Note: I started this project thread on BYOAC on July 14th 2007. I will separate it by dates as I pull later posts. I always intended to go back and rewrite all of this, but I am not sure if I still remember it well enough to do better than this.
July 14, 2007
I started thinking about a modular control panel a couple of years ago, but I think I finally have a workable design so I am starting the build process. I will try to document this as much as possible so others can use it if they want.
To save quite a few comments, let me say that a lot of you will probably not like this design. I designed it more for strength than asthetics, although I think I will be happy with the way it looks. It breaks a couple of unwritten rules I have noticed around here over the years. The biggest broken rule being that the panels will mount to the box from the top and the heads of the cap screws will be visible at all times! Yeah , I know, terrible isn’t it. 🙂 I will also have to screw them in every time adding a bit of time to the swap. This was a more than acceptable trade off to me because this design is very strong. I tried many different designs before settling on this one, but none of them were strong enough. Most involved rabbiting the MDF panels, and the MDF was just incredibly weak in that situation.
I made a new box for the cp and I am using unistrut to mount the panels. The panels attach really flat and tight, and it is very strong. Before I mounted the box to the cabinet, I attached one panel and shook the box around by it for a little while, so it is definitely strong.
I decided to do something different with the panels. I want to limit the amount of configuration options to make things simple, and to avoid small filler panels. The inside of the cp box is 34″ wide(the panel with trim will be 37″, the same as my old panel), and I will use four sizes of panels: 6″, 7″, 10″, and 14″.
The 6″ panels will be used in the center of 2 player layouts and they will contain the start buttons and possibly some admin buttons. I made a feww of these so I can experiment with this.
All joystick and button panels will be 7″. I do not want to try to fit these on smaller panels, and I think the extra width will make the panel stronger. Two 7″ panels per player, plus the 6″ panel in between gives me my 34″, so there is no extra space to fill up.
The 10″ panels will be used for trackballs. I currently only have one little one, but someday I plan to buy two new 3″ trackballs. 10″ panels will also be used as blank panels and start button panels. For 1 player layouts, I will use the 7″ joystick and button panels and two 10″ panels on the side to get 34″ A single trackball layout will use the 10″ trackball panel plus 1 or 2 7″ button panels (for left and right handers) plus to more 7″ to fill up the rest of the 34″. Dual trackball layouts will use a 10″ and 7″ for each player. This one creates a problem since there is no blank panel to mount the start buttons on. I may end up making a 14″ panel for this to mount start buttons and both player buttons on.
The 14″ panels will be used for larger controls. So far I have two steering wheels, motorcycle handlebars, and a space harrier controller. I will need to make boxes on top of the panels to get the controls at correct angles. These will probably wait for a while.
I will try to update this as I make progress.
July 15, 2007
I finished drilling the mounting holes in all of the panels. Here is a picture of the blank panels. I need to find some more cap screws tomorrow. I have been trying to get enough of them for a couple of weeks now, but they seem to be incredibly hard to find. Once I test fit all of the panels, I can build the trim that will box in the panels and make the finished panel look like my old one. Hopefully this will happen tomorrow, but probably not.
July 18, 2007
This post was in response to a suggestion that I try to use quarter turn fasteners instead of the cap screws I used. It is still a good idea, but I haven’t found any worth the additional cost.
I was actually looking at the quarter turn fasteners before I went with the unistrut. I still like the idea, but I really like the way the panels sit on the strut. It is a very solid mount. I will try to find some way to make the quarter turn fasteners work with the strut in the future for sure. I know it will get old screwing in the panels all of the time. Although, it did occur to me that it might be better if the swap is a bit of a hassle. That way I will probably play more games instead of constantly swapping the panel. If friends are over playing, I think I might keep it limited to one setup. Then the next time everyone is over, we’ll try a different one.
I made the face frame on Sunday, but I think I will redo it this weekend. I made it with MDF, and I am not sure how well it will hold up to the swapping of panels over time. If a panel wears out, I can just mount the parts on another one and keep going, but if the face frame wears out, it will be a pain to replace. I will grab some poplar and do it right. I will try to also get some hardware on some of the panels this weekend. I have to write a paper for school, but hopefully I will have enough time to get at least a few done.
July 19, 2007
OK, I decided to stay with the MDF face frame. The hole in the frame is big enough to leave a little gap to account for small variations in the panels. I left the gap on purpose, but I am going to test it out to see if the gap is needed, and also to see if it bothers me. I will be using vinyl to cover the panels and everything else will be painted black, so I may not notice the gap much. I still need to clean up the frame a bit and then I will route the outside edges this weekend. Hopefully it will be ready for paint Saturday, then I can turn my attention to the panels.
July 22, 2007
The first coat of paint on the box is drying. It will take at least one more since the paint doesn’t want to stick to the primer in spots. I am working on the panels today. Here is the panel for my Donkey Kong jump button. I wrapped it in vinyl from parts express. I am going to paint the sides and mounting holes black, but I was impatient and wanted to see how the vinyl looks. If anyone knows of a good way to cut the vinyl out of the mounting holes please let me know. I was able to cut it out of the button hole with my forstner bit from the back, but I don’t think I will be able to line it up good enough from the front.
I have a few button panels drilled, and now I am starting on the joystick panels.
I have the patch panel ready to mount in the box. I was originally using a 48 port panel (yeah, overkill!), but it didn’t fit with with the strut and 2 x 2 in the way. The rope of CAT 5 on the back of that one was insane. 🙂
I have a box of patch cables, so I will be able to wire as many panels as I can think of to build.
July 26, 2007
My panel is coming along pretty well. I will try to get another coat of paint on the box tonight. I am using the Hammered texture spray paint and it does not want to stick to the primer very well. I had the same problem on my old panel, but I forgot about it.
I have about 20 of the panels drilled and routed, so I hope to be able to finish these up this weekend.
I have a couple of original donkey kong joysticks. Does anyone have any suggestions on how to mount these on 3/4 MDF?
July 28, 2007
No wiring yet, and I still have a lot of panels to finish. Here is what it is going to look like.
The color of the frame is not an exact match to the panels, but it is not very noticeable in person. The picture makes it look kinda brown.
July 29, 2007
I finished some more panels.
If DDR becomes playable, I am ready. 🙂
I still need to wire the panels, but it won’t happen today. I still have a paper to write for school and it is due tomorrow, so no more procrastinating.
September 15, 2007
Well, I moved and started the fall semester at school, so it has been a while since I updated. Since my last post, I finished the wiring up to the patch panel. I am using a jpac, an optipac, and an AKI so far. I have been acquiring more controls, and I will need to add a 49 way encoder and a rotary encoder. I also removed the PC from the case and mounted it on a piece of plywood. It hangs from a screw in the side of the cab, nice and easy to remove when I need to.
The 4-way is on the left because girlfriends will not play Ms Pacman with a Tron stick ::)
I have a lot of controls to mount on panels and wire up, but I don’t have much time with work and school, so it will probably be pretty slow.
January 15, 2008
Well, I didn’t do much on this project during school, but I am trying to be productive during the break. I had to redo the wiring on the panels. Crimp connectors just do not hold well enough, so I am soldering all of the connections. I was worried about the wires getting snagged, so I decided to cover everything with tupperware. It looks a little strange, but it works and it was a fairly cheap solution. It also makes the panels a little easier to stack for storage.
Since I have a pair of rotary sticks, I added a GPWiz rotary encoder to the cabinet. I haven’t made the rotary panels yet, but I am happy with the GPWiz for sticks and buttons. It seems more responsive than a keyboard encoder. I hope to be able to test out the rotary function this weekend.
I have 2 weeks left before school starts, and I am going to try to get as many of these panels done as possible. I’ll post updates as I get them done.
Just a note on joysticks: I put together a wico 4-way, and I now finally understand what everyone is talking about. I played Ms Pacman with it, and it was incredible! My reunion stick does not even come close to this one. I am very impressed. I will get a couple of 8-way wicos built this weekend, and I am really looking forward to testing them out.
March 21, 2008
These were easy panels to make, but it took for ever to actually get started. They do not actually do me too much good yet since I have not hooked up the pedals, but it is nice to have them finished. Playing with a button instead of a pedal just does not quite do it for me.
If you want to add a 360 wheel to your panel, I highly recommend looking for a Badlands wheel like these two. All I had to do was bolt the housing to the panel and wire it up. I actually bought these to replace the wheels I was going to use, it was worth the cost since it saved so much time refurbing and mounting the other wheels.
I found a tip that may help some of you. If you have rust spots on chrome, you can clean them up easily with tin foil. get the chrome wet ( I used 409, but I read that others use coke or water) and do a little light scrubbing. I spent about 10 minutes per wheel. Here is what they looked like before I cleaned them up and repainted the center piece:
Now to design a mount for my Pole Position wheel…
April 12, 2008
I hear a lot of people on hear talking about adding a holy grail to their collection. I guess a Donkey Kong stick added to my modular CP would be mine. It is one of the main reasons I decided to go modular in the first place. It took me a long time to get this stick, but it was worth the hassle. There really is no substitute for this stick; my wico 4-way is good, but this is great. It took me a couple of games to get the feel of it; I had to remember that I used to hold this stick between my first two fingers (now I know why my middle finger is indented on the side between thew first and second knuckle – wow I really did play this game alot! 🙂 ), but the third game I made it past the 3rd elevators. I am still not as smooth as I was, but with some practice, I think I will improve. I want to beat my previous best of 250,000.
Modular panels are a lot of work, but this makes it worth it.
April 17, 2008
This was a response to another member who was thinking of doing a project like this:
Use the hell out of your tankstick while you have it. Test as many games as possible to find out how much you hate how the stick feels in each games. I have a bunch of happs sticks, and I will probably end up selling a lot of them because I am buying new sticks constantly to get the right feel for each game. When you find the right joystick for a game, it just feels right; there really is no substitute. That is what makes modular so nice.
Stcks like the u360s sound like a great all in one compromise, but I do not think they could replace the original controls. The physical restrictors really change the feel of the sticks in adition to limiting how they register inputs. This summer break, I hope to find and/or create a list of original joysticks for the games in MAME so I can play all of the (decent) games as they were intended. There are many games that I never played, so I don’t know how they were supposed to feel.
When you start your modular/ swappable panel, try to do what most of us don’t do. Try to mount the controls on panels as soon as you get them. It is no fun having a closet full of cool parts that you cannot use, and once it gets like that you never seem to get caught up. I finished 3 panels recently, and I have bought the parts for 4 more – it never ends!
I will try to post a pic this weekend on the mounting. I tried a lot of different ideas, but none of the others worked with MDF. They all required routing part of the MDF so the lockdown pieces would sit flush and MDF is really weak in that situation. In the final design, the panels are just bolted down to the box. All the parts (capscrews, washers, unistrut, and channel nuts) are available at lowes or home depot and are fairly inexpensive. I keep thinking that I want a more elegant solution, but I don’t need it; this works really well.
I will try to get you a pic of the patch panel too. If I redo it, I will add even more ports. I currently have 24, but most of them are used, and I would like to have them all mirrored. I rarely need to remove the start button panel, and it can be a pain to get the cable under it to the port on the opposite side. I use 6 ports for my AKI (analog controls), 6 for the optipac, and the other 12 go to the jpac and GPwizrx. The jpac is currently only used for start and coin buttons ( I have a short somewhere and it just was not reliable for all of the inputs, even the shift function is not working right. One of these days, I will trace the short, but for now it easier to just not use it. I will eventually add 49way encoders, and maybe another analog interface if calibrating turns out to be an issue (I don’t have any of my analog controls mounted yet, so I don’t know).
The main plus of modular is that you can do almost anything — but you don’t have to. Do as much or as little as you want. My modular panel was only as functional as my old panel for a long time, until I started building new panels. Just try to design for anything you may want to do in the future. I made mine big enough to accomodate a heavy gp rider controller (which I hope to actually hook up someday). Everything else should fit easy.
July 11, 2008
I have been working on this quite a bit lately, but I haven’t gotten very far. A nasty virus actually killed my harddrive, so I started over with a fresh install. I tried to upgrade MAME to .125, but my computer can’t handle Donkey Kong on that version, so I dropped back to .120.
I decided to try Ultimarc’s new U-HID. The wiring on my CP is now much easier to manage.
I am still working on configuring everything. Joysticks, buttons, spinner, and my Happs trackball are working great. My 360 wheels and wico trackball are not compatible, so I will need to try different optical cards, or rewire my optipac. I still don’t have any analog panels made up, so I haven’t tested those yet. I think I am really going to like this encoder once I get everything working right.
I have been working on a layout for mala. Here is a screenshot of what I have so far:
I am going to use definables in mala to display the right panel for each game. I hope it works good, because that is going to be a lot of work, I think.
I was planning to buy a Happ 2 1/4″ trackball for centipede, but my 3″ works really well, so I think I will save a little money.
July 11, 2008
Back in April, I promised to post some pics of how my panels were made and mounted. I finally got around to posting them here.
The panels sit on top of 2 pieces of unistrut; one at the top, one at the bottom. I use socket cap screws to screw the panel down into the unistrut nuts. The nuts can slide anywhere along the length of the strut, but I try to add nuts for any panel layout and just leave them in position; it speeds up the swaps quite a bit.
Here is a pic of everything that goes into making and attaching a panel:
The unistrut and nuts are mounted in the cp as seen here:
I just use a T-Handle hex wrench to tighten the panels down.
The panels are all wired with cat 5 patch cables, and the plug into a patch panel mounted in the back of the cp. I haven’t labeled any of the plugs on the panel yet, mostly because I change things a lot. Since I switched to the U-HID, I am now using 3 ports for player 1, 3 for player 2, and 1 for the start button panel. 2 coin buttons and a pause button are wired directly from the encoder to the buttons mounted in the bottom of the CP. These buttons are shifted so I also have esc, tab, and enter.
Please let me know if I need to explain anything better. I am in the (slow) process of writing a documentation site for this project, and I want to explain it well.
July 28, 2008
I spent the last week playing instead of working on this. It is nice, but I really need to get my steering wheels and analog controls mounted on panels so I can make sure everything works right.
I bought a core2 duo e8400, so I will be adding that to the cab as well this week. My Athlon 2500+ can’t handle Donkey Kong any more ( past .120) , so it is time for an upgrade.
Teaching my nephew how to play DK made the whole project worth it. I used the infinite lives cheat so we could get some practice. He made it to the 3rd elevators, but I couldn’t get him to be patient enough to get past it. I played all the way through to the kill screen. I died a lot, but the practice was a big help to me. I was jumping barrels better than ever before. 🙂
The kids are leaving tomorrow, and the pinball machine is done until my new flippers come in. I better get something done on this.
December 25, 2011
Well, that was my project thread from BYOAC. If you see anything in there that you would like to know more about, or if I need to add something, please let me know.