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Author Topic: Swappable control panel and a few other things  (Read 1621 times)

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billthecat

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Swappable control panel and a few other things
« on: August 01, 2019, 08:58:56 pm »
Hi everyone,
 
I have a finished build that I figured Iíd write about.  Many aspects of it arenít anything special, but I came up with a swappable control panel method that works very well, and that I think is little bit different than any others that I have seen, so I thought it would be good to post this in case it will help anyone.
 
I also have done one or two other things that I like and havenít seen.  (I thinkÖany of this could very well have been done before.)
 
The cabinet itself is just an X-Arcade pre-built cabinet that I eventually modified a bit (when I started out a few years ago, I had zero wood working skills).
 
Here is a short video showing me popping a control panel in and out.  (I yank the joystick around a bit to show that the control panel is stable and secure.)

 
The control panel is just a very, very snug fitting rectangular 3/4Ē birch plywood sheet with rounded edges and t-molding.  The pressure/friction of the t-molding against the rectangular opening in the cabinet is the only thing that holds it in.  It stays 100% tight while playing, but it only takes a moderate amount of force to pull out and push in.  I donít have to use any fasteners at all.  (I originally had drilled holes for turn buttons to hold the panels down, but then was happily surprised when I realized that I didnít need them.)
 
On the underside of the open space in the cabinet where the control panel goes, I have 4 flat pieces of metal (one in each corner) that stick out slightly to keep the control panel at the correct height.  This picture shows the top left piece (in the red circle).




As mentioned, to keep the control panel attached to the cabinet, I use nothing but the pressure/friction between the control panelís t-molding and the surrounding wood.  It wasnít too hard to get the tight, exact fit that I needed for this.  I just cut a piece of plywood as close as possible to the rectangular openingís dimensions, added the t-molding, and pushed it in to check the fit.  Any portions of the wood that were a bit too wide got sanded down, and I put layers of masking tape on any portions that werenít wide enough to give a snug fit.  It took a little bit of trial and error, and once I had the perfect fit I used a router to make a template.  Now whenever I want a new control panel, I just use the template to route out a new piece of correctly sized plywood and go from there.
 
Here you can see all of my control panels.  I use shelf brackets that are few inches too small to hold them up at an angle to protect the elements underneath since I donít bother adding sides or a base to my control panels.



My original X-Arcade control panel is at the bottom right.  If you are familiar with this control panel, you will notice that I have routed off a bunch of the top so that it could slide it into place like the others, instead of sitting on top like it did originally.  (I have also swapped out the original X-Arcade joysticks for the excellent Dominux8ís from Groovy Game Gear and have swapped out the original buttons as well.)

 
At the bottom left of the picture, my template is sitting on top of two plywood rectangles that I have left over from the last time that I was cutting wood for panels.  The control panel sitting above the Tempest is used for prototyping. 
 
 
I use Ethernet connected via a 6-port wall plate to connect the various control panels to the encoder (a Mini-PAC from Ultimarc):




I use the stickers as color codes to know which cables to plug in where.  For instance, the black port is connected to Ground and 7 button wires.  Since every control panel has buttons, every one has a black Ethernet cable that goes into the port with the black label.
 
My Asteroids (Star Castle, Space Duel, Phoenix, etc.) control panel only has buttons, so it only has a black Ethernet cable:



The port with the blue label supports 2 joysticks (4 wires for the left joystick and 4 wires for the right joystick).  Here is my 4-way joystick control panel with both black and blue cables plugged in:





My trackball control panel uses a black cable and a yellow cable:



 My Tempest (Warlords, etc.) control panel has a black and a red cable (I use a reproduction Tempest spinner with an optical PCB).  The green wire is for extra buttons (so the X-Arcade dual 8-way joystick control panel has black, blue, and green cables).
 
The 6th port on the wall plate is just a USB port that connects directly into the PC.  This is used for the UltraStik in the Sinistar control panel, the Tron spinner (Turbo2Twist 2), etc.
 
I chose Ethernet since itís easy to work with, easy to connect/disconnect, and the cables come in many colors.  For control panels with more controls, I can understand how having only 8 wires per connection isnít enough, but since I have so few controls (and buttons) per panel, 8 turned out to be a great number.
 
This connector setup is also very easy for children, guests, etc. to use.  With almost no learning curve, people can swap control panels on their own as needed (and I use Mala as a simple front end).
 
Cherry switch replacements:
Real Cherry switches seem expensive and sometimes hard to find.  They also seemed like a hassle to install on a wood panel.  Looking for replacement ideas seems to come up on this forum from time to time.  I found this switch:
 
https://www.digikey.com/product-detail/en/nkk-switches/HB15CKW01-5C-CB/360-2632-ND/1056598



At $8 each, they are relatively cheap.  I think the button is about 1mm less in diameter than the real buttons, but it was the closest I could find, and it is close enough for me (I bought mine about 4 years ago, so maybe there are slightly wider ones now). 
 
They are also very easy to install in a wood panel.  That little metal ring just screws off.  Then drill a hole in the control panel that is equal to the diameter of the body of the switch (not the diameter of the threads).  Then you can screw the switch into the panel with your fingers, no problem. 




Then cut some masking tape to equal the width of the part left sticking up and wrap it around that until it is a bit thicker than the hole for the cone.  Then the cone just screws into the masking tape.




(I was just double-checking something as I wrote this, and I see that as of a few months ago, there are some nice looking new reproductions here:  http://www.arcadeshop.com/i/1539/atari-lighted-start-push-button.htm.  They are $16 each and Iím not sure how youíd attach them in a wood panel, but I may try them out the next time I build a panel that needs them.)
 
 
Display:
For the screen, I really wanted to be able to have the MAME screen size equal to the various monitors that were used originally. 
 
I used a 40Ē de-cased LCD that I have rotated 90 degrees sideways, which gives me about 21Ē of width.  I like this width since it can support emulation of a 25Ē monitor mounted horizontally.  I canít use bezels for screens like that, but I can for other sized screens:

















I love how the MAME bezels look.  I think they add a lot to the experience.   A big thanks goes out to all of the people over the years who have taken the time and effort to reproduce them. 
 
Having the physical LCD screen rotated is a bit of a pain since I have to adjust the view for any game that I want to play.  Even if there is no bezel, I need an Artwork file to position it correctly on the screen since about half of the LCD is hidden in the cabinet.  But it does get easier after doing it a few times.  At first, I was strict about keeping the size of MAME screen equal to the size of the original CRTs.  This involved a lot of adjustments and cropping of some bezels to get the exact fit. 
 
But doing the cropping work got old quickly and I also decided that Iíd rather have intact bezel art where possible, even if that meant I had to have a smaller MAME screen for some games. 
 
The LCD also sits at an angle, which makes it stick out of the back of the original X-Arcade cabinet, and so I made some extra pieces to enclose it.  I didnít do this for aesthetic reasons; itís so that when you are playing the game, you donít see the wall behind the monitor, which I think would take away from the experience.





So thatís it for now.
 
I still want to make a few more panels since having controls that mimic the original ones is very important to me.  The panels that I have already cover the vast majority of whatís out there.  But, for example, Iíd like to do a Q-Bert, since I really want the feel of a 4-way restrictor at 45 degrees.   Itís not too hard to make more panels the way I have things set up, I just need to order some more controllers and do it.
 
Iím also probably done with CPOs and maybe done with dedicating one board per controller type (I might put those two mini-flight sticks that you can see on the prototype board on the same panel as the Q-Bert since I only use those flight sticks for Assault).  I will do a dedicated a 720 Degrees panel since I have a controller for that (I canít believe that I never get around to whipping this one up).
 
I also want to build a new cabinet for upright racing since I canít easily modify this one for pedals, and since itís not wide enough for the original Championship Sprint panel that I have.  And a wider cabinet would help with some of my bezel issues (especially Rampage, sigh) and would also give me room for some control panels with more than one player (Ramage againÖ).  An upright screen would be nice for shooters.  But whatever I do, I donít think Iíll change the general concept of my swappable control panels since Iím totally happy with that.
 
I hope that this post helps people with their own builds.  If you have any questions, feel free to reply (or PM me if you are shy, even though you shouldnít be).
 
-Mike




J_K_M_A_N

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Re: Swappable control panel and a few other things
« Reply #1 on: August 01, 2019, 10:15:22 pm »
Very cool. I love all the different CP art to match the main game the CP is made for. I have seen the network cables used but I really like your idea of using the colors that way (cable color to sticker color). It does make it much easier for people to know what to plug in where. I do like the idea of having a good layout for different games. Something that is hard to do with just 1 panel. :)

J_K_M_A_N

Titchgamer

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Re: Swappable control panel and a few other things
« Reply #2 on: August 02, 2019, 06:18:26 am »
A nice simple solution.
I have seen the CAT5 cable method used before and it works fine, The only problem with it from my POV is how brittle the wires are which is why I prefer to use crimped plug and socket connectors with panel wire.

One thing I will say though is please do something with those bits of metal to hold the panel up, Dont want to cut yaself on what looks to be a sharp corner! Round it off or something as blood is hard to clean off wood ;)


Mike A

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Re: Swappable control panel and a few other things
« Reply #3 on: August 02, 2019, 07:06:24 am »
For what it is worth, my ancient MAME cab used cat5 wiring with 2 interchangeable CPs. I never had a problem with the wiring. Although I did not swap the panels often and then eventually not at all. It lasted around ten years before I disassembled it because I needed the space.

gingecko

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Re: Swappable control panel and a few other things
« Reply #4 on: August 02, 2019, 12:39:29 pm »
Wow, you've put some amazing work into those control panels!

I don't think I have the space to store all the control panels I would want, but hats off to you. I think you've mentioned just about any game I can think of. Maybe a double spinner panel for Warlords? I can't remember if Omega Race had just 1 spinner or not. I think there were also versions of Rampart out there with multiple trackballs (KLOV database appears to be down right now). Though I actually preferred the joystick versions. Ikari Warriors is another one that would be great with dedicated controls.

Will be fun seeing what you come up with next!

PL1

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Re: Swappable control panel and a few other things
« Reply #5 on: August 02, 2019, 03:32:53 pm »
I can't remember if Omega Race had just 1 spinner or not.
Upright has one. (technically an analog to 6-bit gray code encoder, not a spinner)



Cocktail has two, but play is alternating.




Scott

gingecko

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Re: Swappable control panel and a few other things
« Reply #6 on: August 02, 2019, 05:57:54 pm »
Thanks Scott!

KLOV is back up, looks like Warlords had 4 spinners on the cocktail and maybe just 2 on the upright.

PL1

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Re: Swappable control panel and a few other things
« Reply #7 on: August 02, 2019, 06:44:57 pm »
looks like Warlords had 4 spinners on the cocktail and maybe just 2 on the upright.
Correct. (technically pots instead of spinners   ;) )






Scott
« Last Edit: August 02, 2019, 06:51:33 pm by PL1 »

Nephasth

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Re: Swappable control panel and a few other things
« Reply #8 on: August 02, 2019, 09:40:58 pm »
I dig the CPOs and layouts! Well thought out! However, there is a lot left to be desired under the hood. But, I'm a wire nut, so... :cheers:
%Bartop

uptown47

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Re: Swappable control panel and a few other things
« Reply #9 on: August 03, 2019, 05:46:34 am »
This is brilliant! Really simple and effective! Great idea.

Your control panels look superb as well. Really professional. I like how the CP becomes the feature of the cabinet (as oppose to other cabs where the cabinet is the feature and the CP gets in the way a bit).

Thanks for writing it up. Very informative :-)

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Re: Swappable control panel and a few other things
« Reply #10 on: August 21, 2019, 12:46:24 pm »
A lot of what I see are ideas that have been bouncing around in my head for my next cab.  I'm so happy to see proof of concept, particularly with the multiple CP set-up. (I'm a sucker for individual, simplified panels instead of the one-sized-fits-all approach I had previously used.)   :cheers: