Vertical Arcade
Arcade Emulation Experience — Product and Website

No quarters required.

Arcade nostalgia has driven a surge of interest in classic game emulation in recent years — but the real arcade experience is more than just what’s on the screen. I turned classic arcade artwork into a digital product and experience that allows players to enjoy games of the 80s and 90s the way they were meant to be played.
Product Designer
(UX, Design, Production)

Adobe Illustrator
Adobe Photoshop
Product Designer
(Concept, Research, Design)
Adobe Illustrator
Adobe Photoshop


Recreate the look and feel of classic arcade cabinets
Create a fun, easy-to-use experience around the games
Build a destination and a brand around the content to keep people coming back
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Summoning the ghosts of Pac-Man and friends

Classic arcade games were a big part of the pop culture of the 80s and 90s, inspiring not only latter-day gaming but music, fashion, cartoons, movies and more. But though arcades have largely faded as gathering places, the games themselves never really went away, and their popularity has continued to ebb and flow ever since.

You can take Pac-Man out of the arcade, but you can never really take him out of the culture. Emulation allows anyone to play the original arcade code, on a computer, a console or even a phone.

MAME, the best-known software for playing classic arcade games, has constantly evolved for over 20 years, with ROMs of the original software being traded online ever since (somewhat illicitly, as they exist in a legal gray area). That’s in addition to regular re-releases of popular games on every major video game console, as well as mobile and handheld devices.
A sampling of some amazing arcade cabinet art from the 80s and 90s.
Photos by Scott Amus

Bringing the arcade experience home

Why just play the games when you can own an actual arcade cabinet? Home arcade cabinet kits, the latest nostalgia-driven trend driven by manufacturers such as Arcade1Up, allow players to bring a piece of the arcade to their home or office, albeit in 3/4 scale.

But there’s more hidden beneath that colorful exterior — by combining these cabinets with a small computer running MAME, you can play thousands of games on these home cabinets. Though it requires more technical skill than just buying a cabinet, modding these cabinets helped drive the trend. But another evolution of home arcade cabinets brought a whole new level of arcade realism home.
3/4 scale Centipede arcade cabinet
Photo by Arcade1Up

Enter the Vertical Arcade Cabinet

I could go on! But I created the explainer video above for the Vertical Arcade YouTube channel as a quick intro to both arcade emulation and vertical arcade cabinets.

Bringing back the look and feel of the arcade

Arcade cabinets were an expensive investment, but one that could net owners a fortune, one quarter at a time. Arcade cabinets evolved from functional wood-paneled furniture to a distinctive art form of their own.

But though the games themselves live on in emulation, the art form of arcade cabinets was largely lost to time. The concept behind vertical overlays is to recreate the feeling of walking up to an arcade cabinet, via a stylized 3D representation of the cabinet art.

Creating a realistic reproduction of a classic arcade cabinet is not always easy. In addition to photo research, you need high quality reproductions of the artwork, from an era when all such art was gloriously analog. Fortunately, collectors have scanned much of the art and made it available online for free — but much of it must still be recreated, from a combination of low-res sources as well as direct redrawing, and then built into a realistic pseudo-3D composite that looks good enough to fool the eye, on a 50-inch 4K monitor the size of an actual arcade cabinet.
Anatomy of a Vertical Arcade overlay
A final overlay (center) and some of the many parts that went into its creation

Building a product around a community

A small but passionate community developed around vertical arcade emulation, largely on forums devoted to MAME — but I felt our work deserved a wider audience. I saw the opportunity for a hub devoted to vertical MAME overlays, to disseminate, document and celebrate great arcade game art. And so, was born.

I conceived of the site as a brand, albeit one that didn’t really sell the products it made available, so I grabbed a catchy domain name and designed a logo that captured both the physical appearance of the product and its initials (while also looking a bit like an ominous video game opponent).
Vertical Arcade logo

I designed and built the site using Webflow, creating a system out of interconnected tools using MAME, Dropbox, Google Drive and a variety of third-party tools to produce and post the files and related content, without requiring any coding.


I heard from a lot of gamers and enthusiasts in the process of creating the overlays and the website, who broke down across two general categories:

Arcade Addicts

Name: Julie
Age: 30
Occupation: IT Professional
Family: Single
It’s fun to go to retro arcades with friends, but I also love emulating the classics at home. I love building things, so making my own cabinet was easy.”

Julie is an urban-dwelling arcade game enthusiast and self-described game nerd who inherited her love of classic games from her dad. She is a frequent patron of retro arcades and also tinkers with computers and hardware at home, and has been playing emulated games for years. She’s always looking for new games and ways to play.
  • Play classic arcade games as they were in the original arcades
  • Get easy access to emulated titles in their original context
  • Learn more about classic games, history and trivia
  • Games in arcades tend to be in poor shape and selection is hit-and-miss
  • It’s difficult to find the games and related content she’s looking for online
  • Finding the best content is a challenge, as quality and accuracy vary greatly

Nostalgic Neophytes

Name: Chris
Age: 45
Occupation: Graphic Designer
Family: Married, two kids
I grew up in arcades — that’s pretty much where I spent all my youth (and my money). I would love to play these games again, but space and time are limited.”

Chris is a middle-aged dad with youthful tastes, who loves sharing his cultural passions with his family and friends. Though he was a huge arcade fan as a teenager,  he hasn’t thought much about his quarter-slinging days in recent years. The recent wave of arcade revivals has piqued his interest, but he’s new to emulation and isn’t sure how to get started.
  • Relive his arcade glory days remembering the games he played
  • Learn about arcade cabinets and emulation without a ton of research
  • Build or buy a product that scratches his arcade itch without requiring a lot of time or space
  • The mystique and confusion around game emulation makes it difficult to get started
  • Even if he figures it out, buying arcade cabinets will be a tough sell
  • It’s hard to know what to look for and what are the best options

Defining the Solution

After looking at the needs and interests of our audiences and our ideas about the experience and the content, I centered on three key goals for the website:
Treasure chest icon

Create a destination around the arcade experience

  • Create a home for functional arcade art that evokes being in an arcade
  • Assemble a collection representing the most important arcade classics
  • Showcase the collection and make it easily accessible
Potion icon

Build a smart, fast, easy-to-use download system

  • Create a versatile system that makes it easy to find your favorite games
  • Build an interface and tools that support the needs of both power users and newcomers, with sorting, filtering, search and access to one-click downloads
Crystal ball icon

Curate content that does justice to arcade history

  • Surround the downloads with high-quality written, visual and video content that provides the context and history of the games, with the ability to dive into individual games and well as genres, manufacturers, creators and trends

Information Architecture

I designed the site structure around discoverability, making it easy for users to find the games they're looking for and content around their history, while also connecting them to similar games, manufacturers and genres. I supported this with secondary content designed to help new players get started with emulation, while celebrating the community and the creators that made the site possible.
Vertical Arcade sitemap


My primary focus in envisioning the site's user flow and content was getting visitors into the content immediately, as many may not immediately understand what the site is about — so I designed the home page experience around a large video of actual games playing within the overlays, along with quick access to additional content and a clear path to the primary collection. The other pages were designed around simple, reusable components that make it easy to find and filter the content you're looking for, with downloads always a click away.
Home Page
Home Page wireframe
Game Detail Page
Game Detail Page wireframe
Game Collection Page
Game Collection Page wireframe
Theme Pack Page
Theme Pack Page wireframe

Site Design and Content

I wanted the look of the site to evoke a dimly-lit arcade while maximizing ease of use, so I kept visuals to a minimum aside from the game art itself, along with brightly-colored outlines representing neon (another 80s arcade decor staple). I chose Korolev Condensed for the primary type, helping give the site a visual edge while also reflecting the vertical nature of the cabinets.
Home Page
Desktop view
Vertical Arcade home page desktop view
Mobile view
Vertical Arcade home page mobile view
I created a looping video showcasing the overlays within a realistic-looking cabinet, making the experience immediately clear to visitors. The home page also features the latest overlays added to the collection, along with curated theme packs that make it easy to download similar games.
Main Collection Page
Desktop view
Vertical Arcade Main Collection Page desktop view
Mobile view
Vertical Arcade Main Collection Page mobile view
The collection page is designed to evoke an arcade, with rows of brightly-colored arcade marquees, along with prominent game information download buttons for the overlays. The page displays four rows of games at a time, which can be filtered and sorted with the controls at the top.
Overlay Component
The most important piece of the site is the overlay component, which displays all the relevant information about a game in a clear, repeatable format.
Game overlay component detail
The component background shows the art itself, with a representative game screen.

At the bottom of the component are the game title, manufacturer, year of release and genre — clicking the background or title bring you to the game details page, while clicking the manufacturer and genre bring you to a listing of all the games in their respective categories.

A prominent download button allows one-click downloading of that title, and a "like" button allows you to signal your interest in that game.
Sorting and Filtering
With hundreds of games to choose from, I needed a simple way for users to sort and filter the collection. While the site has a global search function, I wanted the filtering to enhance discoverability by exposing users to games they may not have heard of.
Collection filter and sorting interface
Overlay sorting and displayThe left side allows users to sort the catalog by title or year, and display the results by either visual grid or text listing. Selecting Title or Year organizes the overlays accordingly, with an icon denoting either a grid or list display.
Genre/manufacturer list detail
Genre and Manufacturer filtersDropdown lists allow users to filter games by genre and manufacturer, or both. The lists only allow a single selection at this time, but users can combine a genre and manufacturer to see, for instance, just the fighting games released by Capcom.
MAME/RetroArch download toggle switch detail
Download Type ToggleA toggle switch allows users to switch between MAME and RetroArch overlay downloads. The toggle changes the download set along with the color of all download buttons on the page, with a visual indicator switch at the top.
Game Detail Pages
Desktop view
Vertical Arcade Game Detail Page desktop view
Mobile view
Vertical Arcade Game Detail Page mobile view
It wouldn’t be enough to simply reproduce the look of the arcade games – I included historical context with a brief, entertaining writeup of every game. Researching and writing about every game ended up being one of the most fun and rewarding aspects of the experience. Built-in Disqus comments and additional randomized overlay suggestions give additional dimension to the content.

In addition to game detail content, I built a page for each genre and manufacturer, featuring not only the related downloads but key information to make it a curated experience.
Vertical Arcade Beat Em Up Genre Page
Vertical Arcade Atari Page
This content elevated the experience from being simply a gateway to the downloads into a full-fledged arcade museum, making it easy to browse, view and read about the games of your youth (or your parents’ youth, depending on how old you are).

Beyond the Website

To support and promote the site, I created a YouTube channel showing the overlays in action. In addition to showing the experience of playing the games within the context of the original arcade art, the videos also serve as standalone content for people who just want a quick dose of arcade nostalgia. I also produced some content providing more context around topics like specific arcade manufacturers (with trivia!).

Reception and Takeaways

The small but passionate community around vertical arcade cabinets responded enthusiastically to the site, garnering thousands of downloads and a significant amount of online discussion and support. The site continues to grow and help build the community devoted to recreating the arcade experience and preserving the quarter-chomping heyday of arcades.

There is significant room to grow and improve the site, with new content, additional features in both the overlays and the site, and new ways to involve the community around arcade emulation. Promoting the site externally through social media is also a priority, as well as working with other creators in the arcade emulation space to find new ways to work together and help elevate the community as a whole.
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