Game On

Free software lets any computer play hundreds of classic arcade games. So we loaded up an old PC and built a heavy-duty, tricked-out arcade table around it.

Launch the photo gallery for a closer look at how our arcade table came together

**Build a Classic Arcade Table

** Cost: $672

Time: 50
Hours

Easy | | | | |
Hard

_

Dig Dug, Kung Fu, Ms. Pac-Man_. As nostalgia-inducing as the smell of Mom”s cookies, the games that swallowed all your quarters as a kid are still out there, easily and cheaply played on any computer, thanks to a program known as Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator, or MAME. This application, which simulates the circuitry inside the old arcade games, lets your computer load just about any classic game file. A quick search will turn up hundreds of these ROMs, as they’re called, on Web sites and in newsgroups, but since many are still copyrighted, downloading them from anyone other than their creator could be illegal. Fortunately, some companies now sell packs of legal ROMs, offering a dozen or more games for $20 and up. There are versions of MAME for any computer system (and even smartphones and PDAs), so you can simply play at your desk using your keyboard.

But for the real experience, you need a full-blown rig, complete with joysticks and buttons that can take a beating. It’s easy to assemble and build one on your own. Get a head start at arcadeinabox.com, where you can buy kits, premade cabinets or just the basic plans. We used the plans as a guide for the PopSci gaming table, a perforated-steel work of alien-blasting art mounted on a set of 40-pound-bolt legs. Send us a picture of your creation at h20@time4.com, and we’ll publish the best right here on popsci.com.

Parts

  1. Motherboard (free; salvaged)
  2. Power supply (free; salvaged)
  3. Panasonic slot-loading CD drive ($68; meritline.com,)
  4. Soyo 19-inch LCD ($130; ecost.com,)
  5. I-PAC control interface ($39; ultimarc.com,)
  6. 40-gigabyte hard drive (free; salvaged)
  7. Two Ultimate Joysticks ($11.25 each; www.happcontrols.com,) with SlikStik illuminated replacement handles ($30 each; slikstik.com,)
  8. Illuminated pushbuttons ($6.60 each; www.happcontrols.com,
  9. One- and two-player buttons ($2.40 each; www.happcontrols.com,)
  10. Start buttons (91 each; www.happcontrols.com,)

Plans (see image above); launch the photo gallery for a closer look at the assembly

  1. Build an enclosure. Buy plans ($20) from arcadeinabox.com, or start from scratch.
  2. Install the monitor and computer parts inside; be sure to keep the fans and allow for ventilation.
  3. Mount the joysticks and four to eight buttons, depending on the games you plan to play.
  4. Solder wires from the controls to the connections on the I-PAC control interface. Plug the I-PAC into a USB port on the computer.
  5. Go to mame.net to download a version of MAME for your operating system.
  6. Buy a pack of legal game ROMs from arcadeinabox.com.
  7. Relive the glory.

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Staff photographer John Carnett built the table on a frame of 1-inch square steel . . .

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To get the beautiful curved edges, the whole top is one piece of steel, hammered by hand into the shape of a box top.

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Hammer, clamp and weld. Hammer, clamp and weld.

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. . . skinned with perforated steel, all purchased from an amazing metal yard in New Jersey called Joseph Fazzio Inc www.josephfazzioinc.com

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The plate that would house the controls was bent separately and attached to its own frame.

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Carnett played with putting perforated steel pieces in that space above the control plate, but ultimately decided Teak wood would soften the table a little.

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The bottom is even thicker perforated steel Carnett had laying around. This box would survive a bomb.

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The coup de grace: bolt legs. We found these wandering the aisles at Fazzio´s. Each weighs 40 pounds and has real turning nuts at either end, so you can adjust the height or remove them for easier transport.