Joystick Hack

By: -=LRK=-  
Web Site:
Date: Pre-2005

Introduction: This is a whole lot easier than it may seem to be. This will show how to turn one Joypad into one official arcade style joystick. This can be used for PC, XBox, Playstation, whatever your little heart desires.

Essentially, I will be showing you how to make your own X-Arcade joystick. The thing is, if you are starting from scratch (as you most likely are) I would actually recommend just buying one. Between the cost and the hassle, your just better off getting a nice professional product for under $100. Why would you want to make your own then? Just for the hell of it, really. It is good experience before you move onto bigger and better things. Also, the real money savings would be if you built a 2 player version. They charge $130.00 and you can build a dual controller for about $80.00

WARNING: After posting this article, and seeing various people using it like a bible, I want to point out something very important about making a Dual-Machine controller. If you want an Xbox/PC stick, you need to use a "one way in, one way out" method. You cannot expect to split the buttons out to an xbox joystick hack AND a PC hack (or controller board). What ends up happening is, the current gets lost along the way. The best way to describe this is if you run out 2 separate lines (xbox and pc) then plug into the PC, your game will spin in circles because it has a broken connection by not being plugged into an xbox. Either this, or other strange things would happen (like keyboard no longer work, etc). Your best bet would be to hack an Xbox pad as described, then buy a PC adapter and switch that out depending on which machine you are using. Again though, for $120.00, you could just have a working PC/XBox X-Arcade just shipped to your door.

Step One: Buy Lots of Parts

For a one player joystick, you will need the following list of parts. Of course, a little more or less will depend on that you actually want to do. If you want to build a 2 player, you should of course buy twice as much.

(1) Wico Leaf Style Joystick @ $13.00 or Happs Ultimate Stick @ $10.00
This is personal preference. The Wico joystick is the old style with the Red ball on the end. Most people prefer this kind, I know I sure do. The Happs Ultimate Stick is the teardrop oval kind.

(10) Standard HAPP Arcade Pushbutton @ $1.75 = $17.50
These are installed on pretty much every arcade machine ever made. The amount you need will depend on how many buttons you want. I believe both the Playstation 2 and the XBox would both have 10. For a PC mod, you could possibly use less. Not only do they come in an assortment of colors, but you can get transparent and illuminated ones as well. The buttons come in different lengths because some are made for metal cabinets, and others made for wooden cabinets. You want the 1 5/8" because the wood will most likely be 1/2" thick.

(1) Roll of 22 gauge Wire @ $5.00
If you are just starting out, get a 3 pack of Red, Black and Green for the $5.00. If you are more serious about electronics, invest in a big roll of red and black.

(1) JoyPad @ $15.00
This price will shift depending on weather you are talking PS, Xbox or PC. Will you buy a 1st party or 3rd party brand? New or Used? The list can be endless. It can also backfire. A good example would be a Microsoft XBox controller or an Interact XBox controller. On the outside they look and act the same. On the inside however, it is a whole different ballgame. On the left is an official Microsoft pad. Not much to it huh? On the right is an Interact. It has all kinds of solder points you can easily latch onto. Just follow the trace (shown later) and you won't have much trouble. The Microsoft one, however, would require delicate soldering skills and/or drilling right through the board, and I know you don't want to do that! Like it said, it can be hit or miss. You may want to search Google on this topic. Maybe someone else can recommend a good brand to try. The only solid I can tell you is for Xbox, buy a used Interact Pad from Electronic Boutique for $15.00.

(2) Wood @ $2.50
This price will vary depending on what you buy and where. I picked up 2 black shelving strips for about $2.50 each. This way it would have a nice finish on the top that I won't accidentally scratch if I were to just paint it.

Total = $50.00
Your price will inevitably fall in this price range, possibly more if you include shipping from multiple sources. If you were to build a 2 player controller, expect to pay around $80.00 to $100.00 in parts. Sure seems pricey huh? That's why I said you might as well buy an X-Arcade. As for me, I enjoy the do-it-yourself way of doing things. Of course, $50.00 vs. $100.00 was incentive enough for me.

Step Two: Plan it out and Build It

On paper, figure out how you want your console panel to layout, get the measurements, and make a trip to the hardware store. Once you have the wood of your choice, convert your pencil sketch into the final size on the wood. In my case, I had all the buttons, so I just moved them all around until I found something I was happy with. Then I had to figure out the height, width, depth and angle of the whole thing. Measure twice, cut once. In my case, it was measure twice, cut wrong, get more wood, cut again.

Step Three: Wiring

OK, the anatomy of a button is simple. The negative goes on top, and the positive goes on the one right below that. The last one is not used at all.

What you can do, is jump all the negative lines together. That means, if you have 10 buttons, connect all 10 to the same negative line as shown in the example below. You may connect all your buttons and joystick off the same main line that runs out to the joypad we are hacking.

If you are making a 2 player unit, make sure you run each set of wires separately for each player. Do not jump all 20 buttons into the same 1 pad, because surprisingly, it won't work.

Each positive wire, however, will need to be run separately to each point on the board. If you have 10 buttons, and 4 more for the stick (up, down, left and right) it will get mighty cramped on the joypad board.


Ok, so at this point I have explained that all the negative wires can be connected together and have only one line running out to the joypad. I also told you that each positive wire needs to be run individually to the joypad. Now comes the mildly tricky part... where to connect on the joypad's board.

Each board is different. Even ones by the same company. So if you buy an Interact, you may or may not get one identical to the one shown. I bought 2 joypads, and they were similar, but definitely different, but more on that later.

Below left, is a picture of the board I am going to use. On the right, I show the same board ghosted, with colored traces on the board illustrating the distance from the button point, to the contact point we will be using. Let me explain how to read a board in very simple terms.

On the right side of the board, you can see some black "pads". Each of these is a contact point for the actual button when it is put back together, in this case there are A,B,X,Y, White and Black labeled areas showing where the 6 buttons will be. On each of these areas, there are 2 points of interest touching them... a positive and negative. The negative is identified as being the big light green areas that touch all the buttons. The positive "traces" are the thin light green lines that leave the button area, and eventually reach a solder point on the board. The "special" points of interest are the direction controls and the start and back buttons. While they look different, they act in the same way.

So, at this point I am assuming that you have one negative wire coming from the controls, and a bunch of positive wires as well that all need to be connected to the board. Starting with the negative wire (you don't have to) find a solder point that is anywhere in the big green areas. While it shouldn't matter which one you use, you might have to pick a secondary location at the end if some of the buttons don't work right (my first choice happened to be bad, so I just moved across the board and didn't have a problem after that).

With the positive wires, your best bet is to look over the board, think about how you will be soldering them, and start soldering in a way that you won't be tripping over wires you have already soldered on.

If you are lucky, you can find a suitable solder point for them all. This board used was simple, everything lined up beautifully. The other board I hacked, however, was less than perfect. One of the buttons, "Y", traced out to nowhere. I ended up running right into the big black thing at the center of the board. I had tried each of the solder points on the board trying to find a match, but I never did. Maybe I missed it, who knows. Point is, this lead me to drastic action. What I had to do was literally drill a hole right through the button's positive point with the smallest drill bit I had and solder into that. I know, I know... I hope you don't have to do that either. On the plus side, it worked without a problem

Step Four: Finishing Up

Anyway, you take the time to connect all the wires to the board, and you will get something that looks like this:

The only thing left to do is mount it into your new box, and test it out. You will most likely have some small problems like one button not working or something. Just check all your contacts for that button. If you have more than one go out on you, it may be the negative solder point you chose on the board not being a very good choice. Try another one. If the whole damn thing isn't working, it could be something not right back on the buttons with the negative wire. Remember, since they are all connected, it's like Xmas lights... one goes out, they all go out.

Conclusion: While it doesn't look like the prettiest Joystick in the world, it works wonderfully for minimal cost. What I have already begun to do is remake the wooden case. It could be a little smaller, and look a lot better if I just round out the corners, add some lights, and stuff like that. I realized a few things that needed changing once I got the whole thing together. I could cut the height down by 2" by raising the base of the joystick above the wooden top. This would solve a second problem of the ball being too close to the base for my taste.

If you happen to need any old school arcade games like Dig Dug, Frogger, Pac-Man, or anything like that, you can pick them up here for dirt cheap..

If you found this article helpful, you can find plenty more back on the main page.