This node is a step by step set of instructions for how to build your own cocktail video game station. You may also want to read How to build a MAME cabinet (which is an overview of retrofitting an existing game, this node tells you how to make one from scratch, step by step).

A cocktail game is an arcade game that is in a small table like form factor. We are going to build a brand new one here, and stuff it with a computer to run all your favorite gaming software.

What you will need

Tools required
  • circular saw (or other saw capable of handling plywood)
  • drill with a nice selection of bits which must include a phillips driver and a 1 1/8" wood cutting bit
  • soldering iron (with solder)
  • wire strippers (or you can use your teeth like I do)
  • a handheld jig saw
  • hammer
Stuff from the local home superstore
  • 3 - 2' x 4' sheets of 3/8" or 1/2" plywood (get the good stuff, not the kind that is bowed or warped)
  • 1 - 2' x 4' sheet of 1/2" particle board (the cheap kind is fine)
  • 1 - 8' x 2" x 4" beam (you know, a two by four)
  • 1 - beveled edge 2" x 2" pole at least 3 feet long (or a round one, we will be cutting this up to make legs)
  • 4 - leg levelers
  • 1 - sheet of thick plexiglass (or very thick glass). Don't buy this yet, we will go back and get this last.
  • 1 - can black spraypaint
  • 4 - cans of (whatever color you want the machine to be) spraypaint
  • 30' of black 1" corner trim (your store may not carry black, if not buy clear and paint it)
  • 1 - box small nails
  • 1 - box wood screws
  • approximately 50' of wire (thin gauge speaker wire works, so does just about any other kind of wire)
  • 1 - roll of 1/2" stick on foam rubber weatherstripping (may also be found at the auto parts store as camper shell weatherstripping)
  • a few feet of plain black rubber floor mat (they will have to cut this off a big roll which will probably be located near the carpet stuff, they may also call it a hallway runner).
Stuff from the computer or electronics store
  • 1 - computer (your choice on specs, you may want to check out MAME Cabinet Howto Part 4 The Computer, except that we will be using the CDROM drive for this project).
  • 1 - set of powered computer speakers (buy a cheap set, we will be ripping them up)
  • 1 - surge protector with on/off switch.
  • 1 - on/off toggle switch (from Radio Shack or your local auto parts store, I suggest a metal one for authenticity.
  • 1 - CompUsa Crystal Trackball (as detailed in How to mount a PC trackball in a MAME cabinet).
  • 1 - Gamepad Your first choice here is an original Microsoft Sidewinder (not the USB version). Your second choice is the Gravis gamepad (the one that looks just like a standard Playstation pad), your final choice is the Inter-Act ProPad Blue. You will be soldering on this, so if you buy a different pad, don't come crying to me for help, because I only know how to do those 3, and do not buy a USB Sidewinder, as they are nearly impossible to use for this project. If soldering scares you then you should order an I-Pac from Andy Warne instead (detailed in the I-Pac node).
  • 1 - Pushbutton (any style). If you are using an ATX style computer than you need a momentary one, if you are using an AT style computer than you need one that stays pressed in. If you don't know what I am talking about, then check and see if the computer you are using has a power button that stays in when it is pressed, if so buy a button that stays in, otherwise get a momentary button.
  • 2 - 5" speakers (Cheap ones are fine, unless you want to buy expensive ones. Although ones spec'ed for outdoor use are best.)
  • 2 - 5" speaker grills (To fit your speakers. I prefer the metal ones for an authentic look).
Stuff you are going to have to buy off eBay, call around for, or otherwise order from someone
  • 1 - 19" VGA Open Frame Monitor This is a kind of arcade monitor that will plug into your computer. You can either spend a bunch of money and buy a new one from for $300 to $400 (or any other vendor), or you can look for a used one. To locate a used one check eBay under the coin op section, search for VGA. If you can't find one there, then go to They have a bunch of them (which is where I bought mine). They don't have them listed on the site, but they do have them. Just ask for one of those 19" VGA monitors from the video poker machines (the ones they used to sell on eBay). The pricing from them should be between $75 and $95 plus shipping, that will get you a working one with some slight burn in of Video Poker. The burn in isn't that bad, and it is a whole lot better than paying for a new one.
  • 1 - arcade coin door (coin mechs not needed). You can get one of these cheaply on eBay, or you can also call all your local coin op repair/dealers and see if they have an old one for you (tell them you just need the door, not the coin mechs). Be sure and get a squarish one, and not one of the really long rectangular ones that some games had.
  • 1 - Arcade Joystick. You will want an 8-Way unit. Best place to get these is eBay,, and your local coin op repair shop. The more expensive ones really are better.
  • 8 - Arcade pushbuttons with microswitches. Get these with your joystick, the same place should carry both items.
  • 1 - Black 19" monitor bezel. eBay or will have them. The local repair shops usually do not, as this is not a commonly replaced item.
Optional items
(You won't need any of these, but you can get them if you want).
  • Player 1 and Player 2 Start buttons (standard arcade pushbuttons with the pictures of the little guys on them, the place you get your joystick from should have them).
  • I-Pac. This is for people who are scared of soldering. you would get this instead of the gamepad listed above. Available at
  • NOS Sideart. These would be big stickers for the side of your game. Just search for "sideart" on eBay. If you are going to get this I reccomend getting something without the name of a specific game on it. Just get something that says "Capcom", or that has some Ninja guys on it or something (the reason being is that you shouldn't waste a part that could be used to help restore a specific game, use the generic stuff instead).
Building the cabinet

Ok, get out all that stuff you bought at the home store, and your coin door. Cut yourself out one piece of plywood that is 24" x 30" and 2 pieces that are 36" x 30". Connect these together to form a U shape, cut off a few bits from one of your two by fours for bracing. This pieces will be the back and sides.

Now you are going to cut a bit off each of the open sides. You want it to end up like this (this is a side view).

I                          I
I                          I
\                          I
 \                         I
  \                        I
   I                       I
   I                       I
   I                       I
   I                       I
   I                       I   
   I                       I
   I                       I

I didn't even measure mine when I did this, but you are creating the overhang where the control panel will go. Just make sure you go straight down at least 4 inches, then when you come in make sure it is at least 6 inches. It would make more sense to make these cuts first, but I was dumb and didn't do it that way.

Next cut some more ply wood to fill in the front three sections (you will have to measure this, as it is all dependent on the angles you chose when cutting out the front notch. Affix these pieces as well (with a bit of bracing for the big piece).

Now use your drill and jig saw to cut a hole in the front for your coin door, the size of this hole will be determined by the size of your coin door. Now cut two speaker holes on either side of the coin door hole, the exact size doesn't really matter, as you will be covering it with a grill anyway, 3" - 4" will be fine (just not too big, or else the grill won't cover it).

Now measure the bottom of your game. Cut your particle board down to size to fit inside this hole. Affix the bottom inside about 3" up (you could use plywood if you want, but particle is cheaper, and no one can see the bottom anyway). Drill 3 holes in this board. The first in one of the back corners, make that one 1 1/8". the second two will be up at the very front, and should be sized to fit the toggle switch and push button that you bought earlier.

Now you should have your basic cabinet constructed. Cut up that dowel rod, or pole you bought for use as legs, and affix those inside each corner. You will want to tailor the height of the machine to whatever chair you will be using with it, so I can't tell you how long to make the legs (mine only come down a few inches, but I use a low chair). Don't put the leg levelers on yet, we will do that later.

Clean all the dust off the machine, sand it if you wish, and use those spray cans to paint away. Just add a coat every 10 minutes until you run out of paint (you may be better at painting then I am, but that got me a nice finish).

Allow the cabinet to dry overnight.

Get out all that corner trim you bought, along with those little nails. Use this to cover all edges, except for the top section. Just cut the sections to fit, and hammer them in. (You don't have to do the bottom, but you should if you have enough trim). Make sure you have enough trim left over for the entire top, and then some.

Install that coin door, take the coin mechs off it, if it has any. These take up space, and we will need that space. While you are at it, go ahead and install those leg levelers (as they won't get paint oversprayed on them now).

Now you are ready to build your control panel.

The Control Panel

Cut a piece of plywood to fit on top of the overhang at the front of your machine, this should fit inside the sides, not on top of them. Get out your drill and your 1 1/8" bit. Drill one hole way off on the left, centered up and down (this is for the joystick). Then drill four, or six (I chose four, but you may want six), holes to the right of that. These will be for your arcade buttons. Now before you do anything else, you should install the joystick and buttons into these holes. Play around with them, make sure you like the spacing and button layout you selected. If not then throw that piece of wood out and try again (you should have enough wood left to do this several times).

Now to install the trackball. Go to the How to mount a PC trackball in a MAME cabinet node and follow those instructions. The only change you will make is if you decided to buy player 1 and player 2 start buttons. If so, then melt a hole (with your soldering iron) on the underside of the trackball under buttons 1 and 2, you will want to find the part where the microswitch for the button is (quite easy because the trackball is clear). There will be 3 solder points there. Solder a wire to the two closest to each edge. Solder those wires to your player 1 and player 2 start buttons. This will make either your hidden buttons, or your start buttons trigger mouse presses. I mounted my start buttons directly to the right of the trackball. But you can also put them down low on the cabinet if you wish.

Do you have any arcade buttons left? If so then install them on your cabinet near your coin door, we will use these as function buttons for your games.

Wiring up the controls

If you bought an I-Pac, then simply follow the instructions that came with it. Otherwise, get that gamepad and take the case off.

Get ready to solder. First affix the PCB from your gamepad on a piece of wood to keep it from moving around.

Wiring methods by gamepad type

  • Sidewinder

    The sidewinder is the easiest. One the pcb you will find labeled holes for every button, and several labeled ground. Solder a wire into 2 of the ground ones, and then solder wires into the holes labeled for each direction, and for buttons 1 - 8.

    On your control panel you should wire all the grounds of your microswitches together in one big loop. Wire the 2 grounds from the sidewinder to two points on the loop (this double grounding isn't needed, but can save a repair later). Then wire each of your buttons and the four microswitches on your joysticks with the wires you soldered to the corresponding points on the sidewinder. Be aware that the joystick is actually reverse, in that pressing left actually hits the switch on the right, and so on. So make sure you wire this way, otherwise your stick will be all backwards.

  • Gravis Gamepad

    This pad is harder to solder because it does not use a common ground. You must solder 2 wires to the points that each button, or direction on the d-pad. This is rather hard to explain here, but it is obvious when you look at the pad. A few of your buttons will not require soldering, as the shoulder buttons are already connected with wires, just snip them off. Wire up each button and direction separately (each microswitch should be connected to two unique wires on the gamepad PCB).

  • Inter-Act ProPad Blue

    This one is wired up in the same manner as the sidewinder, except that it only has 6 buttons, and the solder points are not labeled, but are easy to trace to from the buttons. This one uses a common ground, so you can wire all your microswitch ground together in a loop, just like you did with the sidewinder.

If you are having a lot of trouble with the above section, then you have a few options. You can order an I-Pac, or send your panel to me (/msg for my current address), along with 2 gamepads, and enough money for return postage (I need 2 gamepads in case I mess one up). Although the I-Pac would be cheaper than having me do it.

The audio system

Get out those PC speakers, those 5" speakers, and those speaker grills. Get the circuit board out of the master speaker (the one with the volume control). Mount that inside your cabinet somewhere where it can be reached by opening the coin door. Install the 2 - 5" speakers and the speaker grills. Wire them up to the amplifier board you just installed.

The power switch

Install that toggle switch you bought in the hole you drilled for it earlier. Now break open the on/off switch on your surge protector, and wire it up to the toggle switch instead (exact method will vary by surge protector). Mount the surge protector back in the corner, with the power plug going through that 1 1/8" hole you drilled earlier. Plug in the power cord to that speaker system you just installed

The computer

Set the computer to 640 x 480 resolution. Then take your computer case apart. Remove everything. If your motherboard is mounted to a removable tray, or sheet, then leave it on that sheet, but remove the tray with it still attached. Snip the 2 wires off that are going to the power button (you can simply remove the wires for the LEDs, you won't need them).

Now you are going to have to make a quick check to see of your motherboard will fit underneath the monitor (which you haven't installed yet). Measure the depth of your cabinet, and the depth of your monitor. If you have at least 7" extra, then you will be able to mount the motherboard on the floor (I wasn't able to). If not you will have to mount it on the back wall.

Mount your motherboard in your chosen spot (this is easier if it had a removable tray). Now take your power supply (you did take that out of the case already, didn't you?), and find a suitable spot for it. Get a screw that is just a tad longer than the bottom of your cabinet is thick. You are going to drive this screw through from the bottom up, and into the power supply. Place the power supply on its side, and pick a spot right next to an air hole to hit (that way the screw won't hit anything but the casing of the thing. (If that scares you, then just tape the power suppy down with duct tape or something).

Install that second button you bought into the hole you already drilled for it. Wire this button to the two wires that used to be connected to the power button on the computers case.

You can mount your floppy drive somewhere if you wish, I didn't use one myself, as I don't plan on moving around any text files or anything on my unit.

Hopefully the case you took apart had a hard drive cage in it. If so them mount that cage somewhere near the motherboard, and put the hard drive in it. If not, then you can mount the hard drive in the same way you did the power supply, but you must be sure to hit the screw holes on the drive when you do this (or say goodbye to your drive).

Mount the CDROM drive on the floor near the front, where you can reach it from the coin door, make sure it can open and close without obstruction.

Connect up your trackball, speaker wire, and keyboard. (Just set the keyboard on the floor inside the coin door).

You are getting close to being done.

Mounting the monitor

Affix two or three sections of two by four to your monitors frame, going across. Make them the same length that the inside of your cabinet is wide. Your exact mount poits will vary by brand of monitor. You will need a friend to help you with this next part. Lower the monitor into the cabinet (with the screen facing up). Hold it with the screen about 2" from the top of the cabinet. Have your partner drive wood screws through the outside of the cabinet, into the two by fours you attached to the frame (use 2 screws for each side of each two by four).

connect the monitors power cable to the surge protector, and connect the VGA plug to your video card.

The test run

Install that control panel you built earlier into its spot (if you haven't already). Power up your system. Make sure that all your buttons work, that your joystick functions properly, and that your sound works. Adjust the monitor for its new position (it will have a bunch of knobs in back). If everything works correctly then we are ready to finish putting this thing together.

Finishing up

Use that black edge molding to go all around your control panel. Install the monitor bezel. Now measure the open top area (including over the monitor bezel, you are going to want to go halfway onto the edge of each side (except the control panel). Now go back to the store and get a piece of plexiglass, or thick table strength glass cut to that size. If dark tinted glass or plexiglass is available, then get that.

Take out that black weatherstripping and cover all the top edges with it, so the glass will be sitting on a cushioned surface.

If you got tinted glass, then simply set it on top of the unit. Frame it with the rest of your black edge molding. (Be sure and remember to frame the front where it meets the control panel).

If you got clear glass, then you will need to mask off a square, the same size as the raised part of the monitor bezel. Paint the rest of the glass black. Allow it to dry, and then install it in the same manner, paint side down.

You are finished.

Congratulations. You finished the project. Now install MAME, Winamp, and all your favorite games. Let me know when you finish your project.



If you are utilizing a hot running processor, like any first gen slotted one (slotted Athlons are especially bad), you should install several air holes with fans in the machine near the motherboard.