My Custom Home Arcade MAME Project

Years ago, I bought a dedicated Mortal Kombat II machine from eBay for two reasons: first, I once had an un-healthy obsession with Mortal Kombat, specifically MKII and second, I wanted to create my own MAME machine. For the remainder of this exposé (if you can call it that), I’ll assume you already know what MAME is and you have an interest in building a custom cabinet for your video games. If not, I’ll post of some introduction posts later! For now, let the games begin…pun intended.

The Plan

Take a dedicated MKII machine and turn it into a custom MAME arcade cabinet loaded with desired ROMs. I want to minimize modifications to the original cabinet and stay as true as possible to the original feel of playing on a real arcade. What does this mean? Well, some MAME builders put in things like cup holders, free credit buttons, slide out keyboards, computer speakers hanging on the sides, etc. They also try to cram as many buttons on the control panel as possible to create 100% compatibility with all games.

My vision does not include things like track balls, spinners, light guns or 4-player controls. I want to have a simple 2-player, 6-button (plus 1) layout with start buttons and fully functional coin doors.

The List

  1. Install Computer – In keeping the original machine slightly untouched, I’ll be attaching the computer components onto a separate board to be attached to the inside of the cabinet. The computer specs are basic, as MAME doesn’t require that much to run with the exception of a couple of games, which I’m not that concerned about.
  2. Install Frontend Software – Since my players won’t have any access to a keyboard or mouse, the only way to select games will be to use a program that can be navigated using only the joystick and arcade buttons. For this project, I’ll be using GameEX.
  3. Install J-PAC – To continue using the Jamma connector inside the machine without having to re-wire the whole control panel, I’ll be using a specialized computer board that converts the Jamma buttons to keyboard strokes on the computer. This device is then configured in Windows to match all of the standard MAME keys. MAME can also be re-mapped to reflect custom button layouts as can each game. More on that later.
  4. Install ArcadeVGA – I’ll be using the original 25″ monitor unlike other MAME’ers who like to use newer computer monitors or LCD screens, but because these old CRTs run at 15MHz instead of 60MHz like newer models, I have to use a special graphics card to get it to work. This graphics card is designed to allow a lower MHz monitor to be used on a standard computer PCI slot via a VGA port.
  5. Rebuild Control Panel – My Mortal Kombat II machine came with Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 installed, which meant that the original owner installed a Run button, turning my control panel into a 6-button layout. The problem is that the actual layout of these buttons was designed for Mortal Kombat and does not play well (ergonomically speaking) with other games. The new layout will have all 6 buttons aligned in two rows of three and I’m adding a 7th button off to the side to accomodate for MK positioning and somewhat of a “special” button for some games.
  6. Coin Doors – Once again, since I’m staying original, I am not using any buttons to activate credits nor am I setting any games to free play. The point of this project is to bring back the “feel”, so I need to slightly modify my coin slots to accept tokens. These coins slots will then be wired into the J-PAC and mapped to the coin buttons in MAME.
  7. Sound – I refuse to attach any speakers to my cabinet because it not only looks ridiculous, but it will remove some originality from my machine. I’ll be using a standard set of 2.1 computer speakers. I’ll place the subwoofer inside the floor of the cabinet and the two speakers in the grill area below the marquee after removing the original speakers. In time, I may add a volume knob on the outside of the machine.
  8. Marquee – I’m replacing the MKII marquee with one from to reflect the new system. I just want a basic one to match the control panel.

The project was technically started a couple years ago, but sat idle until I started gaining more interest in it (thanks to some friends). This will be my little weekend hobby, so don’t expect daily updates, but as you know with the rest of my site, all you have to do is bookmark the RSS feeds or signup for the newsletter for updates.