I suggest building the control panel before anything else. If you can't get this right, nothing else is worth your time. Make your control panel so it could potentially stand alone and just connect to the PC via the USB and/or PS/2 ports. I bought the buttons to start as they were cheap and this act would force me to continue with the project. The investment in the IPAC and OptiPAC made it so I couldn't turn back on the control panel, at a minumum due to the increasing cost (potential waste of money). I also bought the wiring kit from Ultimarc as I was more than happy to send money their way and it also gave me the impetus to keep going. I would think everyone would want to keep them in business anyway. Once I tested some buttons and got them to work via the IPAC and OptiPAC, I invested in the Happ trackball (the 3" Golden Tee white version - they had a special on it). I then read many reviews on the various spinners (see RetroBlast.com) and decided on the Oscar spinner. It seemed like it would be closest to the Tempest spinner. I wasn't too keen on spending more money for the SlikStick Tornado Spinner. Although it is an excellent product (based on the reviews), I opted for the more genuine Tempest feel (again base on reviews). End result: I'm VERY happy with my choice. Not that the other wouldn't have made me happy, but at this point, it doesn't matter to me.
The first thing I did was to research a number of control panels. I went to ArcadeControls.com and reviewed a number of other Control Panels, comments, mistakes, successes and original layouts. I also consulted my friends Paul and Russ who had built a Control Panel and had one, respectively. I decided I needed a 7-button layout (can support the Neo-Geo fighting games) for each player, a trackball (for games like Centipede and Missile Command) and a Spinner for games like Tempest and Arkanoid. Having enough space for hand movement and adjacent shoulders was another hurdle. I settled on a 36" width and a 14" depth, but a curved panel to spread apart the players' shoulders a little. The size was pretty standard based on my visits to various arcades and my online research. Height is also important if you want to sit on 24" stools and have the play feel right. Consider your Control Panel height in addition to the cabinet base for it.
I next designed a mockup in Visio. I found some sites where they had some standard Happ stencils and made some on my own. This helped get everything to scale. I printed the 1:1 mockup and taped all the sheets together "carefully". I spread the printout on a flat surface and tried to "pretend" to play. The spacing seemed fine, so the the next step was to get the template onto a piece of wood. I used an Elmer's Spray Adhesive to glue the template to a 36" X 14" piece of wood I cut. For the glue, if you spray it on the back of the template and let it sit for 5 minutes, it peels off more easily later.
Here is the template glued onto the wood:
I got a 1 1/8" holesaw per the Happ Controls mounting guides and it was right on the money. Keep in mind you need to keep the holesaw VERY perpedicular to the wood you are cutting. A drill press is ideal, but I did it by hand and it was "fine enough." Be careful when you paint later not to let too much paint get into the holes or you'll have trouble getting in the buttons.
Here is the wood cut with the holesaw (jigsaw for the trackball space and 3/8" drill bit for the spinner:
Getting the base right is important. Ensure you have the top of the control panel at least 1/2" bigger than the base on all sides to accomodate the T-molding routing. Keep this in mind when you place your hinges. Keep testing and measuring (twice is never enough). I also reinforced the front of the base with some simple hinges to keep them from pulling apart as I could drive screws from the bottom, but would have trouble driving them from the side. Angles don't have to be exact as long as the front looks flush and the sides are supported well. The back can be fastened from the bottom and into the left and right sides that will house the pinball buttons (drill from the back panel into the width 3/4" of the sides). The left and right sides for the pinball buttons can also be fastened to the front angled pieces that lead to the front (drill from the outside of the pinball sides into the 3/4" of the angled pieces). Fastening the front of the base (small piece) to the front angled pieces required the hinges as it can only be drilled easily from the bottom.
It took me two tries to get the control panel right. The first one had the back of the top piece, with holes drilled, flush with the base when I measured it to hang over 1/2" on all sides. It didn't close properly as the bottom of the buttons kept hitting the sides. Keep testing the holes in the top with pushbuttons and the trackball to ensure the top opens and closes easily with the base. I also originally had stoppers on the bottom of the base so it could literally stand on its own. Big mistake. Only stick them on later if you decide to swap it out onto your desk. Don't ruin the finish unless you are absolutely sure you will use the control panel when not attached to the cabinet. Consider something with a very low profile like weatherstripping or textured tape.
This is the original control panel and base with the top flush with the back. You can see it hangs over the front too far:
Hinges and Clasps
The hinges were simple 1" hinges that I mounted in the back. I originally wanted to use European cabinet hinges (like in a standard kitchen cabinet) but the alignment was just "way" too much effort. I decided on the simple hinges and they worked perfectly. I just had to chisel a slight recession in the base box to accomodate the height of the hinge itself for a more flush mount. When I open the Control Panel on the cabinet now, it rests very nicely on the T-molding on the sides behind it (with the cabinet's angle) and it remains open for easy access to wiring and the controls. I make sure the game is off though as sometimes the buttons and joysticks will register when it's on.
The clasps in front help keep the top locked down. I also nailed in some black "stoppers/bumpers" to reduce shock during banging. The two work very well together and keep gameplay solid and quiet.
Here is the front shot with the clasps attached (no paint yet):
Here is the front shot with the hinges attached inside (no paint yet):
Rear Hole and Light Guns
I cut a simple 2" hole where I was going to stick in a grommet. I later realized the grommet wasn't necessary since the hole wasn't visible anyway; so, I took it off. I also cut a bigger hole on the cabinet itself (matching the control panel hole, to its mounts to the cabinet, the hole to get wiring into the cabinet) so I could stick through the brains for an ACT Labs USB TV Light Gun (2, actually). Their cables would have just run behind the control panel to the side (not into the control panel) and I would have mounted holsters on the cabinet itself. Turns out the guns wouldn't work with my setup for some reason and I got little help from ACT Labs in trying to resolve it. I tested them by first trying the guns on my other PC and TV: they worked fine. I then tried swapping the Arcade PC's video card, no luck. Then, tried a different SVideo cable: no luck. Next, I tried a Panasonic 20" TV: no luck. Very weird. The gun would register on the right 75% of the TV screen, but not the left 25%. I returned the one gun whose wire I didn't cut. (I cut the wire on the other one before I decided to cut the bigger hole in the cabinet to get the brains through). The guns have a 9-wire insulated cable. Once cut, I resoldered the 9 wires individually and individually insulated them with electrical tape. The reconnected gun works fine on my other PC and TV, but I voided the warranty and ability to return it. Anyway, I digress...back to the control panel....
Here is the rear shot before I took out the grommet:
Painting and T-Molding
The painting was fairly straightforward. I removed the hinges and clasps and kept the control panel top and base separate. The top took about 5-6 coats of the yellow to look right. The base took a primer of gray and 2-3 coats of black. Make sure not to let too much paint drip into the top's holes or it could affect the ease of inserting the buttons and controls. A few ended up being tight for me, but most went in without much force.
T-molding was fun. If you have your slot-cutting 1/16" bit, you run the router plumb to the surface of the control panel top and it cuts through the side of the middle of the control panel (getting the router height so the slot is exactly in the middle is key or your T-molding won't be flush with the top and bottom of the wood). You can then bang in the T-molding into the slot you cut and when it matches up (I chose to put the seam in the back (where the T-molding starts and finishes), use a razorblade to cut the T-molding and bang it in flush to the other piece. Make sure to cut it straight or it won't match up properly.
Here is the primed control panel base (and the primed rear door):
Here is the painted control panel top (with about 2 coats - you can see through to the wood still):
Here is the painted control panel base:
Here is the T-molding banging in process (you can see some paint dripped into the slot as I had to recoat it after I had already cut the side - just use a razorblade to cut it out):
Mounting Buttons, Joysticks, Trackball and Spinner
In my first Control Panel design, I had the joysticks angled to follow the curve of the front of the control panel. After playing for a while, I figured it was tough to get the right orientation, so having the joysticks parallel with the monitor is VERY important for gameplay. Also, if you don't add in a single 4-way joystick in the middle of the Control Panel, it was better to make player one the cluster on the RIGHT. For most people (righties), using the joystick on the right puts the single player more to the center of the monitor. (This was all my wife's idea by the way, and she was right on target). Changing the Player One and Player Two buttons was all that I physically needed to do to swap the sides. Everything else was IPAC programmable.
Here is the control panel with the angled joysticks and P1 on the left and P2 on the right:
Here is the control panel with joysticks aligned with the monitor and P2 on the left and P1 on the right:
IPAC and OptiPAC
Ultimarc, Ultimarc, Ultimarc. This company is a "divine gift" to MAME cabinet and control panel builders. What FANTASTIC products!!!!! Essentially, the IPAC maps arcade buttons (pretending the buttons are keyboard keys) to the PC's PS/2 or USB port. The OptiPAC maps the trackball and spinner (one at a time, not both at the same time) to the mouse function. There are also three mouse buttons you can map via the IPAC. If you look at the Control Panel above, I placed three mouse buttons at the upper right corner of the trackball. You need a set of jewelry screwdrivers (flathead) to use tighten the screws in the IPAC and OptiPAC to hold in and connect the wires running to the buttons, joysticks, trackball, spinner and ground. The ground on the OptiPAC and IPAC leverages off the USB and PS/2 grounds and you can run any of those grounds to the controls.
Here is the wired IPAC:
Here is the wired OptiPAC:
Ultimarc gives very good detailed instructions on how to wire the Happ trackball and the various pushbuttons to the OptiPAC. Oscar Controls has very detailed instructions on how to wire the Oscar Vortex spinner to the OptiPAC.
In a nutshell, you need to daisychain a ground wire to each and every pushbutton or they won't work. I measured each wire starting with the IPAC ground connection, two lengths at a time connecting two wires (a lead in and a lead out) to each ground. Think of it like a Y-adapter on each ground, one wire going to the previous ground connection and one going to the next. Only the first and last ground connections terminate with one. Make sure to leave enough slack in case you mess up one so you can reconnect the two wires, so don't make them "too perfect" in length. I picked key wrap points and found some adhesive wire clamps that I placed strategically throughout the bottom of the control panel to keep the wiring semi-neat. There are two ground connections on the IPAC and multiple ground connections on the OptiPAC. I ran one ground from the IPAC to daisychain the left joystick cluster. I ran the other IPAC ground to daisychain the right joystick cluster. I ran an OptiPAC ground to the trackball and one to the spinner. I also ran a ground to the coindoor coin slot registers (where a quarter dropped would trigger the Coin1 and Coin2 buttons). I tied the button wires together and use quick disconnects for when I remove the control panel from the cabinet. They sit inside the control panel for protection.
Here is the wired right joystick cluster:
Here is the wired left joystick and spinner cluster:
Here is the wired trackball cluster:
Here is the wired control panel:
Here are the quick disconnects that lead to the coin door slot registers (the black wire is a daisychained ground, the green wires go to/from Coin1 and Coin2):
I recently updated (December 2004) the control panel with a 4-way joystick in the top middle. There is still good space for trackball games and spinner games, so it worked out pretty well. I got the colored joystick from Ultimarc. The 4 way is wired to share the controls with player 1. It's twisted with the player 1 joystick at the IPAC. I also tapped the ground from the nearest controller and daisychained.
I changed it to a balltop. Much nicer feel and look.