PlayChoice-10 MAME Conversion

If you were one of the lucky children of the 1980s, you know that special atmosphere, with synthpop and Blondie playing overhead and the various blip and bleeps of primitive APUs, from Pac Man waka-waka-waka-ing,to Galaga shots firing, to Mario "Jumpman" leaping over barrels, and even that low droning heartbeatlike pulse in Asteroids. Yet finding an actual arcade that has anything more than gimmicky crane machines, FMV rail shooters or a lone Ms. Pac Man has become far more difficult over the years. Many people are aware of the home computer emulator, MAME, which stands for Multiple Arcade Machine Emulation. What this allows you to do is play the console games on your PC with a keyboard.

Yet still we are missing the reminiscent details of the cabinet itself, the joystick and buttons, and the large monitor behind a glass bezel that glows through the pitch darkness of the arcade. Many enthusiasts build cabinets from scratch, while others convert existing ones in order to house hundreds of games in one machine. I have chosen the path of converting an existing cabinet, as it seemed (and more than likely is) much easier than building your own.

The project started in mid-June, when I found someone giving away a Nintendo Playchoice cabinet with the monitor in it. The machine had been gutted, and the monitor supposedly wasn't working and needed a cap replacement. I decided to bite, and my parents drove me all the way out to Manchester, Massachusetts (practically on the shoreline) to pick it up. It looked alright, still had the bezel but also a significant amount of rot damage in one corner, and one piece of wood was entirely missing from the inside. After getting it home and in the basement, I discovered that the guy I got it from had parted it out and sold the pieces on eBay, including the PCB and a full set of 9 game cards, as well as the marquee and control panel. All I was left with, basically, was the wood and the monitor, which suffered from bad burn in.

  • Photo 1, taken from the front of the machine. Control panel was missing, marquee gone, monitor having burn in from the game. Note the rot damage and missing wood on the right side of the front of the machine.
  • Photo 2, taken from the side. The side art is still in remarkably good shape, as is the wood. A few scuff marks on the back though.
  • Photo 3, taken from the back left side of the machine to show the other side. The back is a bit dirty, but the original manufacturer's plate with serial number was still attached!
  • Photo 4, the bezel and monitor shroud, intended to hide the internals of the cabinet from the player. The bezel still fit, but fell out while we were moving it so I left it out before I took pictures. The computer pictured was not the one I ended up putting in the cabinet.
After opening the back of the machine, I was surprised to find the original wiring diagrams to the cabinet. Actually, two wiring diagram sets, although neither model number on the front matched the model number on the back of the unit. Nonetheless I was able to find one that 95% matched what wires remained inside the machine. Trying to get the monitor to power on, I started to make a list of the things I needed to do:
  • Take out the monitor and all grounds from the monitor, control panel, etc if the monitor was unuseable
  • Figure out, if the monitor was useable, how I would go about connecting it to the computer
  • Design and build a control panel for the machine
  • Buy a marquee or design a marquee for the machine
  • Change the locks, as I was not given a key for the three locks on the machine
  • Fix the wood damage in the front bottom right corner, as well as replace the strip of wood on that side.
  • Affix new speakers inside the unit, as the wiring that goes to the original PCB is unuseable, and the speaker would probably not be loud enough without the speaker amplifier that sat next to the monitor
After searching around, I discovered two things:
  • that Nintendo Playchoice cabinets invert the RGB color signal between the PCB and the monitor
  • that Nintendo Playchoice PSUs do not supply power to the monitor or marquee unless there is a PCB board connected.
At first I thought "oh, why can't I connect the computer tower to the PSU?" I tried that, and it actually worked at first, but then something happened to the wires that well, uhm...either fried the PSU or blew the fuse...and after trying to get the fuse out I ended up breaking the fuse altogether....

SO, what ended up happening was that I would take the monitor out and put in another monitor. Thankfully my brother had recently gotten a smaller monitor and was no longer interested in his 1997 PVM, which supports digital RGB with an H sync and V sync, but also standard VGA. It is also 21 inches diagonally, which would be perfect for vertical raster games so they dont feel so badly shrunken as opposed to a smaller monitor. The previous monitor in the cabinet was 19 inches. I took the monitor out of the casing and it had been sitting on the kitchen table for quite a while, waiting for conversion brackets so it could be put into the cabinet. When we were doing the measurements we thought it would end up going out the back of the cabinet, but when we got it in we found it it just *barely* misses hitting the back, although at the current moment we have the back off to allow for ventilation.

I took out the PSU, all the grounds, monitor, etc and was left with just a lone speaker that I left in the cab, as well as the PCB cage and LED display that sat in the front of the unit. I took the shell off of my computer tower, and connected the original grounded cable coming into the cabinet to a surge protector. Surprisingly the shape of the surge protector made it a perfect fit so that the protector's power button was reachable from the hole where the previous power supply was. I secured it with several large woodscrews so that it wouldn't push back into the cabinet when you flip the power button. We then set the CPU inside and connected it to a temporary monitor. The surge protector worked flawlessly, and we also made a new grounded connector for the marquee light. I figured out myself how to get the coin door lights working off of the CPU tower's floppy drive power connector. Afterwards I fixed the coin doors, as neither of them worked very well and kept getting stuck. My father bought a new bulb for the marquee, as the old one was dead. It worked! After this, I started loading the HDD up with ROMs, music, and layouts I designed (you can see those here.) After configuring all of the emulators with MameWAH and installing the layouts, I was waiting for parts to arrive so I could install the interface for the controls as well as fasten the USB and power boards to the CPU tower inside the cabinet (they were on the front, affixed to the plastic casing I took off.)

A week later the parts came. I ordered from Ultimarc and placed the order literally the day before they closed for a summer break. I bought the I-PAC, an interface that mimics a keyboard, except with wire connectors for the controls. I fastened all the circuitboards to the computer in, replaced the locks on the coin door and bucket door, and installed the I-PAC in the space underneath where the control panel will be. I wired up the coin door to the I-PAC and tested it, and it worked. I was getting credits on Pac Man for putting in quarters!

After waiting a long while for my brother to get a router, which he supposedly needed to make the control panel, we decided we could get away with using a dremel to make the recess for the joystick to sit in. We got the control panel made using a dremel and a circle bit. I bought a vinyl-like fabric at Jo-Ann Fabrics for $5 and have an entire other piece extra the size of the panel. We stapled it around after getting the holes drilled and buttons in to secure it (We had put in the joysticks already) and we used hinges to fasten it to the cabinet. You can see the panel on the machine here. After the marquee arrived we could call the machine complete! We got the discs for the joysticks in, and we also added an external amplifier which saw use for several months before I reinstalled the stock amplifier and internal speaker.