A Beginner’s Guide to Building your First a Custom Joystick

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.

Image: My joystick! (Not pictured: The additional three buttons on each side of the controller, or the USB port on the back.)

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.

Overwhelming Options

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:

(Image credit: MAYFLASH) Joysticks have a lever and buttons.

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:

(Image Credit: JunkFood Custom Arcades)

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.

Pictured: Sanwa Quiet Lever: SANWA JLF-TPRG-8BYT-SK (Top)
Pictured: Sanwa Quiet Lever: SANWA JLF-TPRG-8BYT-SK (bottom)

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.

Lever sound comparison video. So geek.

Fightstick Buttons

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.

Buttons in a baggie! These are SEIMITSU PS-14-G snap in buttons

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.

Brook Fighting Boards
Some of the famous Brook Fighting Boards

Wiring

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.

Artwork

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!

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Japanese Lesson from Games: To Be Decided on Something 腹が決まってる

Time for another language pick up from a Nintendo Switch game! This time it’s from Gnosia, the single-player social deduction game modeled after the popular social game, Werewolf.

どうやら全員、腹は決まってるみてーだな。だったら話し合う必要もねーか。

Japanese: どうやら全員、腹は決まってるみてーだな。

Hiragana: どうやらぜんいん、はらはきまってるみてーだな。

Romaji: douyara zenninn, hara ha kimatterumitee da na.

The interesting part of this speech part is the second part of the first sentence. 「腹は決まってるみてーだな。」

The meaning is, the person has made up their mind. The literal translation is, “their stomach has decided.” Why stomach? That’s just the way it is! There are many emotion related words in Japanese that involve the word stomach. For example, 腹が立つ (はらがたつ stomach is standing – means to be angry), and 腹黒い (はらぐろい stomach is black – means to have evil intentions).

The later part of the phrase, 「..みてーだな。」is a slangy, informal from of みたいですね。The clause to add to the end of a verb to mean, “looks like.” So the character is saying that it “looks like everyone has already made up their minds.”

Good stuff! I’m enjoying this game. Fun in short bursts. One loop only takes about 10-15 minutes, and it feels pretty casual. I am mainly playing it as a way to get some casual Japanese reading practice, because you really can’t gloss over all of the text in this game and still play it… You at least have to get the jist.

Remember, if you want to play this game in Japanese you have to get it on the Japanese eShop. The US eShop version of Gnosia does NOT have the Japanese text available, so if you want to play this in Japanese you’ll need to get the Japanese version. A lot of games for the Switch are truly region free and will switch languages based on your system settings, but Gnosia, unfortunately, isn’t one of them.

Check my Twitter account @Japannewbie for more occasional Japanese language tidbits from games.

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Japanese Lesson from Games: Every second counts!

Fire Emblem Three Houses is FILLED with advanced Japanese phrases and vocabulary. The game is entirely voiced, and you can replay any dialog you want as long as you don’t leave the dialog sequence. The Nintendo Switch is region free, and many (not all) games, including Fire Emblem, have the full Japanese text and audio available in the U.S. release of the game. No need to import from Japan! This is an amazing resource for gamers who are learning Japanese. Here’s my latest grab!

Fire Emblem - Every Second Counts
toki wa ikkoku wo arasoimasu… tanomimashita yo.

時は一刻を争います…頼みましたよ。

Japanese: 一刻を争います

Hiragana: いっこくをあらそいます

Romaji: ikkoku wo arasoimasu

The key phrase I want to highlight here is 一刻を争います, or 一刻を争うas you’ll see it written if you look it up. The definition given on kotobank.jp is「 わずかな時間も無駄にできない。急を要する。」which roughly translates into, “We cannot even waste the smallest amount of time. We must hurry.”

一刻 means a short moment of time, like an instant, or sometimes it’s translated as a minute.

The verb 争います means to compete or contest, and you’ll probably recognize the kanji from the word 戦争 sensou which means “war.”

I tweeted this as well! Check my Twitter account @Japannewbie for more occasional Japanese language tidbits from games.

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Japanese Lesson from Games: 千載一遇 once in a lifetime!

The Nintendo Switch is region free, and many (not all) games, including the demo for Project Triangle Strategy, have the full Japanese text and audio available in the U.S. release of the game. No need to import from Japan! This is an amazing resource for gamers who are learning Japanese. Here’s my latest grab!

senzai ichiguu no kikai
wakaina. senzai ichiguu no kikai wo nogashita zo.

Japanese: 若いな。千載一遇の機会を逃したな。

Romaji: wakaina. senzaiichigu no kikai wo nogashita na

English: You’re young. You just missed the chance of a lifetime.

千載一遇 (senzai ichiguu) is a four-character phrase that means, “once in a lifetime.” More literally, it means out of one 1,000 one will get it only once. Like most of the language I post on this site, I didn’t know this phrase before playing the game. The word 機会 kikai is simply opportunity, and the verb 逃した is past tense of ‘nogasu’ which means to miss.

Language aside, who is hype for this game? Tactics Ogre: Let us Cling Together was one of the first Japanese-language games I imported and played as a kid. My flying winged dude with the spear was ultra powerful. The game was hard, so slow going, but so interesting. Now that I’m older, turn-based strategy games really hit the sweet spot.

I hope Project Triangle Strategy has some sort of permadeath. Even if it’s not real permadeath like Fire Emblem hard mode, I hope there is something to force the player to be extra careful during a battle. The tension that is created by permadeath makes me think a little longer about each move, and bite my nails a little harder when the AI is moving, which really brings out the “strategy” aspect of a strategy game.

So far it looks like Project Triangle Strategy will have plenty of voice acting, which I love, and combat details like altitude advantages, and the ability to push enemies off ledges and onto adverse terrain. So fun!

Check my Twitter account @Japannewbie for more occasional Japanese language tidbits from games.

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Japanese Lesson from Games: 九死に一生を得る a proverb for a narrow escape!

The Nintendo Switch is region free, and many (not all) games, including Xenoblade Chronicles HD, have the full Japanese text and audio available in the U.S. release of the game. No need to import from Japan! This is an amazing resource for gamers who are learning Japanese. Here’s my latest grab!

kyuushi ni isshou wo eru
Kyuushi ni Isshou wo eta kibun da

Japanese: ありがとう。九死に一生を得た気分だ。

Romaji: arigatou. kyuushi ni isshou wo eta kibun da.

English: Thank you. I feel like I just barely escaped certain death.

九死に一生を得る。This is a proverb that means to somehow survive a situation that was so harrowing, it was as if it only had a 1 in 10 chance of survival. This phrase is used when you find yourself in a dangerous situation that you think there is no way that you could possible escape, but some how end up making it out. The literal way to understand the language is, (out of 10 attempts) there are 9 death and one who comes out alive.

Xenoblade Chronicles doesn’t have the cool audio replay features that Fire Emblem Three Houses has, but it has great cut scenes with quality Japanese audio and text to learn from. The game is also epic. Check it out!

I tweeted this as well! Check my Twitter account @Japannewbie for more occasional Japanese language tidbits from games.

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Japanese Lesson from Games: 人の上に立つ者

The Nintendo Switch is region free, and many (not all) games, including Octopath Traveler, have the full Japanese text and audio available in the U.S. release of the game. No need to import from Japan! This is an amazing resource for gamers who are learning Japanese. Here’s my latest grab!

Octopath Traveler - hito no ue ni tatsu mono
Octopath Traveler – hito no ue ni tatsu mono

Kanji: 人の上に立つ者

Romaji: ひとのうえにたつもの

English: To lead. A leader. Literally, to stand over others.

This phrase is often used in work situation to describe someone who managers others. In this scene H’aanit (my favorite character) is musing that about a leader’s preparedness 覚悟 and determination 決意.

人の上 is “over people.” に is a particle. And 立つ is “to stand.” 者 is the object here, and indicates a person.

I came across this page on 新R25 when I was researching this phrase. The article is titled 「人の上に立つ」なんて性根が腐っていて気持ち悪い。これからのリーダーは“円を描ける人”だ which roughly translates into, “The phrase ‘to stand over others as a leader’ has a rotten character and feels disgusting. Leaders should be “people who can draw a circle” from now on. In his article he claims that people are people, no one is above or below the other. He says that we should do away with a pyramid structure way of thinking, and use a circle as the base instead. He then goes on to say that new leaders should play more of a captain role. There are many instances of the 人の上に立つ者 phrase throughout the article if you want more context for your Japanese learning!

I tweeted this as well! Check my Twitter account @Japannewbie for more occasional Japanese language tidbits from games.

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Japanese Lesson from Games: Wasn’t Even Human

The Nintendo Switch is region free, and many (not all) games, including Octopath Traveler, have the full Japanese text and audio available in the U.S. release of the game. No need to import from Japan! This is an amazing resource for gamers who are learning Japanese. Here’s my latest grab!

Octopath Traveler - ore wa hito de wa nakatta...
ore wa hito de wa nakatta… 俺は人ではなかった…

Japanese: 俺は人ではなかった

Hiragana: おれはひとではなった

English: I wasn’t even human.

Romaji: ore ha hito deha nakatta

A more literal linguistic translation would be “I wasn’t even a person,” because the literal translation of “human” in Japanese is 人間 ningen.

This Japanese phrase has the same intention and feel as when we say, “he’s not even human” in English. The character is remembering his past deeds and saying that they were so heinous, that he wasn’t displaying human decency and so doesn’t even deserve the label of being called a human being.

There are cases where the Japanese language will use the more literal term 人間 in this sense of value as a person. Notably, in the title of the famous book Ningen Shikkaku by Dazai Osamu, which is translated to No Longer Human. (人間失格 Wikipedia) (The full text of Ningen Shikkaku on Aozora Bunko)

By the way, the English localization that appears in the game says “No, I wasn’t even human.” Thanks to underbuffed.com for making this English video available. I’d never play a long game like Octopath Traveler twice to try to capture both the English and Japanese lines, so I’m thankful the folks at underbuffed have documented this so I can compare.

Octopath - I wasn't even human
Octopath – I wasn’t even human [Via Underbuffed.com]

Enjoy!

Links:

Underbuffed.com: Again with Alaic – https://underbuffed.com/octopath-traveler-again-with-alaic/ – Underbuffed.com has a huge repository of Octopath Traveler side quest details. I never would have finished all the side quests without it.

Spoilers, but this includes the scene this language is from.

Check my Twitter account @Japannewbie for more occasional Japanese language tidbits from games.

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Japanese Lesson from Games: てんやわや

The Nintendo Switch is region free, and many (not all) games, including Monster Hunter Rise, have the full Japanese text and audio available in the U.S. release of the game. No need to import from Japan! This is an amazing resource for gamers who are learning Japanese. Here’s my latest grab!

もう周辺はてんやわんや!

Japanese: もう周辺はてんやわんや!

Hiragana: もうしゅうへんはてんやわんや!

Romaji: mou shuuhen wa tenya wanya!

てんやわんや is a very fun, sort of old sounding expression that means that everything is topsy-turvy, chaotic, upside down and hectic. The word 周辺 just means this area, or “around here,” and もう technically means “already.” The friendly dango seller is just saying that “things are so crazy and hectic around here! (Because a Osaizuchi has appeared around the shrine ruins .)

Another note on Monster Hunter Rise, in this version of Monster Hunter you can play with anyone worldwide. The previous Nintendo release of Monster Hunter, MH Generations and MH XX, were separate games so if you bought your game in the US it was only English and you couldn’t play with players in Japan. In Monster Hunter Rise lobby creators have an option to restrict their lobbies to people from the same “language” — which seems to really mean which country’s Nintendo Online subscription the person is on. Oh Japan… linking language with country again as if it is a worldwide phenomenon… But I digress. Enjoy playing international Monster Hunter!

Let’s find some tenyawanya in the wild!

Here is a movie from the 1950s called Tenyawanya.

てんやわんや」from 1950
Shizuko Kasagi – Listen at 0:25 「今日は朝から 私のお家はてんやわんやの 大騒ぎ」

Japanese Lesson from Games: Pearl Before Pig

Time for another language pick up from a Nintendo Switch game! This time it’s from GNOSIA, the single-player social deduction game modeled after the popular social game Werewolf.

豚に真珠ってことにならなきゃいいけどね

Japanese: 豚に真珠ってことにならなきゃいいけどね

Hiragana: ぶたにしんじゅうってことにならなきゃいいけどね

Romaji: buta ni shinjyu tte yatsu ni naranakya ii kedo ne

豚に真珠 (buta ni shinjyu) might be one of the first Japanese proverbs that a student of the Japanese language will learn. However, to see it in the wild is a rare treat so I made sure to grab this screen shot.

The expression is often translated as “pearl before pig,” and means to give a pearl to a pig. The meaning comes from the thought, what would a pig do with something as valuable as a pearl even if you gave it to it? The pearl is such a great thing, but in the pig’s hands it becomes useless — the pig does not understand its value. Kind of like if you gave me the greatest sashimi knife ever created… I don’t know how to prepare sushi, I don’t know anything about the value or quality of knives, so what would I do with it?

The later half of the sentence, ってことにならなきゃいいけどね can be broken down as… ってことis referring to the preceding 豚に真珠 pointing to it as the topic. にならなきゃ is short form of にならなければwhich is “if it doesn’t become that.” And finally, いいけどね “would be good.” So, the character is saying something like, “well it would be great if this doesn’t become a pearl before pig sort of situation…” The previous sentence is talking about how one of the other characters has a special ability of being an engineer in the game… and the character speaking is doubting their ability. That’s too much game mechanics to explain here though.

Good stuff! I really enjoyed this game. If you’re looking for a classically structured JRPG to play on your Switch, I can confidently recommend this one. It’s not a game you’re likely to sit down and play for an hour in one sitting, but it’s great in short bursts!

Remember, if you want to play this game in Japanese you have to get it on the Japanese eShop. The US eShop version of Gnosia does NOT have the Japanese text available, so if you want to play this in Japanese you’ll need to get the Japanese version. A lot of games for the Switch are truly region free and will switch languages based on your system settings, but Gnosia, unfortunately, isn’t one of them.

Check my Twitter account @Japannewbie for more occasional Japanese language tidbits from games.

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Japanese Lesson from Games: One or two habits

The Nintendo Switch is region free, and many (not all) games, including Octopath Traveler, have the full Japanese text and audio available in the U.S. release of the game. No need to import from Japan! This is an amazing resource for gamers who are learning Japanese. Here’s my latest grab!

Octopath Traveler - hitokuse futakuse
hoka mo hito kuse futa kuse aru renchuu da!

Japanese: 一癖二癖ある

Hiragana: ひとくせふたくせある

Romaji: hito kuse futa kuse aru

It seems this is usually 一癖も二癖もある hito kuse mo futa kuse mo aru and means a person with a very unusual and quirky personality, normally used in a negative context.

There’s actually a lot of good Japanese in this screenshot. You’ll see the speaker is labeled as 客引き kyakuhiki which is often translated as a ‘tout’ but is basically someone who works to attract customers to buy their products, usually by calling out to them.

突如 totsujyo means ‘suddenly’, and isn’t a phrase I was familiar with.

連中 renchuu is a somewhat casual way to refer to a person or a group of people. It’s often used in a slightly negative context, but not always.

Good stuff! I really enjoyed this game. If you’re looking for a classically structured JRPG to play on your Switch, I can confidently recommend this one.

Check my Twitter account @Japannewbie for more occasional Japanese language tidbits from games.