Aglow with radiant awesomeness.
The Pac-Man
Cocktail Table Project
It's beauty singes your eyes.

Cocktail Cabinet

Following the assembly instructions that came with the cabinet, we began putting this beast together. The bulk of the cabinet assembly is dead easy. Some wood glue and dowels, and you're good to go. The dimensions do present some problems when it comes to clamping things together for tight glue drying. We actually used some nylon tie-downs to wrap around the square of the cabinet and were able to effectively "clamp" all the sides that way. If you had the longer "screw" type wood clamps, or perhaps some corner clamps - you could do it that way too.

Mounting the coindoor was also simple. Four holes to drill, and we used standard 1/4" carriage bolts. The coindoor cutout that provides is cut for the standard Williams pinball type doors. Happ sells a Williams compatible coindoor that drops right in without a problem.

Control Panels

When it came time to actually place all the controls (joysticks and buttons), the main issue was one of limited space. I wanted to give each player 4 buttons, and I had already decided to go with a dual-joystick configuration (both a 4-way and 8-way stick for each player). The trick at that point - fit it all in the panel.

To start, I measured the control panel "face" (where the controls would end up being), and noted the dimensions. Next, using the mounting diagrams for the joysticks and buttons from the Happ Controls website, I created a to-scale template using Visio. After playing with a few different orientations, I came up with a pretty awkward arrangement of buttons - thinking that I needed to give the maximum amount of metal in between the button holes, for stability and clearance reasons. However, we quickly scrapped my first idea and went with the standard pattern you see below, it's much more "playable."

To me, it seemed like the drilling would be a little tight. I'd drawn in all the keepouts from the Happ Diagrams, but we were really cramming a lot on these panels. (If you're drawing a similar template in Visio, make sure that when you place controls on the top, that you're always taking into account the maximum keepout for each item. For instance, the pushbuttons are only 1" around, but on the bottom where the plastic nuts secure them - you end up having to actually have about 1 1/4" each). I worried that we were drilling holes to close, and either wouldn't be able to mount all the hardware, or would run the risk of ruining the metal with too many holes. But, we decided to go ahead as planned with the new drilling template. We marked the centers of all the holes with crosshairs, printed the template, and taped it down to the control panel.

The actual drilling was the subject of much debate. When these things come pre-holed, they're actually stamped out at a metal shop - which gives much cleaner and accurate holes than just drilling would. Ideally, I wanted to use a 1" metal bit on a drill press, but since we were a little over-anxious - we decided to borrow a 1" hole-saw attachment for a hand drill and try that. I also dropped $29 on a 1" metal bit - which we tried on one pushbutton hole, and promptly gave up. In the end, the hole-saw ended up working fine. We drilled pilot holes 1st, to help guide the hole-saw and other bits.

Since the seemingly long-ago days of my project, there are now some better options for control-panel drilling. The people at will sell you custom-drilled panels for a mere $25. Believe me, if your panel layout is relatively simple like mine - it's worth it. They also now offer a 3rd side-panel option for their cocktail cabs, which enables you to play horizontal as well as vertical games.

The pushbutton mounting diagrams from Happ list the holes as needing to be something like 1.13" in diameter, and luckily the hole-saw makes a slightly larger hole than 1" - so it worked great. I also used the same bit for the joystick shaft holes, which in reality are supposed to be slightly larger - but the same size works just fine. I would still recommend a drill press for the best results, but we managed to do the whole thing with a cordless drill, putting the control panel over a block of wood and then clamping that whole assembly into a vise where we drilled out the holes. We went through a battery on the drill every 2 holes, so this took quite a while. Have someone with some oil or lubricant spritz the drill bit every few seconds to keep the whole thing from getting too hot.

The joysticks need a total of 5 holes each. 4 to actually mount them (for this we used carriage bolts), and the center hole for the shaft. The Happ mounting diagram lists the mounting holes as needing to be about 1/4", but since we wanted to use 1/4" carriage bolts (smaller sizes aren't as easily found at the hardware store), we went 17/64" on them. This left room for the square part of the carriage bolt to clear the holes too. When it was all done, we did a test fit of the buttons - and we're very pleased. A warning though, take care not to scratch the black finish on the panels while drilling. In retrospect, it would probably have been wise to tape up the exposed metal, since we did get a few surface scratches from the vise clamping and over-zealous drilling.

Looking at it now, I'm pretty sure we managed to get the maximum amount of usable buttons and joysticks on these little panels. I guess you could have mounted the player 1/2 start buttons above the joysticks and given each player 6 buttons - but I figured there were few cocktail-oriented games that required 6 buttons per player. And, this machine was going to be dedicated mainly to the older arcade games, many of which only used one or two buttons each. So 4 "fire" buttons per player seemed perfect.

A test fit of the buttons and joys showed that our drilling was right on the money, but there were a couple problems that would need fixing. Number one, the joystick shafts are too long! The problem here is that the original Pac-Man joys were pretty short on the mounted underside. Happ sells the original "red-ball-on-top" Pac-Man joys, but I opted for the much cheaper "super" joysticks - which can be configured as either 8-way or 4-way. One of the things that's great about Happ's super joys is that they are highly flexible in how they can be used. They're able to go 4-way or 8-way, and they also have a couple different relief cuts in the shaft so that you can snap the spring tensioner ring in at a couple different heights. This allows you to have a joystick with a longer shaft (for wood mounting I assume), or shorter (for metal mounting). It's a great feature, but you get about 1/2" more joystick shaft protruding on the bottom than you would from a Pac-Man joy. The problem is, the shafts were butting up against the wood in the panel enclosure. The sticks wouldn't move, it looked like we needed about 1/4" "rut" in the wood to accommodate unhindered movement of the joysticks.

We marked the offending areas, and busted out the router. We cut out 2 very uneven and ugly holes about 1/4" deep into each panel bottom, right where the joysticks were butting up to. A quick test-fit after the modification shows be bought ourselves the clearance we needed, and with about 1/16" to spare too.

The next problem was with the joystick assemblies. Seems that our button keepouts on the diagram were not exactly right, and the rightmost joystick assembly was too close to the button fastener nuts. No problem there, we just used the Dremel to shave off the soft plastic mounting housing on the joystick. We also had to drill out the 4 mounting holes on each joystick, since they weren't big enough to accommodate our 1/4" carriage bolts.

Next was the issue fitting all the microswitches onto the buttons and joys. We did have to do some creative positioning of all the µswitches on the bottom, so that the terminals wouldn't run into each other. In the case of the player 1/2 start buttons, the switch terminals had to be pointed right at each other in order for the little men on the buttons to each be in the right orientation. We ended up having to bend the terminals on one of the µswitches to make them both fit.

With everything screwed tight and bolted down, it was really starting to look impressive. With both panels done, it was time to start thinking about wiring these things. Since the buttons and joysticks all work off simple off/on µswitches, you only have to connect 2 of the 3 terminals per switch. The ground sides can be daisy-chained together, and the "NO" sides each need a line to the I-PAC. I set about getting some hookup wire from Radio Shack, and some "easy-crimp" style terminal attach thingies from the auto parts store. The crimp-style terminal attach things worked great, but I wanted a sturdier connection - since, should one get jarred loose, it would be a huge pain to get your hands up into the panels once the cabinet was fully assembled. We decided that in addition to the crimped attachments, we would also solder each terminal to the switches. Soldering provided a much stronger attachment, just what I was looking for. Beware! It takes a while to cut, strip and crimp wire to these panels. But it must be done before you mount them to the cabinet! When you're done you'll have a rat's nest of wires - so it's not a bad idea to label each one with some masking tape (unless of course you splurged and bought a bunch of multi-color hookup wire in the 1st place).

When it came time to actually mount the wired and ready control panels to the cabinet, another realization was made. The instructions from show a small piece of wood going along each side of the control panel to "stabilize" them and aide in securing them to the inner cabinet. Problem was, we took up nearly the entire control panel with our buttons and joysticks. These support pieces go in the control panel cavity area and kind of "shore up" the panels so they're not going anywhere - especially getting knocked back into the cabinet if someone bangs on them too hard. They are also key in securing the panel to the actual inner cabinet wall with a metal brace. Without these support pieces, our panel would be susceptible to possibly being pushed back into the cabinet, and perhaps not be as well fastened to the inner cabinet wall as it should be.

The solution the we came up with was to make as much of a "support" block as we could. We couldn't support the entire length of the panel like the cabinet instructions recommended - but we could at least put some small support blocks that would give us a tighter attachment to the inner cabinet wall. These were basically just hacked pieces of wood that allowed us to get the stability we wanted. And, it worked great for the panel without the player 1/2 start buttons. For the panel with the start buttons, we had to get a little more creative - since cramming 6 buttons along the right side of the panel pretty much eliminated any room we may have had to mount some sort of panel support.


The monitor mounting was a little tricky, but with some help from friends - we got it installed and mounted correctly. The thing you need to keep in mind when mounting the monitor is that it's not made to fit in the display cutout with just default mounting. You need to shim up the monitor on both the cabinet top and side to make it sit centered in the cabinet's top window, and sit at the right hiegth enough to make the bezel do it's job (think of it as "standing off" from the cabinet top). Since it's not as simple is bolting the monitor to the cabinet, some guesswork and trial and error type manuevering is required.

One thing to remember when working with monitors, especially exposed ones like the arcade syle shelf-mount CRTs - is that they can be extrememly dangerous to work with. Monitors are essentially huge capacitors - and they can store a large charge for a long period of time, even after being unpugged. For this reason, I was rather nervous when working around the CRT - handling it only by the carrying holes in it's metal housing. The dangeruous parts are the bit on the back of the tube that looks like a suction cup, and the wires leading to it. These are generally marked "high voltage," but if not - beware that they can seriously shock, and even kill a person. Also, these things will implode if dropped. So, with that healthy dose of scare mongering - just be careful when trasnporting and handling your monitor, they are not to be handled lightly.

Before the we could adjust the monitor to fit the display cutout, we needed to know what "window" we would be trying to fit it into. Do know that, we first had to cut the bezel to the desired shape. The display cutout in the cabinet top is a rectangle slightly bigger than a 19" CRT - and the plastic bezel is needed to cover the gap between the moutned monitor and the cabinet cutout. When you order the bezel, it comes in a huge sheet - which is made to be cut to fit. The cabinet top cutout from has a little relief ridge cut around it, which is about 1/4" in width. We needed to cut back the bezel to leave about a 1/4" "lip" that would sit in this relief cut. Once that was done, we used masking tape to temporarily attach the bezel to the display cutout. With the bezel in tape - we just needed to sit the monitor on the other side of it, and move it around until the dispaly fit perfectly in the square.

To adjust the monitor position to fit the newly cut bezel, we first propped up the hinged door at a 90° angle to the cabinet itself (so that the top portion of the hinged side is perpendicular to the floor, giving us a stable flat surface to being tinkering with the monitor). We then set the monitor on the hinged top - and began by placing a piece of 3/4" plywood under each side, we kept adding some plastic "spacers" until the monitor was the right level when viewed through the cabinet top display cutout. Using this method we could adjust both the hiegth of the monitor relative to the hinged top, and the left/right alignment as well. Once we were satisfied with the alignment with respect to the hinged door, we made sure the monitor was pushed up close enough to the cabinet top, so the bezel was making slight contact with the CRT and doing it's job making the unit look seamless. We then bolted the monitor to the hinged top, and measured some wood to make the right sized "stand offs" for moutning it to the cabinet top. Once everything was adjusted, measured, and bolted - the monitor was securely in place and aligned properly with the bezel cutout.

Care must be taken to make sure that any shimming material used on the hinged top doesn't exceed the keepouts of the cabinet sides. Since the hinged side and coindoor side edged overlap about 1/4" on each control panel side, you have to keep in mind that you don't have the full width of the hinged top to work with when moutning. Basically, you still have to be able to close the hinged panel - and you can't have any shimming our moutning material get in the way of that. As it is, the monitor moutning housing barely fits (i.e. takes up the full width of the openeing). Also, the monitor moutning screws should be as heavy-duty as possible, without being thick enough to split the plywood you're drilling into. Normally you would pre-drill the wood to avoid splitting, but in thise case it gets a little tough since you're basically fitting things while making sure the display lines up. The way we did it, we first fiddled with the shims and made sure the monitor was in the right position. Then we removed the monitor and attached only the shim material to the cabinet. We then put the monitor back in place and attached it to the shim material. After it was all done, we ended up mounting the monitor about 1 3/4" off the hinged side, and about 2" from the cabinet top (those aren't actual measurements, just eyeball guesses).

With the monitor in place, we tested to make sure the hinge door still closed, and that all the hardware had room inside. The very bottom of the monitor gun sticks down past the hinge by about an inch or so, so be aware of that when you mount anything to the bottom of the cabinet. Luckily we had plenty of clearance with the motherboard mouned low and the sub woofer off to one side. After verifying the hinge still closed and the moutning was secure - we attached the VGA cable and power cable, and found a nice temporary spot for the monitor settings board (there's a little board on a ~6" ribbon cable with dials to adjust things like VSYNC and HSIZE, etc.). This monitor control board would eventually need to be mounted close to the coindoor, but we set is aside for the time being.

In retrospect, I've always felt that my description of my monitor-mounting experience was lacking. I don't have enough pictures to explain it well, and just trying to explain the ordeal in words is difficult. Recently though, I met a fellow cabinet-builder who went through similar trials while building his own Pac-Man cocktail. I like his description a lot better than mine, in fact. So, if you're still a little foggy on the monitor mounting process, check out
Greg's thoughts and photos of his adventures with the task.

Monitor Degaussing

After assembling the cabinet into working order (not necessarily "finished" working order), we did a few test boots with the monitor still opened and propped on the hinged door at 90°, just to get an idea of what things would look like. After adjusting and centering the dispaly using the monitor's control board - we shut down the machine and prepared to get our first real test run with all the internal components mounted and connected. We flipped hinged door up and into place, and booted up. Much to my horror, the monitor's colors were terribly distorted!! Our first thoughts were that something in the case was interfering with the monitor, much like when you hold a magnet near a TV or CRT. We flipped the hinged door to a 90° position and tested again, and the colors were fine. We figured it had to be some PC or speaker component in the case who's EMI was upsetting the CRT.

We proceded to "debug" the situation by systematically removing parts from the case one by one. First likely culprit was the sub-woofer, since we figured the magnet inside would be the cause of the distortion. Removing the sub did nothing when the monitor was flipped back into it's correct position. Next, we figured the speakers might not be properly shielded, but removing them did nothing to fix the problem either. So, we decdided it had to be something on the motherboard. First guess was the wireless card, which we thought might be emitting some EMI that the monitor didn't like. But, even with the wifi card removed, we still saw the same color distortion when the monitor was flipped into it's vertical position. We soon discovered that the discoloration got gradually worse as you slowly closed the hinged panel into upright position. So we figured that as the monitor was getting closer to the motherboard - some kind of interference was pulling the guns in the monitor and distorting the colors. We quickly dispoved that theory by detaching the motherboard and moving it gradually closer to the monitor while it was in the 90° position - we saw no discoloration at all, perfect. That pretty much eliminated the EMI theory - which left us with the strange fact that the simple action of moving the monitor into it's vertical position seemed to be causing dicsoloration.

Well, a couple Google searches later, we discovered what the issue was. The monitor needed to be degaussed. It seems that any change of the monitor's position relative to the Earth's magnetic field can cause this discoloration, and we ran into several newgroup postings of cabinet owners with the same problem. It seems that most older monitors, and arcade monitors in general, are quite susceptible to even small changes in magnetic field. Even moving the machine from one location in the room to another can cause the monitor to need degaussing. You can buy a special device called a "degaussing coil" which is made especially to rememdy this problem. It's used somewhat like a magic wand that plugs into the wall, and is then moved around in circles while slowly approaching the offending monitor. Strange. I was convinced I needed a degaussing tool to fix my problem, but I started reading some more about it just in case (since they're about $60).

Turns out that most newer monitors have a degaussing coil already wrapped around them, and this coil is activated every so often on power-on. You've probably seen the buttons on the newer PC monitors marked "degauss," which make the screen go all wiggly-funny when you press them. These coils on newer monitors do the exact same thing, just not on demand with the press of a button. Basically, you need to keep power cycling the monitor to see if it will fix itsefl. Turn it on, then off, and wait a few minutes before turning it on again. Make sure the monitor is where you're going to keep it (for me, in vertical position), and repeat the power cycling until the any discoloration or distortion goes away. For me it took about 3-4 power cycles untili the monitor booted up with perfect colors, and I had to do it again when I got the cabinet home and into it's final resting place. If you do have an older monitor, the power cycle solution may not work - and you might have to spring for a magic degaussing coil from Happ to solve your discoloration or distortion problems. (As a sidenote, things like bulk video cassette erasers and large speaker magnets generate a sufficient enough field to be used as deguassing coil. Just plug 'em in and mimic the movements done with a real coil to get the same results.)

Internal Components

After the cabinet was fully assembled, it came time to begin mounting the various components that would make up the brains and guts of the machine. First off, the motherboard was fitted to the bottom. No special work was required here. I mounted to motherboard on a case insert from a chassis for an old PC. The one I found was perfect because it has the I/O sheild and back-panel card moutning slots attached as one solid piece. This was a big help to me since I could secure the PCI and AGP cards to the metal and not worry about them coming unseated or being subject to movement. Luckily, the whole board fit in the bottom of the case, and even with a litte cut-away where I could mount the power supply. I used two of the pre-drilled holes in the board mount to attach the whole mess to the bottom of the cabinet. With that done, I used some industrial strength velcro to fix the power supply to the botttom of the case, next to the board (making sure all the needed power connectors could reach their plugs on the board). Make sure your power supply has enough room to get sufficient ventilation. Don't put the intake or exhuast end of the fan right against the wall of the case, or any other obstacle. The power supply needs a constant draw of fresh air across it to keep it cool, so you need both intake and exhuast fans to have some space around them.

Next, I mounted the subwoofer to the oppposite side of the cabinet base. The only thing to keep in mind here is that I'd like the controls and AC plug to be accessible - so that determined how I mounted the sub. Once I figured out how I wanted it and where it would go, I used some more velcro to mount it to the side and bottom of the case. The right and left sattelites speakers were mounted under the control panels on each side. I bought some cheap 1980's looking speaker covers from Radio Shack (I think they had actually probably been in Radio Shack since 1980, and they were the last two they had). They lookes totally authentic to the 1980's theme of the cabinet. I didn't want to drill huge holes for the speakers, mainly since I only had a 1" holesaw available to me. So I just drilled a couple staggered 1" holes for each speaker, and mounted the speaker grilles/covers over those. It was plenty of room for those little speakers to get their sound out of. For the speaker that would get mounted above the subwoofer, I figured it would be easiest to just velcro it down to the subwoofer itself. That way I didn't have to worry about fixing it to the cabinet wall, and I let it decide the heigth of where each speaker would be - and mounted the opposite side to match up. This worked out great because the speaker that I mounted directly to the subwoofer (with velcro again), has the volume controls and power button. So if I ever want to manually adjust the volume or turn off the speakers - I can simply un-velcro the speaker and use the controls, something I coudn't do if it was hard-mounted to the case. For the other speaker, I simply mounted it directly to the side of the cabinet, in-line with the drilled holes. To fix it, I stretched some plumber's tape around it and screwed it down on either side. I mounted it upside-down since it would prevent if from sliding out of the mounting tape. Once the speakers were mounted, I just cleaned up the wiring and plugged them into the sound card.

The power strip came next. There was really only one possible location for it, and I ended up mounting it at an angle since it fit better and was easier to screw in. I went to Wal Mart looking for a decent power strip, but everything I found was either really big or had an extremely short cord. I wanted something with a decent length cord, and that didn't have 8 outlets on it. Just happened that I had an old 3-outlet "shop style" power strip at home. It had screw holes in either side especially made for moutning, and the cord was a ridiculoulsy long 15ft. I mounted using the screw holes, drilled a 1" hole and fed the power cord out through it. Later on I'll get a 1" grommet to finish the hole and make the cording look a little more professional - right now it's just coming from a hole in the back of the case (although it's agaisnt the wall and no one will see it).

The I-PAC found a home on the hinged (non-coindoor) side of the case, below the top of the folding portion (where the monitor is mounted). I trimmed all the wiring going to the I-PAC so that there wasn't a bunch of excess wires hanging around, but left enough slack so I could pull out the I-PAC and work on it if necessary. To mount the I-PAC, I just stuck a large strip of velcro on the back and fixed it to the cabinet wall. Easy as that. Then I ran the PS/2 cable to the motherboard, and it was a done deal.

Airflow & Cooling

With everything assembled and running, things seemed to be working splendidly. However, it soon became apparent that there were going to have to be some changes. The first day I had the machine back in my apartment, I ran it all day as a test. The machine worked great, the games and controls worked as expected - but there was a problem. When I got home and checked the cabinet, the carriage bolts on the coindoor were warm to the touch - on the outside of the cabinet! I quickly opened the coindoor and stuck my hand inside to feel the temperature. You wouldn't believe how hot it had got inside that wooden box. Now, all PCs have fans to induce airflow inside the chassis, most having an intake and exhuast that try to blow air across the CPU, memory, and voltage regulator components (the hottest operating parts of the board). Not only did the cabinet have zero airlfow - it also contained a 19" CRT adding to the ambient temperature, as well as the power supply which was getting constatnly recycled hot air. The temperature inside the cabinet was unhealthy for the PC and other parts, and I knew I'd have to do something to fix it.

We had actually considered the thermals of the cabinet while we were building it, but at the time I didn't think it would be that big of a concern. Turned out I was wrong! Obviously we'd have to find a way to get some fresh air circulating through the cabinet. The easiet way seemed to be using the intake/exhuast model from a regular PC chassis. I got ahold of two 120mm case fans, which were originally in a workstation chassis (workstations generall have a higher airlfow requirement to keep them cool, so these fans were meant to move large volumes of air). I decided I would mount an intake fan underneath the speaker on the 2nd player side (near the player's feet), and the exhaust fan would go on the hinged side under the hinge. This way air would flow roughly over the CPU, DIMM, and VR area - and I would be pushing the hot exhaust air out the back and not onto anyone's legs. First I used a 4" holesaw to drill two large holes in either side, I had to remove the mohterboard and a few other things to make sure they wouldn't get acidentally drilled, and to get inside and mount the fans. Once the holes were drilled, I mounted the fans on the inside of the case (one as an intake and one as exhaust), and mounted all the components back into place. Later on I will cover the fan holes with round speaker grilles (like for the 5" car stereo speakers), but for now they are rough-drilled holes in the case for testing purposes.

To power the fans, I happened to have some Molex-to-fan connector adapters to convert the standard 4-pin power supply connectors to the 3-pin fan connectors (really 2-pin). I had to do this since the existing fan cables wouldn't reach the fan headers on the mohterboard. You can pick up these adapters at any electronics or PC hardware store. With the fans plugged in and mounted, I closed up the case and fired up the machine. After another all-day test run, the air in the machine was no warmer than room temperature - so the fans were doing a great job of keeping fresh air moving around inside, and keeping the cabinet's temperature nice and low. The only downside to adding fans is the additional noise they bring. I strongly recommend using fans specifically designed for "quiet" operation, like a
Papst or Vantec (both of which hover around ~12-20 dB but still move considerable amounts of air). Regardless of what kind of fans you use, just make sure you use something. Most motherboards and CPUs are designed to shut off or throttle if they're operating at too high a temperature. You don't want to risk your cabinet shutting off in the middle of a Galaga tournament, and you'll prolong the life of your machine if it's not like the surface of the sun inside the cabinet.