The Arcade Cab Project Part 3: Constructing the control panel part 1

This is a continuation of my multi-part series about my arcade project – which seems more hypothetical at the moment.

I have slowly come to the conclusion the project can’t really move forward until I have at least a working proof-of-concept for what the control panel will be.

This is because in order to really test the steam games I have in mind I am going to need to use the real thing I have in mind so it’s not just hypothetical.

Short version: there are some steam games that would be great as arcade cab games but I can’t use for various reasons. Name some steam games only use the analog stick of your standard gamepad while other use only use the 8-way directional “HAT” for the game. While still others use some combination of the two (analog to control HAT for inventory items for instance).

Logitech Wingman
Logitech Wingman: slider on the shoulder and six face buttons…

I have been on something of a look out for interesting and “classic” PC gamepads the last few years at thrift stores. And I happen to find this USB gamepad – the Logitech Wingman – with one analog stick and a button to switch the analog stick between digital and analog mode (this mode switch was common on PC and PlayStation gamepads in the 90s and early 2000s).

The function for the second analog stick, as it turns out, is this shoulder slider (I think it was made with flight sim type games in mind, the slider for throttle maybe). Looking at the game controller configuration utility in Windows the slider does in fact take the place of the right analog stick. I have been trying think of a way I could utilize that slider and so far I think it could work as a spinner. Okay not a great spinner but I think I could make it work good enough for a few games (a steam called 1982 for instance).

[possible insertion: pic of top of wingman showing slider, pic of windows gamepad setup utility and/or animated gif of slider moving back and forth combined with turning knob?]

The theory is to use the single analog stick on the PCB of this gamepad as the stick portion of the control panel. This would have the digital/analog switch button nearby so I could use whichever one a game might require (along side the indicator LED included on the PCB).

By a some how random luck happenstance I actually found a second wingman controller at the local thrift store. I can’t imagine these were that common so I don’t know how that’s even possible. But I have one now in case I need it for the Mark II (or I managed to ruin my first one).

The Problem(s) so far…

Analog 3D Joystick
What analog sticks are made of (stock photo instead of my own photography)

One of the many issues I’ve run into so far is figuring how to attach something to this analog stick that can poke through the control panel from the other side. Ideally I would like to use a traditional mount setup for the stick – the classic clicky sounds of the micro-switches found in your common arcade controllers (though really that would just be a sound effect more than an actual indicator switches activating). The problem is that the thing the analog stick is connected to (see pic at right) is actually this little tiny fragile thing that is just there to activate two potentiometers to various degrees. So something has to be on this stick sticking up that isn’t too heavy. And I wanted to also attach the ball top because it’s there and would do a convincing job of saying “arcade game” but this is more decorative.

[place holder: above paragraph should have pic of disassembled analog stick and somewhere a pic of the arcade stick assembly. And at some point I need to show the icade with the ball top. maybe below.]

Stick with ball and mount. Stock image close to what's in iCade
Stick with ball and mount. Stock image close to what’s in iCade

Several years ago I came across a device made for iPads called the iCade. The version I found (there’s at least a couple variations) had a little holder for the iPad and in front of it a control panel with 8 buttons and a stick with red ball top. I actually bought a second one over on amazon (they’re more expensive now) and within the past few months found yet a third one. If you can find one at a thrift store the cost of the iCade is usually less than the sum of the parts would be if purchased separately. The micro switches seems high quality and the mounting for the stick – at least to my uninformed eyes – also seems quite quality to me (see left). As you can observe when you look at this mount at left and the stripped down analog stick above it’s not that easy to combine the two together.

So I have something of a decision to make: do I try and use that mounting mechanism from the iCade that I harvested or do I find my own solution? And what solution would that be? I actually have plenty of sticks and micro switches/buttons to draw from. Maybe not in matching colors but this is only mark I.

The other half of the arcade stick concerns is making it easily detachable and re-attachable: the stick will likely come up far enough it would hit the monitor and lid would not be able to close. To avoid this I would want to remove it and store it some place inside the case.

I actually bought some – for lack of a better term – threaded shafts that fit the ball top. It seems like they’re too heavy though and may not work. And I never figured out the easy attach/detach half of the formula anyway.

I also found these threaded stick extenders on amazon (4 for $8) that are there to make the ball higher. That actually solves the problem on both fronts: it’s an attachment for the ball that is already easily detachable. So it’s literally what I’m looking for.

Of course, even if I do solve the stick part, making it perfectly attachable/detachable, I still have to wire up the rest of the controller in to the arcade buttons on the control panel. Ideally these wires would be attached in such a way I could relatively easily remove it (maybe some so called “quick release” connectors) for troubleshooting or to replace the controller. But this will have to wait for the “mark II”.

I decided to continue this is in a part 2 on the control panel.


Additional links
Control Panel discussion part 1
Arcade Project, part 1
Arcade Project, part 2
/r/cade sub on reddit

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