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How to build Arcade Control Panel/Joystick for a Sega Genesis


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Hi Guys,


I'm looking for a hobby project and I've been thinking about putting a Genesis into an Arcade Cabinet.


My first thought is to wire a micro switch joystick and arcade buttons so that they can plug into a Genesis gamepad port.

I want to have the electronics working before I worry about an actual wood cabinet.

Does anyone have any experience with this?

It looks like I'll need an interface for the joystick/control panel. Something like this:

Joystick Interface

Is this a good product? Are there alternatives that ship from Canada or the US?

What do you guys like to use for buttons and joysticks?

For Genesis do I need a 4-way or 8-way joystick? I'm thinking 8-way is a must.

Here's what I think I want:

Sanwa or Seimitsu brand names.

30mm convex screw-in buttons. *Would be cool if the buttons allowed for an image/graphic to be placed inside.

A joystick something like this:
sanwa-jlw-tm-8 /w Bat Top

I'm new to this so let me know your thoughts.

Thank you!

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Basically there are about an infinite number of possibilities for this project.  For starters, if you want the "controller" to simply plug into the controller port of a Genesis console, then yes something like the Joystick Interface you linked would work...or you could simply remove a PCB from a Genesis control pad, and wire your joystick/button contacts to the necessary points on the board.  This is called "pad-hacking" for internet search help...if you're not familiar with it.  This is what I've done with the few Genesis controllers I've made (take a PCB from a Genesis controller) as I have lots of donors laying around.  




My NBA JAM controller is arcade accurate and was built using iL components...the same as those used in the original Midway NBA JAM arcade cabinets: and with its 8-way joystick, A/B/C and start buttons, its compatible with all Genesis games that don't require a 6-button controller.  




My Gauntlet controller is also arcade accurate and was built using an original Atari arcade leaf-switch joystick and leaf-switch push-buttons.  As it is also an 8-way joystick, with A/B/C/ and start buttons, it is also compatible with all Genesis games that don't require a 6-button controller.  


There are lots of options for joysticks and buttons, and everyone's preference is different.  Personally I prefer Western controls versus their Japanese counterparts, as well as concave push-buttons versus their convex counterparts...but again...my personal opinion.  


You won't know which hardware you like until you use it.  Until you have a reference point where you may have used/tried something in the past and thought, gee I really liked or hated that particular component, you'd be going off of what someone else likes the look or feel of, and commented about it somewhere, that you happened upon and read.  If you can think of, or remember a particular arcade game, or home use joystick that you've used, that you really liked or hated due to it's feel and/or operation we could probably help narrow down the component selection for you.  Then there is always the dreaded concept of price.  I've seen joysticks made for as little as $20-$30, but they're nothing I'd ever want to use, so you'll really need to consider your budget before you get too far into it.  

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Hey doubledown,


Thanks for all these details. I didn't know the term "pad-hacking" so that is very helpful. Thank you.


I didn't want to use an original gamepad if I could avoid it. And the Joystick Interface I found seems like it will be easy to connect and mount. It's just an unknown to me. Hopefully it will work as well as pad-hacking.


Yes, I just want to build something that will plug directly into a Genesis. And that Joystick Interface also looks like it will make that easy too.


The joysticks you've made look incredibly good! Well done! Where did you get that artwork from? How did you get the art printed?


I have a Neo Geo 4-slot at home and it uses the American style concave buttons and they are clicky. It's all I really know and they are just fine.


But I did purchase very different buttons. I've got some Seimitsu 30mm convex buttons in the mail now. I watched some videos of people talking about the different types and even comparing the noise they make. This will give me a chance to try out different buttons. I also ordered a Sanwa JLF-TP-8YT Joystick. I like battops.

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Years ago I made a bunch of controllers where I needed 9-pin controller cables with a DE-9 connector with out the PC locking screws, and used Genesis controllers were the easiest/cheapest way to get them.  So I cut off the cords, and now have a couple boxes full of "cord-less" Genesis pads.


Most of my artwork I draw myself, on a few I've had help from others when some part of it was beyond my capabilities.  All my artwork is printed on an Epson XP-15000 photo printer on premium photo paper, then 2-sided heat laminated w/ glossy lamination media w/ UV protection, then I apply 3M double-sided adhesive sheeting to the back, for application to the controller...all done by me.


With regards to buttons, there are basically 3 types of actuators...leaf-switches (old school, and silent), micro-switches (from mid 80s forward, and clicky), and key-switches (Japanese modern, and usually fairly quiet).  It's all personal preference regarding feel, force required to actuate, dead-band, length of travel and over-travel, and presence or absence of sound when actuated.  If I'm building a controller to mimic an arcade counterpart, I use what was original to the cabinet, if not, then the selection is narrowed down by depth of the enclosure to be used, color I want, illumination if wanted, then I make a selection based of my preference of what is left.  Most people can deal with any type, but die-hards will stick to their guns on this much heated debate, stating that type X is better than type Y.  Old school fixed shooters like Galaga, requiring a lot of button pressing (or Track & Field type games), will only play really well with leaf-switch buttons.  They can be set for "trip-wire" sensitivity, and can require a very minimal force to actuate.  Playing these games with micro-switch push-buttons, especially ones with cheap micro-switches that require a lot of travel to actuate, and a lot of force to actuate, will tire out your fingers rather quickly.  


Similar concepts with joysticks...leaf-switches or micro-switches...centering spring or grommet...bat-top or ball-top...8/4/2-way, dead-band, length of throw, force of throw, over-travel...and on and on and on.  


All of the Seimitsu and Sanwa stuff are considered modern Japanese Candy Cabinet controls...and will all be similar to each other...but not exactly the same.  Most of these sticks can be modified with components available on the market made for this purpose.  Western controls like those from HAPP, iL, WICO can be tailor-made to suit your liking too, but not so much with the purchase of available parts, this would have to be done with home-brew engineering...which I've done for several joysticks to better suit my tastes.


It will all boil down to "staring somewhere", then after playing with it for a while, testing and/or changing out other components to suit your tastes if you feel you need/want to change something.  

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You nailed it. I was over whelmed with options. So I picked some buttons and a joystick and when they arrive I'll see what happens.


I don't even have a control panel yet. I'm thinking about making it out of wood. But first I want to see the electronics work.

These are all things I want to get a bit more familiar with:

"...leaf-switches or micro-switches...centering spring or grommet...bat-top or ball-top...8/4/2-way, dead-band, length of throw, force of throw, over-travel...and on and on and on."


Thanks again for all the details!

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One additional thing to consider (amongst all of the others), is control panel "thickness" when it comes to certain controls.  Most all Japanese controls (joysticks and buttons) are only designed to be installed into a thin sheet metal control panel.  If you mounted a Japanese joystick to the underside of a 1/2" or 3/4 thick wood panel, the exposed shaft length would be incredibly short.  For this, "shaft extensions" are available, but then the buttons could be your real problem.  The snap in buttons have little plastic tabs that wing out underneath a thin metal panel and hold the button from popping up and out, and wouldn't work properly in a thick wood panel.  And the ones with a threaded nut to hold them in place are only going to be long enough for a thin panel too.  One way to accommodate this is to use a router and remove material from the underside of the wood panel, so that, the control area of wood is thin enough for these specific Japanese controls, but then it's also significantly weaker.  Arcade cabinet makers use to use this concept back in the day, but they then usually added a metal plate to replace the strength lost when the wood was removed.  Most "western" controls have longer joystick shafts, and longer button bodies to allow for direct installation into thicker wood panels.  

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I did look at my local hardware stores that sell MDF Panel's and the thinnest they seemed to have was 1/2 inch.

The buttons I bought need 23-24mm depth for 'optimal' bite for the thread. Which I think means 1/2 inch might be wee bit too thick.


I may be able to source a 3/8 inch thick MDF. Would you guess that is strong enough? Maybe I'll have to shave down the area for the buttons and joystick even at 3/8 inch. I could brace it like you suggest.



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Do you have a link to the buttons you bought?


I wouldn't begin to guess about the strength of a wood panel, obviously it would depend on type, thickness, un-supported distances, how much force will be applied to it, and the likes.  Most arcade cabinets that used plywood, were between 1/2" and 3/4" for thickness.  Dropping down to something like 3/8" if available (especially if MDF or particle board, vs. plywood)...I'm not sure how it would be.  I normally either use a pre-built arcade type joystick controller that were made by Hori for the Saturn and/or Playstation consoles, as a donor enclosure (which I then gut, and re-purpose for just the enclosure), or I buy Hammond aluminum sloped-top, or steel flat-top, enclosures for my controllers.  All of them are thin metal control panels, which means I can basically use any control component I want, as long as I have enough mounting depth.  

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