May 9, 2017 buttonqueen

Prototype Jeremiah

I’ve been having this idea for awhile. A thousand button arcade fight stick, 500 buttons a player that would sort of even the playing field for fighting games and bring back that childlike sensation of button mashing against someone way, way better than you.

Finally I started procuring buttons, mostly through Amazon, and decided to start with a 16 button fight stick. DJ Tech Tools already manufactures what they call a 3D Midi Fighter, and at 16 possible buttons it is one of the larger controllers on the market. 16 seemed like a good start. So I went to the local Peddler’s Mall to try and find a box.

As someone who lives in a semi-urban apartment without regular access to a woodshop, it was kind of important to me to not have to actually build the tabletop. At some point I would like to design a tabletop that allows for folding legs and a safe space for the stalk of the buttons, but with my current set up that’s not really doable.

For starters, it made sense to have a box that opened up but was mostly still closed (so that the electronics could go inside) and that was a solid wood so that it would stand up to being perforated by 16 holes.

Gingy, the friend who went with me to the Peddler’s Mall, named the box Jeremiah. It seemed to make sense, this big thick wooden box that someone had made (probably as a toy chest).

With the buttons already purchased, I decided to lay them out on the back of the board so I would have some sort of idea of what they would look like. I gave them a decent amount of space, because I was concerned about the amount of pressure that drilling would cause and this was my first time.  I gave extra leeway around the lip of the box, so that the box would still be able to swing open and shut.

Red, white, and black JAMMA style arcade buttons with their stalks facing upwards, laid out in a pattern on the back of a piece of polished wood.

I used an old architectural ruler and silver sharpie in an attempt to clearly draw out lines and shapes. I would find after I had drilled a few holes that I had given them way way too much space.

I tested the drill bit in much cheaper scrap wood I had laying around because this wooden top is effectively one of a kind.

Once I started drilling I learned 2 very important things.

  1. Drilling into wood with a hand drill is incredibly time consuming.
  2. Harbor Freight makes positively terrible drill bits. Like seriously this drill bit lasted maybe 1 hole and then I went and purchased two more drill bits from Home Depot, both of which are still kicking 115 holes later.

Drilling time was further added to because the drill’s battery lasted approximately 30 minutes of consistent drilling and I didn’t want to drill at night because I live in an apartment and am drilling on what amounts to be a shared back porch. For this project I’m using hole saw bits, which are basically tunnels lined with sharp teeth and affixed to a central bit. I attempted to line these central bits to the marked holes on the board with alright results. It turned out to be much more effective to mark the holes based on the hole saw rather than the central point.

So as you’ve probably gathered from these multiple days of drilling, these holes are way too far apart and frankly the holes are a little too large for the buttons. For future projects, I should downsize the actual size of the hole saw bit because it cuts a touch wider than the actual bit.

Wiring was fairly straight forward. With only 16 buttons, I decided to wire individually for ground rather than daisy chaining for ground because this is the first project I’ve done involving that much ground and I wasn’t honestly sure if it needed to be separate and didn’t want to risk it. Better to be safe and use all of your wire than to be sorry.

It was incredibly messy. I hooked up the wires to the ground and to the buttons in general using a pack of bright blue wire disconnector female ends. These slipped over the metal ends on the back end of the buttons. Sorry for not using incredibly technical terms, I honestly do not know them.

I hooked ground to a breadboard and used an A-PAC to wire the 16 buttons, since we had one of those laying around.

16 buttons (a grid of 4x3 and then 2 on either side of a base bar) stick with their stalks facing upwards. Everything is connected by a collection of colorful wires to the A-Pac (a small chip like electronic structure) and a white perforated breadboard

After this point, I reconnected the board to the box and turned it over for testing. This did involve drilling another hole to allow a USB cable to run from the A-Pac to an exterior computer. As would end up being standard for these projects, it became quickly obvious that the A-Pac was not terribly interested in resting on the upside down surface no matter what adhesive I used.

16 buttons, a grid of 4 x 3 for red and white buttons with 2 black buttons on either end. The box itself is wooden with two black hinges in the middle dividing line.From this project the big takeaways were that I needed to think about wire management earlier than when I did so and I needed to space my buttons far closer together to achieve that wonderful hand feel I was looking for.

If you’d like to follow the project more, you can on Twitter. 

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