After playing with the previous design some more in LibreDraw, it was time to start cutting out some foam board and build the control panel itself. Not only does it let me get a feel for how the control panel will eventually look, it allows me to hook up the basic electronic connections to make sure everything is in working order.

Effectively, the physical building of the pedestal control panel is on hold for now while the control panel mock-up is being tested. I'll be looking at a few specific titles to try out on the PC, specifically chosen to take advantage of the different controls I've put into the control panel. I'm already typing this article on the control panel itself, so I know the space for the keyboard and mouse in the front of the panel was adequate.

A glimpse of the end goal

Once the control panel is closer to being finished I'll have a full parts layout, but from the picture you can see what I'm going for:

  • RBG LED Lights - The intent here is to label only the admin/coin/start buttons with my vinyl label maker. The arcade buttons themselves might be labeled with B,A,X,Y,C,D, etc. at a later point, but I'm going to experiment with the LEDBlinky software to light and color buttons based on the game or type of game so it's not just 8 buttons staring back at you for player one and player two.

  • 4 Player capable - I know going into this I won't get much use out of anything but players one and two very often. I still wanted to create a cabinet that supported it though because damn it, it's my project, I'll do it the way I want to. :)

On a side note - I have a joystick orientation issue in the foam prototype I'll have to correct in the final plans - It's my understanding that while the buttons can be angled, the player 3 and 4 joysticks should have the same orientation as player 1 and 2. 'UP' should be directly towards the back of the panel and not angled as they are in my prototype.

  • Spinners - I put the spinners on the same horizontal axis as the joysticks. I don't know how this will work out yet but we'll see as I start testing some actual games. I've seen many control panel layouts with the spinners above the main buttons, but I needed room for admin buttons and coin/start buttons, as the top center of the control panel space is reserved for...

  • Secondary monitor embedded inside the control panel. Throughout my numerous searches, I saw a design that included a small LCD panel inside the control panel itself. I knew I wanted a second display for marquee, game info, pause, artwork browsing, etc. and with this 10.1" IPS Display, I'm looking forward to seeing how well that works. Obviously in the final build it will be 'embedded' in the panel. Since it's an IPS display the viewing angle is wide open as it will be pretty 'flat' once it's all said and done.

  • Trackball - Working as a mouse on the PC itself when not in a game, I wanted to make sure there wasn't anything below, above, and at the diagonal lines of the trackball. I can't have admin buttons getting in the way of my golf swing, eh?

  • Internal circuits - Right now there are two keyboard encoders, two LED driver boards, and a servo board underneath the foam board control panel that I'll be programming and configuring for each of the emulators and front ends as I slowly build this monster up. I'll cover specifics of these pieces in future dedicated articles.

  • Primary Display - The display you see in the picture is not the final display that will be hooked up into the finished cabinet. For now, it works great as a testing display while I configure the system, but the final setup will probably be on a upright TV cart that can stand up against the wall, with the pedestal standing in front of it. I've got my eye on a display that will allow me to mount a large LCD TV on it, but also allow 90 degree rotation for those games that run best in a upright fashion (think 1942).

What's not in here?

  • Pinball buttons. I may add some pinball buttons to the side of the front of the panel. I'm not sure yet. It's 40" wide at this point, it just might not be comfortable, plus I'm half tempted on building a dedicated LCD pinball cabinet in the future.

A quick dump of a majority of the parts used in this build:
Parts used in control panel mockup

The great thing about mocking up a control panel with some sturdy poster board ahead of time is I can test all these things out before cutting any plywood. It's effectively a multi-threaded project, as I work on the external casing design of the pedestal base itself, I can still work on configuring the software and hardware on this working prototype.

X-acto-mundo, Dude.

Make sure you have some sharpened blades, a hot glue gun, a cutting surface, pencils, and a ruler or straight edge at the ready. A cutting mat of sorts wouldn't hurt, or you'll be replacing carpet or counter top sooner than you'd prefer.

I've got all the stenciling done on a sample board I cut out, that measures about 48 inches long at the back, 40 on the front, and 20 inches from back to front. I know, it's a Franken-panel, and it's officially in 'Go-Big-Or-Go-Home' status.

Stencils drawn out

If you're feeling arthritic, enslave a youngster to cut out all the little holes here. It's a lot of cutting and you can give them all the confetti afterwards.

Hand Cramping Confetti

After that I cut out 4.5" foam pieces as the panel sides, giving it some structure and room to mount the electronics. I figure if I use 3/4" plywood, that gives me about 3.75" of clearance for anything inside the control panel itself. There's no 'angle' in the control panel build here either, I'll have the base of the pedestal handle the angle work, so the control panel will be a much easier build on its own.

Control Panel Built Up

You can see when it's upside down, I put some small angle braces to strengthen it somewhat... It is foam board after all and I am planning on mounting all the hardware in it for testing.

Upside down view

I'll have to make sure when I end up building the real thing I take in any routing needs that I don't encounter with this thin build - things like how the joysticks and trackball will mount into the wood underneath - for now they're just bolted right into the foam.

As for wiring... I promised myself the final result will be much cleaner than what's currently under the foam board... Because with LED wiring and switch wiring combined, it gets messy FAST.

Underneath wiring

I've got my notebook at the ready as I already started marking the pin outs on the LED and Keyboard encoder boards, since I'll have to use the software utilities to program what keys the button presses submit to the PC, and which specific buttons should light up and which color they should be depending on the game being played.

Hopefully this really shows why prototyping an arcade with cardboard or foam board is so important, let alone just the control panel. I still have to figure out angle and height on the board if it were truly mounted on the pedestal base, but now I can at least start messing with a few games to see how comfortable I am with the look and feel of the control layout.