PortaMAME - Arcade in a Briefcase

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chiz
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PortaMAME - Arcade in a Briefcase

Post by chiz » Sun Jun 26, 2016 2:09 am

As requested by @joe7dust, posting my build log for the PortaMAME originally posted over at ArcadeControls.com
_______________

Hi everyone.

First post and first project as well. Stumbled upon this forum back in November (2014) when I was searching for materials for my build and been a regular visitor since then. I'm astonished at the wealth of information and level of knowledge sharing in these forums! :applaud:

I named the project, PortaMAME. First name I thought was PortaCade but there's already a traffic barricade brand that uses the trademark so I settled with PortaMAME.

Project Name: PortaMAME - Arcade in a Briefcase

Image

Image

Image

Background:
I first got the idea of building an arcade machine when I got an Injustice fight stick on sale and saw in the interwebs that a Raspberry Pi can power an arcade machine. For the proof of concept, I installed EmulationStation on the Pi and had the fight stick detected and I was playing some MAME games immediately.

I started planning and getting parts for integrating the Raspberry Pi into the fight stick when I saw Rasmus' and this website. I thought that even if I get the Pi and fight stick contraption, it would have to be connected to a TV/display when playing. Inspired by how folks here are building full size cabinets, bartops, etc., I decided to go all the way! I shelved the Pi and fight stick project and decided to build a machine powered by Windows instead.

I have never built an arcade machine before or any other similar furniture/machine/equipment. The closest experience I could relate to is scale modeling which I have not done in the last 6 years! My cost/benefit analysis convinced me that from the nostalgia value alone, this project is really worth investing time and money. Plus, it's a good way to put into use my recently acquired small set of power tools and a good excuse to acquire more tools as I build the machine.

Objective:
Since we're only staying in one-bedroom apartment where we have limited space, building a full size cabinet is simply not an option. A bartop seemed to be the perfect solution, however, once built, it would still be a challenge stowing away the machine when not in use. That's when I thought of building an arcade in a briefcase.

Requirements:
A. Must-haves
- Must be portable
- Must be compact and have a small footprint
- Must have compartment for power cord, extension cable (optional), joystick handles, small keyboard, mouse (optional)
- Must have 15" or larger display and full sound for the best arcade experience

B. Good-to-haves
- 2-player button layout
- ports for USB, LAN, earphones, etc.
- lit marquee
- lit buttons

CP Layout:
Since the case is black I decided to keep it consistent and went with a black theme. I thought of making the panel look more like a high-tech scientific equipment rather than an arcade machine. :D

I considered getting a yellow version of the case and have a Pac-man theme for the control panel. However, since there isn't a space for the marquee, I felt that it won't be complete so I went the black theme route.

Here's the CP art. Too bad the reproduction didn't turn out as I imagined it here. The dark areas on the corners were printed as plain black areas losing the carbon fiber pattern detail. :(
[spoiler="controller panel art"]Image[/spoiler]

Challenges:
I thought that since I didn't have to start with building a case from scratch, the build would be easier and will have few challenges. I was wrong. Due to the fact that I don't have a custom case made for the components but rather starting off with a pre-made case, fitting and mounting the components is more challenging! Below are the challenges and lessons learned along the way.

Challenge #1: Choosing the best briefcase for the project - SOLVED!
I first thought of using an aluminum briefcase as this is what's commonly used today for transporting hobby kits, photography equipment, etc. However, I saw reviews that said these cases are thin, flimsy and not rigid enough for my needs. I want the machine I'm building to last for a long time as I'll be putting so much time, effort and money in the build.

In my search, I came across the Pelican cases. While it seemed to be the best case for the job as reviews say that the material is sturdy and durable, I feel it's too expensive. In my search for a cheaper alternative, I came across the Seahorse brand of cases which uses the same material as the Pelican but is cheaper. Both Pelican and Seahorse cases' lid fully opens to slightly over 90 degrees (approx. 110 degrees) which provides good viewing angle compared to regular briefcases which only opens up to 90 degrees max.

In addition, the Seahorse cases accommodates for custom panels as the sides of both the lid and bottom compartments already has screw holes to mount the panels! Not to mention that it's also waterproof as the Pelican cases. I don't intend to test if they're really waterproof but it's good to know that once built, my machine has some level of protection from water leaking in.

[spoiler="Seahorse case"]Image[/spoiler]

Challenge #2: Getting the correct dimensions to get the panels fit - SOLVED!
Unlike regular briefcases and aluminum cases, the Seahorse case's edge isn't straight and has sharp corners. Instead, the corners are curved and the sides also has slight curves. I thought that it would be challenge getting the proper dimensions.

It's a good thing that the folks at Fuerte Cases where I ordered the case are very accommodating and they provided me paper templates of both the bottom and lid when I requested for one. The templates even have the screw holes already marked! Thanks Fuerte Cases! One challenge easily solved.

[spoiler="foam board with template"]Image[/spoiler]

Challenge #3: Choosing the motherboard, power supply, speakers and other components - SOLVED
Motherboard and PSU
If I settled on my initial hardware specs of using a Raspberry Pi to power this machine, I won't probably have challenge no. 3 as the Pi is so tiny and would only take a very small amount of space. However, I wanted the machine to have more processing power so I settled to using Windows instead. I thought of using a netbook but the motherboard would occupy a wide area. My next option is a mini-ITX desktop board -- more compact but takes more vertical space than a laptop motherboard. Since I went the mini-ITX route, I used a mini PSU rather than a full desktop PSU.

Here's how the components look so far... I'm yet to trim down and tidy up the wires.
[spoiler="untidy wires"]Image[/spoiler]

Push Buttons
Choosing the buttons is also critical. I definitely cannot use the Happ-type buttons as it's too tall for this build I wanted the scew-on buttons but the shortest is still too tall for this build. In the end, I settled for the Seimitsu PS-15 Low Profile buttons.

For the admin buttons, I chose the small push buttons so I can fit at least three (3) without taking so much CP real estate.

Here's how the CP panel looks underneath. I'm still yet to trim and tidy up the wirings.
[spoiler="buttons underneath"]Image[/spoiler]

Encoder
For the encoder, I used the Xin Mo 2-Player USB encoder. Initial testing with the Xin Mo encoder showed no lag whatsoever. I tested on Galaxian and Terra Cresta and I find it very responsive.

Here's how it looks like with the CP on top of the components. Really cramped! As you might noticed, instead of using PCB mounting feet which I find is still too high, I used Perler Beads which quite works well and with really low footprint.
[spoiler="cramped"]Image[/spoiler]

[spoiler="controller board"]Image[/spoiler]

Speakers
In choosing the speakers for the audio, I opted for USB-powered speakers. I thought that doing so will spare me the headache of finding for a small speaker that would fit and small amplifier to go with it. I saw Rasmus use a Logitech z110, which I find has ample sound power. It has good mids and highs but not too much bass. Still, it's a better speaker compared to other small speakers that I tried and owned.

[spoiler="Logitech z110 speakers"]Image[/spoiler]

Rasmus' bartop has enough space to fit the z110 with the original housing -- he simply epoxied the speakers to his bartop. However, since I have very limited space, I had to take out the speakers out of the housing. Searched the net and I didn't find anybody who has disassembled the z110.

For lack of visible screws and openings on how to disassemble the speakers, I used a Dremel cutting bit to and drilled a small hole so I can peek at the insides before I continue drilling and cutting the housing. I drilled two (2) holes first -- one where I can peek inside while the other, for inserting through a small LED. After determining the "safe zone" for cutting, I cut the housing around the sides and successfully extracted the speakers and tiny amplifier.

[spoiler="drilling a pilot hole"]Image[/spoiler]

[spoiler="speaker exposed"]Image[/spoiler]

[spoiler="speaker and amp extracted"]Image[/spoiler]

Challenge #4: Fitting and mounting the components and buttons with limited vertical space - PARTIALLY SOLVED

Since I wanted not to damage the Seahorse case, I thought of using a thin plywood to act as base for screwing in the components on the bottom compartment. I will further secure and attach with Velcro underneath.

Here's how the base looked like initially without the components. It appears spacious but quickly got crowded when I started putting in each components.
[spoiler="mounting base"]Image[/spoiler]

With the back panel and CP cover visible...
[spoiler="back panel"]Image[/spoiler]

Back Panel
As I wanted the setup to be upgradeable as possible, and I figured that I would be tweaking the system often, I decided to make the back panel complete with all the necessary ports as any desktop computer would have.

Below is the back panel planned using Sketchup.
[spoiler="back panel plan"]Image[/spoiler]

Sketchup template printed for cutting the holes into the plywood.
[spoiler="sketchup template"]Image[/spoiler]

Here's how the back panel looks so far... Next is sanding/finishing, priming and I'll have it painted black as well.
[spoiler="unpainted back panel"]Image[/spoiler]

Challenge #5: Closing the lid when the bottom compartment has joysticks sticking out - SOLVED

Perhaps anyone trying to build an arcade using a briefcase as the housing will come across the challenge of the joystick stabbing display/lid when closed.

Good thing I discovered early on about The Link from Phreak Mods. A bit pricey if you ask me but it does the job well. You won't feel any difference from the stock shaft. I used the JLF version (The Link comes with a Seimitsu version too). The stock dust cover and shaft cover won't fit in the link though so I had to sand the stock JLF dust covers.

Joystick handles attached...
[spoiler="removable joysticks attached"]Image[/spoiler]

Joystick handles removed...
[spoiler="joysticks removed"]Image[/spoiler]

Handles stowed in the compartment...
[spoiler="joystick handles stowed away"]Image[/spoiler]

Test if the briefcase can be shut with the panels attached...
[spoiler="lid close test"]Image[/spoiler]

It does!
[spoiler="lid closed"]Image[/spoiler]

Managed to make some progress in the last couple of days...

Challenge #6: Mounting the display - [s]IN PROGRESS[/s] SOLVED
But first, let's talk about the NEC LCD monitor that I used for this build and why I chose it over the 17" widescreen laptop LCD I have.

The NEC L174F4 (perhaps other models in the series as well) comes with a number of features that's great for hacking.

[spoiler="NEC monitor"]Image[/spoiler]

For one, with the "hover" control buttons, I didn't have to drill holes in the bezel to access the control buttons. Just by hovering my finger over the "button" will activate it. See it in action below.

No button lit/touched...
[spoiler="capacitive buttons"]Image[/spoiler]

And here's after I "touched" a button. Notice the volume level indicator in the screen...
[spoiler="activated button"]Image[/spoiler]

Second great feature of this monitor is that it has audio in and out which makes controlling the volume done thru the monitor's controls which eliminates the need for dedicated volume buttons or knob.

Audio in and out beside the power jack...
[spoiler="audio in and out jacks"]Image[/spoiler]

Lastly, the monitor's back has a soft blue glowing "NEC" logo when turned on -- very similar with the glowing Apple logo on Macbook lids. The soft glow is actually achieved by a "light bar". I imagine the light bar can be used to light up a small marquee but since this build didn't have room for a marquee, I ended up not using the light bar.

NEC monitor's back
[spoiler="monitor back"]Image[/spoiler]

the "light bar"
[spoiler="light bar"]Image[/spoiler]

With all these features, I will definitely use this monitor again in future builds.

Mounting the display, inverter and controller into the case's lid

As I originally planned, I used Velcro to mount onto the case the plywood base where the LCD will be screwed. After a day of leaving the LCD/display/lid upright, the Velcro is still holding the display well. I tried detaching the plywood and even with good amount of force, I still cannot remove the plywood from the case. If I force it further, I feel that the plywood would crack. The bubble on the leveler didn't change a bit after leaving it overnight! I don't think gravity alone would be able to remove the LCD. I guess this Velcro tape can live up to its claim as being "industrial strength". :applaud:

[spoiler="Velcro strength"]Image[/spoiler]

Next is mounting the inverter using 3M Command adhesive foam tape
[spoiler="mounting the inverter"]Image[/spoiler]

To mount the display control buttons, I used a Papermate ballpoint pen barrel as standoff. Big shout out for DeLuSioNal29 for the tip!
[spoiler="ballpen posts"]Image[/spoiler]

To mount the standoff to the case, I used hot glue. As Ben Heck would say, "If Apple can [hot] glue their products, so can I!" ;D
[spoiler="hot glue mounting the ballpen posts"]Image[/spoiler]

And here's all the display components mounted on the lid.
[spoiler="completed mounting all the display components"]Image[/spoiler]

Below is how the "touch" buttons look like underneath the painted bezel.
[spoiler="touch button area"]Image[/spoiler]

Here it is in action!

Will the buttons activate?
[spoiler="activating the monitor buttons"]Image[/spoiler]

Look mom, no holes! ;D
[spoiler="activated"]Image[/spoiler]

I plan to add hexagonal labels to the buttons to keep with the overall theme.

Challenge #7: Getting the VGA, power and audio cables into the display/lid - [s]PARTIALLY[/s] SOLVED
It would be an eye sore if I just get the VGA, power, audio in and out cables running through the bezel so I used a flat VGA cable for the display.

For the power, audio in and out cables however, I had to fabricate a wire harness using a 14-pin ribbon cable and jumper wires. See picture below. The ribbon cable is rated for 300V so I figured that it should be able to handle the 12V power that the monitor requires.
[spoiler="custom wire harness"]Image[/spoiler]

To get the two (2) ribbon cables through the bezel, I had to make a slit where I can route the ribbon cables.
[spoiler="bezel slit"]Image[/spoiler]

To get the other ends of the ribbon cables to the motherboard, I will have them pass underneath the plywood base thru a hole.
[spoiler="harness acess"]Image[/spoiler]

Here's how the ribbon cables look so far. I'm thinking of spray painting the ribbon cables black but I'm afraid that it might damage the cables and/or get scratched over time making it look worse later.
[spoiler="wire harness attached"]Image[/spoiler]

Challenge #8: Removing paint overspray from plexi/acrylic bezel - SOLVED
Just when I thought I'm about to finish this build, I'm presented with a new challenge -- overspray in the bezel!

I didn't thought of adding masking tape to the backing sheet before I sprayed the black vinyl paint over the plexi glass. Bad move. :cry: I didn't expect the paint would cause the backing sheet to react to the paint and peel off.
[spoiler="no masking tape -- recipe for disaster"]Image[/spoiler]

As a result of my stupidity -- overspray!
[spoiler="overspray"]Image[/spoiler]

I'm thinking I have three (3) options:
1. Make another bezel - I don't want to go this route if I'm still able to salvage the finished one.
2. Use a solvent to remove the overspray - Since I used vinyl spray paint, I'm not sure which solvent or thinner I can use to remove the overspray. I'm also afraid that the solvent might eat the plexi causing more damage.
3. Lightly sand the overspray and polish the plexi - I think this is the safest but I'm not sure if I can polish plexi to the level that no scratches can be seen afterwards.

Any suggestions?

Anyways, here's how the PortaMAME looks so far...
[spoiler="almost complete state"]Image[/spoiler]

Update: I remedied the overspray by using Novus polisher. You can see the latest picture below with the GB Pi 2 with the overspray gone. 8-)
[spoiler="overspray remedied"]Image[/spoiler]

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joe7dust
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Re: PortaMAME - Arcade in a Briefcase

Post by joe7dust » Sun Jun 26, 2016 2:26 am

@chiz That's sexy af. I wanna see a video of it n action, just seeing that first pic the pacman music popped in my head!

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Re: PortaMAME - Arcade in a Briefcase

Post by Robots86 » Sun Jun 26, 2016 3:48 am

Looks quality Chiz. Very impressive :mrgreen:

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chiz
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Re: PortaMAME - Arcade in a Briefcase

Post by chiz » Mon Jun 27, 2016 12:07 am

joe7dust wrote:@chiz That's sexy af. I wanna see a video of it n action, just seeing that first pic the pacman music popped in my head!
Pac-man it is! See video here.

Recorded with help from my daughter -- not among the best pac-man players, yet. :D

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Kilren
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Re: PortaMAME - Arcade in a Briefcase

Post by Kilren » Mon Jun 27, 2016 4:44 pm

chiz wrote:
joe7dust wrote:@chiz That's sexy af. I wanna see a video of it n action, just seeing that first pic the pacman music popped in my head!
Pac-man it is! See video here.

Recorded with help from my daughter -- not among the best pac-man players, yet. :D
This is pretty cool. I've been wanting to do a bartop 'cade this fall. You can't beat the feeling of a fighting stick and a good layout.

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chiz
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Re: PortaMAME - Arcade in a Briefcase

Post by chiz » Thu Jun 30, 2016 12:42 am

@Kilren
Agree. That's 100% nostalgia right there! Only difference is you now have unlimited tokens/quarters compared when you were younger... But you now have lesser time to play compared to the old days. LOL!

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Re: PortaMAME - Arcade in a Briefcase

Post by Kilren » Thu Jun 30, 2016 2:07 am

chiz wrote:@Kilren
Agree. That's 100% nostalgia right there! Only difference is you now have unlimited tokens/quarters compared when you were younger... But you now have lesser time to play compared to the old days. LOL!
Ha. No truer words have ever been spoken. Finally have the resources, and ran out of time.

I'm hoping to find someone that's talented in graphic design and vector to do my vinyls, I have my idea in my head and now just have to get someone way more talented than me to make it happen :lol:

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Re: PortaMAME - Arcade in a Briefcase

Post by Mad_Duke » Thu Jun 30, 2016 3:54 am

Beautiful design man :)
Kilren wrote:
chiz wrote:@Kilren
Agree. That's 100% nostalgia right there! Only difference is you now have unlimited tokens/quarters compared when you were younger... But you now have lesser time to play compared to the old days. LOL!
Ha. No truer words have ever been spoken. Finally have the resources, and ran out of time.

I'm hoping to find someone that's talented in graphic design and vector to do my vinyls, I have my idea in my head and now just have to get someone way more talented than me to make it happen :lol:
I'm waiting for my girlfriend to move in later this month so she can make me an Autocad plan for CNC cutting the wood for the cabinet. I've learned on my own photoshop, indesign, illustrator and a ton of other things. I've said. She is an architect I will not go and learn AutoCAD also. haha.

For Vinyls I have my design for one side. Need to do the rest also. It's going to be a full standing cabinet. But the PC and controlboard will have the ability to be removed and used on it's own.

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Re: PortaMAME - Arcade in a Briefcase

Post by alien0matic » Fri Jul 08, 2016 3:32 pm

Wow, the result is really stunning.

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Re: PortaMAME - Arcade in a Briefcase

Post by chiz » Fri Jul 08, 2016 6:55 pm

Thanks @Mad_Duke and @alien0matic!

[off-topic]
@Mad_Duke
Probably will not suit your taste but with a simple design like the vigolox, you can get started in your full sized arcade cabinet in no time. :D
[/off-topic]

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