Make Your Own Arcade Controls

Roger Playing MAME with Ghetto Control Deck

Many years ago — long before Roger was born and back when I lived in Chicago — Adam Swift and I grabbed a couple of pieces of wood, hit up an arcade parts store, and whipped up this total hack of an arcade control deck.

I call it the Ghetto Control Deck because the wood was found in an alley near my house (construction waste). I tore apart a broken (bad button) PlayStation One controller and used it as the brains of the controller.

Thus, the control deck can be hooked to a playstation for some excellent retro gaming action. Of course, no retro gaming experience is complete without Robotron and Robotron cannot be played without two geneuine arcade sticks. However, trying to play — say — Mappy, Flicky, Mr. Do, Dig Dug, Joust, Bosconian, or any of the other classics without a proper set of buttons on the right is nigh impossible.

So the deck is reconfigurable using a set of phone jacks to plug-n-play the way you want. Simple to reconfigure and all the parts were in my junk box!

Now — more than ten years after it was built — MAME is all the rage and Dave Dribin has produced an awesome port of MAME to Mac OS X. As well, USB technology has evolved such that “HID Compliant” devices are fairly common and cheap. That plus some awesome work in MAME OS X means that plugging in any HID compliant game controller “just works”.

OK — mash it all up now. Not surprisingly, there are simple devices that will enable a PlayStation I or II controller to be plugged into the USB port of your computer. Better yet, if the converter is HID compliant, no drivers are necessary and it’ll just work with software like MAME OS X.

Plug it all together and it “just works”. Nothing like a bit of frantic Robotron action on a 46″ LCD.

Construction is not difficult. You’ll need a soldering iron, a hole cutter, and some kind of fasteners. I used wire ties because I had a boatload and I was two lazy to deal with that whole nut + bolt thing.

Click on through for details (with pictures).

PlayStation 1 Controller Board

Gather together the tools and parts that you’ll need. To build a PlayStation 1 style control deck like mine, you’ll need:

  • 2 joysticks
  • 10 arcade buttons
  • One [preferably dead but electrical OK] PlayStation Controller
  • A piece of plywood
  • 2 chunks of 2″ x 10″, each about the same length as the control deck
  • Screws and random eye bolts
  • Wire ties
  • Soldering iron & Solder, wire cutters, wire strippers
  • Several feet of phone wire with at least three ends with RJ-11 connectors

You can, of course, eliminate one joystick and all the phone connectors if you don’t want the deck to be reconfigurable.

You can pick up the joysticks and arcade buttons from many places. I have ordered from Happ Controls successfully. You’ll want a8-way joystick (many of their joysticks are listed as 4-way/8-way — these work fine, just make sure they have 4 switches). I used a variety of colors of pushbuttons much like these.

Pictured at left is the control board from a PlayStation One controller. I had a defunct one laying around, but you can pick them up at garage sales or thrift stores for virtually nothing (seriously, I got an entire N64 + controllers + games for $5 at a garage sale).

Detail of Wiring on Controller

Once you get the controller ripped apart, you’ll need to figure out how it was wired up. This is generally very straightforward.

The controller’s board will typically have the switches integrated directly into it as big pads that are shorted out when a button is pressed.

That would be the big silver half moon looking things in the photo. Now, you can talk solder to the pads (I’ll get to the wiring in a second) or you can follow the traces around the board and, more likely than not, there will be convenient through holes into which you can shove wires and solder.

The key detail to note at this point is how the switches are wired together. In most controllers of this vintage, all of the switches have one side wired together while the other side of the switch is wired to the controller’s one large controller chip. This makes life very easy as it effectively halves the amount of connections that need to be made to the controller bored.

In my case, I think the shoulder buttons had individual grounds. I’m not sure. I ended up wiring them that way — wiring them to the appropriate holes on the controller board instead of running a common ground.

It also means that the directional pad and the four buttons on the right (and the four shoulder buttons) only need four unique wires. Coincidetally, an RJ-11 jack has four wires!

The Wiring Mess

At this point, it is time to layout the control deck and wire everything up.

Draw out how you want your control deck set up. I wired mine [stick] [stick] [array of buttons] with the start/select buttons sort of stuck off in between.

Drill the holes and screw or wire tie everything down. I used 8 wire ties for each control stick (instead of screws) and it has held together for 10+ years. If it can withstand me playing Robotron, it’ll survive just about any gamer’s interaction.

Once you have everything screwed down, flip the deck over and prepare to start wiring. Assuming you have gone down the “two sticks reconfigurable route” like me, this is where you’ll want to integrate the phone jacks and RJ-11 connectors.

At this point, you’ll want to choose a color scheme. Phone wire comes with four standard colors; red, black, green, and yellow. Choose which color will represent up, down, left and right. Then stay consistent throughout. This will help to preserve sanity.

Taking care of the common wire

I simply screwed two screws into the backside of the control deck and ran a bare wire between them. I then hooked one terminal of each switch to said wire and a wire between the common on the controller and the bare wire.

I wired the shoulder buttons — r1/l1/r2/l2 — individually for some reason. Not sure why, but it works, though it would have been more convenient to wire them to the common.

The start and select are also wired to the common wire.

Done with that.

Connections on the controller board:

Assuming reconfigurability, you will want to connect one phone cable with an RJ-11 on the other end to the directional pad buttons and another with RJ-11 on the end to the triangle/x/square/circle buttons (treating the four buttons as directional — up/down/left/right is the same as triangle/x/square/circle. Keep the colors consistent!).

Connections to the controls:

The joysticks and the four buttons that will be connected to triangle/x/square/circle should all be connected

Control Stick Wiring

Now, wire the joysticks and the triangle/x/square/circle buttons to the phone jacks.

Keep in mind that up is down and right is left when looking at the back of the joy sticks! That is, when you push the stick left on the control panel, the switch to the right on the joy stick is activated.

I carefully labeled everything with a sharpie that has since worn off.

So, preserving color scheme, wire the joy sticks to the phone jacks (which will have color coded wires on the end side that correspond to the colors in the RJ-11 jacks).

Phone Jacks For Configuration

At this point, it should be pretty obvious how you can reconfigure the control deck. There are now 3 RJ-11 jacks and 2 RJ-11 connectors. Depending on where you plug in the connectors, you can have 2 joysticks or a joystick and buttons!

Finally, connect the final set of four wires to the shoulder buttons (on my deck, they are the black/white buttons) and connect two wires between the start / select buttons and the appropriate spots on the controller board.

A total trashpile hack, but it works brilliantly.

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7 Responses to “Make Your Own Arcade Controls”

  1. Blanka says:

    I prefer the minipac from ultimarc. Works directly as a mouse+mame layout keyboard, handles 18 button, 4 joysticks, a spinner and a trackball without any fuzz.

  2. bbum says:

    Well, yeah, but that costs real money and isn’t nearly as much fun as throwing something together with parts from the junk box!

  3. Rediscovering Arcade Nostalgia - Programming says:

    […] I've also taken a cheap USB gamepad and soldered a salvaged arcade controller together myself, as Bill Bumgarner describes. It's just downright fun to browse through the Happ Controls website and play with all the cool […]

  4. Rediscovering Arcade Nostalgia | The CyberwBlog says:

    […] also taken a cheap USB gamepad and soldered a salvaged arcade controller together myself, as Bill Bumgarner describes. It’s just downright fun to browse through the Happ Controls website and play with all the […]

  5. bbum’s weblog-o-mat » Blog Archive » Shell Script to Control iTunes says:

    […] out came the ghetto arcade controller and, a bit longer than expected later, a Ms. PacMan marathon she had! (A bit longer because a nasty […]

  6. mame-arcade says:

    Very nice results and clear pictures, it doesnt look that hard to build homemade arcade controls.
    Which joysticks from Happs did you use?

  7. Stephen Bolts says:

    Great stuff! I bought an old NARC arcade cabinet that had already been converted to run MAME on eBay – I had about 4000 ROMs for it – when I got married and moved out we didn’t have room (3 kids and 3 dogs!), so I donated it to my then housemate and best friend, he’s since patched it up – we used to have marathon Streetfighter II sessions!

    I keep pestering my wife to let me get a new one, with no luck as of yet! Still got all the ROMs though.

    Robotron is among my all-time favourites – pure skill. Galaxian is probably my all-time fave.

    Great results and pics!

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