How to Build a Simple Arcade Style Controller

There is nothing quite like playing an arcade game on your PC with an actual arcade stick – a simple keyboard just doesn’t cut it always. In this post, we put together a simple guide for building your own basic arcade stick.

Choose a Button Layout, Purchase Your Parts, and Begin Assembly has a pretty great collection of sample layouts that you can use, or you can modify one of them to create a unique layout that’s all your own. Below is the design I like to use.

After you have figured out how many buttons and joysticks you need, you can start to purchase each individual piece. I recommend buying joysticks and pushbuttons from Ultimarc – they have a great return policy and an amazing selection of parts.
To assemble your arcade stick, you can use literally anything. I actually used a shoebox when I built mine! This is the easiest option because it doesn’t require any power tools.

Other people may prefer a sturdier box. There are some nice wooden boxes available on Amazon that are perfect for making an arcade stick.

How to Wire Your Control Stick
The easiest way to build your own arcade controller is to purchase a dedicated encoder. This is the easiest way and the safest option. This is the one I would recommend to everyone not too familiar with modding electronics and soldering. These can often be connected to spinners and trackballs too. The I-PAC is the most popular one on the market.
Here is a sample of an encoder, the I-PAC from Ultimarc:

You can connect the wires two ways: Solder them to the push buttons or using crimps like on the picture to the right. Just use what you are comfortable with. Using crimps makes it very easy to change defective parts in the future, and it is much easier than using a soldering iron.
Connect each joystick switch and button to the corresponding terminal: The encoder has a lot of terminals for connecting your wires. There are four terminals for a joystick – one for each direction, up, down, left and right. The rest of the terminals are for the push buttons or other players (some encoders can handle up to 8 players). Sometimes there is separate buttons for Start and Coin, but it doesn’t really matter how you hook them up because you can configure what each button does in the emulators.

Connect each button to the ground wire. There is also a terminal called GND or ground. The GND/ground is very important and must be connected to every push button and joystick switch. You can connect them all by making a “daisy-chain,”  which is a wire going from one push button to the next like a chain.

Remember: When connecting a micro switch to an encoder, always use the ground/GND and the normal open (NO). The two terminals are marked with green on the illustration above.
The normal closed (NC) is only used when you need the micro switch to brake a connection rather than make a connection.

That’s it – it may look confusing, but it really is very simple. The I-PAC doesn’t require any drivers, so all you need to do is map the buttons in your favorite emulator when you hook it up to your PC. Have fun and remember to take some breaks from all that hardcore gaming!