Arcade Games Verticade


A MAME cabinet for vertical games

MAME is an open source emulator for arcade games. You can run it on your desktop computer or notebook, but that will not give you quite the right look and feel of an arcade game. Many arcade afficionados build their own custom cabinet around a computer running MAME, complete with arcade-quality joysticks and buttons, and with a case design inspired by typical arcade cabinets.

It is easy to get carried away – many of these cabinets end up with oversized control panels which carry multiple joystick and a dozen buttons. I decided to approach this from the other end of the spectrum: a small bartop cabinet with just the minimum of components needed to play my favorite games from the late 70s and early 80s. While I aimed for a small and clean cabinet, I did not want to compromise playability; so “proper” arcade-quality controls are used. The key components are:

Verticade cabinet

The finished Verticade cabinet.

Which games?

That’s all you need to play nearly all of the vertical-screen classics from the “Golden Age” of arcade games. I have currently installed (in roughly chronological order of their release, from 1978 to 1983):

Centipede is the only game that requires an external trackball, connected via USB. All other games can be played with the built-in controls, with minor compromises in very few cases. (The spaceship in Space Invaders and Galaxian is controlled via the joystick in 4-way mode, instead of a dedicated 2-way joystick or buttons; and Q*bert is played using the diagonal directions of the 8-way jostick.) I decided to omit Tempest – while obviously a classic from the Golden Age, the cabinet lacks both the spinner and the vector monitor for playing it “right”.

What’s here?

These pages describe the cabinet built from plywood and perspex and the software setup for the Raspberry Pi. The joystick gets some special attention: I modified the Sanwa mechanism a bit, so that the user can switch between 4-way and 8-way operation via the joystick knob.

By the way: After I had proudly come up with the “Verticade” name, I found Rasmus Koenig’s great web page which shows his own “Verticade” build, and several other MAME cabinets. Great designs and great step-by-step building instructions – highly recommended! Our two Verticades share the name and the focus on vertical games, but are otherwise rather different builds. Rasmus’ bartop is quite a bit larger, built around a 17” monitor and a mini-ITX PC.