Thursday, January 10, 2013

Arcade Machine Madness - Part 2

In Control

While all that cabinet prepping was going on I had to give to serious thought to how I wanted to control panel to work.  There are so many games that require special controls, I knew I wouldn't be able to building something that would cater to all the games I would like to have.  So I went with a fairly standard setup that covers most major game styles.

The Joystick and button configuration would allow for most two-player games (included standard 6-button fighting games) as well as twin stick games like Robotron and Crazy Climber.  The trackball would cover Centipede, Missile Command, and Marble Madness.   The dial would play games like Tempest and any Breakout clones.   I could have added additional dials and trackballs but the cost would go way up and I'd have to enlarge the panel past the width of the cabinet.

Driving games were pretty much a no-go as I didn't want to add a wheel.  It's technically feasible to play with the joystick or dial, but it just doesn't feel right, so I ditched it.  Other games like Tron wouldn't work that well either.  A bit of a heart-breaker as Tron is a classic, but what can you do.  And no light gun games.  Again, it's too bad but I supposed I could build another cabinet to cater to those kinds of games if I really wanted to.

I ordered all of my controller parts from Ultimarc over in the UK.  They carry lots of quality parts and the customer service has been excellent.  Joystick choices are numerous and quite frankly a bit confusing.  After some research, I settled on the Mag-Stik Plus.  It's an ingenious little controller that uses a magnet to self-center instead of springs (which are prone to wear and tear).  It also let's you switch from 4-way to 8-way directionals without having to access the underside of the panel.  This was really important to me as certain very popular games (Donkey Kong and Pac-Man) don't function well with 8-way joysticks.

As I went along ordering buttons, ball, dials, and sticks I realized that I needed to start thinking about the aesthetic look of my machine.  I knew I wanted a slightly retro arcade feel, and I was getting it into my head that I really wanted glowy blue grid lines to be a dominant feature of the artwork.   With that in mind, went with red, blue and white for the colors of the controls.  Once they arrived, I built a mock-up panel with some cheap wood to see how the controls would feel and to get some practice wiring the whole thing together.
Although it's mostly idiot-proof, I was still worried that I might screw things up.  Both the trackball and the dial plug into the computer via USB, but the sticks and buttons need to be wired to a control interface which then plugs into a free USB port.  Again, the customer service at Ultimarc is impeccable.  Instructions on how to wire this thing up and program the controls are clear and easy to follow.So I took an evening and got half the board wired.

Nasty little piece of scrap wood
I think the green light means it's working

I was pretty happy with the feel of it, and much to my surprise, it worked perfectly.  After some quick modification to the button and joystick placement, I cut another board and got to work wiring up everything.

All switches and buttons need to be connected via a ground wire.

The whole thing wired up

The top of the panel.  Not too shabby.  Needs art obviously.

NEXT POST: With the panel well underway, I now needed to dedicate some serious time to the software interface and the graphic design.

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