I’ve developed an interest in MAME, the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator, and have decided that I want to build myself an arcade cabinet in which I will house a dedicated emulation machine, acting like arcade games and consoles of yesteryear (and, in most cases, yestermillennium). In the course of trying to design a cabinet, I came across one of the coolest tools I’ve used in a long time: SketchUp.
It’s basically a 3D design and layout application, similar in concept if not in scope to 3D Studio Max or LightWave 3D, only it’s primarily intended for “normal users” and (in the case of SketchUp Pro, for architects and other non-animation designers). But what struck me most about it is not the price — it’s free, thanks to Google‘s acquisition of the company that made it — but how blindingly simple it is. I used to mess around with my father’s copy of DesignCAD 3D over a decade ago, and it was complicated — you had to know what things like extruding and lathing were, and how to apply them to these very complicated shapes that you had to lay out. In the intervening years, I’ve messed with 3D Studio Max and Maya, and they were even more complex. SketchUp has managed to produce easy-to-use 3D design that doesn’t sacrifice — at least, for my needs — any functionality or capability. Check it out if you have any need for designing 3D objects, like an addition to your home or even for fiddling with the layout of your room. It’s free, and there are a few excellent video tutorials to get you started, and the help documentation can get you the rest of the way.
Back to the story I’d originally started, about my MAME cabinet. After fighting with graph paper and mentally trying to wrap my head around how various things might look, I found SketchUp and started putting it to work. I based my design very, very heavily on what is easily the most popular arcade cabinet design being shared by the arcade cabinet crafting community: LuSID’s Arcade Flashback. I thought his plans could use a bit more detail, and I was also having a rough time visualizing how it was all going to fit together, so I started laying out pieces in SketchUp and putting them together. After about a day of messing around with it, and that includes learning how to use it in the first place, here’s a screenshot of what I’ve got:
It looks unsurprisingly like LuSID’s cabinet, but that’s because his plans are good and made an excellent base for my detailing and tweaking. I noticed some quirks in his plans’ measurements, like not having the marquee be tall enough to take a standard 8 in. by 26 in. banner, and I also added an intake vent at the bottom of the back door over which I plan to put a grille of some sort, and a pair of fan holes on the back at the top so I can hook up a couple of 120mm case fans and have some airflow (assuming good ol’ convection isn’t enough on its own).
I’m pretty excited about this project, and since it doesn’t look like the Sun Ultra 40 test run is going to come through then this’ll give me something else to do besides freaking the mundanes.