The evolution of our arcade table control panel

What makes our arcade table control panel so special? Since the beginning of surface tension arcade tables, our designs have significantly evolved. The place which sees most of the action is the control panel, so I’m going to talk about the design and what makes it stand out from the rest.

Hide away arcade control panel mechanism


On our very first commercially available arcade coffee table the control panel started off using a basic pivot system to open up. The main drawback of this control panel design was that when opened out it wasn’t a flat playing surface and rested at an angle of about 40 degrees.

So when we looked to introduced the Double 7, this was one of the things to work on. Through a lot of sweat and tears we introduced the slide-out drawer which when fully extended lifted the control panel up to the horizontal position in front of the player. This solid and reliable mechanism was later rolled out on the Arcane (now Nucleus) and Dual.

Arcade spinner


During the design stages of the Nucleus, the intention was to enable the control panel to be slightly longer than the Double 7. This enabled the inclusion of a spinner control as it’s the only way to have a proper game of Tempest or Arkanoid!

Arcade table control panel button layout

arcade button layout

With the longer drawer on the Nucleus, this also enabled us to fit an extra button for P1 and P2. This meant we could combine the classic Street Fighter and the Neo-Geo layouts. The software is configured as standard so that buttons 4 (top right) and 5 (bottom left) perform the same action. So you have your 4 Neo-Geo buttons along the top, and without compromise your 6 button Street Fighter layout.

As the arcade table is running under Windows, you want quick access to your cursor. The trackball does just that, as well as buttons 6 and 7 functioning as left and right mouse buttons.

4/8 way joysticks

frames of pacman death

First off, if you don’t know why you might want to switch between 4-way and 8-way on your joystick, I’ll explain. The best example to use is Pac-Man, which in the arcade had a 4-way joystick. With the 4-way stick, there’s left, right, up and down. With an 8-way you also have the diagonals where 2 microswitches will be engaged, so that’s 4 more directions hence 8-way.

So, you’re guiding Pac-Man along to the left and you now want to go up. With a 4-way, if you were to roll the stick around to the up position, the left is disengaged before up microswitch is engaged, simple. Pac-Man will then go forth on his way. Now with an 8-way, when you move the joystick round to the forward position, if the left switch hasn’t disengaged, meaning both the left and forward switches are engaged, Pac-Man will continue to the left. Games with 4-way directional movement must have only one direction engaged to act upon it.

We install the Sanwa JLW arcade joystick in our arcade tables which has a restrictor plate on the back that can be rotated to select between 4 and 8 way. This is done simply by lifting the control panel and turning the plate on the back of the joystick.

Reducing the wiring with PCBs

underside of arcade control panel using pcbs

Following on from the selectable joysticks, the last thing you’ll want to see is a mess of wires when you lift the panel. So partly for this reason, we have incorporated our own design circuit boards which hold the buttons and keyboard encoder. The amount of wires is kept to a minimum which also means a reliable and robust control panel as there is less chance of wires/crimps becoming damaged.

Keyboard encoder

minipac mounted to pcb under control panel

As previously mentioned, our control panels on the Nucleus use a device called a keyboard encoder. To the Shuttle PC this looks just like a keyboard. The encoder is pre-configured so that each button and joystick movement has an associated keystroke. The beauty of having such an encoder is that it can be reconfigured for any other emulators or PC games which you may want to install. When another emulator is launched, the GameEx frontend can send a command to re-configure the encoder on the fly.

Screwless control panel


What’s the point of all of this functionality if the panel aesthetics don’t measure up? One other step we have taken is to remove all screw heads from the control panel. This gives the panel a clean look with only the controls to catch your eye. The screen print finishes the panel off with clean shrouds for the buttons and joysticks, plus icons and text for certain button functionality.

What else?


The arcade table itself has discreet branding only visible when you reveal the control panel itself. Screen printed in grey on black, the wording neatly ties in with the button shrouds and button information.

You can find more information on the Nucleus page, but to give more information on the arcade controls themselves, we fit genuine arcade parts. You know, the ones designed to take a proper bashing. As previously mentioned, the joysticks are the Japanese Sanwa JLW. The main buttons are Sanwa OBSF-30. The trackball is the Happ 2¼” in translucent blue which is fitted with an LED to give a cool glow when guiding yourself around Crystal Castles. The spinner is the Ultimarc Spintrak, giving a good feel to your spin whilst playing Omega Race due to the rear-mounted fly weight. Finally we use high quality small coloured buttons along the top of the panel for start, credits, volume and exit.

If you would like to find out more about our arcade table control panel, or anything else regarding our home arcade products, you can drop us an email via our contact page, or reach us via social media.

DanThe evolution of our arcade table control panel