brandorf.com The everyday ramblings of one nerd.

6Nov/11

Not Quite a Phoenix : Raising my MAME Machine From the Ashes.

I've been meaning to sit down and write this for some time now, but have always managed to come up with some sort of convenient excuse not to. Well now, coffee in hand, I'm going to make this happen.

I built a Mame arcade machine back in the summer of 2003 with my father. It was a ton of fun and I at least learned about the large whole of my knowledge and experience involving woodworking. However me being a student at the time, and now a graduate (arcade machines, while awesome, don't travel well or fit within a student's nomadic lifestyle), and my own parents having moved twice in that time, means that this little arcade machine has traveled many miles, and we unfortunately didn't design some aspects of the machine to handle the stresses of the average move.

About the third move was when things started to go south. This move was done by “professional” movers, and apparently the entire cabinet was dropped or something. The monitor yoke had fallen off the back of the monitor tube and smashed into the PC motherboard at the bottom of the cabinet. It looked worse than it actually was, and it didn't take too long to get it running again. Lucky for me there.

The next move happened while I was busy away at college, no idea what happened there, but I came home after college and the machine wouldn't boot up at all. After a few diagnostics, I decided that well, the parts were ancient when I built it, they must have finally given up the ghost, so I chucked the motherboard in the bin, and went about scrounging some new parts. This was the first step in legacy hell.

The original setup for the machine really just had the motherboard screwed into the cabinet. This time around I figured I'd attempt to make something a bit nicer, and that would protect the motherboard both from strain (the PCI cards in the old setup just sort of

hung by their sockets) and if something fell on the board. So, with a new motherboard in hand (Pentium 4, something like 2GHz, something like 5 times faster than the old board) I made a new enclosure out of acrylic, which I figured ended up looking pretty damn good.

Acrylic "Case"

Then again, most things electronic look awesome under acrylic.

Acrylic "Case" from the front.

Shaping acrylic isn't that difficult. CUTTING it is however. Making thse cutouts with a Dremel tool resulted in molten acrylic being flung around the workshop and the tool looking like it was covered in cotton candy. Ouch.

Well, here's where the Legacy Hell started. I'm somewhat tied to DOS as the OS here for one primary reason, ArcadeOS. ArcadeOS is really just a fancy launcher for MAME, but it's got a few important considerations when running a cabinet like mine, first, it supports vertical orientation, and automatic flipping of the screen so the player on either side can choose games, second it supports pressing P1 + P2 start to exit the current game and go back to the menu. I didn't design this cabinet to have any extra buttons anywhere, so for pretty much every other front end I tried, this was a deal-breaker. The fact that, by using DOS, the cabinet can boot in like 10 seconds is just a nice benefit. However, after all this I couldn't get the sound card working at all.

PCI Soundblasters, at least in regards to their legacy (i.e. DOS support) are something along the lines of bastard children. Part of this problem was that when you say “Soundblaster 16 PCI” it's not at all clear what board you were talking about. Official Soundblaster PCI cards, that is, cards actually created by Creative, didn't really have any legacy support at all, supposedly there was a cable called the SB-Link that would let you use these cards in pure DOS, but I've never even seen a motherboard with that connection on it. The other 'Soundblaster' cards where actually Esoniq cards, which Creative bought and relabeled. These cards gave DOS mode compatibility through emulation magic. I don't know what driver and card combination I had when I set up the original system, but even with a stack of six different PCI 'Soundblasters' ranging from the original Esoniq cards to a new Soundblaster X-Fi, I couldn't get sound to work consistently. I was stuck.

The savior of junk.

When one of my coworkers discovered I like to tinker with old electronics and equipment, he started to bring me, well junk. I assume he was trying to be either funny or annoying to me, bringing me junk like the stepper motors from old disk drives, or the audio amp from an old set of cheap computer speakers, but the tinkerer in me just filed it away, you never know when things like that could come in handy. Then one day apparently proud at finding the apparently oldest component anywhere in the building, plops a Soundblaster 16 ISA card in my lap.

I had a matching motherboard and CPU ordered the same day.

Freed from the round-peg-square-hole problem of trying to get modern era PC components to behave under DOS (though unfortunately, my fancy acrylic housing no longer fit the new (old!) Pentium 3 board.), I had sound working almost instantly. Phew! It's amazing how smoothly things go when you use equipment designed for your purpose.

It lives again!

It had been almost three years I wager since anyone played this arcade machine. Now back together, running, who's going to set the high score on Pooyan?

You can't hope to beat me in a Gyruss-off, I'm simply the best there is.

 

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