ThatArcade at ThatConference

Every year my coworkers and I (and all of our families) attend ThatConference. It’s a family-oriented tech conference in Wisconsin, and it takes place at a gigantic water park. If you haven’t heard of it, you absolutely have to check it out. I’ve been going since 2012, and I can’t say enough good things about it.

The sessions don’t run back-to-back, but instead are spaced out to provide time in between for “Open Spaces”. Open Spaces are kind of like impromptu meetups.

Any attendee can start one simply by choosing a topic and a time slot, and then when that time arrives anyone interested in that topic just “show up” and have great discussions on, or around the topic at hand. Sometimes they even drift into something completely unrelated which is perfectly fine.

About a week before the conference this year, I thought

I want to host an Open Space and talk with other people who are interested in MAME. Maybe I’ll even show off the front-end I wrote.

Followed immediately by,

What if I just brought the arcade and let people have at it?

I asked the ThatConference organizers for permission to bring it, and got the green light. I set it up Sunday night, and people started playing it right away.

It was exciting for me to watch really young kids mash on the buttons and experience the physical interaction that I remember experiencing as a kid. I watched teenagers play games which were created 20-years their prior, with graphics they consider archaic. I watched several “older kids” (the kind with grey hair) play games from their childhood. Many of these interactions were between parents and their children. I heard a dad talking with his son about how brutally difficult Defender was. Another time, I watched a mom play a game while her her two smaller children were “helping” to push buttons 🙂 Those interactions, for me, is what arcade games are really about.

On Wednesday morning, I disassembled it with the help of a fellow named Dave, who was gracious enough to also help me load it into the truck.

I’m super grateful to all those that played it, asked questions about it, talked with me, or just said, “Hey, cool!” I received some really great feedback, and created a list of ToDo’s based on ideas people had. I hope I helped inspire others to explore & create.

Quite a few people were interested in building their own cabinets, or just wanted to dip their feet into the arcade world, so I put together a small list of resources to help people start their journey.

Websites

  • mamedev.org This is the official MAME website, and has a tremendous amount of information on it.
  • mameworld.info is a wealth of information on building cabinets, control panels, front-ends, and is an up-to-date source of news.

Software

  • MAME command-line executable. This is the actual emulation software that plays the games.
  • Games/roms. You’ll want to find a set of roms1 that match closely with the version of MAME you are playing. If you find version .181 of roms, you’ll want to download that same version of MAME. Newer versions may also work, but matching versions are always best.
  • Compressed Hunks of Data (CHDs). Some newer arcade games have hard drives in them, so if you want to play a game like Area51, you’ll need the rom and also the CHD.
  • (Optional) You can run a MAME Front-End which applies a more user-friendly interface on top of MAME. There are several great front-ends out there (take a look on mameworld.info, and of course, there’s also MAMEIron which I created and open-sourced 🙂

Hardware

I used Lusid’s cabinet plans to build my cabinet and his Word template for the controls. His site was really helpful for me when I started.

Below is a partial list of the materials I used, but feel free to substitute materials/hardware as needed:

Qty Description Price (ea)
3 Sheets of 5/8″ MDF ~$20.00
2 8-way Competition joysticks $16.05
1 Ms. Pacman 4-way joystick $19.70
~20 Pushbuttons of various colors $3.05
1 Ultimarc iPAC-2 $39.00
a couple spools of small-gauge wire to hook up the controls, power switches, etc. ?
1 Set of cheap speakers with subwoofer (mine are Logitech) $25.00
1 (optional) Nusbio MCU (controls RGB strip lights) $17.00
1 (optional) (2) strips of 30 RGB lights $14.00
1 (optional) Marqee plexiglass with marqee image ?
1 (optional) Nusbio Controller Extension for white LED lights and strip of
30 white LED lights….or, a 24″ flourescent light
?
1 Computer/monitor. Mine is an old Intel G3220 (3Ghz) w/ 8GB of RAM, and a 22″ 1680×1050 LCD ?
1 Wall-mount TV bracket ~$20

This is your build. Experiment. Get creative. Share your cool ideas with other people!

1 Downloading roms is some grey area, so I won’t directly link to them. With that said, archive.org would be a good place to search 🙂

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