Friday, July 23, 2010

The annual Evolution Championships wrapped up last week in Las Vegas. For those of you who haven't heard of it, EVO is one of the largest video game tournaments dedicated solely to fighting games. Awesome. We're not just talking about the major games, either. In addition to hosting the best Street Fighter, Tekken and Marvel vs. Capcom 2 players around, the tournament also welcomes those who have honed their skills to lesser known fighting gems such as and Melty Blood and BlazBlue and still others even go so far as to bring their own consoles just to play personal favourites. In other words, EVO is essentially a celebration of an entire genre of games... But of course it's a competition as well, and this year had some huge surprises... Perhaps the biggest was that Justin Wong, who's considered by many to be one of the best players around, failed to finish in the SSFIV top 8. being defeated by the gamepad wielding Vangief. Wong's longtime rival Daigo Umehara on the other hand, managed to clinch the SSFIV title but also faced a surprising elimination from the Street Fighter 3 finals.

Another totally surprising thing to come out of EVO this year was this short video made by Richhhard. It's being hailed as the "classiest Street Fighter video ever made".

Kudos! lol

We play a lot of SSFIV around here, so it was only a matter of time before we wanted our own hand-cramp-reducing (okay, probably increasing...) arcade stick. As you can see in the video above, building your own arcade stick is almost like a rite of passage for the fighting game obsessed, like a jedi building their first lightsaber! Err, anyways... If you're a fan of fighting games, you'll already know the huge disparity that exists between arcade hardware and commercially available arcade sticks... Each year companies like Madcatz and Hori put out their own high-end controllers, each claiming to have joysticks on par with arcade quality hardware. From what I've heard, the commercial models are indeed getting better, with the Madcatz TE stick and Hori's Real Arcade at the top of the heap. However, these commercial models also carry pretty hefty price tags... The solution? Build your own high quality arcade stick for a fraction of the cost!

There are many online guides and resources available for those who wish to build their own DIY arcade stick, but one of the most useful and user-friendly ones can be found at Slagcoin's guide details the entire build process, from choosing the right buttons, sticks and restrictor gates, to building a box and wiring it all together. It's so well put together, in fact, that it would be pointless for me to offer my own guide on the topic, but I thought for visuality's sake I'd post some pictures outlining the build of my own arcade stick so you can get an idea of what's involved.

Shall we?

Step One: Select Your Components

You'll need to select a joystick in addition to however many buttons you want. Both in number and layout, your buttons are generally based on what games you intend to play. If you don't want to commit to a single arrangement, there are layouts that afford for a large degree of customization; some even containing up to eight buttons in a cluster that can stand in for several games.

For my own project, I chose a Sanwa JLF stick and Sanwa buttons for my main controls. Alternately, my Start, Select and "Home" buttons are smaller diameter Seimitsus. The hardware you choose is really a matter of personal preference; I prefer the "ball top" style JLF stick, but some swear by the bat-style made by Happ.

Another thing you'll need to consider is what type of PCB you'll be using. This choice is largely dictated by what platforms you'll be playing on. For example, there are PCBs for Playstation 3, 360, PC, and even older consoles like the Dreamcast! You can use the PCB from a standard controller, or you can buy original hardware designed for the express purpose of DIY arcade sticks. I went with the latter, opting for a Cthulhu board.

Step Two: Construct the box

A DIY arcade stick is a particularly good "first woodworking project". Not only can you can mod almost anything into an arcade stick, but making your own is relatively simple, too! I borrowed my buddy's MadCatz TE stick to get an idea of its dimensions. In the end, my frame was approximately 14.5" x 10.5" x 2.5".

To begin, I made a simple frame out of some scrap pine. I chose to use a mitre joint for the corners and then secured the joints with a couple of screws per corner.

Following the suggestion of most of the guides that I've read, I used 1/2" thick MDF for the top and bottom panels. MDF is pretty flimsy stuff, but it cuts easily and is relatively cheap, again, making it ideal for someone's first woodworking project. The general consensus is that you can use either two sheets of 1/4" thick MDF or a single 1/2" piece. I chose the latter which meant I had to use a drill press to thin out the area around and under the button holes. Ah! Speaking of which, I used this template to drill the holes in the top panel, so feel free to use it if you're also building a stick meant for Street Fighter. Lastly, I secured a few scraps of wood inside the frame to create a ledge to hold the top panel flush with the top of the frame and to protect the wiring underneath. Below is an image of the underside of the box, but it should give you an idea of what the top will look like before your button holes are drilled.

Step Three: Wire it up

Once you have your frame and your holes drilled, it's time to attach the buttons to the top panel and wire it all together. Again, it's really not as complicated as it may seem. Each button has two connectors on its underside: one for a common ground wire and one to connect the button to its corresponding terminal on the PCB. On the Cthulhu's end, wires are simply fastened by way of small screw-in terminals. On the button end, wires can be soldered directly to the the button connectors, or fastened via quick connect tabs like the ones I used. The Cthulhu PCB came with fairly detailed instructions for the wiring, but depending upon which PCB option you use, you may have to search online for your required pinout.

The Cthulhu PCB wiring diagram.

You'll also want to make sure you install the joystick right-side-up... Hey! Don't laugh! Mistakes happen, alright!? Sheesh... Anyways, if you happen to have a Sanwa JLF stick, odds are it'll have the following alignment:

Green = Right
Yellow = Left
Red = Down
Orange = Up

In addition, you'll probably want to run a few "button checks" including the stick to make sure everything works as it should, before you seal it up.

In the name of aesthetics, I used a 5/8 drill bit to countersink the screws and then filled 'em in with some wooden bolts...

I'll take the bolts over wood filler any day...

Step Four: Sweep the leg!

This thing is a beast! I think it plays a lot better than just about every commercial arcade stick I can recall using.

If you're looking for some inspiration for designing your own DIY arcade stick, I would highly recommend you check out the most impressive galleries over at Joystick Vault. Also, it would be remiss of me to write on the topic of DIY arcade sticks and not mention the excellent SRK Forums, which are an exhaustive resource for all things Street Fighter, including DIY arcade stick building.

One of the best things about building a DIY arcade stick is that, unlike a one-size-fits-all commercial model, you can build your own to exactly your own preferences and specifications. This almost complete personalization is so evident in galleries like those at Joystick Vault; there's a personal preference, reason and story behind every detail of a DIY arcade stick... Fascinating!

Oh! They're also fun to use, as well!

Until next time!


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posted by Marcus at 2:51 PM |


At May 3, 2011 at 1:16 AM, Blogger Unknown said........
Nice! I've made a few of my own sticks, but using HAPP sticks. I wondered about using Sanwa Sticks on wood. I guess if you don't use thick stuff or plexi, your method works great!


dfw jay

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