Arcade Projects >> Arcade Paradise 3

Control Panel: Building

wico joysticks

Player 1 / Player 2 Joysticks

As with the Arcade Paradise 2 cabinet, I used 8-way Wico leafswitch ball-top joysticks for the primary Player 1 and Player 2 joysticks. Of course this is one of those things that's personal preference, but I love the look and (more importantly) the feel of these joysticks. Unfortunately, they're near impossible to find these days...especially in blue. There are Chinese reproductions of these sticks being made, but I've heard pretty mixed reviews on them. If you're looking for authentic Wicos for your own project, good luck finding them. They pop up on eBay from time to time, but they tend to get snatched up pretty quickly.

e-stik joystick

Dedicated 4-way Joystick

I decided on the E-Stik 4/8-way switchable joystick from Ultimarc. I liked the fact that it had a very small footprint, that it used a physical restrictor to make it 4-way or 8-way, that it was switchable between 4-way and 8-way, and I especially liked the fact that the switchplate can be rotated 45 degrees, giving you a true 4-way diagonal joystick for Q*Bert or Congo Bongo.

The joystick has a pretty tight (a little too tight for my tastes) and short throw to it, and to be honest, I don't find it comfortable enough that I would want to make it my primary joystick. But as a dedicated 4-way joystick, it works perfectly. And because you have to reach a little further to get to it, the short throw of the E-Stik works great where it's at.

Trigger 8-way Joystick

trigger joystick

I knew that I wanted to have a trigger joystick, but they are waaaaay too expensive for my tastes. At the time of this writing, a new Ultimate Joystick from Happ Controls costs $13.35...and a new Heavy Duty 8-Way Trigger Joystick with fire button costs $114.05. $114.05!?! Holy frijoles!

So what I did to save myself from having to take out a bank loan in order to have a trigger joystick was the old "trigger stick hack". Basically, I took the handle from a translucent blue Interact Raider Pro PC joystick, connected it to a piece of brass tubing as the handle shaft, and then grafted that onto a Happ Ultimate joystick. I'd go into more detail, but I basically just built on the detailed information supplied by OSCAR Controls' Do-It-Yourself Trigger Joystick page. To keep the handle from rotating around, I used the Trigger Stick rotation-restrictor mod from

And for extra flava, I got a "case mod kit" from The kit came with the necessary 12 volt driver with molex connector, on/off switch, mounting plate for the switch, and one 5 foot section of Glowire. I just fed in and looped the glowire through the joystick handle, and then cut off the excess wire. The glowire can be cut as long as a drop of glue is dabbed on the cut end to keep moisture out.

I gotta admit that even though only a handful of games use a trigger joystick, it's really nice to have. My one gripe about it though is that it does feel like a "hack". In other words, it's the one thing on my control panel that's not a genuine "arcade quality" component, and I can feel it. It's pretty loose-feeling, even with 1UP's Trigger Stick rotation-restrictor mod. It works for now, but I'm still on the lookout for a good (but not ungodly expensive) trigger stick solution. We'll see how it goes.


I went with the standard: the Happ Controls Horizontal Microswitch Pushbuttons (part number 58-91xx-L). It's a great-feeling and durable button. Keep in mind that Happ Controls has a $25 minimum order, so you might as well get some spare buttons when you order. Oh, and go ahead and spend the $1.95 for the VLT Pushbutton Wrench (part number 53-8002-00). It makes tightening the button bolts much easier.

Player 1 and Player 2 have six buttons each (commonly referred to as the "Street Fighter layout"), and there are two black buttons on the sides of the control panel (one on each side) for playing Visual Pinball...once I actually get it working that is. I didn't want a whole mess of "admin" buttons on the panel, so the only ones that I have are those that I consider to be crucial for actual gameplay: Pause ("P") and Quit ("Esc"). Any other administrative-type tasks can be done with the wireless keyboard.



I consider a trackball to be a "must-have" component of the control panel - not only for the trackball games, but because it doubles as a mouse, and it's a whole lot easier than having to stow a "regular" mouse away somewhere for OS navigation.

I "recycled" the trackball that was in AP2: the 3" Happ Control Trackball (part number 56-0100-12T) with a blue translucent ball. There are actually a few trackball vendors out there these days, but from I've heard, the Happ ball is still the best trackball in terms of feel and durability. It's one of the more (if not the most) expensive trackball options out there, but I don't regret the purchase one bit.

Trackball plate recessed into the control panel. Click for a bigger pic.

To mount the trackball, I bought a boltless trackball mounting plate from Happ Controls. I was never a big fan of how the regular mounting plate (the kind that sat on top of the control panel) looked, so this was a perfect alternative. In order to have the mounting plate be flush with the top of the control panel, I just routed out a square in the control panel the depth of the mounting plate where the plate sits. This allowed me to cover the plate with artwork and plexiglass and have only the ball poking out of the control panel.

Since it has a translucent ball, I have it lit from underneath with a superbright Lazer LED. I'll get more into that in the "Lighting" section.



I finally traded up the TwistyGrip mouse hack spinner that I had been using and got a Vortex Tempest replica spinner from OSCAR Controls. I have a full review of it here, but to give you a quick summary, it's a thing of absolute beauty and I couldn't be happier with it.

My (of course) personal opinion: Don't waste your time on a homemade spinner that will never feel quite right, and don't waste your money on one of those commercial spinners that puts gimmicks over gameplay. If you're looking for a real arcade-quality spinner, the OSCAR Controls Vortex is the one to get.

USB Jacks

USB ports on control panel bottom. Click for a bigger pic.

To leave room for future expandability, I mounted a USB plate on the bottom on the control panel. I wanted the USB jacks to be very accessible yet hidden from plain view, so the bottom of the control panel seemed like the perfect place to me. I also wanted something elegant and professional looking. I found the USB/1394 Face Plate x2 (part number 70202) from DataPro to be the perfect solution. This way, I can connect whatever USB devices that I want and still have them be easy to reach and use. The cables from the plate connect to a USB hub that I have mounted on the inside of the cabinet.

USB gamepads would be ideal, not only for games that natively use gamepads (like console games, if I ever load up console emulators in the cabinet), but also for adding a Player 3 and Player 4 if I really feel the need for some 4-player Simpsons or Gauntlet. I suppose I could also connect up a dance pad too, but I'm not sure that me klonking around to techno music blasting in the background would be such a pretty sight.


I used 22AWG stranded wire for all controls, and 18AWG stranded wire for all power connections. I used solid wiring on my last cabinet, and stranded wire is so much easier to work with. Almost everything (controls and power connections) ends in .187" molex connectors. I'll get more into this in the "Interface" section.

Control Panel Finishing

Basically, I have a custom control panel overlay that I designed on top of the control panel (which I'll explain more in the "Control Panel Artwork" section) covered with a 1/8" sheet of plexiglass.

This picture shows about 15 years worth of work.

It should be noted that I used 3/4" MDF for all of the cabinet except for the control panel, where I used 5/8" MDF. The reason for this was that once covered with the 1/8" plexiglass, the total thickness is 3/4" (5/8" + 1/8" = 6/8" or 3/4"), so I could then use 3/4" t-molding around the control panel edges. When routing out the slot for the t-molding, I just had to make sure that the slot wasn't actually centered on the 5/8" MDF, but that it was 3/8" (half of 3/4") from the bottom of the control panel. This way, it did end up being centered with the total thickness once the plexiglass was on.

Sweet juicy Jesus though - drilling out the joystick and button holes in the plexiglass was a chore. It wasn't difficult, but it was extremely time-consuming.

The plexi did turn out really nice, which is good since I devoted such a huge chunk of my life toward it.

To do the plexi, the first thing I did was cut and sand a piece of plexiglass in the shape that I wanted it to be. I then clamped the plexi to the control panel and drilled pilot holes through each of the joystick and button holes. Then, I clamped a piece of scrap MDF to the top of control panel and plexi, flipped it over, and then drilled out the holes in the plexi from behind the control panel, using the pre-existing joystick and buttons holes as guides. I used both a forstner bit and a hole-cutter bit, but I'm not sure which one was actually better/quicker. The thing to remember when drilling plexi is that you have to go sloooooow. If you crank too fast, once the bit starts to make it through, the plexi will want to ride up the bit, which will more than likely crack the plexi.

To cut out the trackball hole, I just mounted the trackball plate and used that as a template while I routed out the hole with my router. I used a laminate trimming bit, which cut right through the plexi like it was butter. So why didn't I just use the router for all of the holes? Because it also cuts through MDF like butter too, and on the one hole that I tried it on, I ended up making the button hole in the MDF bigger as a result. In other words, I'm not good enough with the router to be that accurate with it.

I'm really happy with how the plexi turned out, and I'm definitely not sorry that I did it, but I don't think that I'd do it again were I to build another full-scale control panel. At least not with the tools and methods that I used this time anyway.


So that's that regarding the control panel. Here are some closeup shots of the control panel under various lighting and flash settings. Click each for a bigger picture:

CP center - with flash.
CP center - no flash.
CP center - glowire on.
CP top - with flash.
CP top - no flash.
CP top - glowire on.
Trigger stick - left view.
Trigger stick - center view.
Trigger stick - right view.
Closeup of the Vortex spinner.
Closeup of trackball and spinner - with flash.
Closeup of trackball and spinner - no flash.


« back   |   top   |   next »