Tuesday, June 14, 2005

MAME cabinet: research and parts purchase

With a cabinet design selected, and a couple of months of building up the MAME cabinet savings, it's time for some control panel parts research.

From playing these games using my PC keyboard, I've found it doesn't take much for the keys to overlap or ghost. Some aggressive playing of Outzone, and I usually hear the telltale speaker beep. I don't want to try hacking a modern PS/2 or USB keyboard. While the interfaces themselves support high levels of key simultaneity and rollover, the keypad inside these keyboards is usually a matrix style.

A keyboard encoder is going to be essential. I thought briefly about developing my own, but when I weigh the cost of buying one versus the lengthy (though enjoyable) development cycle of creating my own, it just isn't worth it. I don't want to suffer the delay it will incur, not to mention laying out the board, getting it fabricated, and so on.

After a lot of reading online, and thinking about how many buttons I wanted in total, I've decided the Ultimarc IPAC2 will be more than adequate for my planned two-player control panel. And at $39 USD, it's considerably cheaper than the $120 USD for the Hagstrom KE72, another board I considered, but have discarded. It's overkill for my needs, and too expensive as well.

So I'm going to order an IPAC from Ultimarc, and I thought I might as well get the Optipac from there too, for trackball control.

But where to get the rest of my stuff? Buttons, joysticks and so on.

Lots of folks on alt.games.mame purchase parts through Happ Controls, but I'm not sure I want to do that. The duty to ship from the US to Canada is quite high on this kind of thing, and you usually end up paying GST (7% sales tax) at the Canadian border on stuff from the US. Not to mention the $5 handling fee just to have Canada Customs touch the thing.

I'm already going to order the Optipac from Ultimarc (in the UK), and they sell just about everything I need, so I'll go ahead and order my buttons, joysticks and trackball from there as well.

I read a review of joysticks in general here at Arcade Controls, and various postings on alt.games.mame. I'm leaning towards the Ultimarc J-Stik, as it has a longer throw than their other sticks, and quieter microswitch operation. I read a J-Stik review at Retroblast, and now my mind is made up. It's the ball-top J-Stik for me.

I ordered two J-Stiks, and a pile of buttons. I opted for eight per player, which sounded like overkill, but I want to make sure I get four in a row for Neo-geo games, and also two rows of three for some of the fighting games. I also want some buttons around the trackball. I'm left-handed, but mouse with my right hand, so I want the trackball buttons left of the ball. However, I also want support left hand trackballing, so I'm going to put the same buttons to the right of the trackball as well. I also ordered some Player 1 and Player 2 start buttons (with the little logoed graphic), and four more "general use" buttons, probably for credit buttons to begin with. So the grand total on the order is 26 buttons.

With the order placed, it's waiting time. While I wait for the order to arrive, my next step is drafting the control panel layout in Visio...

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