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Modding a 1UP Arcade Cabinet with a Raspberry Pi

I’ve been holding onto a Raspberry Pi mini computer for a few years and never really knew what to do with it until now. My wife was out shopping and she noticed an Arcade 1UP machine on display with a clearance sticker on it. These units aren’t full-sized arcade cabinets and are instead built to a 3/4 scale. When you walk up to one it almost has a “cute” look to it and that was enough for my wife to call me and tell me about it.

These units retail for around $300 and we picked this display unit up for $150. There wasn’t any cosmetic damage done to it, but one of the ball-tops for the arcade sticks was missing. I figured it wasn’t a big deal since those can be replaced for cheap. Once I had everything up and running, I was surprised by how good the picture looked. The library of games was kinda lame though.

We picked up the “Rampage” unit, which includes 3 additional games. Rampage was fun for the first 10 minutes but the gameplay quickly became repetitive and boring. We also noticed that it was next to impossible to squeeze in three players to play. Gauntlet was a similarly bad experience as well. You just wander endless castle mazes and shoot endless hordes of enemies with up to one other player. Even though this Rampage cabinet had 3 joysticks on it, they decided to put in a 2 player version of Gauntlet, which was a very odd choice.

The game we ended up enjoying the most was Joust. We were fans of the book “Ready Player One“, so that made everyone familiar with the game, but no one ever really played it that much before. It was pretty funny how serious my entire family got when we started getting into it. Everyone was shouting “hey, you stole my egg!” and bragging about high scores in no time at all.

With the optional riser, the cabinet has a full-sized feel and look to it.

Defender was a game I remembered enjoying, but they completely butchered the control scheme for some reason. You had to use the far left joystick to move up and down, 2 buttons on the left side to move left and right, and buttons on the far right of the cabinet to fire. There was also a warp button on the middle of the unit. It was a complete disaster to play (unless you had 3 arms) and immediately made me want to modify the cabinet. So I did.

I am not into woodworking at all. I have no saws or power tools except for an old screw gun. I always wanted to own a M.A.M.E. arcade cabinet, but buying a cabinet was expensive and building one required way too much carpentry. This Arcade 1UP machine, however, had everything I needed. All I had to do was replace the buttons and pick up a few additional parts and I was ready to go.

I decided that I wanted a 6 button layout. I also liked the way LED buttons looked, so I went with these “Easyget LED Arcade” buttons that had 2 USB encoders included.

I knew I had to completely remove and replace the Rampage control deck. If I had a Street Fighter cabinet I could have skipped this step, but in my case I found a site that sells pre-cut and pre-drilled control deck boards that specifically fit in Arcade 1UP cabinets. The boards sell for $25, but I decided to add a very nice 1/8″ plexiglass cover and T-molding to get a more professional quality look.

Test-fitting the replacement board I ordered from

The final specialty part that I needed to order was an adapter for the Arcade 1UP monitor. The monitor has a 1280×1024 resolution with a 5:4 screen ratio, which isn’t common for a modern day monitor, but perfect for retro arcade games. If you open up the cabinet and look at the model number of the monitor, you can find the specific adapter you need. Some of these Arcade 1UP cabinets use slightly different monitors, so it’s always best to double-check. In my case, I found this adapter that worked just fine for my Rampage cabinet. It supports HDMI, VGA, and DVI.

LCD controller board adapter installed and mounted with double-sided tape

The heart of this project will be the computer you decide to use. I decided to go with something small and low-powered that gets the job done, but if you want to be able to play more demanding games, an old Windows PC will easily fit inside of this cabinet. I’m using a Raspberry Pi that has an emulator front-end running on it called “Emulation Station”. Obtaining roms and Raspberry Pi images is something I won’t get heavily into, but Google is definitely your friend.

Now that you have all of the essential ingredients, you can finally start putting this machine together. When you wire the arcade buttons to the player 1 and player 2 USB encoder boards, make sure that you wire both sides exactly the same. For example, if you put your “A” button in a “K1” slot on the encoder board, do it that same way for both players. If you wire things differently, you will see some weird buggy control glitches in your games.

When mounting a new joystick, I learned the hard way that it is possible to install the joystick upside down if your joystick has a ribbon cable type connection. If you are using the Zero Delay controller board that is recognized as “Dragonrise”, you will want to mount the joystick so the ribbon cable connector is positioned closest to the buttons.

Make sure to mount joystick correctly or you may run into problems.

The only thing left to consider is what you will use for sound. If you want to use the speaker that is already included with the 1UP cabinet, you can order an amplifier for it. I already had a spare set of amplified pc speakers, so I just used that and it provides good enough sound. The beauty of these do-it-yourself projects is that you can go as big or as small as you want to.

Wiring the arcade buttons and joysticks for the controller board was probably the most tedious part. Once that is done, it’s pretty much all downhill from there. I started plugging everything in and before I began bolting everything down, I made sure to do a test run to make sure there weren’t any surprises. Once everything worked as expected, I put everything back together and began playing with my new favorite toy.

If you haven’t picked up a 1UP arcade cabinet yet and want to have a more easier modding experience, I would suggest buying a Street Fighter II cabinet, since all of the joysticks and buttons are ready to go and you won’t have to worry about ordering a new replacement panel. The joysticks and buttons aren’t the best, so you might eventually want to replace them. I would suggest getting as much mileage as you can with what you already have. It’s not very difficult to open this thing up to make adjustments.

Have you done any mods to your Arcade 1UP cabinet? Have any useful tips and tricks you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments!

Edward Hyman

Besides gaming, I'm really into technology in general.