How a modular control panel works.
Tron/Discs of Tron layout. Pinball buttons are also visible in this picture.
Two player with "Pac-Man" style 4 way stick in the middle
A modular panel is something different - individual small joysticks, trackballs, and button sets are mounted on small panels. These panels can be mounted in any order on rails to create any desired control panel. In my case, various joysticks and a spinner are mounted on 4" panels, a six button panel is 6" and the full size arcade trackball occupies a 8" panel. Spacers fill in the blanks. I've also cut out a 12" steering wheel panel and about a dozen joystick and button panels for later expansion.
All of the panels on the cabinet are swappable with no tools in (literally) a few seconds. Reconfiguring the entire panel to a completely different layout takes just over a minute!
The net result is a very versatile arcade cabinet! With a little keyboard mapping you can create a panel that closely matches just about any arcade game!
It took about two weeks to gather all of the parts (cables, connectors, etc) to convert to the modular panel. It took just over a week to do the actual conversion (cutting panels, wiring, etc). The machine itself was out of service for two days on the weekend while new rails were installed and the IPAC was rewired.
Two player fighter with spinner in middle
The original panel for the cabinet had two joysticks with 7 buttons each and a Oscar spinner in the middle. It also had a wireless trackball that was good for many games, but tended to backspin if spun very hard. It was great for about 85% of the games, but left some room for improvement.
I wanted to add a full size arcade trackball, 4 way joystick for older "pac-man" style games and also a top fire joystick for tank games and games like Tron. Unfortunately since the original cabinet was only 24" wide and <10" deep the choice was between either widening the panel or building a new cabinet. I decided against a "swappable" panel where you swap the whole control panel out at once - partially because I really did not want to build a whole bunch of panels for different games.
I was about to build a wide "frankenpanel" when I found a thread on arcadecontrols.com that described a concept for a modular control panel. At first I discarded the idea thinking it would be too hard to implement, but over a period of a week or two the idea started to stick in my head.
The modular panel has many advantages:
Chief among the advantages were: cost (no duplicate controls), expandability (you could always add more game specific controls later) and the ability to maintain the classic lines of the cabinet. I really like the classic look of a narrow "80's style" arcade cabinet.
Needless to say the longer I thought about this, the more I had to have one...the next challenge was to figure out how to actually do it!
Joystick panels lifted to show how panels insert and lock under bezel
Partially populated panel - mix and match