Watch on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JG8TK2Qjh_U
Fitting Out My Dream MAME Arcade Cab - The VideoStar MkII - 12 Years & Counting!
Join me on my 12 year (and counting!) arcade cabinet restoration project - where I take a bare cab from a real arcade and completely reburbish it - twice! - to transform it into my dream MAME cab setup.
So let me take you back, over 10 years ago, to January 2009. I was living in my own house for the first time ever (well, technically my girlfriend / future wife’s house, and it was rented) and we were both working full time jobs. So what better time to finally fulfil a dream that I’d had for many years - to own my very own arcade cabinet.
So I found myself on ebay, of course, and found a nice little lot of 3 empty cabs. I stuck in a bid - and won all 3 for £13.07. After making arrangements with the seller, who happened to be about 10 miles away, I booked a day off of work, and a friend with a big estate car was roped in to help collect.
It turned out that the seller’s company was involved in clearing out a local arcade years ago, and that he was now selling his house and needed to get rid of the 3 empty arcade cabs that had somehow ended up in his garage.
I won’t repeat what the other half said when she got home from work that day, but thankfully at least the other 2 surplus cabs - a Radio Times quiz machine and little bartop thing which I really wish I’d kept - had already made their way to the tip. Incidentally, that Radio Times quiz machine was locked, and when we busted it open we discovered it had £15 in change rattling around in the bottom, meaning that the cabs basically ended up costing -£2.
Although of course I let my friend keep that as petrol money.
The Videostar MkII was an interesting beast, with chunky gold t-molding, and a detachable control panel designed for 2 joysticks and, oddly, square fruit machine style buttons, which I’d later learn would be something of a hallmark for this manufacturer.
So what’s the story behind this cab and the company that made it? Well, surprisingly enough, it was only very recently that I actually managed to find any information on it at all.
Europa Coin were a British manufacturer of arcade cabinets, taking their name from the industrial estate in Kent where the company was based. I’ve managed to find a few similar cabs for sale online, including this one on Facebook marketplace a few years back, and another similar one on ebay.
Apart from that there really hasn’t been a lot out there over the last 10 years, or at least there wasn’t until this one came up for sale on the UK Video Arcade Collectors forum in 2017. The really interesting thing about this is the picture of the flyer showing the different models, and although mine’s branded as a Videostar MkII, the original Videostar here looks identical.
Also it’s interesting to see that every single game featured on this flyer was released in 1988, and the original listing is for a game called Crude Buster which was released in 1991. It seems to have Europa Coin branding on the surround and the marquee, meaning that this isn’t a later conversion.
I’ve read elsewhere that these cabinets conformed to the Japanese JAMMA standard, and that Europa Coin also sold official conversion kits for various new games as they were released.
Anyway, back on to my cab. I had very limited tools, basically just a drill, but bought a complete arcade kit from X-Arcade and managed to talk a local shopfitter friend-of-a-friend into routing out the control panel and a matching piece of acrylic, which I then assembled and wired myself. He also made an internal shelf for a spare 21” CRT PC monitor that I’d been donated, which I dremeled the front off of to make it fit the bezel that I’d scavenged from that Radio Times quiz machine. Yeah, I know… But bear in mind that this was over 10 years ago when you couldn’t even give these things away.
I also sanded and resprayed the whole thing in the garden.
On the software side, I set up my old Core 2 Duo Mac Mini with Windows XP and a very basic arcade frontend called MameWah, which matched the classic look I had in mind. Well that was pretty much it, and the cab moved house with us and took pride of place in the dining room of our current house, and served us well for years, getting fired up and played with regularly… In fact here’s a video demo recorded back in 2015.
Fast forward to 2018 - well, the monitor died and, with 7 years of DIY experience under my belt, as well as a garage full of power tools, I hatched a plan to transform the Videostar MkII into the machine I’d dreamed of all those years ago.
I decided to start with a complete rewire, replacing the original fluorescent tube with some much brighter and more reliable LED strips, and the tired old speakers with some much better car speakers I bought online. I also fitted a power button on top, which is wired directly into the PC’s motherboard. For now the backlight, amp and monitor all switch off at the wall, but maybe this is something that could be improved.
The control panel got a complete overhaul, with brand new genuine Sanwa ball top arcade sticks replacing the clunky old X-Arcade ones, some much quieter microswitches, and the addition of a USB SpinTrak spinner from Ultimarc, which is absolutely ideal for games like Tempest and Arkanoid. I went with woodgrain vinyl for the final finish. Maybe I’d been watching too many LGR videos at the time.
As I was getting tired of having to hook up a keyboard for the most basic of functions, I also added dedicated function buttons for exit, select, pause, and the MAME config menu, but I added some USB ports underneath for a keyboard if needed, and these can also be used for USB controllers for up to 4 player games.
I also put the amp with the volume control behind what would usually be the coin door, to make adjusting the volume easy.
I set it all up with an old frontend called Maximus Arcade as well as a few emulators which all work great, but the frontend is something I might change if I can find something better. I’d ideally like something with a very basic and classic look to it rather than being flashy and over the top, which I think rules out Hyperspin, although perhaps that can be skinned to give the effect I’m after.
By the way, I’m well aware that the monitor is a bit on the dim side, and it makes a horrible arcing noise when it’s warming up too. I’m going to be replacing the flyback transformer and recapping it in future, which should hopefully fix the issues. It is possible to get it to focus but it drifts out again before too long, so hopefully a service will sort it out. It was working great when I first got it so I assume the issues are just due to wear and tear.
Anyway, on the hardware side this cab has a few tricks up its sleeve - but this is easily my favourite. The spinner knob can be removed in a couple of seconds using a small allen key, and replaced with this steering wheel. The joysticks have these quick release collars fitted, so getting the P2 stick out of the way is no problem at all. In conjunction with the pedals I also added, this makes this cab great for driving games like Outrun and even Ridge Racer.
I modified the coin mechanism to add some microswitches to act as the insert coin buttons - I’ll show you how those work when we take a look inside in a moment. Incidentally, this coin mechanism is from a genuine Atari Pit Fighter cab.
So without further ado, I think it’s time to open this up, and the first step is to remove the control panel using these 8 allen screws.
Incidentally, my original plan was to have interchangeable panels with things like trackballs and light guns, and with that in mind I designed the control panel to be modular, with everything plugged in for easy removal.
On the back you can see the buttons, the joysticks with their 8-way restrictor plates, which could be changed for 4 or even 2-way for different types of games. The interface for the sticks and buttons is my old Ultimarc PS/2 MiniPAC which plugs in using USB. It’s always worked great so didn’t seem worth changing. Over this side is the much newer USB controller for the spinner. The insert coin buttons connect to these two wires.
Taking the front panel off we see the monitor, which is a 19” Tatung Type 58 SVGA model from one of those Megatouch quiz machines you see in pubs. It originally had the touchscreen overlay glued to the front, which was a monumental effort to remove cleanly but I got there in the end.
Originally I intended to fit a 20” Sony PVM, but it wasn’t suitable for any of the later, higher resolution games I wanted to play and besides, it seemed like a waste of a good PVM that I could otherwise use with my old consoles. It was a bit too deep for the cab anyway.
One thing I need to get to finish this off is a suitable screen bezel. I tried the smoked acrylic route but took it out as the monitor got dimmer, and besides, in the sunlight it basically acted as a mirror so it wasn’t ideal.
While I was in there I also completely changed the way the monitor mounted, angling it upwards to make the cab more comfortable to play when standing, and adding an extra panel at the top to fill the gap. This also necessitated completely changing the way the control panel fit.
While I was in there I added a lot more internal bracing to make the cab as solid as possible, and solid it certainly is - although it’s also incredibly heavy. Thankfully it does have wheels on the back.
Opening up the bottom half, you can see the strange way that I’ve cut this out with the bottom of the coin box basically floating. There was a good reason behind this - I wanted to leave as much material in the bottom part as I could so the pedals had something solid to clamp on to. Now you can also see the back of the coin mechanism - this was originally much more complex and mechanical, but I removed all of that and fitted two microswitches with some bright red LEDs for the buttons.
There is a shelf that fits here giving quite a useful storage space, but the PC ended up being slightly taller that I’d anticipated so it doesn’t currently fit. I will get around to moving the supports, of course.
The PC is whatever the top of the range i3 was a few years back - MAME is only single threaded anyway - and although I bought an arcade graphics card for it, I found that the integrated graphics worked quite happily at 800x600, even under Windows 10. It has an 80GB SSD for the OS and a 1TB mechanical SATA drive for everything else.
Onto the pedals, which were from a game called Speed Up, apparently. These connect using a U-HID nano from Ultimarc, with the accelerator being analogue with a potentiometer and the brake being digital with a microswitch. It would be easy to upgrade the brake pedal to a potentiometer in future but I haven’t got around to it yet.
Finally, there are just a couple of cosmetic touches to address on the outside - I’ll need some new t-molding, which is easy enough, and I’ll also need to finish off the sides. I’d primed these ready for some more filling and sanding, and was thinking about eventually painting them plain black. But maybe there’s something better?
At least the back panel that I added works well, and adds a lot of rigidity to the cab. I only used it for about 10 years without one. Access to the back is only really needed for adjusting the monitor, so hopefully once that’s sorted I won’t be removing it too often.
Buttons & Joysticks: https://www.arcadeworlduk.com/
Mini-PAC USB Interface: https://www.ultimarc.com/control-interfaces/mini-pac-en/
U-HID USB Interface (Pedals): https://www.ultimarc.com/control-interfaces/u-hid-en/
SpinTrak Spinner: https://www.ultimarc.com/trackballs-and-spinners/spinners/spintrak/
UKVAC Crude Buster Sale Page: http://www.ukvac.com/forum/europa-coin-26in-superstar-deluxe-crude-buster_topic355781.html
Arcade Photo Credit:
Steven Miller (Flickr): https://www.flickr.com/photos/aloha75
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