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Building the Arcade Cabinet, Part 1: Planning

Making an arcade cabinet is hard.

Nathan Fouts

February 12, 2024

5 Min Read

I've always loved arcade games, and I've been especially enamored with the arcade cabinets themselves. From playing Moon Patrol and Galaga as a kid in the early 80s, to playing Golden Axe and Alien Syndrome as teen, I've always thought that custom-made arcade cabinets are wonderful.

“I mean, how awesome are the eyes on top of Alien Syndrome?”

Thus after buying the IP rights to the arcade game developer Occidental Designs, which was a underground but influential company from the 80s and 90s, I knew I would want to remake one of their cabinets. You can read about their insane company history here if you've not heard of them.

“Any gamer raised in the 80's can probably (??) recall game developers Baer Sternmidden and William S Fushnell, founders of Occidental Designs.”

Surely, you a true-blue gamer, can vaguely remember one of their MOST beloved games, Bumpy Grumpy. Made in 1983, it tells the tale of Frantic Frank and how he must race to work to save his job! Sadly there were only a few cabinets made, sold only in regional test markets in the Missouri area.

Personally I can remember playing Bumpy Grumpy once on a school trip to the see the St. Louis Arch. It was a smokey pizza parlor, or was it a laundromat? In any case Bumpy Grumpy really stuck with me, and I knew that given the chance, I would want to share the brilliance of Occidental Design's game with more people! And lo and behold, I managed to buy the game rights many years later from the now-grown children of the original owners.

But while I own the rights to the game from Occidental Designs, I couldn't find the actual plans of the Bumpy Grumpy arcade cabinet. As you may remember, Occidental Designs suffered a terrible arcade fire in 1985, destroying many of their plans which were on paper back then.

“The factory fire, on the corner of Rosen Ln and Kalinske St.”

Because there are no actual design plans available I had to rely on the foggy memory of my childhood for what the Bumpy Grumpy cabinet design actually looked like.

But making an arcade cabinet is hard. Shoot--it's right in the name! It's an arcade "cabinet". You are making freaking furniture! And furniture is tricky stuff to make well. People are right on top of it, able to scrutinize it closely. If you make just a 1/4" mistake, the whole thing is gonna look goofy. Not to mention the serious money investment in all the panels and parts.

I was pretty worried about this, so I spent a solid year studying designs of all kinds of old cabinets, and as many blogs of "how to build an arcade cabinet" that I could find.

My of two favorite blogs on how to build a cabinet are:

1. "Building a Home Arcade Machine"

https://retromash.com/2016/06/01/building-a-home-arcade-machine-part-23-the-finished-cabinet/

The guy is insanely detailed about everything he lays down. It's an amazing resource.

“His final cabinet. Credit: RetroMash”

2. "The Neg Blog Arcade cabinet build"

http://negnegneg.blogspot.com/2012/09/day-1-blog-plan-so-approximately-6.html

Neg's posts have tons of useful detail, but are also full of humor and humanity. You really feel connected to the process here, and you feel all the hardships and troubles. Amazing stuff as well.

“Neg's final cabinet. Credit: Neg”

As you can see both builds looking amazing! I scoured these blogs many times over to understand all the possible pitfalls. And within these blogs, they share great links and resources as to what helped them along the way!

For more research and inspiration, I also joined two Facebook groups. One group is on super hardcore retro arcade refurbishments. The other group was on modern day MAME cabinet builders. I learned a lot of tiny details from these, and was able to ask questions there as well.

In March of 2022 I once again attended and thoroughly enjoyed the Louisville Arcade Expo. I live in Indiana, and the show is close by. It's a great show, full of arcade games and pinball machines. I've attended the show for many years, and can say it is three straight days of gaming bliss.

“Pinball as far as the eye can see!”

But for me, this year was different. Because at the end of the show, on the final day of the show, I started my cabinet-building journey. I knew from the start that in order to do the Bumpy Grumpy cabinet right, a game originally released in 1983, I'd have to make things as authentic as possible. Many other modern builds use HD TVs, which is fine for them. But I knew I didn't want clean pixels, I wanted true pixel bleed. So I made my first purchase of the build. I bought a CRT TV from the owner of the show for $20.

It has begun!

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About the Author(s)

Nathan Fouts

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After working for over a decade as a programmer and designer on games such as POSTAL 2 and Resistance: Fall of Man, Nathan Fouts decided to take his fine art training and put it to good use. With the blessing of his wife in 2007, they invested their savings in forming and running Mommy's Best Games, Inc. Now, Nathan creates the designs, programming, and art for his 2D games that fill the "approachable hardcore" niche with panache.

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