Craig Maloney writes "Growing up, I found myself more than once in an arcade, be it in the mall, Meijer, or a free-standing building. The atmosphere was unmistakable: loud, with lots of activity, and people getting fully immersed and "in the zone" between them and their pixellated avatar. While playing an arcade game at home has been possible for many years now, the true arcade experience has been a little more elusive. There's something about having an upright video game cabinet, and playing on arcade hardware that gives the game that extra sense of being right in the arcades of my youth. There are many sites out there that have different plans for building a MAME arcade cabinet from scratch, but most read like a post-mortem for how the author pieced together their particular setup. What if you just want to convert an old (non-working, I hope) cabinet into a MAME arcade cabinet? Lots of information is out there, but where do you start? Project Arcade is an excellent introduction for building your own MAME arcade cabinet from scratch, and compiles lots of material into one comprehensive book." Read below for the rest of Craig's review.
Project Arcade is split up in to five parts. The first part describes the planning process, and comprises complete plans for building an arcade cabinet from scratch. The second, third, and fourth parts are a list of parts and design decisions for the hardware for your MAME arcade cabinet, from the control panel and computer, to the speakers and monitor. The fifth part is a summary of various "off-the-shelf" solutions for purchasing a complete MAME-ready arcade cabinet, as well as links to other "inspirational" projects. Obviously, if you're building the MAME arcade cabinet from the wood up, and outfitting it with your own hardware, then most of the book will be applicable to you. I found all sections to be very valuable, and regardless of which direction I take (build or buy) I'll be more informed when I finally devise my plans and make my purchases.
One thing that stood out in Project Arcade was the thoroughness of the book. Unlike some "build your own arcade books", Project Arcade contains complete plans for an arcade cabinet, from start to finish, including lists of all of the materials. I unfortunately didn't build the cabinet, and am not an expert on woodworking, but the plans looked complete and well thought out. At the very least, it left me with the impression that this was something that I could likely handle with some help. The part I am a little more familiar with (the electronics) was quite fascinating. The book catalogs a great deal of hardware available to the arcade-cabinet builder, and there were parts that I didn't know were available, such as screw-terminal keyboard adapters (no more taking apart cheap keyboards for me). The author details many different joysticks, trackballs, and button choices available, with thoughtful discussion on the pros and cons of each choice. I felt through most of the book like I was being guided by someone who was passionate about building excellent MAME arcade cabinets, and had a lot of knowledge to share. Even the section on pre-made cabinets was carefully put together, with the benefits of each cabinet design explained thoroughly. There are also copious amounts of photos, so you'll know exactly what it is you're looking at. Also, where applicable, there are diagrams and charts to aid and assist.
Unfortunately, the strengths of Project Arcade are also part of its weaknesses. There are a LOT of parts described in the book. After a few pages of the same type of part, my mind started to wander. While the descriptions are comprehensive and insightful, I found myself after a while thinking "I get it already". Detailed descriptions of taking apart keyboards and soldering to them to me seemed obvious, but I can see why the author decided to take the time to explain the process more thoroughly for those who may not be as comfortable taking apart something electronic. Also, the book focused mostly on the hardware for building a MAME arcade cabinet. I would have appreciated the same depth of discussion on the software available to complete the project, mostly because I think the author could have brought some very insightful recommendations on what software to use with the MAME arcade cabinet.
When I build my MAME cabinet, be it a conversion of an old (non-working) cabinet, or from scratch, Project Arcade will definitely be the book I use on that project. While the descriptions can be a bit verbose, the book delivers a very thorough and insightful perspective on what I should be looking for when envisioning what my completed MAME cabinet should be. Much like a do-it-yourself book for remodeling your bathroom, the book can only provide you guidance; the finished project is up to your creativity and imagination. Project Arcade is that guide to building yourself the perfect MAME arcade cabinet.
You can purchase Project Arcade from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.