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Posted on Sep 12th 2015 at 08:00:00 AM by (wildbil52)
Posted under Arcade, Games, Control Panel, DIY


We have talked about some of the things you should do when you first pick up a cabinet and we have talked a little bit about monitors and working on them.  Now we are going to talk about the control panel ("CP").  There are lots of important decisions that go into designing them and if you are only going to have one or 2 machines, you had better make the CP count.



There is no universally perfect control panel.  There are many different opinions and there are some panels that are better for certain kinds of game,s but there is no one perfect panel.  If you are restoring a dedicated cabinet (a machine dedicated to a single original game board), you are probably using original parts, maybe you'll use some reproduction art, but you are trying to make it as close to the original design as possible.  If you are DESIGNING your own control panel, chances are you are building or converting a machine to a MAME cabinet or similar project.  There are MANY things to consider when designing a control panel from scratch.  There is an entire forum based completely on Arcade Cabinet and CP design so I won't go through each end every detail because we would be here for days.  I will take you through my design and thought process to explain why I designed my CP the way that I did.

Start by deciding what you want on your control panel

Because my cabinet is a Mortal Kombat, the control panel has a fixed size unless I want to get crazy and build it up or out.  Now I know how large my canvas is: roughly 26 3/4" wide by 13 1/4" deep and 3/4" thick.  The playing surface of most control panels is removable, which makes replacing them relatively easy.  Once you know how large your canvas is, you need to decide which controls you want to put on your CP.  This is largely a matter of personal preference.  It helps if you have a local arcade that you can go to and sample some of the difference kinds of controls.

There are 2 main styles of Joystick: bat top and ball top.  Bat top joysticks were widely used in America and ball top games are used in almost all Japanese games.  There is no right or wrong answer, just pick what you like.  I'm going with bat tops because I grew up with them.  I bought two Suzo Happ 8-Way Ultimate Joysticks for about $12 each.


There are 2 different kinds of buttons also.  The concave buttons found in most American games and the convex buttons found in almost all Japanese games.  I can't stand convex buttons, so again, I'm going with the classic American style button.  Suzo Happ push buttons complete with plastic nut and microswitch can be bought for under $2 each.

Trust me, this is going to look great

For the trackball, I chose the U-Trak from Ultimarc.  It is the only Trackball that I know of designed to mount into a 3/4" thick CP. This is important if you want the trackball to stick up through the panel enough to use it, but don't want a big ugly bracket covering your artwork.

Trust me, this is going to look great

So, I want my machine to have:
-2 Bat top joysticks
-Minimum of 7 concave buttons per player
-Trackball
-Spinner
-Misc buttons, P1/P2 start, Coin

Since my cabinet is going to be a Hyperspin machine, I needed to have a universal control system that could be adapted across multiple systems.  I wrestled with button layout for quite some time.  While I originally wanted to go with a Street Fighter style, 6-button layout (with a 7th button on the bottom left corner for Neo Geo style games), I read a lot about the downfalls of symmetrical or squared button layouts and how they do not suit the structure of the human hand.  I found a button layout that I thought I liked and was getting ready to pull the trigger:

All layouts are from slagcoin.com


I liked this layout for a few reasons:
-The rows are slightly offset with lower buttons on the left.  This matches my Neo Geo style requirement and ergonomic desire.
-8 buttons.  Won't make much of a difference for most arcade games, but If I want to fire up a Playstation game it would be nice to have all of the buttons.

What I don't like about it:
-The rows are slightly offset.  Yes it's good and bad.  Good if you just rest you hand on all the buttons, but I rarely play games like that.  I usually hover my hand over the buttons and move my hand to strike the button I'm aiming for.
-Too wide.  I only have about 26" to play with.  My goal for the panel is to have 2 players with a trackball in the middle.  Eight buttons per player, plus a trackball on 26" of width would be cramming in a bit too much.

After weighing the good and bad, I decided to go with the squared layout.  I grew up on them, it fits in the space I have to work with, and I can always add a 7th button for Neo Geo style controls.


Lay everything out
I HIGHLY recommend cutting your design out on cardboard or a piece of scrap wood before you make your final panel.  This will allow you to feel the controls for yourself and give you a good idea if you need more space one way or the other.  You should also get a second person to hop on the second set of controls.  You may realize that you are a little broader than when you were younger and you may need more shoulder room Wink

Here is a mock-up of my control panel design.  Note that I have not yet added the 7th button to either player 1 or 2.  Also note that I have removed the far right two buttons for each player.  I just didn't have the space and I didn't want to push the buttons closer to the joystick, so I'll just have to deal with 7 buttons.


I'll be making a couple more tweaks within the next week or so, and I have a guy making up some art for me.  I hope to have the CP finished in time for the RFGen visitors coming to Connecticut for the RetroWorld Expo on 10/3.  In part 2, I'll go over joystick mounting options, how to cut a hole for a button, some simple wiring tips, and some basic routing to get the trackball to come up farther through the surface, as well as routing the T-molding slot.


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Comments
 
Love these arcade cabinet articles, I will be going over them again with a fine toothed comb when i am ready to refurb a cabinet as I have none currently, but plan on having a couple.
 
I was so excited when MadCatz started using Sanwa parts in their arcade sticks this past generation.  I think that puts these on par with the Dreamcast and Saturn sticks of the past, a real mark of quality for the home console market. 
 
I spent weeks or tedious research building up to whether or not to buy or build a cabinet (I ended up buying), but I didn't spend any at all thinking about CP real estate until I had the parts sitting in front of me without a clue.  I think your advice of building a "control" CP first is excellent, as it will save one a large amount of time in the long run.  For the record I ended up getting a cabaret-style Arch Rivals cab originally converted from an old Taito arcade, so space is limited.

I would like to highly recommend everyone interested in going down Bil's route to check the "scrap" bins (where people cutting their own wood generally put the odd pieces) at your local Home Depot, Lowes, or other lumber store.  Pieces found here can usually be bought for a tiny fraction of the price, and would allow you build multiple CPs to accommodate different games (I had three designs).

It's funny that you mentioned the increased widths we tend to be in relation to our younger selves.  My friends and I ended up called it "elbow english" and tends to add flavor to competitive games. 
 
Thanks, Gamer!  Feel free to shoot me a PM when you start working on your new machines.

Good point, Oatbob, I should have mentioned in the article that Sanwa is the main ball top joystick manufacturer and that Sanwa sticks can be found on the Dreamcast arcade stick (as well as convex buttons).  There are those who swear by Sanwas, many in the competitive scene, I just like bat tops cause I played them more growing up.

Thanks, bombatomba.  Great point about scrap bins, and great point about multiple CPs. Once my first panel is complete, I plan to start designing one built for games that require a flight stick...
 
Looking good Bill! I'm assuming you are using molex connectors to create switchable control panels?

 
@Addicted:You betcha Wink  You'll see pics in the next article.  It's being drafted now.

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