Control Panel Paper Planning
I've been throwing a few ideas around to myself in regards to the control panel layout. First and foremost, while I knew I was going to have a four player cabinet, I struggled with whether or not the control panel would be two players, with players 3 and 4 using XBOX controllers, or if I'd dedicate actual joystick locations to them.
I'm still not entirely decided on this, but the initial plan you can see shows players 3 and 4 with dedicated setups. I think after the foam prototyping I'll have a better feel for what it would be like when it's in the third dimension. That being said, we're still talking a foam board prototype - which is important to do before you start cutting wood. I'm going to mount hardware in this as best as I can (definitely some hot-glued supports underneath) and try it out a little bit.
That way I at least know the electronics work together and the feel of the panel works.
After that it's prototyping the stand and figuring out the height of the panel. I'm shooting for about 8 degrees of slant on the panel itself when it's all said and done.
So what does this panel have all together? Besides four players worth of joysticks and buttons, we've some coin/start buttons for each player along with a few admin buttons (menu, exit, pause, etc.), two sets of spinners for driving games, Arkanoid, and the like - which is important as the joysticks are digital. That means it's either all on or all off for a direction. The spinners, while digital themselves, allow for analog control as there are 'steps' as the spinner is twisted that are considered analog movement.
Try playing Arkanoid with just a digital joystick. I have, and while stupidly challenging, it's definitely not the way the game was meant to be played. It requires much more finesse than flinging your vessel all the way from one end of the screen to the other.
I could have opted for analog joysticks, but maybe that's for another project (or if I want I upgrade them later, I can).
Beyond that, the trackball. That can be used for games that also require analog movement but need multiple directions, unlike a spinner. Think golf. Think Marble Madness. You'll need a trackball (or a mouse) to play those well in an arcade setup.
From what I gather from the arcade controls forums, this entire picture is what's called a Frankenpanel. I'm not trying to design the panel to play every single game out there, but it is designed to play a lot, and with console emulation and PC gaming in the mix, players one and two get a lot of extra buttons.
A lot of this design is inspired by an Arcade Control's user by the name of zallax. After looking at so many four player builds, I like the inherent flexibility. Of course, when you're talking about flexibility, it's usually got a ball and chain called complexity shacked tight to its ankle.
This is a design point which I see easily changing over the course of Project Pedestal. Is it meant to be an arcade game control panel? Is it meant for console emulation? Will it be used for PC gaming at all? I'd like all three, but there's a lot to be said for simplicity and designing a rig for one setup type alone. At least I know what potentially is coming, and while hopeful it will work out, it's something I'll keep in the back of my mind while this project continues.
My biggest concern at the moment is where the spinner and left/right/middle mouse buttons (for trackball and spinners) should be placed while still allowing a keyboard and mouse to be placed on the edge for a bar-stool PC gaming session. Will that be possible? Should the keyboard and mouse end up in sliding drawer? Will either way be comfortable? I don't know yet, but we'll see when the foam prototype is built. It will give me a lot of insight into how the panel will feel for a variety of games.
With this setup, I also have a general idea of the parts I'll need to order, but for the time being I can at least start on the control panel construction and cut out holes for future mounting. Then I can figure out where I want those spinner and related buttons to end up.
Oh yeah, there's also light guns going into this thing, but there will be holsters to take care of those. Operation Wolf is coming, and I need to be ready.