So you’re looking at building your very own home arcade entertainment system? well then, your kids are going to love these!
In this post I will cover some of what I believe to be the top home arcade project ideas that you can build yourself.
You don’t need to brake the bank with most of these projects as all of the parts needed are usually cheap electronic and open-source hardware, free software and readily available DIY hardware such as ply wood and bolts.
Most of these projects can be built using an Arduino micro-controller development board or something similar such as a NodeMCU. If you’re unfamiliar with Arduino then I have a beginner’s introduction post here.
The Retropie running on a Raspberry Pi has got to be the quickest, simplest and cheapest way to get a home arcade system setup.
Retropie can also be installed on PC but I found that it takes significantly more effort and configuring compared to the Raspberry Pi.
If you’re thinking of building this great little system then I have a Retropie guide here which will take you through the parts that you will need to purchase plus tips and tricks that I discovered along my pie building journey.
Retropie can be either setup manually from scratch or you could obtain image files from the internet that someone else has created already.
I chose to build my Retropie from scratch and I spent around three months solid before I called it complete so if you’re not interested in spending a great deal of time on this project then a ready made image would be the best option.
One of the best places on the net for these Retropie images seem to be over at ArcadePunks.com.
As we grow up with phones and tables as our daily computer, we tend to forget that these are just gimmicks when compared next to the Personal Computer.
No matter how far technology progresses, I always seem to revert back to the trusty PC.
Not only does the PC offer shear power, it’s well supported by many manufacturers both hardware and software.
The Retropie that I mentioned above can emulate many gaming systems but some system emulation needs an x86 architecture to run. That’s where the PC comes to play.
The PC would probably be the system of choice for MAME arcades.
Many of these emulating systems are still not perfect on PC either, however the PC would perform better than most other systems such as Raspberry Pi.
3) Arcade Cabinet
The most obvious choice in this list of arcade project ideas would be the arcade cabinet.
These come in many shapes and sizes such as the full standing cabinet seen in the image on the right, to ‘bar top’ arcades that are much smaller.
Building a full-blown arcade cabinet is going to need a computer inside of it..
So many choices exist when it comes to selecting the right computer for you here but we could opt for the Raspberry Pi running Retropie or we could install a complete PC inside.
There’s way too many “arcade cabinet build” posts on the net so I won’t link to any particular build here as we all have different preferences as to what we think looks good.
The Retropie, the PC, and the Arcade Cabinet builds that I mentioned above could be built into a rail shooter arcade by using this next project idea.. the lightgun!
A Little History Lesson: For those of us reading this post who are too young to remember, in the early days we used Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) televisions.
The way these TV’s operated let us use lightguns. But since TV technology moved on and we developed more energy efficient TV’s and with clear, more sharper images then it left a whole genre of video game industry behind.
If you’ve never experienced real lightgun arcade gaming.. you’ve never lived!
The Aimtrak lightgun is a popular choice for many people to get their rail shooter fix.
The technology works similar to that of the Nintendo Wii remote in that it uses a sensor bar that is needed to be placed on top of your TV.
The Aimtrak lightgun ships in one of two models. The cheaper model doesn’t have the recoil functionality whereas the the slightly more expensive model does. These cost around $80 – $120 depending on what model you choose to purchase and what extras you want.
These sensor bar aided “lightguns” are not as good as the original lightguns that we had in the past due to newer TV technology and many people say that the experience isn’t too great as it feels like your dragging the crosshairs around the screen.
Another downside to the Aimtrak is that it requires calibration and this could be a pain to setup for different games and depending on where you are physically standing may require re-calibrating.
The Sinden Lightgun started out as a kickstarter project and aims (no pun intended) to address the problems we have with using a sensor bar.
This system uses light in the shape of a white box around the screen to self-calibrate and function correctly.
Although not perfect and still in heavy development, the Sinden lightgun seems to be the answer to all the problems we faced since TV technology changed from CRT based screens.
It shows huge potential so far and I intend to re-visit this project in the near future.
5) Motorbike Arcade
Imagine if you will.. You take an Xbox or Playstation control pad apart. Then instead of pressing buttons with our fingers, we could place these buttons around a motorbike for example.
Not only that but we could swap out a simple on/off button for something more variable and analogue.
It’s then possible to create a motorbike arcade system by either using a real motorbike body, a toy motorbike body or even building one from scratch.
How about mounting this body on a tough spring to give it that real-life swaying motion.
We could install sensors and controller input into the bikes handle bars for example.
An old android mobile phone installed into the motorbike body could be a great tool for this project as they’re packed with sensors such as a gyroscope and orientation sensor.
We could then build our own android app which could send data from these sensors over the mobile phones bluetooth, wifi or cable to a Raspberry Pi for further processing as an example.
If you would like more info on how you can create your own free Android mobile app using Kodular for beginner’s then here is the link.
6) Racing Car Arcade
Similar to the motorbike arcade project idea above, it’s also possible to build your very own racing car arcade system.
All we need here is a steering wheel, gear stick, pedals and I think that a real car seat would make this project come alive.
Just take a look at this insane build at popularmechanics.com
If you REALLY wanted to create something special then a simulator-like experience could be achieved where every in-game bump and crash would jolt the car seat.
The way we experience the rumble motion in control pads in today’s gaming systems could be incorporated into mechanics to simulate a more realistic effect.
7) Dance Arcade
As with the lightguns, a dance mat can be added to an arcade cabinet build although this will bring you a more physical gaming experience at home.
Usually you could get away with simply purchasing one of these mats and modify it to suit your needs.
To bring dancing arcades in to the home you may want to add a platform to rest the mat on to.
Another idea would be to construct some handle bars to the arcade machine and around the mat just like how we find in real arcade systems.
8) Pinball Machine
This project is probably one of the most complex ideas in this list but worth your time and effort.
If you don’t mind working with wood and you have the space in your home for one of these machines then why not build your very own pinball machine!
After searching around the net looking at some of these builds I found a great guide over at Instructables.com which shows plans to build one of these Pinball Machines using an Arduino to control the electronics.
This would be a large project that would require much of your time and patients and maybe not the best place to start out as a first project.
However, if you’re up for a challenge then this one could be it!
9) Prize Claw
If you have kids then the chances are they will want to play the claw machine when ever they see one.
The problem here is that they will usually spend way more money on the game than what the prize is worth.. and that’s assuming that a prize is won!
Building your own claw machine at home could deter your kids from throwing money into one of these machines when ever they see one as they just not that interested if they have one at home.
Either that or they’ll be experts at it because they’ve had plenty practice!
I found this great instructional guide over at Arduino project hub if you’re interested in this cool DIY arcade project.
Well there you have it.
If we were to out-right purchase any ONE of these arcade systems then it could possibly set us back literally thousands!
But with a little time and effort we could all make a home arcade entertainment room a reality.. assuming you have space in your home of course.
I hope I’ve inspired you with some cool arcade project ideas for you to go and create something special today.
As always, I wish you good luck with any build that you decide to pursue!