Monday, 28 September 2020

Building a Low Cost Retro Gaming Arcade Cabinet

There is something very special about an arcade cabinet and I've made a couple in the past with varying degrees of success as I try and recreate that strong nostalgic feeling I have for retro gaming. Now that I'm more familiar with the process of building cabinets I decided to see how cheaply I could build me next one and this is the process I followed. For those wishing to make one but don't have the space then maybe you would be interested in building one of my smaller miniature versions here.

This is the finished product, a Mario themed table top arcade machine running a Retropie set up and as most of the material was sourced from scrap, the whole project (not including the cost of the monitor) came it at just over £20.


The buttons were the first purchased I made as you can't have a cabinet without necessary joystick and buttons. if you hunt around on eBay and prepared to wait a while for them to be shipped from China, you can find a USB joystick and button set for around £10.

As with previous builds I don't follow any plans, all measurements are based on the size of the monitor that I'm using at the time and this is no exception. I started making the control panel as shown below, cutting out the holes needed for the buttons. The nice thing is that if your cutting is a little messy, you can hide it pretty well with the button overlaps, making it appear neater.


The materials you are seeing for both the control panel and the frame below is all wood salvaged from an old cupboard. Once you have the control panel cut to a suitable size to accommodate your monitor, it is this panel that will govern the dimensions of the rest of the build going forward.

Below you can see me starting to put together the frame. This needs to be as sturdy as possible as whilst you can cut corners at various stages of the build, I would recommend that you take the time to make the frame as robust as possible. It's amazing how often a cabinet gets knocked about, even when people are being super careful, so make it as strong as possible.


Give the software a test at this stage. There's nothing more frustrating that having everything installed and things not to work. I am using an old Raspberry Pi but have previously used the very cheap Pi Zero to run RetroPie without any issues at all.

Once the frame is in place, you can start building around it. I've learnt that you can hide a great deal of the scruffiness you see in the photograph below when it comes to painting and covering the cabinet, so there's no need to worry that it's going to result in a messy build, just make sure the panels are one and everything's contained.


I've used expensive car vinyl wrapping in the past and that has worked out really well in producing a great finish. This time I wanted to keep costs to a minimum and opted for spray paint instead. My son chose the theme of this build to be Mario and so we picked up some cheap spray paint that matched the Mario blue perfectly.


The edging is a great way to hide any scruffy joins from the previous building stages. The easiest and cheapest option I have found is to use insulation tape and I found the perfect Mario red colour to compliment the blue.


From here it's a case of wiring everything up and testing once again. I've put together a short video of the process detailed in this post as well as the finishing stages. The more observant readers will notice that I installed the control panel the wrong way round with the joystick located on the right. Always double check things before committing!

Building a Low Cost Retro Gaming Arcade Cabinet

There is something very special about an arcade cabinet and I've made a couple in the past with varying degrees of success as I try and ...