Bartop Arcade Cabinet Kit: The Alter Ego of Arcades
I’m sure you either heard of or lived in a time when a single computer filled an entire room. Likewise, when digital games were first invented, the wiring and materials took up a giant wooden box known as an arcade cabinet. Yet, as time shrunk computers, arcade cabinets have endured a similar fate. What once stuffed a room full of cabinets, can now fit in the palm of your hand.
But, we don’t always want these games in the palm of our hands. Sometimes, we want to replicate the feel of the old arcade. For years this seemed impossible without making a full cabinet and replicating or buying expensive games. Now, with modern technology, both of these things can be done without a headache.
Gone are the days of needing a huge machine to play a single game. Now, games can be played cell phones and laptops. Yet, there is still an appeal to having an arcade cabinet. A bartop arcade cabinet kit enables us to have an arcade without a devoted room.
What Will You Need?
So oddly enough, buying a kit will not include everything you need. Most kits include everything except the “guts.” This means that you need to get the hardware and install the software yourself. But they are often included as an add-on. However, I do not recommend this as it takes a lot of the customizability away. I recommend doing this part yourself. This is actually a lot easier than you might think.
I recommend using a motherboard called a raspberry pi. The raspberry pi is the cheapest motherboard available. Yet, it is also incredibly powerful. You can use either the retropie or the emulation station. The retropie is a lot harder, but a lot more customizable. The emulation station is super easy but is often considered cheating by purists. These will each get an entire article devoted to the ways to set-up. I have tried both and ended up using the emulation station because I did not have the knowledge needed to program out the retropie system.
Some kits include the wires and joystick as an add-on. Some do not. There are tons of tutorials online about how to do the wiring, so do not worry about this feat.
Joysticks are a very personal preference. Before I started building my first arcade machine, I thought there was only one type of joystick. Yet, there are in fact many. Joysticks are a huge part of the play. Thus the decision should not be taken lightly. Choosing the wrong type can mess up your favorite games. There are tons of types but the main types you need to know about is 8-way vs 4-way and bat-top vs ball top.
8-way is for newer games while 4-way is for classics. 4-way sticks only go up, down, and side-to-side while 8-way joysticks also go diagonally. They also sell a 4 to 8-way converting stick which is more expensive. However, it can make gameplay a lot more fun by allowing you to play each game as it was intended.
Ball-top joysticks are the original form of the joystick. They allow for a more original look and feel for games like Pacman or Galaga. Bat-top joysticks are more modern and allow for more comfortable gameplay. While there are companies that sell joysticks that can be changed, most people usually choose one or the other. Although, if you are planning on a two-player bartop, you can get one of each. However, this does not look as sleek as choosing only one. I choose a ball-top joystick for my cabinet.
The monitor (screen) is the last piece that is usually not included. The monitor can be anything from an old screen from a thrift store ($20) to an arcade specific piece ($2,000). Honestly, the graphics look nearly the same to me on both. The arcade piece is built to have rustic graphics and the old monitor already has them. You can probably already guess that I choose the cheaper option. It seems to work just fine. In fact, to me, the graphics look stellar.
After that long section of what is not directly included, you may think that a kit is a bad idea. However, kits can be a wonderful time-savors and help give your machine a professional look. Unless you are a master woodworker. you will need a kit for the wooden cabinet. You will probably also want a kit for the graphics and marquee. Kits will also include lots of little parts that you may forget about in one neat package. I highly recommend getting a kit for something as complicated as the cabinet.
And while the software is easy to fix if you mess up, the wood is not so kind. I decided early in the process to use a kit and I think that it was a wise decision.
Game Room Solutions offers a wonderful array of kits and allows you to customize the graphics or choose a pre-done design. Each kit they offer comes with several options for nearly every part. And they include the raspberry pi in the price. They also offer tutorials for every step of the process.
When you first go to the kit’s order screen, the options may intimidate you. I know they scared me at first. What the heck is a cam lock system and why would I want that? That’s why I am including a section on what each of the options mean and why you will or won’t want it.
This simply refers to how you want the layout of your bartop to look. The most common option is the two-player one. This is what I choose and would recommend
This one is a little tricky since you can only choose the second option if you choose a Cam Lock System. Sanwa JLF and Zippy are some of the best brands of joysticks. If you are using one of these then I completely recommend doing it and the Cam Lock System (which I will explain in a minute). If not, then you don’t need to worry. Just select no undermount cut.
Button Panel Layout
This refers to the buttons on the front of your arcade. This really is a personal preference. More buttons mean more work, but they also mean more control. Plus, the coin/start can be a fun addition.
Here it is basically asking you if you want to have to do the prep for cabinet art yourself or if you want a background in black or white. This will depend on your artistic intentions.
Cam Lock System
Okay, so whether you want this option or not will depend on how mechanical you are. If you choose that you want it, you will a product with the screw holes done for you and the glue already done. If not, well, good luck. I needed the cam lock system because I am not very good at woodworking.
So this asks if you want a piece of plexiglass to cover your monitor and the area around your buttons. This is a great option if you have kids or are not a delicate person. I needed to get this because many of my friends are known for breaking things.
This, the shock of all shocks, holds the marquee. The marquee is the little sign above the monitor.
This asks if you want the art. If you do, you can have it pre-installed or install it yourself. This will again depend on how skilled you are.
Add Controls to Your Order
I actually do not recommend this. Mainly because they do not tell you any details about the joysticks other than the maker.
There are plenty of great companies for joysticks, my recommendation is to find your choice yourself.
Game Room Solutions offers some of the best kits on the market. These kits allow you to easily assemble an amazing kit for you and your family and friends to enjoy. No matter what your perfect arcade looks like, they will probably have the solution for you. And if not, there are tons of other ways to build. Learn about them all with this comprehensive guide.
Note: I am an affiliate for some of the links.