Build Your Own Arcade Controls FAQ

This is an unauthorized mirror of Humanoid Software's "Ultimate Guide To Building Your Own Arcade Control Panel For Your PC" -- their original web site has disappeared.  Other than this header and the footer below, this is unmodified from the original.  There are several references to their original web site,, imbedded in the html.  It will spin for a moment or two attempting to find that before it gives up - however, the content of the page is intact despite the missing web site.  Just don't try to follow any of the links that aren't related to the guide...  Should the original authors surface and ask me to take this down, I will.


On-line Instructions


Building an Arcade Control Panel for your PC

by Greg Bendokus and Craig Johnston

Version 1.0

This project will allow you to connect an arcade-style leaf switch, or click switch  joystick to your PC's game port through the use of the guts from a PC game pad. Yes, you read correctly. To be able to complete this project, you must be in possession of the following:

  1. An arcade joystick, preferably the whole console with sticks and buttons, right from an arcade machine. You can also buy authentic arcade joysticks and buttons from companies who supply the arcade industry. They are very cheap. Buttons are usually around $2 each, while joysticks are around $??. Here are the ones used in preparing this document. The joystick is called a Universal joystick, and can adjust from a 4 way to an 8 way joystick.



  3. Some basic knowledge of electronics, i.e. how to follow circuit board traces and the difference between hot and ground.
  1. One (or 2) PC game pads. What kind to use it up to you - the $8 ones from CompUSA work as well as a Gravis. Don't get too fancy because you're going to junk everything except the circuit board inside (hereafter referred to as the circuit card). This is one from CompUSA.



  3. A spool of wire, available from Radio Shack, which will be used to connect the leaf switches to the game pad circuit card. Don't use anything too thick, or you will have problems with your wire overlapping traces on the circuit card, causing all kinds of headaches. You will also need a short piece of this wire with both ends stripped, to use as a test lead.



  5. A soldering iron. A good pencil iron from the Shack will do - just don't use one of those industrial 600 watt guns and you should be fine. Since we'll be soldering directly to the circuit card, don't use solder with a lot of rosin in it.



  7. 3 Pieces of wood. I used 1 piece of 1X12 Knotty Pine, and 2 pieces of 1X4 Knotty Pine. Total cost was $3.33. Nails of course.



  9. A drill, with the bit that can cut round holes. These holes will be for the joystick and buttons. I used a 13 " (31.8 mm) bit. I found it a little too big, but it still worked.


BUILDING THE BOX (skip this if you are using a control panel from a real arcade game)

This section will show you how to build a Stargate/Defender box. Please use your own dimensions if you want to position the buttons on your own.

  1. The piece of 1X12 wood should be 24.4" (62 cm) in length and about 8" (?? cm) in width. I left the width as cut by the lumber company, to give me a place to rest my arms. The 2 pieces of 1X4 would be cut to fit on the bottom for support.



  3. Now use a pencil and measure out the position of the buttons and the joystick.

Joystick - 5.1" (12.9 cm) from the left, and 2.4" (?? Cm) from the top.
Reverse button - 7.3" (18.5 cm) from the left, and 3.8" (9.7 cm) from the top.
1 Player button - 10.7" (27.15 cm) from the left, and 1.9" (4.7 cm) from the top.
2 Player button - 10.7" (27.15 cm) from the right, and 1.9" (4.7 cm) from the top.
Thrust button - 6.1" (15.5 cm) from the right, and 1.9" (4.7 cm) from the top.
Fire button - 4.6" (11.75 cm) from the right, and 1.9" (4.7 cm) from the top.
Smart Bomb button - 7.2" (18.4 cm) from the right, and 3.0" (7.65 cm) from the top.
Invisio button (Stargate) - 8.4" (21.25 cm) from the right, and 4.2" (10.65 cm) from the top.
Hyperspace button - 11.6" (29.45 cm) from the left, and 1.9" (4.7 cm) from the bottom.


The measurements are to the center of the buttons. Now, drill the holes, and nail on the support legs.

It should look like this when you are done.

  1. Now unscrew the joystick. It works similar to a light. You twist, and then pull it apart. You then put the ring on, and screw on the screw ring to lock it in place. Last, you screw the base back on.



    Joystick top                                                 Joystick base

    Joystick ring         Joystick screw ring

  3. Now the buttons. The are easy. Just put the button in its hole, and screw on the ring to lock it in place.



    Button                                 Ring 

  5. Now mount the buttons and joystick in their correct places. It should look like this. Please note that I was missing 2 of the buttons.



  7. Now you are ready to wire everything up.
STEP 1 - Getting Ready
  1. Take your game pad, remove all the screws, and open it up. Throw away everything except the small circuit card, attached to which is the cable that plugs into your PC. It should look like this.



  3. Take out the PC board, and turn it over. If you have a common game pad, you should see 2 groups of 4 round traces on the circuit card. 4 of these are for the fire buttons, the other 4 are for the compass directions. Determine which ones are which. It should look similar to this.



  5. Plug this shell of a game pad into your PC and turn it on.
  1. What you need to do now is to fire up any game program on your PC that has a joystick calibration function in it. The choice is yours, but make sure the program shows you the actual position of the joystick on the screen. MsPacPC is a good example. If you have Windows 95, you can use the joystick setup applet in the control panel, which is my preferred method. Be sure you have the joystick type set to "4 button game pad" if you do this.
  STEP 2 - Finding the correct traces.

Each round trace on the game pad card has 2 circuit traces leading to it, usually one on each side. By connecting a single piece of wire across both of these traces, you "close the circuit" for that switch and the game pad circuitry thinks you've just pressed a direction (or a fire button). What you want to do is take your test wire and manually close these switches and see what direction is registered in your calibration program. The switches on PC game pads are usually arranged this way:

Take a piece of paper and jot down your findings.

Of course, if your arcade joystick setup is using only 2 fire buttons, you don't need to worry about buttons 3 and 4. If you are using 2 joysticks (you will need a joystick "Y" cable, available at the Shack), be aware that your PC is limited to 2 fire buttons each when using 2 sticks.

STEP 3 - Time to do some soldering.

Well, we're ready to solder. Look at one of the leaf switches on your arcade stick. Each one should have 2 solder blades on it, even though some have 3, like Wizard of Wor sticks. If you have purchased arcade buttons and joysticks, then the micro switches will have 3 solder blades. The micro switches should look like this.

If you look at the side of the micro switch, you will see a faint diagram. The diagram shows the position of the switch when not pressed. When you press the switch, the two solder blades used are the one on top, and the one on side, that is closest to the top.

All you do now is simply solder each blade to opposite ends of the traces for that direction on the game card. Let's do the left direction first. Move your joystick left and note what leaf switches close; it won't always be the ones you would think! Now, solder a wire, about 6 inches long, to one of the blades on the back of the leaf switch. Repeat for the other blade. Now take these 2 wires and solder them, one to each side, to the left game pad direction trace on the game pad, which you've determined earlier with your test lead. If you are having trouble soldering to the

Move the joystick left, and with any kind of luck, the screen should say that you're moving the joystick to the left. If this works, congratulate yourself and wire up the rest of the directions and any fire buttons you're using. Repeat the whole process with another game pad card if you have second joystick.

Some of you may note that I didn't mention you could tie all the grounds together on the leaf switches and just run one wire to the low side of all the game pad's switches. I seem to get better results when I DON'T do this, i.e. the stick calibrates easier with my software.

It is also a pain in the ass to find a common ground on a game pad - it's just easier to make each connection a separate one. Feel free to experiment, though. This is a messy picture, showing a completed control panel. The game pad PC board is on the right.

STEP 4 - Finishing up.

That wasn't so bad, huh? Hopefully, when you got your joystick, you also got the wooden enclosure it came in. If you did, you can use a screw and attach the circuit card right to the wood next to the joystick assembly. Most game pad circuit cards have holes in them, which make this easy to do. Just make sure none of your wires interfere with the leaf switch blades. You can then take a piece of plywood, cut it to fit the back of the wooden console, and nail it on, making a box. Use a staple gun to fasten the PC cord(s) to the wood so your handiwork isn't ripped to shreds if the cord is yanked. You should now have a completed box with one (or two) cords coming out of the back, ready to plug into your PC.

Now, plug the thing into your PC and fire it up! I recommend trying Starforce to really give the thing a good workout. If you've wired up 2 sticks, the logical choice to try first would be Robotron (worth building for this game alone). Be sure to calibrate the program(s) for your new stick(s) first! If all goes well, you should be quite impressed with your work. It should also become quite apparent what you've been missing by trying to play these emulators with a game pad. :-)


  1. You may need to adjust the gaps of your leaf switches. If you find it hard to move diagonally, check each individual direction and adjust the switches for the best feel. There is a very fine line when setting leaf switches - either they don't touch at all or they are too sensitive. If you have a leaf switch blade adjustment tool (looks like a knitting needle with a gap on the end), this will be a much easier process. I have no idea where to get one of these tools - arcade machine repairmen usually have them.

  3. It may be hard to accurately calibrate the joystick in some programs. The only real problem I've had is with Mike Cuddy's Gyruss and Time Pilot emulators. The on-screen joystick cursor just goes nuts when I try to calibrate the stick. I resorted to plugging in a normal game pad, calibrating the program with that, and then plugging the arcade stick back in. No problem. Most other programs, like Sparcade and even Doom(!), calibrate quite easily and work like a champ. MAME even calibrates automatically, which is really nice.
  1. You may be tempted to try to use an Atari joystick instead of an arcade stick. Don't bother. The 'bubble' switches on these joystick's circuit cards have such a weak electrical connection that the end result will always seem to be erratic, with one direction usually refusing to work at all. Experimenting with this is where the whole project started, however.



  3. I've tried my setup on several Sound Blaster cards, including one of those $30 clone cards, with no problems at all. I have NOT tried it with a GUS, or anything else for that matter. I can't imagine why one sound card's gameport would behave differently than any other, but in world of computer hardware, anything's possible.
Well, there you have it. If you run into any problems or just want to tell me how you like your new controller, please Email us at: or

You are free to upload this document to whoever or wherever you like, provided you do not modify it in any way.

I will not be held liable for any misuse of the information contained herein. What this basically means is that I am absolved of all blame if you blow up your PC.

I'd like to thank all of the arcade emulator authors for their hard work, allowing me to re-live a prized part of my childhood.

Thanks also to Phil for reading my first draft of this document. Your web page will definitely be missed!

Finally, special thanks must go to my good friend Scott Stilphen, arcade machine guru that he is, who patiently endured my temper tantrums when we first tried to wire up Atari sticks to a Gravis pad. Without him, this project would have never happened.

Greg Bendokus


Craig Johnston



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