A Very Quick Guide To Making A Stickless Arcade Stick
Here’s an intriguing thought from a couple of years ago in the realm of gaming – what control method would a strictly adept PC gamer use as for an eased transition arcade-style gaming? An ideal solution, which was combining the PC gamer’s natural finger position simplified button mapping, has resulted in one of the most interesting forms of gaming devices until this very day – the stickless arcade stick.
Unfortunately the vast majority of gamers are oblivious to this concept, and if they hear this term, would likely have a confused look in their faces – wouldn’t having an actual stick on an arcade stick defeat its purpose and calling it such as well? Isn’t something like this considered as “reinventing the wheel” for what the keyboard has done?
On the contrary, there are plenty of merits to using a stickless arcade stick, that not only has it become the flagship product of Hitbox Arcade, but has spawned a decent following of people who have made their own versions. It is by far the most customizable control method out there.
The Key Behind the Stickless Arcade Stick
Instead of the conventional buttons and joystick, this control method swaps out the joystick with.. yep, you guessed it, more buttons! Seriously though, four additional buttons can be found on the arcade stick are the directional input and are the equivalent of the position of fingers on the W, S, A and space bar on the left side of the keyboard.
The button designated as “space bar” is situated a bit closer to the first two buttons on the right so that it’s accessible to both thumbs (much like how we use the space bar on the keyboard where the thumb we use to press depends on the circumstance when we press it).
Depending on the game, the “space bar” button serves different purposes – in a column-based arcade game like Tetris or Stacker, this can be used as the “drop” command. In fighting games, however, the convention is to map that button as the “up” command (similar to how space bar connotes a “jump” in FPS games).
Ok, so what else can you do with these directional buttons?
Another nifty feature with the directional buttons on the stickless arcade stick is its unconventional input for “neutral position” – with a joystick, you’d have to wait for the stick to travel back to the middle after pointing it one direction before attempting to point at a direction again.
With the stickless arcade stick, however, pressing both the “left” and “right” directions signify a “true neutral” input (you definitely can’t input left and right at the same time with a joystick).
What’s so significant about that?
In fighting games, any input can be measured in the number of frames per second it takes to go from active to neutral, and optimal inputs within that number of frames can give you advantages like dashing faster than usual or linking commands one after another. With the stickless arcade stick’s “true neutral” input, press-holding right while tapping left gives you an immediate double tap to the right, making your dashes faster.
These unconventional inputs and configurations give the stickless arcade stick the ability to make complicated inputs/commands easier to pull off for any game that requires this kind of immediate input and feedback.
So What Do We Need to Make One?
Okay, so let’s say you’ve read everything mentioned above, and did further research on how cool it would be to have a stickless arecade stick of your own. And instead of purchasing one, you decide to go ahead and put one together by yourself, what are the things you would need?
Well, hopefully this list will help:
A Controller’s Printed Circuit Board (PCB) and wires!
The core of building any kind of input method is the PCB, where each wired connection to your buttons corresponds to a “signal” (the kind of input going from the controller) and “ground” (the power that sends the input from the controller).
When choosing a PCB, you can opt to either get a ready-made one, which usually provides a solderless method (screws will hold down the ends of your wires), or gut an existing controller and solder your wires down from there.
When it comes to PCB’s, one of the best products out on the market is the PS360+ from Akishop Customs. It’s a multi-console PCB (Xbox 360/PS3, some legacy consoles) that requires little to no soldering into your arcade stick. It will also work on the PS4, but will require you to reset your stick after 8 minutes to renew the driver’s connection to the console. Definitely a great choice at the heart of your arcade stick.
You definitely cannot have a stickless arcade stick without buttons! There are a couple of brands that you could choose from, but it’s very important to choose buttons that has optimal response and feedback, as well as a reasonable travel time when pressed.
Sanwa has always been the leading choice over the years, and with good reason – Sanwa OBSF’s have been in use with a large majority of arcade cabinets in Japan over the years, and they run at high capacity, too. Known for its durability, multiple color variants, easy installation and compatibility with all kinds of arcade stick brands, you can never go wrong with Sanwa parts.
A standard pack would include 8 buttons, and it’s best to have 16 buttons when you do this build to include the 4 directions and 3 option buttons (start, select, guide). Also, it’s best to use the size 30mm ones all throughout to make it easier to press for players with varying finger sizes.
Now some PCB’s allow you to solder the ground wires of your USB cable onto it, and in most cases this is the ideal scenario for a secure and consistent connection. These PCB’s also have provision for Type A-to-Type B USB connectors. The latter is the more convenient choice, not to mention a lesser hassle to setup (it’s plug and play, can’t go wrong with that!).
Brand or specification is not a big deal when it comes to a USB cable, just make sure that it has a good length and nice insulation cover around the inner wires. This 10-footer from Cable Matters should get the job done, and for added value, is USB 3.0, so you’re guaranteed high-speed data transfer from stick to console (and in other applications, too).
Now that you’ve got all your parts, you need to put them somewhere – a box. This is where your ingenuity and creativity come into play.
You’ll need to make sure the container you use will have enough space for mounting the PCB inside and running all the cords around. It should also be simple to bore holes into for the buttons and wherever the cable exits.
Most of all (and this part is really up to you), this piece shouldn’t be too expensive – I’ve seen arcade stick builds in the past where they used a cardboard shoe box, and it worked out fine!
Some parting words
Now before you start putting things together, here are a couple of tips that may help make building your stickless arcade stick easier:
- Make sure you have enough wires for this project. Each button has a signal and ground wires that will send the input to the console, so you have to see to it that all 16 wires go to the right place.
- Test your button layout first before drilling holes. You want to make sure that you mark your holes in a way that your buttons are all easily accessible – emphasis here is that the “up” button is close enough that either thumb can reach it.
- Read as many guides as possible! If this is your first time building any kind of arcade stick, there are many resources that will help you get the job done. I’ve found that Slagcoin is one of the quintessential sources for creating arcade sticks – from wiring, to button guides and everything that may be in between, this is a good starting point.
- Have fun building and playing with it! I’ve found this kind of arcade stick the most interesting to play with because despite the learning curve, it’s far more intuitive than we think. Heck, most players have typed on a keyboard, I don’t see why this setup would not be comfortable at all. So yeah, have fun with it!
Liking what you read here? Want more info about this kind of arcade stick? If so, leave a comment and I’ll get back to you soon!