A few months ago I got an original coin-op Asteroids Deluxe game which is "on the blink" so I could gut it and build a MAME system inside it, because the coolest thing to build a MAME system in is a real arcade cabinet with its original goofy garish 80s art.
But building a MAME system will take a while, particularly because of the control panel question. If I could just buy a control panel that had the controls I want, it would be a weekend or two of work: put a computer in, mount a monitor, tack up wires, install the control panel, set up the software.
But there is no one control panel that does the job. At first you might think if they just cram a few joystocks, a trackball, a knob, and a bunch of buttons on there, you're fine for most games, and indeed a lot of people go that way. But too many games won't quite work. First, Tempest is disproportionately important and it needs a particular knob front and center. If you start talking about other games with unusual controllers that need to be included, you can start getting a very crowded panel where you can't reach the buttons from the other control, or the arrangement is counterinstinctual, or it's just too crowded. But the real sticking point is joysticks: some games need a four-direction joystick (try playing Make Trax with an eight-direction one!) and some need eight (Robotron needs a matching pair!) and some need more-than-eight, and you can't substitute.
So for the time being until I can figure out whether I can do a modular solution or something else, I thought I could get the Asteroids Deluxe game itself to work, but it's got some odd problems that make it almost, but not quite, functional. So I posted my problems on CoinOpSpace Forums. They didn't help except by accident: in the process of trying to figure out someone's recommendation, I stumbled upon a self-test in the service manual which pointed me to a particular chip that's failed. I'm currently looking to order a replacement, as well as some parts to rebuild the power supply in case there's a problem there too.
That forum, it turns out, is one of those self-selecting, self-reinforcing zealotry hotbed communities, where their holy crusade is that original coin-op games are sacred and must be preserved in their original form. Many of these guys (and I'm fairly sure that is not a generic gender usage, I haven't seen any sign of any females there) have a dozen or more arcade games in their garages, and spend more time on repair, refurbishment, and restoration than playing them. They treat the idea of building a MAME system inside a real arcade game cabinet like I'm proposing painting poker-playing dogs at the Last Supper. It's hard to exaggerate their fervor for comic effect without them topping the exaggerated fervor with the real stuff. I wonder if one day there will be people scrounging parts to preserve original iPhones with their original software, and howling at people that use them as kitschy retro cases for their personal supercomputers.
However, they do raise an interesting point. Here in the remote parts of central Vermont it's even harder to lay hands on an original Tempest machine than it is for the cityfolk (and Tempest games are a holy grail for a lot of people), but if I could get one and keep it working, it might be better than trying to cram it into a MAME system, because there would be no compromise at all about the controls. The downside, though: it's harder to keep an original Tempest game working than a MAME machine. The vector monitors are hard to find, to say nothing of the original chips, circuit boards, and power supplies. Still, if a chance to get a Tempest game came to me, I'd take it. Maybe I should start watching for them. There's no question I'd have to travel to get one, though. The odds of finding one near here are nearly nil.