There are 4 main types of control panels people tend to use on these cabinets. The first, like my version 1, is what I call standard. It gives each player a joystick and all of the buttons they would need for any game. There is also (optionally) a trackball and a spinner to play the games that require those. This setup allows you to play probably 95% of all the games available. It isn’t going to feel right for every game, but most people don’t care about that. This is a nice easy way to start, and there really isn’t much need to build more than this in the beginning. This is a quick build, so it is worth the time to try it to see if it works for you.
The second option has been dubbed the Frankenpanel. When you realize that the Standard layout doesn’t let you play all of the games you want, your first inclination will be to redesign it to add more controls. You will really need to look through the project threads on BYOAC to really appreciate this layout. Some are nicely done, and are probably really enjoyable to use. Others are so big and convoluted that you probably wouldn’t be able to play anything comfortably. This type of control panel is probably the most looked down upon of all, but if done right, it can be a good choice for some. I was originally going to us this for version 2, but as I was planning it, I realized that it was still going to be very limiting.
The other 2 are similar in concept, but very different in execution.
Swappable panels allow you to easily remove a panel and replace it with another so you can play a wider variety of games without using a Frankenpanel. This concept is absolutely perfect. Each panel is complete and can have artwork and whatever you want on it. This will work well to let you play a lot of games. You can have a fighter panel, a classics panel, a Driving panel, etc. I was seriously considering using swappable panels, but I realized that it did not meet my goal of being able to play any game I wanted with the original controller. The first roadblock was Donkey Kong (which is my favorite game. If I made a classics panel, I would be able to play DK just fine, but it wouldn’t feel right. The joystick on a Donkey Kong cabinet has a completely different feel, than say, a Pacman cabinet. So then, I would need a classics panel and a Donkey Kong panel. This need for more control panels would eventually end up getting ridiculous and storing the complete control panels would be very difficult.
So, if you don’t want to install dozens of swappable panels, but still want the ability to use any controller, it makes since to be able to swap out the individual controllers. Enter the Modular Control Panel. With this panel, you can easily add any controller to the panel (fairly) quickly. This is the type of panel I used on version 2 (and will be carried over to version 3, of course). If you really want to be able to use ANY controller at any time, and be able to position them as they were in the original games, this is the way to go. I hear a lot of people say that this requires too much work and that you would have to store too many panels, blah blah blah. They are right of course, but in saying that, they miss the beauty of this design. As with swappable panels (and even the Frankenpanel to some extent), you only have to add functionality you actually need. A Frankenpanel that is a standard layout plus a 4-way joystick and a Tron stick is perfect for someone that wants to play a lot of games mostly correct, and Tron. If you can play whatever you want with 2 or 3 swappable panels, that is a perfect choice for you. Actually even if you only had one swappable panel, it is a great choice. You could always build more down the road if you had the cabinet set up to accept them.
This leads to the most important aspect of modular. If you design it so it can accept any controller ever made, you will always be able to add anything you want. The great part is that you don’t have to add anything!. If you are mostly happy with the standard layout, you can make 5 panels with those controls and mount them. If you never need any others, congratulations, you are done! Having the option to add more is what I really like about this. I have chosen to take it to the extreme, and when I finish, I will probably have about 100 panels. That means I will be able to play any game I want to with the original controls. I am writing this post in December 2011, while I am planning version 3, so I already have about 30 finished. I could be done if I didn’t feel like making any more panels. Unfortunately, I have already purchased enough controls to make about 50 more. Since I already payed for them, I feel kinda obligated to use them. It is a lot of work, but I will get to it someday.
No matter which type of control panel you decide to build, you need to remember that this is for you. Make what you want! I see a lot of people asking what they should do instead of trying something for themselves. Don’t get me wrong, you she be reading everything you can find in the beginning, and asking lots of questions. You just need to keep in mind that you are mostly getting opinions, and you may not share those opinions. That is why I recommend starting with the standard layout first. If you like it, you are done. If you think you may want something else, you might want to try to plan for that in the initial build. What I mean is; build so you are capable of swappable panels. You only have to build the one control panel, but if you think you might want more, build the flexibility into the design. This is also a path to modular, as you can build a swappable CP that holds modular panels.