Project 1 Astron Belt

My First Ever Project: How I Built My Own Arcade Game

The Story....
I decided I wanted a MAME cabinet so I could play a couple of thousand(at the time) arcade games on somethign other than my computer. I started calling arcades and the third place had a Choplifter cabinet, no insides for $20, it was a one hour drive but I said great I am on the way, somehow we were able to put a full size arcade cabinet in my trunk and I made it home without killing anyone important.
The cabinet was missing the glass and the sides had some of the stickers ripped away from the edges, not perfect but for $20 it is hard to complain. It was apparently not originally a Choplifter because of the spaceships on the side and the original control panel had been recovered and a hole plugged where different controls were placed. I have been told it is a rare Astron Belt by Sega that used Startrek footage.(I didnt realize what this meant at the time but now that I know how rare this Laser Disk game is, I plan to convert it back to an Astron Belt original cabinet and use a Daphne Emulator in it...when I get around to it anyway).

The Before Pictures.

I needed a computer to put in this machine, fortunately I have a room full of computer junk and I was able to put together a system with a 14" svga monitor. I need a bigger monitor or 19" tv but right now I just want to get it working, upgrades will be easy once the major part of the work is done.

I figured out every key I thought I would realistically need and put them along the top so I can even control windows by CTRL,ESC,TAB,ENTER,Arrow Keys to shutdown or run other programs placed in the start menu. Since I am using A,S,Z,X for player 2 buttons I can also jump to the beginning A, or end Z or middle S of the game list, which saves a lot of waiting to arrow scroll through the games list.
At the last minute I had to add a B coin button, it seems Gauntlet requires a quarter in slot 2 for player 2 otherwise you just add to player 1's health. Since I needed a button I had not anticipated I was 1 button short, fortunately I was able to take one of the old buttons out of the old control panel and paint it black to match the Instert Coin A that I already had.

My plan for the buttons.

I decided on a 2 player layout for the controls(2 players is always more fun), 1 joystick and 4 buttons per player, that should work for 99% of the games and for one player games that need more buttons I can always use the player2 buttons. I didnt want to put big labels for SPACE, ALT next to the buttons, that didnt look very good but I need to know which button is which. I bought some dry transfers from Radio Shack(Radio Scrap) and used them on the buttons, then painted over with clear nail polish to keep the transfers from rubbing off, now I know what all the buttons 'really' are but I dont have over obvious graphics that scream it is a computer keyboard.

My original control design.
This really looks crappy today but it was my first ever attempt

The Work in progress.

I didnt want a black control panel, I wanted to do something more asthetically pleasing, and I was not satisfied with basic lines to break up the open space so I did some surfing and found screen shots for flight simulators, I put them together and printed out a nice color picture, I was going to put a piece of plexiglass over it but it turns out drilling a lot of big holes in plexiglass is not that simple and I broke my plexiglass on the first try. I used some full page lamination sheets instead, I put the graphics on while the paint was a little tacky and then put the lamination sheets over it. This would never last in a real arcade but for me it should be fine. I printed out some screen shots from Starwars Episode I games and flight simulators and used those under plexiglass for the control panel and to border the screen. I went a little crazy with the border graphics but since I was using a small screen I didnt like all the black space so I had to fill it up with something. I bought a 'display' board, which is like a thick foam peice of posterboard at walmart and cut out a hole for the monitor then painted it black, this worked very very well for the boarder.

Finished Arcade Side.

I painted the torn places black which made it look much better. I took some red vinyl tape and taped the boarders then some black vinyl to keep the 3/4" wide stripe from looking like a peice of tape around the edge. I thought about covering all the bad places with a larger boarder maybe something silver that had rivets drawn on it to look like a battleship. I also could have matched the paint and re-drawn the missing graphics but this was supposed to be a weekend project not a Smithsonian restoration.

Finished Front.
Yikes, I can do a much nicer conversion today, ahhh the learning curve..

The insides.
I hacked up a keyboard that would not type the letter "O" and soldered wires to the keys I needed. I was a little worried about reflections with the long wires I had, almost 3 feet for each key, but it worked with no problems. I used a terminal block to make installation easier. I also ran an extra wire from my power block to the original power switch on the case so I can turn it on and off without reaching behind to find the power strip. I had to replace the flourescent light in the top with a 18" light stick, which was an easy fix and much better than repairing the old original unit.

Well that is it, I can now play about 2000 games anytime. Not a bad project, went quite smoothly and cost about $75.00 out of pocket.

Updates You see this line

We just crossed it and there is no going back. My one weekend project has turned into a two weekend project. I was not satisfied with the monitor I had so I bought a refurbished 17" for 155$, then I was not satisfied with the 133processor, it seemed a little slow for some games so I bought a 333Mhz with motherboard for $100(of course it did not work so I had to return it for replacement). I also upgraded the memory to 64megs for neo-goe games. Now that I have filled up the hard drive with neo-geo games, which are huge, I did some drive swapping to get a 3.2Gig in it. I have now copied Dragons Lair I and II to the hard drive so it is not so jumpy, and I may add other emulators later.

I also bought a Microsoft Easyball for a trackball, only $25.00 from and it is big. A little black spray paint makes it look less like a childs toy and it looks like it could have been mounted in a 1/4" board if I had planned on it. I found that some games, especially shooting games just did not work well with a joystick. Starwars is also nearly impossible to play well with a joystick but a faster processor should help that too. I should have planned on a trackball to start with but I really didnt think I would need one, it is actually very useful in many games and in place of a mouse for windows. If I had planned on needing a trackball I could have left enough room in the middle of the panel to mount it but too late for that, I will just use it when I need it. I was not satisfied with my collage of images so I bought a Starwars Episode I poster and cut out the middle to make a much better looking boarder.
If anyone knows where I can find a starwars yoke or if you know of a regular yoke that will work let me know. I thought about buying a yoke to see if it was as good as the original starwars yoke but I hate to drop $50 on a decent yoke and it not work.

The re-worked system.

Well I got tired of moving the trackball around. Everytime I needed to use the 2nd joystick or a 2nd player needed it, I had to move the trackball somewhere else, what a pain. Enough of that, I just chunked the old control panel and built a new one but this time I integrated the Microsoft trackball and since I never used the reset button I made it into the left click button. I also used spray on adhesive to hold my new graphics to the panel which is much better and no wrinkles.
I am going to install a program called Rain. It is supposed to keep the CPU cooler by insterting a HALT instruction when the cpu is idle. I do not have much faith in my AMD chip when it runs all the time, maybe this will extend the life.
I suggest only using the Happ control butons 53-9200, I think these are the Ultimate, I tried the Competition but they felt cheap and I did not like the convex buttons.

The control panel with built in trackball.

I have made a new upgrade to my system. I changed to a 19" monitor. If you are building a machine use a 19" monitor, it is much much better than a 17". I also covered the torn artwork with a yellow/black saftey looking boarder tape from Office Max. I thought it had an Aliens movie feel since they used the saftey colors on the ship. I added some extra boarder tape around the edges to visually balance the repair job. I also changed the marquee to a Galaxian. It made more sense than the old Choplifter marquee since the side art was a space ship and the bezel was a space scene. Unfortunately the Galaxian marquee was a little too tall so I had to trim it down by about an inch but that wasnt too bad.

My machine with new marquee and covered tears.


2006 Update

This was my first project ever. I have come a long way since this time. Looking back I am very glad I did not hack up the cabinet or do something stupid like paint over the sideart. I am looking forward to restoring the cabinet as an original Astron Belt. I have since purchased an original control panel and bezel for the machine and am working on new sideart.