It’s good to have a project. Keeps the mind sharp. Here’s a project that I thought might be fun, building a custom joystick to use with my Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4. I have since acquired a PS5, so will need to modify it to be compatible with that too — a project for another day.
I will mainly use this for fighting games and arcade shooters, like Street Fighter 6 which is set to come out soon, side scrolling fighting games like Streets of Rage 4, and shmups like Ikaruga, and perhaps ESP Ra.De if I ever get around to buying it.
Interested? Here’s how you can get into your own custom fightstick building project.
These notes are from my personal newbie experience of building my first fightstick ever. I had no idea what I was doing. But I got to the end. Thanks to all the pros in the friendly Fighting Game Community that helped me along the way.
Where to Start Lurking for Information
You’ll want to listen in to people talking about fightsticks for a while to get caught up on the lingo and the common issues and decisions you’ll need to make when building your fightstick. You’ll also want to see images of finished products so you can start to imagine your dream fightstick. You’ll need to learn what a lever is, what PCB options exist, and what a hit box is, to name a few. Here are some recommended places to get yourself up to speed.
When putting together a fightstick you’ll find that there are tons of options. Even at the most basic level you’ll need to make decisions in the following areas…
Joystick or Hit box?
If you’re old like me, you were probably imagining a joystick in the first place. They look like this:
The kids these days also talk about hitboxes, which are fightsticks with buttons for up, down, left, right, rather than having a joystick. Hitboxes look like this:
The choice of whether to go with a fightstick or hit box is essential as it will affect which case you need, how many buttons you need to buy, and wiring requirements, among other things.
The Fightstick Case
Do you want a hefty cavernous case that definitely won’t slide or tip off your lap or the table while you are playing? Or do you want something smaller that you could easily pick up and bring to a friend’s house?
Do you want something made of wood? Metal? Acrylic? Some other type of hard plastic? These are all options.
I ended up going with the ESPADA Fightstick Joystick Model from JxK Designs (case only). Here’s why.
- I wanted to do a customized stick, so didn’t want to buy something that already came with a lever, buttons, and everything else.
- I wanted to use Sanwa Quiet buttons: OBSFE-30. These are snap in type buttons, which work best on a case that has a top panel of between 2 and 3 millimeters thick.
- Note: The ESPADA has a thick front panel, so the snap in buttons didn’t “snap in” but they fit snug and securely. The buttons on the side panels snap in properly.
- I wanted something that came with a clear top so that I could put art between the top panel and that clear glass. This one has space for art on every side, and the bottom!
- I went to the JxK RivalFools Discord server and asked a few questions, and was showered in help. The designer of the ESPADA himself chimed in to answer my completely newbie questions. Blows my mind. Happy to support them.
This video will give you a quick run through of the many fight stick case options available.
The Lever / Joystick
Passing on the hitbox huh? Me too. Keep it old school. Even though I am a newbie, after my research I feel confident saying that the most famous joystick maker thee days is Sanwa 三和. As you lurk you will hear many people talking about Sanwa sticks. They were widely used in Japanese arcade machines and are trusted for their accuracy and durability.
Aside from Sanwa sticks you’ll also see people talking about Korean levers, and levers with an octagonal that has 8 resting positions for the lever, vs the 4 cardinal directions of most sticks.
You can also go for a silent stick, like I did. I went for the Sanwa Quiet Lever: SANWA JLF-TPRG-8BYT-SK. It makes noticeably less sound as the joystick is moved. Some people prefer the clicky-click of joysticks, but being an old dude with family around when I’m gaming at night, the quieter option was attractive to me.
You’ll notice that the lever is missing the ball that goes on top. Yup, those are sold separately! They’re normally not very expensive until you start looking at the super fancy hardwood finished ball tops.
Snap type or screw type buttons?
I decided to go with the SANWA OBSFE-30 Silent 30mm Pushbuttons for the top eight buttons on my stick, and I got six Seimitsu PS-14-G snap in buttons for the side panels. The non-silent buttons are cheaper, and I figured I wouldn’t be mashing on the side panel buttons as much, so why not save some money.
The PC Board
I honestly did not look beyond the Brook Fighting Board series. Once I started researching, these were recommended so frequently that I just decided to start there. The questions you need to ask yourself when you are picking a board are, which consoles you want to be able to play on, and whether you want wireless. Pros will say that wireless isn’t ideal because of input lag. My gaming is not at the level where that matters… so I’m all in for wireless just for the convenience. I chose the Brook Wireless Fighting Board, which supports PS4 and Nintendo Switch out of the gate. Many people go with the Brook Universal Fighting Board, which supports many consoles, including XBOX, PS4, and Nintendo Switch, and more. I’ll probably build a second stick with the Universal Fighting Board, and get the necessary Brook UFB-UP5 adapter to make it compatible with PS5.
If you’re like me, this is probably the last thing you’ll realize that you need to figure out. It seems daunting.
I took what seems to be the easy way out, and purchased the Brook Fighting Board Cable (EFM00007728). It was pretty easy to wire up after searching online for some videos and images.
- Check out this Wiring Guide by some amazing community member on Reddit.
Many fightsticks feature clear panels so that you can display artwork underneath.
You can make your own artwork, or you can commissioning artwork from a professional artist. Print it, cut it, and you’re good to go.
The ESPADA joystick case, which I bought, has one free artwork set at time of writing. You can get it over at FocusAttack.com here for free. If you don’t want to print and cut the art yourself, you can also pay for FocusAttack’s service where they mail you pre-cut artwork.
Some day when I feel like spending extra money for some sweet artwork I’ll probably go get a commission done. You can find artists to commission at @TheArcadeStick on Twitter.
If you’re up for creating your own art, you should be able to find a template layout graphic of your fightstick online.
Those are the basics!
Whelp. That about covers the basics. The case, the lever, the buttons, the wiring, and the artwork. Do some digging and imagine what sort of fightstick you want to build. I am a total newbie at this, and managed to get my first stick working, so If I can do it, you can do it too!
Give it a shot, might be fun!