I’ve decided to attempt to start something up each year that will involve me doing a random small side project for fun with the goal of completing it within a couple months. This will happen during the summer months, with the project time frame scheduled to start around Memorial Day weekend and end by Labor Day weekend. What you see above is the result of the first of these “Summer Projects”.
I wanted to try my hand at making a custom arcade stick since I had been interested in doing so for some time now, even though I already own three sticks (now four :p). I wanted to make this my dedicated stick for Shumps on the Xbox 360, since I have collected a bunch of them now. Hence, you can see where the inspiration for the design came from.
I’ll say that the process was split into three phases. The first part was just ordering different parts, namely, the joystick, the buttons, and the stick base. Not to go too much into the subtle details about the differences between arcade parts that you probably don’t care about, but I used the “Madcatz WWE Brawl Stick” as my base since Madcatz sticks are known to be the easiest to mod due to their easily interchangeable parts, and got a Seimitsu brand joystick with matching buttons. Seimitsu parts are tighter and less sensitive than other parts, so they offer more resistance when you move the stick or push the buttons, supposedly improving you accuracy with action/shooter based arcade games.
The second phase was designing the artwork, which involved me learning how to use Photoshop. This was mainly done in between ordering all the parts and waiting for things to arrive. To start, I printed out a blank arcade stick template and drew a rough sketch of what I had envisioned on it while jotting down ideals. Once I was satisfied with initial mockup, I grabbed a fairly high-res generic space background pic from Google. The next several weeks involved the tedious task of playing various retro shooting games via MAME or whatever emulator, and getting good screencaps of the sprites I needed. Then, it was importing the screencaps into Photoshop, ripping/pasting/resizing the sprites onto different layers of the space background, and repositioning them so that they wouldn’t be too obscured by the button/joystick holes. I had no Photoshop skills whatsoever when I started, so now that this whole thing is over, I’d say my skills have improved significantly from terrible, to bad. If you need sprites ripped from old video games, I’m your man.
Once that was done, and all the parts arrived, the final phase of the project was just putting all this shit together and forming a usable arcade stick. I had to peel of the existing artwork of course, and that was a pain in the ass initially, since it left a lot of sticky, hard to remove, residue. A quick trip to K-Mart to get some Goo Gone orange crap made it much easier to remove all of the residue and clear up the front panel. Concurrently, I opened the base up from the back and removed all of the stock parts, which went pretty smoothly aside from disconnecting the buttons since the connectors were annoyingly stubborn to come off. I also had to take my finished, templated artwork to Kinko’s and have them print out a high quality sheet with laminate on the back, like a giant sticker. When that was done, I had to cut out the artwork and the panel holes with an Excato Knife, using the front panel as a guide; something that was a lot harder than I thought it would be. Maybe I just suck at cutting, but it was very difficult to cut out straight, smooth edges and to chip away at small points of paper edging without cutting too deep or damaging the laminate. Anyway, I then had to slowly and carefully stick the artwork to the front panel and then put in the new joystick/buttons. Some extra work was needed for the buttons since I had to trim the button cutouts I had from the artwork and fit them inside the caps of the button to create the transparency thing you can see in the pics. After everything was in place and connected, the last thing to do was to just screw it back up.
All and all, I hardly did a perfect job of cutting the artwork and whatnot, and there are a bunch of little imperfections that were really bothering me at first, but I’ve decided to lighten up and bask in the overall accomplishment. Now I have to figure out what I’m going to do next summer. Cool project ideals anyone?