As someone who has been messing around with emulators for many years, I’d always dreamed of owning my own arcade machine. I’d read books and websites about building your own but wasn’t very confident with all the wiring. That changed when I bought a couple of PS4 Venom arcade sticks and had a go at modding them with Sanwa parts: I realised it wasn’t as hard as it looked. Living in a flat in London, space has always been an issue so a full-size machine was out of the question: I decide to build a bartop.
Whilst researching bartop arcade builds I came across a little kit called Picade, made by a British company called Pimoroni. The kit used a Raspberry Pi and the reviews were good. I took the plunge and now I’m the proud owner of my own little bartop arcade machine which cost less than £300! Best of all, the kit was really straightforward to put together and it’s very easy to use. I really enjoyed personalising it with custom parts and artwork. This is how I went about it.
Stage 1: The Raspberry Pi (cost £85)
If you’re unfamiliar with Raspberry Pi and Retropie it’s worth starting off by just buying the basic Pi and playing around with the system.
A Raspberry Pi 3 costs around £30 and a basic case around £5. You will also need an HDMI cable (£2) if you want to connect it to your TV.
Raspberry Pi 3 Model B Quad Core CPU 1.2 GHz 1 GB RAM Motherboard
I recommend getting a power supply which has a built-in on/off switch (around £6) as there isn’t one on the Pi itself.
A SNES style controller will be needed to play the Pi directly and can also be used with the Picade for 2 player games. The Buffalo SNES gamepad is a good choice at around £17.Buffalo Classic USB Gamepad for PC
You can buy micro SD cards pre-loaded with Retropie for about £25 (32GB). These require no set up at all so they’re good for people who don’t have time to set it up themselves.
Once you’ve played around with the Pi and got used to the settings and how it all works (it really is very straightforward) you’re ready to move on to the next stage.
Stage 2: Picade (£180)
The Picade came in a flat-pack with all the necessary screws and buttons. I was very impressed with the kit. The buttons came in a lovely plastic toolbox.
Pimoroni recommended following a Youtube tutorial to build it and it was very useful. This is one video tutorial. The build took around 3 hours in total. All the wires just fit on to the corresponding terminals – no soldering required! The Raspberry Pi just screws into the back of the cabinet.
The only challenging part came when I turned on the Raspberry Pi and I got a blue screen. After a bit of googling, I worked out that I need to put the SD card in a PC and edit the /boot/config.txt to add or uncomment (remove the # before) hdmi_force_hotplug=1. Since the display was powered by the Pi it wasn’t detected at startup, so this was required to make it work.
Configuring the joystick and buttons in Retropie was easily done via the settings menu.
Stage 3: Custom parts (£30)
The joystick and buttons that come with the Picade are perfectly fine but if you want to replicate that real arcade experience you need to get some better quality parts – particularly if you’re into fighting games which require precise joystick movements and responsive buttons.
I bought my parts from Arcade World UK and went for a Seimitsu LS-32-SC joystick (£17) and 6 x Sanwa OBSF-30 snap-in buttons (£2 each). Playing games such as King of Fighters and Street Fighter II these feel incredibly responsive. I used the standard buttons that came with the Picade for the credits, volume, select etc.
I bought all these before I started my build but you could also swap them in afterwards if you decide you want to upgrade the standard parts later on. This is the finished Picade:
Stage 4: Custom artwork (£5)
People have uploaded custom artwork to Pimoroni’s website and there are some really great examples available to download. I made my own Final Fight artwork using a free paint package (Pixlr) and just got them printed on A3 at my local printing shop. I used a scalpel to cut out the templates.
And here is my finished Final Fight bartop arcade machine. I’ve got the Buffalo SNES controller plugged into the Pi player 2 port for multiplayer games.
I had a lot of fun building it and designing the artwork. It feels just like a real arcade machine.
I learnt a lot about how arcade buttons and joysticks are wired in the process and I’m really proud of my little cabinet. If you want to take things a bit further you can add a bigger screen and lights – check out this video for an example of what can be done!