TalkingOctopus on AOL IM and BYOAC Forums

A Step by Step Guide


Step 1: Research!
Step 2: Forums
Step 3: Cabinet Plans
Step 4: Control Panel Design
Step 5: Scale Model
Step 6: Build the Cabinet
Step 7: Control Panel Prototype
Step 8: Artwork
Step 9: Construct Control Panel
Step 10: Finishing Touches
Step 11: Wiring
Optional: Dreamcast
If I Had To Do It Over, I Would...

Step 1: Research! Research! Research!

Build Your Own Arcade Controls (BYOAC) is the ultimate arcade building resource on the web. Go there and read through everything you can. Browse the project database to see what has been done, get ideas about what you like and figure out what you want to include in your arcade. After you have scoured BYOAC, you will gain a good understanding of what building an arcade is all about.

Step 2: Read and Post questions in the BYOAC Forums

The forums are another excellent resource. Be sure to check out the Newbie FAQ for the BYOAC forums. It contains some answers to common arcade building questions. Search the forum for additional answers to your questions or post your questions on the boards. I read through pages and pages of forum posts before I started planning my arcade.

Step 3: Create or Find Cabinet Plans

There are many arcade plans available online. I closely followed Lusid's plans. I selected Lusid's design because it involved simple construction and I was pleased with the overall shape of the cab. However, I wanted to have a 4 player arcade so I created my own control panel template and discarded Lusid's.

For some alternative plans, check out Jakobud. He has plans for many original arcade cabinets available for download.

Step 4: Design Your Control Panel

There are many different types of arcade controls and you need to decide which ones you want to include on your control panel. I wanted a 4 player panel with a trackball. The trackball would be used for arcade games like Centipede and Windows mouse navigation. I used 6 buttons per player because I am a big fan of Capcom fighters. I did not include a 4-way joystick because I felt that with a little practice, 4-way games would be playable on an 8-way joystick. Additionally, I did not want a cluttered panel and I have no idea where I would have placed the 4-way joy or how it would have been comfortably accessible. I also wanted to insure that there was ample room for four people. I used Photoshop to create this template:

Photoshop    GIF

This Photoshop file is a full scale template of my control panel. Each square is roughly a square inch. The Photoshop file is a sandbox, meaning that each control is in its own layer, so you can design your own control panel by moving the individual controls around. I used this template to make my actual panel. I saved the image as a TIF and then printed it out in MS Paint. I taped the printed 8 1/2" x 11" pages together, creating the template that I used for drilling and my cardboard prototype model. Here is a diagram with the general dimensions of my control panel:

The buttons at the top center are admin buttons. Although some people argue that only 2 admin buttons are really necessary, (escape and pause), I am very glad that I used six. With the six buttons, I can adjust the volume of the game, remap keys, increase the game difficulty and change the arcade dipswitches with ease. The list below explains each of admin buttons function. The list starts with the left most button and moves right.

Admin Buttons
Keystroke MAME Function
Enter The Enter Button
P Pause
Left Mouse Main Menu (Default tab in MAME)
Right Mouse Volume/Gamma/Brightness Control
F2 Service/Dipswitches
Escape Exit

The player button mapping I used in MAME follows the Capcom default, which is:


Step 5: Build A Card Board Model of the Cabinet

I printed out Lusid's PDF and cut out the individual paper pieces. Then I glued them to cardboard and cut the cardboard pieces out. I hot glued the final pieces together and created a miniture scale model. This may sound silly, but it is a really good idea to make a model. Afterwards, you will understand exactly where each piece of the cab fits before you start construction.

Step 6: Build the Arcade Cabinet

I decided to build the cabinet before the control panel because I knew if I built the control panel first I would play arcade games and never finish construction! For me, this was by far the hardest step. I had very little woodworking experience and I only had access to horribly ancient power tools from the 1950's. If I can build an arcade, anyone can. The best advice I can give is to progress slowly and be patient. The construction took me about a month and a half. I was working a summer job with 40+ hours a week, but I still managed to put in a ridiculous number of hours into the construction. I do not own a digital camera so unfortunately I have no pictures of the construction process. However, here is a list of tools that I used in my project:

  • 7 1/2" Circular Saw
  • 5/8" Jigsaw
  • A Power Drill that Plugs into a Wall Socket (vs. Battery Powered)
  • A Home Depot 4' Metal Saw Guide
  • 4' Metal T-Square and 4' Metal Straight Edge
  • Sears Plunge Router
  • Power Sander

I bought all of the material at either Home Depot or Menards. Here is a list of raw materials that I used:

Item Qty
4'x8' 5/8" Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) 4
6' 1"x2" Pine Strip 6
3' 2"x2" Poplar 2
3" Fixed Casters 2
3" 360 Degree Spinning Casters 2
Box of 2" Wood Screws 1
Box of 1" Wood Screws 1
Box of 1 1/2" Wood Screws 1
1 1/8" Spade Drill Bit 2
5/16" Spade Drill Bit 1
1/2" Spade Drill Bit 1
Waterproof Polyurethane Wood Glue 1
1/2" Hex Bolts, Washers and Nuts 12
1/2" Carriage Bolts, Washers and Nuts 8
3/32" Lucite-Tuf Acrylic (Similar to Lexan) 1
22" Light for Marquee 1

Be sure to cut the 1/16" slot for T-molding before you assemble your cab. I connected every joint of the MDF with both wood screws and water proof polyurethane wood glue. To support the monitor, I used 2 two by fours underneath the monitor shelf with 2 1/2" wood screws and glue. Then I used a third two by four on the top of the shelf to prevent the TV from sliding back. I was very worried about supporting the monitor but it turned out to be rock solid.

Step 7: Build A Full Sized Card Board Prototype of Your Control Panel

I cannot emphasize the importance of this step enough! Unfortunately, there is no way to know if you like your control panel layout unless you build it first. It would be a shame to build a real panel that was uncomfortable and cramped. Test out your layout to make sure there is enough space and even try to ensure that each player has a proper view of the monitor before you start working on the final panel.

Step 8: Design and Print Your Control Panel Art and Marquee

Designing: It is a good idea to complete the final version of your control panel overlay (CPO) before you build your final control panel. Often, the printed control panel overlay is not the exact size that you specify on the computer. My first print out was a 1/2" off on all sidees and my second copy was 1/8" off. If you get it printed first, you can match your construction to the print.

I designed my CPO and marquee in Photoshop 6. The characters on the CPO are from Capcom's Marvel Vs. Capcom 2, (an excellent game). They are from high resolution wallpapers. Download the characters from For more arcade artwork, visit the Arcade Art Library. It is the best resource for finding high quality arcade artwork.

If you want to create your own custom artwork, read Frosty's Vector Art Tutorial.

Control Panel Overlay (CPO)

Click to enlarge


Click to enlarge

Printing is very expensive. I had my artwork printed at two different places. My marquee was printed on glossy paper by an online store: EMDkay. It is 26" x 8" and its price was $25.00 after shipping. I was very impressed with the quality of EMDkay's marquee and highly recommend that you use their printing services. My marquee is held in place with Happ Marquee retainers. It is in the middle of a "sandwich." Lucite Tuf is on the outside, the marquee is in the middle and a piece of white tag board is on the inside. I had my CPO printed at a local Kinko's. It is printed on regular paper and I had it laminated for extra protection even though it was ultimately covered with Lucite Tuf. The CPO's dimensions were 47" by 19 1/2" and it cost roughly $60.00. I cannot recommend Kinko's. My CPO never printed correctly. The size was always off. Instead of Kinko's, I would recommend getting your artwork printed at Classic Arcade Graphix.

Step 9: Construct Control Panel

Now that you have your CPO printed, you can trace an outline of the artwork onto your CP and then cut it. This way, your artwork and CP will match perfectly. I cut my lexan and MDF at the same time so they were exactly the same size. I used my CP template (found above) as a drill guide. I also drilled the lexan and the MDF at the same time. This way, the holes would match up perfectly. I drilled through the MDF first, then into the lexan and finally through some scrap MDF. The button and joystick holes are each 1 1/8". There is 1 1/2" between the center of each button.

I ordered all of my controls from Happ. Here was my order:

Item # Description Qty
58-9100-L Horizontal Red Push Button 5
58-9122-L Horizontal Blue Push Button 5
589133-L Horizontal Green Push Button 4
58-9144-L Horizontal Purple Push Button 4
58-9155-L Horizontal Yellow Push Button 4
58-9166-L Horizontal Black Push Button 10
58-9177-L Horizontal Orange Push Button 4
58-9111-L1PLY Horizontal White Player 1 Push Button 1
58-9111-L2PLY Horizontal White Player 2 Push Button 1
58-9111-L3PLY Horizontal White Player 3 Push Button 1
58-9111-L4PLY Horizontal White Player 4 Push Button 1
56-0100-12 3" Solid Blue Trackball 1
50-6083-50 Perfect 360 Joystick 2
40-0038-00 Over Under Coindoor 1
50-6084-00 Super Joystick 2
55-1101-00 3" Trackball Black Mounting Plate 1
53-8002-00 Pushbutton Wrench 1
Finishing Touches
49-0998-00 Black 5/8" T-Molding 50
49-0228-00 4" Shielded Speaker 2
49-5181-00 4" Round Metal Mesh Speaker Grill 2
49-0106-00 Plastic 27" Monitor Bezel 1
43-049-00 Black Oxide Carriage Bolt 10-24 x 2" 30
49-1000-00 Marquee Retainer 10 Ft 1
Step 10: Finishing Touches

First, you need to apply primer to the assembled cabinet. I used a brush to put 2 coats of Kilz Primer on both the inside and outside of the cabinet to seal the MDF. Afterwards, I used a roller to put on 3 coats of black Super Satin paint.  Although I did not realize it at the time, it took several days for the paint to dry. Apply the T-molding once the paint drys. Next, put the monitor bezel in the cabinet. My bezel is not actually attached to my cabinet. It snuggly fits without moving. You'll need to cut the bezel down to the right size. To do so, I used a razorblade and a metal ruler as a guide.

Step 11: Wiring the Control Panel

Wiring the buttons and joystick is not difficult but there is a whole lot of wiring that must be done. Two wires connect to every microswitch in the manner shown below.
Microswitch Wiring Diagram

Pictured below are some basic wiring diagrams for a one player setup. The wiring is the same for all four players. Each pair of wires going into a button connects to a microswitch. There are 4 microswitches for the joystick - one for each direction.

Wiring Diagram (ALL wires)

Wiring Diagram (Ground ONLY)

Wiring Diagram (NO Ground)

I got my 22 gauge wire, and .187 quick disconnects from Bob Roberts. Make sure you pick up an actual wire crimper at the hardware store in order to properly crimp the quick disconnects. A proper wire crimper will make your life a lot easier. To interface the controls with the computer, I used a keyboard encoder. I chose the KE72-T encoder for several reasons: It had the trackball interface that I needed. It had a lot of seperate keyboard functions, (72), which I needed for 4 players. Also, it was extremely easy to wire. The wires from the controls screw into the IOX36 Breakout Board, which connects to the encoder through an IDE cable. The keyboard encoder simply plugs into the computer's keyboard port. After all of the woodworking, it was a breeze to wire the controls. No soldering was required.

Here are my Hagstrom and Bob Roberts orders:

Item # Description Qty
KE72-T 72 Input Keyboard Encoder w/ Trackball Interface 1
IOX36 Break Out Board w/ IDE cable 2
KE-TBH3 Cable that connects to Trackball 1
KE-MM6-mini Cable that Connects Encoder to Computer Keyboard + Mouse Port 2
Bob Roberts
N/A .187 Quick Disconnect 150
N/A 22 Gauge Black Wire 150
N/A 22 Gauge Red Wire 150
N/A PCB Mounting Feet 24

The Happ P360 joysticks require a 5 volt power source. Conveniently, the red wire from a computer power supply is 5 volts. So I connected the P360 to my computer's power supply. The lights on the coin door also require a power source. I connected them to the computer's power supply as well except that they are attached to the 12 volt yellow wires.

PC Power Supply

Step 12: Audio/Video/Power Setup

I used a 27" S-video Sharp TV for my arcade's display. It looks great and was very economical. It was an open box item at Best Buy. To turn it on, I bought a cheap universal remote, took it apart, and removed the circuit board. I replaced the power button of the remote with an arcade pushbutton that could be placed anywhere on my cab. On the circuit board, there were 2 strips under the power button. I used a screwdriver to expose the copper plates underneath the 2 strips. Then I connected the arcade pushbutton to the 2 strips with the common wire going to one strip and the normally open wire going to the other strip. Now, I needed to put the IR emitter in front of the TV on the cab. I clipped the IR emitter off the remote PCB and used wires to extend it. When I finished, pushing the arcade button that was placed in the back of my cabinet caused the TV to power on.

Remote Control Photo

Remote Control Wiring Diagram

For audio, I followed Oscar's Tutorial. The results actually exceeded my expectations. They sound great!

I wanted my arcade to power up with the single press of a button. To do this, I ordered a Smart Strip. This power strip turns on multiple outlets when a single control outlet receives power. I plugged the computer into the "control" outlet. Therefore when I turn on the computer, everything else in the cabinet powers on. To power up the computer, I connected the 2 wires from the computers power switch to an arcade pushbutton and placed the button on the back of my cab.

Power Buttons

Here is a list of items I discussed in this section:

Store Item # Description Qty
Best Buy 27U-S600 Sharp 27" TV w/ S-Video and Component 1
Best Buy Labtec Spin-75 PC Speakers 1
Bits Limited LCG1 10 Outlet SmartStrip 1

Optional: Connect A Dreamcast to Your Arcade Controls

I had a Dreamcast accumulating dust and about six months after I finished my arcade, I decided to attach the Dreamcast to my arcade controls. Many of the Dreamcast's games were originally arcade games. It has an especially good selection of fighters. Here is a list of the games I have so far:

  • Soul Caliber
  • Marvel vs. Capcom
  • Marvel vs. Capcom 2
  • Dead or Alive 2
  • Guilty Gear X
  • Capcom vs SNK
  • Ikaruga (Japanese Import)
  • Bangai-O
  • House of the Dead 2
  • Confidential Mission
  • Sega Smash Pack
  • Zombie Revenge
  • Gigawing 2
  • Virtua Tennis
  • Virtua Tennis 2k2
  • Dynamite Cop

If you want more information about Dreamcast games, check out Gamespot. To hook up a Dreamcast to arcade controls you need to take apart 2 controllers, (1 for each player), and solder wires to them. This diagram shows you where to connect the wires for each button. The ground connects at the top left of the board and is daisy chained across the arcade controls. Image from Kevin's Arcade Sticks.

Click Image to Enlarge

Visit Kevin's great site for more information on soldering DC controllers

Once I got the DC connected to my controls, I encountered 2 problems. First, the P360 joysticks required a 5 volt power source. Fortunately, the blue wire in the cord of the DC controller is a 5 volt source.  The P360 uses the same ground as everything else.

The second problem is that only one of the systems (PC or DC) should be hooked up to the controls at a time or else something may get fried. To cope with this, I bought four 12 pin molex connectors and six 2 pin molex connectors from RadioShack. Here is how the system works:

  • Connect a 12 pin male molex connector to the p1 and p2 break out boards.
  • Connect a 12 pin female molex connector to the 2 DC controllers.
  • Connect a 2 pin male molex connector to the p1 and p2 P360 power wires.
  • Connect a 2 pin female connectors to the p1 and p2 DC blue wire and DC ground.
  • Connect a 2 pin female connectors to the PC power supply.
12 pin Molex Diagram
State 1: Dreamcast

To play Dreamcast, I plug in both the p1 and the p2 twelve pin molex connectors. Also, the p1 and p2 two pin molex connectors must be plugged into the DC power source. I also have to ensure that the IDE cables which attach the keyboard encoder to the breakout board are not connected.

State 1 Diagram
State 2: Computer

To switch over to MAME, I have to unplug the 12 pin molex connectors and then plug the 2 pin molex connectors into the PC power source.  Additionally, I have to plug the IDE cables back into the keyboard encoder.

State 2 Diagram

While this may not be the greatest system in the world, it works! I can change systems quickly because my control panel is only fastened with industrial strength Velcro making it very easy to lift.

If I Had To Do It Over, I Would...

  • Only use 4 buttons for players 3 and 4. I have never used the fifth and sixth buttons.
  • Use an arcade monitor instead of a TV. The TV is much more economical and looks pretty good, but I wish I had gone all out and gotten a real monitor.
  • Put plexi over the monitor. Due to lack of planning, installing plexi would now be difficult.
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