How to create your own Custom Arcade Stick

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posted 2/3/2010 by Jeremy Duff
other articles by Jeremy Duff
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 It seems as though, recently, fighting games are making a major resurgence on the gaming scene.  Games like Street Fighter IV, BlazBlue, and Tatsunoko versus Capcom are bring the genre back to the forefront of gaming.  The fighting genre was absolutely HUGE during the 1990's when Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter ruled the arcades and consoles alike; the games were meant to be enjoyed in the arcade.  There is just no better way to play a fighting game than with a nice, quality arcade joystick and button combination in front of you.  If you want to be a major competitor in any of these games, you are going to need the equipment necessary to play like one.
 
There are many options out there for anyone who wishes to take their fighting games to the next level.  Mad Catz in particular is a company who has been making this controller option accessible to consumers though it often comes at a hefty price.  This is in no way meant to disparage the products that are produced by companies like Mad Catz, it is just that the expense of those sticks can often create a barrier that prevents gamers from getting the tools that they desire.  If you fall into this category where you would love to have a quality arcade stick for use on your home console but cannot or are not willing to invest as much money as they ask for them in stores, it is my hope that this guide can help you achieve that goal.  Let me state, up front, that neither myself nor Gaming Nexus is not responsible for any damage done to any controllers or products that you buy in an attempt to build your own stick.  Dismantling and altering these products will void your warranties and nullify any claims that you may have on the performance of said products.  Proceed at your own risk.
 
If you are still here, let's get down to business.  The truth of the matter is that you can build your own, high quality arcade controller for merely a fraction of the price as those offered in stores.  As long as you know what you need and some basic soldering skills, then you can have your own competition level stick in no time.  In this tutorial, we are going to create an arcade joystick for use on the Xbox 360.  This stick will also function on the PC.
 
Part 1: Gathering your materials
The first thing that you need to do is to gather your materials. You will need, minimally, the following items:
 
Third Party controller- I recommend using a 3rd party for two reasons: cost and simplicity.  The cost of unofficial controllers is generally a lot cheaper than the first party offerings.  The simplicity of their PCB boards is often night and day from the official controllers as well, making your task a ton easier in the long run. The first party controllers are often laid out slightly differently in the manner that the generally share ground connections between the buttons, making soldering and wiring for their boards more complicated than the simplified boards of third party controllers.  In my project, I used a Mad Catz 360 Arcade Gamestick. These particularly controllers have hit the clearance bins of many stores; I know that Fry’s for example sells them for $4.99 if you can find them in stock. Most of Mad Catz’s controllers use similar boards though, so you will do fine with any of their controllers. You can also check Gamestop as they had Gamestop branded controllers for about $20 used or $25 new. This is potentially the most expensive single part for the project, so shop around and find yourself a good deal.
  
Joystick- I used and recommend using the Happs Competition joystick, mainly because I prefer the physical feel of their products. The general consensus online is that the Japanese, Sanwa parts are superior, but this is the brand that I have come to know and love. This particular joystick can be purchased for $13.95 directly from Happs. Another site, Lizard Lick Amusements sells the exact same joystick for $7.95, which is a great deal but I have never dealt with them personally. There are other joysticks out there to use, some cheaper and others more expensive but this is a custom job, so get one that you like. 
 
Pushbuttons- If you are going to wire the entire 360 controller, meaning all buttons and the d-pad (no need for the analog sticks), then you will have to wire 11 pushbuttons in total (A, B, X, Y, L, R, LB, RB, Start, Back, and Guide). For this stick in particular, I was very shortsighted and only wired 8 buttons, leaving out the L, R and the Back buttons. When I get around to finalizing the case, I will be adding these buttons but it will not take much additional work. I went with Happ’s competition grade parts for my pushbuttons, which sell for about $2.20 a piece; they do offer discount for bulk orders of 25 or more on the buttons, so that is an option if you are trying to cut costs and are considering building more than one joystick. There are various styles of pushbuttons available too, which I plan on utilizing in my final design Things like the traditional “Player 1” start buttons and such are purely cosmetic and don't effect the performance of the final product.  As a word of advice, when you order your pushbuttons, make sure that they come with all required components to hook them up, namely the necessary cherry switches; both Happs and Lizard Lick include all of the necessary parts. 
 
Soldering iron- Soldering irons can be purchased fairly cheaply at stores like Radio Shack. I don’t care much for the expensive, digital soldering irons, just give me the plain old simple iron. Radio Shack has a nice beginner’s soldering set for about $8, which includes the iron, solder, holder, and a few small tools to help. This particular kit will more than suit the needs for this project.
 
Wire- While you are at Radio Shack, grab a spool of small wire; if you don’t want to drop the coin to buy some, then just splice open a phone cord and use the individual wires from inside (yeah, I can be frugal). It will also serve your best interests to try and get solid wire rather than threaded wire; I used threaded and it turned out okay, but I got tired of dealing with stray connections in the long run.  Make it easy on yourself and try to get solid wire.
 
Solder- Your iron will more than likely come with a stock of solder, if not, get some as they are only a couple of dollars.
 
Hot Glue Gun- In this project in particular, I found hot glue to be the ultimate compliment to solder.  Coating your connections in hot glue after ensuring a clean, soldered connection can ensure your connections stay in place and do not interfere with one another.
 
Case- The actually building of a case for the joystick could be another tutorial in itself. For my purposes, and since I was just trying this for the first time and wanted to create more of a test box, I simply used a cardboard banker’s box. This is another thing that would purely be up to you and your tastes. In the end, before you start battling fierce competition, you will want to build a solid casing for your controller. The banker’s box that I used did not hold up well to prolonged usage
 
Various small tools- You will want to keep the typical reference tools around like screwdrivers; there will be need form some small things throughout the project.
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