Pi comes out of HDMI. It is therefore necessary to think of an HDMI to VGA adapter.
T-molding is a finishing element that protects and dresses the sides of the bartop. In my case, I could not put any because of the too thin thickness of the MDF. To fix the t-molding, you have to make a groove to then insert the t-molding.
The computer, emulators, games
Once you have all the elements around, you will need the post to run your games. You can use a little what you want, depending on what you might have on hand (an old pc lying around for example), and also in relation to the size.
For my part, I went on a Raspberry Pi2 that I had on hand, on which I installed the Retropie distribution. You also have Recalbox in possible distribution. Both rely on EmulationStation and RetroArch. You can check this guide to learn a bit more about these distros. You can also find many resources online.
In order to be able to play, if necessary, with 4 players on the terminal, I also took a double USB extension cord to fit in which I put on one of the sides of the terminal. For DOS games (to find some games I played on my first PC, a 1512 PC ), I also planned a small Bluetooth keyboard.
To get started, you need:
- A wooden body, to build or via a kit
- Paint and/or stickers to dress up the body
- A set of buttons, joysticks and everything needed to connect to the Pi, provide a 12v power supply if the buttons are illuminated
- Speakers for sound with an amplifier, or a dedicated kit
- If needed, an HDMI to VGA adapter
- A computer to run the emulators
- t-molding (optional)
- a built-in double USB extension (optional, allows 4 players to play)
Arcade cabinet: the realization
We now have everything we need, it’s time to move on and put it all together to arrive at a functional arcade cabinet. On this part, I will describe from the choices that I made, it will be necessary to adapt in relation to what you have chosen.
Assembling the wood kit
Once the kit has been received, it must be assembled. In general, nothing too complicated. The one I took was marked with numbers for each part. And it was possible to consult an explanatory video of the assembly on the seller’s site to be sure of the correct assembly order. But overall, if you visualize the end result, it’s quite logical.
In addition to the assembly, it was therefore necessary to create the screen tower from scratch with a miter saw.
I also made two holes with a hole saw, at the bottom of the bartop and at the top of the pedestal in order to pass the wires discreetly, rather than coming out the back. In my case, this allowed the wall socket to come out of the power strip, as well as the cables for the sound since I fixed the amp at the top of the pedestal.
Terminal painting and stickers
Once the bollard is mounted, it’s the painting stage, because I didn’t take stickers that completely covered the bollard. I went with a paint in browns, which can be painted directly on MDF.
Two coats later, it’s now time to apply the stickers and move on.
Buttons and Joysticks
The first step is to attach the buttons and joysticks to the wood. Nothing fancy. This being done, it is now necessary to connect the LEDs of the luminous buttons to the power supply, and the buttons to the USB controller which will then be connected to the Pi (it is also possible to go through the GPIO of the Pi).
Spent a few minutes of perplexity in the middle of all these wires and elements, it is finally quite simple.
You have to place the LEDs on the support, and then place the microswitch (the blue and black rectangle in my case) on the LED support (it clips). Everything is then fixed on the button itself by a small rotation.
Then, you have to power the LEDs (two wires per LED to be connected to the support) and the microswitches to the USB controller. To do this, there was an explanatory diagram in the pack indicating on which pin to connect the wires. Attention, on my USB controller player 2 is on the left. On the microswitch, there are two possible ways to connect it, depending on what is expected: on the momentary signal or on the continuous signal. It is not necessarily clear at first glance, I was able to find information on this page . In the case of the arcade terminal, it is therefore necessary to connect to the momentary to trigger the action on pressing the button.
Once these elements are integrated, it’s quite simple, but it makes for one hell of a dish of spaghetti in the end.
Check that the LEDs all light up. The ones that don’t light up need to be turned 180 and that should do it.
It’s time to install the necessary for the sound. My kit provides two holes for the speakers, so all you have to do is put the speakers on one side and the covers on the other.
For the amp, I don’t install it in the box, but in the pedestal, at the very top. It is thus relatively hidden, but accessible to turn on the amp and adjust the sound.
End of installation and screen
Once that’s all done, it’s time to plug everything in and see what happens. At first, I don’t install the screen, but I put it next to it.
To finalize the installation, you need a power strip to be installed in the box. And finally you have to plug everything in and power it up.
This is the dreaded moment to know if all the buttons are well recognized, just to know if it will be necessary to return to the pile of wires.
Note that the USB controller (Xin Mo) that was in my pack was not automatically recognized as a 2-player controller. Suddenly, in Retropie only one gamepad was recognized, it was impossible to play with two people. Rather frustrating when you have a two-player arcade machine. After some research, this page gave me the solution.
You had to go to the /boot/cmdline.txt of the Pi to add to the configuration line (putting yourself at the end of the line, and adding a space before) the following thing:
It is then possible to configure the keys in Retropie. Do not forget the hotkey, which will serve you for several things:
- exit a game to return to the main menu
- being able to save and later restore the state of a game (which is often easier and more reliable than going through the in-game save)
If everything is good, all that remains is to permanently install the arcade machine in its place. You just have to enjoy it!