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Categories: 6 Days Of X-Men

X-Men, Part Six: Adapting The Controls

nightcrawlerGround Kontrol’s mission to provide the classic arcade experience on a full-time basis in the present day calls for both preservation and modernization. To meet these sometimes conflicting goals, we try to retain the original look and feel of the equipment as much as possible while using modern parts and materials to ruggedize them for full-time play. Our treatment of X-Men’s joystick controls is a good example of achieving this balance.

X-Men’s joysticks are the classic Wico ball-handle type, each colored differently to match a particular mutant. The ’80s model of this joystick, familiar to players of Robotron:2084, used leaf switches to sense player movement and a rubber grommet to center the joystick.


By 1992, Wico had replaced the leaf switches with more reliable and longer lasting microswitches, but retained the original centering grommet:


These rubber grommets deteriorate with use and age. If we operated them full-time now, they’d quickly disintegrate.

Modern arcade joysticks like Happ’s Super, Competition and Ultimate models use a much simpler and sturdier spring-loaded design to center the joystick; installing them instead should save us a lot of headaches. It would be a shame to ditch the originals, though; the multicolored ball handles are just too cool.

So, a compromise: We’ll combine the original handles and the modern mechanisms to get the best of both worlds.

First, we clean up the original handles. The ball is a solid piece of dyed plastic, which means we can safely scour marks from its surface with no risk of damaging the color. A Magic Eraser followed by some Novus 2 Fine Scratch Remover restore their original shine.

The shafts are very rusty and could use a fresh layer of chrome. Not being set up for that level of metalworking, we opt to sand the rust away with two grits of fine sandpaper. Before and after:


The original handles almost fit the new bases, but their taper point is about 5/16″ too high to compress the centering spring.

Comparing a modern Happ Competition joystick handle (above) to the original Wico "ball" handle.

Comparing a modern Happ Competition joystick handle to the original Wico “ball” handle.

Fortunately, we find some brass tubing of just the right inner and outer diameter to extend the taper point.

Brass tubing, cut to act as a shim.


Shim installed on the handle, changing its taper point to match the new Happ base.

Shim installed on the handle, changing its taper point to match the new Happ base.

Fully assembled. Original appearance + easy maintenance == Success!


On to X-Men: Assembled!

  1. You’re just going to leave us hanging with some pictures of the cardboard boxes the TV’s came in and some closeups of the original joystick? Where’s the money shot? Xmen 6plyr was my all time favorite. There was a brief window of a few months when this was popular at my local arcade and I would go every week.

    I would love to see your finished product, and if you hosted a 6 player XMen party I might make a special trip to Portland. But I call NightCrawler 🙂

  2. You can see pictures of the finished cabinet in our blog post announcing the X-Men game’s debut in the arcade.

    Hope you have a chance to play it in person soon!