Tuesday, May 02, 2006


Paul's note: Warren's garage is awesome. It houses a drum set, a Robotron game purchased from eBay and perhaps the best invention ever: a MAME cabinet. In his second contribution to (at least) one cool thing, Warren describes how he built his MAME cabinet and ways you can re-create the classic gaming experience. The post is long but definitely worth it. It is the best guide I have read on the subject - by far. Warren writes:

Who remembers Space Invaders? Asteroids? Donkey Kong? Galaga? Pac-man? Ms. Pac-man? What about Centipede? Defender? Tempest? Missile Command?

Remember lining up quarters along the border of a classic arcade game that you planned on playing for the next hour or two? Remember the dimly lit arcades with the cranky proprietor who walked around with his coin apron always at the ready to open up the coin box and dislodge your token that didn’t quite make it through the mechanism? Yah, me too.

Well reminisce no longer! If you’re a classic arcade game enthusiast, you have a number of options to pursue these days to recreate an authentic, realistic game experience. And, believe it or not, it’s free… Well, at least the “brains” are free. What you do for the “brawn” is up to you and your pocketbook.

Getting Started

The “brains” of the system is an open source, classic arcade game software engine called MAME. In order to take advantage of MAME, all you have to do is:

Download MAME to your computer (alt link)
Retrieve one or more game ROM images (details below),
Place the ROM images in the appropriate folder on your computer,
Launch MAME, and have fun!

A Bit of Background

MAME stands for Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator. As the name suggests, MAME emulates multiple arcade machines. In fact, it emulates over 3200 arcade machines from the late 70s all the way through the 90s and even a few more thereafter. Whatever games you recall playing in the past, MAME will emulate authentically.

One of the key points to understand about MAME is that it does not simulate any arcade games. It does not recreate a game by simply copying the graphics and sounds and game play in software. Instead, MAME precisely emulates the functionality and performance of the hardware system that was built to run the game in the original arcade system.

Since it’s a hardware emulation engine, MAME needs software in order to run and, just like the original arcade game cabinets, the software is contained in a set of memory chips called ROMs. MAME does not come with any ROMs; however, MAME allows you to take an exact copy of the ROMs that complement the game’s hardware (ROM Images), place them in a pre-designated folder on your computer, and run the game exactly as it ran in the original hardware platform. The result MAME is a perfect re-creation of thousands of classic arcade games leveraging the same game code (i.e., the ROMS) that resided in the original cabinets.
ROM Images

You may be wondering why MAME doesn’t come with any ROMs. After all, what use is a hardware emulator without any software? The answer is quite simple. The open source community that wrote MAME does not have the authority to distribute or sell the ROM images. In fact, the ROM images remain the copyrighted property of the companies who wrote/sold/licensed the original games.

Fortunately, for a few games, acquiring ROM Images is extremely easy. You can head on over to Star Roms and download ROMs for a bunch of classic titles from Atari, including Asteroids, Centipede, Missile Command, and Tempest.

[As several people have noted, StarROMs has gone out of business. I spoke to the founders and I have added an update below.]

There are also a few free ROM Images available on the web, including an interesting game called Gridlee.

The vast majority of ROM Images are neither free nor available for purchase, however. This means that you have to get pretty creative to obtain access to some of your favorite games without crossing the line of legality. For example, two of my favorite games are Robotron and Defender and I was having trouble finding a place to purchase legal ROM images for these games. Not to be deterred, I scoured the web for the actual ROM boards (try eBay) from these games and purchased them so that I had the physical ROM chips in my possession. I then broke out my ROM burner and started “ripping” the ROMs from one of the boards into hex files on my computer. After tediously ripping a few ROMS, I knew that this process of acquiring the ROM Images would eventually work out, so I “expedited” the ripping process by surfing over to a few of the “free” ROM Image sites and grabbed the complete ROM Images for both games.

Having purchased the actual ROMs for these games, I felt fine grabbing the images off the web. This is equivalent to downloading MP3s off the web for CDs you already own. I have to imagine that it’s legal and I certainly wouldn’t be embarrassed explaining what I had done if 60 Minutes came knocking at my door investigating the improper use of MAME ROM images.

Playing the Games

So you’ve downloaded MAME, grabbed some ROMs, and you’re ready to go. What do you do now? Here’s a quick guide to the keyboard commands that will get you on your way:

1) Launch MAME
2) Select and launch your game from the alphabetical list of arcade games
3) Once you’re in the game, here’s the minimum that you’ll need to know:

tab - Declares which keys or which controls affect game play
5 - Inserts a
1 - Single player start
2 - Dual player start
p - pause
esc – end game


If you want a more realistic game playing experience, you can purchase pre-assembled controls from SlikStik, X-Arcade and HanaHo or you can build your own boards from components. DIY links:

www.arcadecontrols.com/arcade.htm - instructions & tips
http://www.happcontrols.com/ - buttons, joysticks, trackballs, spinners, and much, much more
http://www.wicothesource.com/ - more of the same
http://hagstromelectronics.com/ - keyboard Encoders

Complete Arcade Game Cabinet

For the most realistic game playing experience, you need a cabinet. Where else can you line up your quarters? As with controls, there are two paths you can take. You can purchase complete cabinet systems from X-Arcade for $2995 or HanaHo for $4999. They ship you everything you need (including ROMs).

Alternately, you can do what I did and build your own full, upright arcade game cabinet. If you decide to build your own MAME arcade cabinet, be prepared to spend roughly four hours with a friend constructing the cabinet and assembling the various components. In addition, you’re going to have to cough up roughly $1500 to $3000 depending on which components you choose and your desired monitor size. One way to save money is by re-using an old computer. You don’t need the latest hardware to re-create 1980s technology.

• MAME – Free!
• ROMs – $0 to $5 to $500
• Controls – $500
• Cabinets – $1000
• Monitor – $470
• Speakers – $75
• Lights – $50
• Computer – $500-$1000

For my cabinet, I used SlikStik. Other quality suppliers include:


If you opt to build a complete arcade cabinet you’ll also need:

• a monitor. The best ones are the 27” D9200 Universal Digital Monitor and the Betson Imperial KT-2914 27” Monitor. If you use the Betson or a more conventional CRT you will also need a 15Khz arcade monitor video card (not req. for the D9200)
• speakers. I used the Creative Technology Inspire T3000 multimedia system, and I replaced the Creative speakers with Pioneer 5.25” car stereo speakers, TS-G1340R. I then taped the wired remote to the side of the cabinet
• lights. I used two 22” fluorescent under-cabinet lights from the American Fluorescent Corp and I attached them behind marquee with two metal “L” brackets and double stick tape

I am definitely pleased with the end result of my MAME cabinet construction project and I am certain that I have a very high quality unit; however, if I were to start over again, I might consider purchasing the pre-built X-Arcade cabinet instead of he SlikStik kit. For roughly the same price as my SlikStik cabinet, it appears that I would get jumpstarted with 190 games, rather than being forced to start from scratch purchasing ROMs and ROM images. Having not used the X-Arcade cabinet, I can’t vouch for the quality of the controls or the overall cabinet fit and finish, but a friend of mine just went this route. I’ll post back on this blog with an update once I have had an opportunity to check it out.

Additional MAME Resources

Here are some additional links that I encourage you to check out:

MAME for the Mac!
Wikipedia entry on MAME
• Popular Science
article on building your own MAME cabinet
• Wikipedia:
Golden Age of Arcade Games
Killer List of Video Games
Dragon’s Lair PC CD-ROM (runs on your PC, independent from MAME)

Update 5/3: StarROMS is dead...long live StarROMS!

Well, as a bunch of folks have pointed out, StarROMS has closed down their web site. Since I bought all of my ROMS from them last year, I hadn't realized that they had shut the doors just this past February. This is a terrible loss for the MAME community, since StarROMS was the only web site that I knew where one could legally obtain ROM Images for MAME.

I decided to try to contact the founders of StarROMS this afternoon to get the scoop on their business. As fortune would have it, I was able to get a hold of Frank and Jay, the proprietors of StarROMS. It was immediately apparent that they had the right attitude: they didn't care about making StarROMS into a big business, they just wanted to provide a safe place to buy ROM Images and enough business to keep themselves up and running.

Unfortunately, business wasn't as good as it needed to be. While they were able to get a deal struck with Atari, they were not able to negotiate reasonable deals with any of the other ROM license holders. Moreover, there was some confusion with respect to the rights to some of the Atari ROMS, and they were obligated to pull down a bunch of ROMS over time. So, what started off as an apparently self-sustaining business with a starting line-up of roughly 100 ROMS, turned into a challenging business with only 25 ROMS for sale. My hat is tipped to Frank and Jay for doing a great job and giving it all for the MAME community.

Clearly, there is still a huge need for a business like StarROMS. While the MAME community may have lost the battle here, we haven't lost the war. A number of MAME supporters are mobilizing an effort make even more ROMs available to the MAME community. So, stay tuned. We're writing the next chapter as we type...


At 10:06 AM, Blogger Kiltak said...

Just one word: awesome.

A lot of adults are dreaming of building a machine like this to put in their basement near their pool table and mini-bar..

And with up to 3200 title, you can't really get bored :) This might just be my next little project.

[Geeks Are Sexy] Tech. News

At 11:18 AM, Blogger Mike said...

Good summary.

As one of your links indicates, you can do this with a Mac-based system, too. Here's mine:


At 11:19 AM, Blogger Matrix_Prime said...

I built my own Mame system for under $500, so I don't know where these outrageous prices for the parts are coming from.

At 11:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Star Roms hit the wall.

At 12:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great write up. To make your building a bit easier, we at arcade-in-a-box have designed our latest models to drop directly into a Mameroom cabinet kit.

With Arcade-In-A-Box and Mameroom combined you can have a fully working mame cabinet together and working in a few hours.


At 12:14 PM, Blogger warrenjp said...

Matrix_Prime, great point about the outrageous prices. Warrants a quick clarification. The prices shown above are for top-of-the-line, go crazy components. If you want to go with the Wells Gardner monitor and SlikStik cabinet, you're going to have to toss out some big dollars. On the other hand, as you point out, you can definitely spend *a lot* less, and still end up with a great system. So, there's absolutely no need to spend over a thousand dollars. You can build an awesome MAME system for $500 or less.

At 1:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My roomate and I built a MAME arcade from scratch. It's a lot of fun, this a good guide to getting started. You can build a lot of things on your own to save some $$$ if you're a bit on the handy side.

At 1:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since when is a slickstick cabinet top of the line? Slickstick cabinets are for lazy people. also, why do you need 7 buttons for all 4 players if you are just going to play mame. I'm sorry but this is a horrible guide. Go out and buy your self the extreme tech how to build an arcade book and save yourself 500 dollars.

At 1:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It supports over 6,000 games. Actually.

At 6:34 PM, Blogger Yates said...

Starroms is closed, they have been for months.

At 7:57 PM, Blogger Niero@Destructoid.com said...

There are other ways to get roms - like ordering 60 gigs of them in one shot. We did an article on Rom Burners that you might enjoy:


Rock on, great site!


At 8:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its not just adults getting into the action. Im 16 and I am nearly finshed with my cabinet. I love my cabinet and Have had offers to build others for people. Well I have found my summer job.

At 9:59 PM, Blogger paul said...

Thanks for all of the thoughtful comments and for the great discussion on digg. Yes, StarROMs closed 2/27/06 in the period between the start of Warren's project and the completion of his write-up. This is a big loss for the MAME community, and Warren was able to speak with the founders this afternoon about what happened. He's preparing an update that I hope to be able to post soon.

Thanks again for checking out (at least) one cool thing. I hope that you found something that interested you and the you continue to visit.

At 10:16 PM, Blogger paul said...

earlier today, Jeff Atwood posted a comment. A formatting error caused me to have to delete it, so I am reposting it here. Sorry Jeff. Nice cabinet btw.

Jeff wrote:

The slikstik cabinet is great! We built a slikstik cabinet at work, too:


I have a bunch of tips for people building SlikStik cabinets in that post. First of all, I highly HIGHLY recommend splurging for the 27" or 33" arcade monitor. It makes a big difference!

At 7:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry but the cost estimates listed here are ridiculous. You don't need a 25" monitor first of all. A $300 25" is as big as you should go. Most of those 80's arcade games are pixellated and used 19" monitors. Blowing them up onto 27" or higher makes them look REALLY chunky.

$500 for controls? Again, way overkill. All you need is a keyboard encoder ($50) some joysticks and buttons (under $100).

At 11:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gridlee link gets you to the page, but trying to DL it (or one of the other 2 free MAME games there, gets you a "no permission" page.

At 1:53 PM, Blogger paul said...

I was just able to d/l Gridlee from the link (http://www.mamedev.org/roms/gridlee/). Once I checked the non-commercial use box, the zip file transferred without error. Perhaps you can try again?

At 7:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Go to http://www.geocities.com/ipaidthebills/emu


At 9:54 PM, Anonymous vrf said...

I'm gunning for the world's smallest MAME cab--yet with enough grunt to run everything:


At 6:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

they just wanted to provide a safe place to buy ROM Images and enough business to keep themselves up and running.
They did a great job, to start your own business is not that easy. If someone wants to have own business, I would advice to start up franchise. Franchise business is much easier to deal with.

At 4:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

eBay is a great place for parts too.
You can find Happ joysticks, buttons, trackballs, Tokn keyboard encoders, Well Gardner monitors, etc. You can even find marquees there.

At 2:17 AM, Blogger eamonn said...

I love the old arcade games. I browse to High score games. It's a site that we all love. Simple and fast loading. Can't beat the old stuff.


Post a Comment

<< Main page