I started by doing TONS of reading. My first issue was getting the MAME ROMs (the game files). After all, what good is the cabinet without the games? I satisfied my needs through a group called “The Tombstones Project”. They are now missing from the web (please do not write to me asking for ROMS). I am going to use the MAME windows version, MAME32 to play the games. With that covered, I looked at a lot of homemade cabinets and restorations of authentic arcade machines. Here is the best site to start from: http://www.arcadecontrols.com/arcade_examples.php. Their main website arcadecontrols.com is extremely informational and worth a thorough read.
After reading hundreds of pages I decided that I wanted to use a ready made control panel rather than make one. That way I could get the PC set up and start playing while waiting to get to designing and building a cabinet. I decided on the X-arcade controller because it had a lot of buttons, including pinball flipper side buttons, looked cool, and could be adapted to work with console games too.
There was one more great thing that happened while doing research. I discovered Visual Pinball and VPinMAME. These programs emulate real pinball machines, in 3D, and the digital scoreboard. Tables are created by enthusiasts and are available online. Initial installation can be a bit tricky but it’s worth it. You can get all the details at this great site: http://www.vpforums.com. Special thanks to The Bezerker MAME Project for bringing this to my attention.
I contacted them about my needs and they said, “Get the Model 3 set up for a 3/4″ control panel with the USB interface. There would not be enough room in the X-Arcade for a Pro spinner.” Holy cow, was I glad I asked. There was barely enough room in the X-arcade for this spinner but after some careful measuring I found the perfect spot. This spinner is incredible! Playing Tempest feels completely authentic. I am glad the Griffin knob didn’t work. The Oscar spinner is great!
I ordered a build-it-yourself bare bones PC from TigerDirect. For $350 I got an Athlon XP1800 machine with all the necessities. This is actually overkill for MAME but for the price I couldn’t beat the value. Originally I got a $100 17″ monitor from Best Buy but liked it enough to use it on my everyday PC. Rather than use my old 17″, I decided to go bigger and got a perfect like-new 21″ NEC Multisync from a liquidator on eBay for $225 shipped! (Thank you defunct dot-coms!)
My idea was to put a keyboard drawer under the control panel with a trackball for mouse control. I got a $15 trackball on eBay that turned out to be a P.O.S. that skipped and stuck after two weeks of use. So I got a Microsoft Optical Trackball Explorer at Best Buy. It is trackball perfection. The cord is long enough that I could pull it out of the drawer and lay it on the X-arcade for trackball games (like Centipede).