March 7, 2023
The original title of this article was “FOOTSIES 2-player arcade fightstick pack”, but it was arguably a mouthful.
I have rambled enough about how I have always been a big fan of fighting games; they were my favorite video game genre growing up. But, even though I have played a lot of them, I have never really been any good at them. I would mainly blame my lack of time and dedication to a genre that needs lots of both. But one of the most minor justifications I would use is the general state of training modes in fighting games, which has been spotty at best. Imagine that in a world without YouTube and you get the horrifying picture of growing up as a millenial.
While fighting games have, at least in some cases, become increasingly complicated, there are some fundamentals that apply to all of them; the prime example would be “footsies”. In the fighting game world, “footsies” is a term that encompasses a number of different elements inherent to distance management and strategy while in “neutral game”, a situation where neither of the opponents has the upper hand.
You can practice footsies in any fighting game, but somebody actually decided to make a fighting game based entirely on these fundamental elements.
FOOTSIES is a two-direction, one-button fighting game, which aims to teach newcomers the fundamentals of neutral game. While doing that, it gives you tons of instant gratification in a bombastic manner while maintaining an absolutely minimal style. From the moment I tried out the game’s Training and Arcade modes, I found all that incredibly impressive.
I play fighting games with my arcade fightsticks, and even though FOOTSIES doesn’t need six to eight buttons, I used a stick just the same; if this game has actual value as a learning and training tool, then it makes sense playing it with the controller(s) you use with all the other fighting games. So I took my slate gray Hori Hayabusa stick and immediately started having fun – and feeling the frustration of my inexperience.
Whenever I play a video game, I always think about how it would be like playing with my son. He is too young right now, but I have already begun “building infrastructure” for the near future. FOOTSIES’ incredibly simple controls made me imagine it as an actual tool for introducing Pietro to fighting games, and a great way to have tons of fun both with him and with friends. And thus, my “arcade stick building alert” started flashing wildly in my brain. This game needed its own arcade stick; better yet, it needed a two-player arcade fightstick pack.
This was one of the rare occasions that a finished product quickly materialized in my mind, and then I just had to go through the proper steps of making sure that the result was actually possible and sensible.
The concept behind the sticks would, of course, be “minimalism”. I gathered that the elements that were absolutely necessary for the stick were merely one lever and two buttons, one for the attacks and one to pause the game. FOOTSIES also recognizes a second button as a means to go back when you are navigating menus, but you can easily move around without it.
So the components shopping list on SmallCab was:
Having settled on the number of components to use on each of the sticks, the next step was determining their size. A single lever and a two buttons take very little real estate, but, as is true with regular, full arcade sticks, it’s important to have adequate resting space for your hands. So, I printed a SEGA Astro City Player 2 button layout, and cut out the part of the paper sheet that contained the hole for the lever and the two holes for the buttons closest to the lever. I placed that paper cutout in the middle of my Wacom Intuos, and gauged how my hands would rest on a surface about that size. The width of 27 cm (about 10 and a half inches) looked perfectly ok, but the 17 and a half cm (almost 7 inches) length of the tablet’s active area seemed a little too much. I thought I would make the width an even 28 cm (11 inches and change) and, inspired by the game’s pixel graphics, I would make the length the exact half of the width, 14 cm (little more than 5 and a half inches).
Using the SEGA Astro City Player 2 button layout, I was undecided for a moment between going for the top or the bottom of the two buttons that are closest to the lever. I was wondering if people playing FOOTSIES use their thumb or their index finger to press that single button; in the end, I went with the bottom button, the one recognized as the Playstation X / Xbox A button.
I had enough pieces of fir available already, so I got to work. After doing the initial cuts, I quickly realized that the chassis was ridiculously small. In fact, for the first time ever, I would have to insert the joystick’s baseplate horizontally instead of its usual vertical positioning; it couldn’t possibly fit otherwise… As soon as the boxes were ready, I went ahead with the finish that I had in mind right from the beginning; the first step was staining them all black.
The next step was… stencils! When the end result materialized in my head, I immediately thought of splitting the word FOOTSIES between the two controllers. Before even building the two boxes, I made some experiments on Adobe Illustrator, by putting the button layouts on top of the two halves of the word and seeing how the overlap looked like. That’s when I knew that I would use a black joystick balltop for “FOOT”, as the lever hole was mostly over the “O”‘s hole, and the white joystick balltop for “SIES”, as the lever hole was right over the “I”. I would use the contrary for the two attack buttons, but to spice it up I swapped the buttons rings and plungers. So, “FOOT” would get the white plunger with the black ring, and “SIES” would get the black plunger with the white ring.
I applied my self-adhesive paper stencils on the top of the two boxes and used the sponge technique to apply white acrylic paint. After that, I applied a few coats of clear varnish to make sure the text wouldn’t be influenced by the players’ hands resting and rubbing against the stick’s surface.
After the chassis were ready, I did the cabling. This time, I actually had to make my own cables, because of the sticks’ significantly small size. I made a tiny ribbon for the joystick, and then a couple of single cables and a daisy chain ground cable for the two buttons. I then connected the interface to a Neutrik USB gender changer, added a transparent polycarbonate bottom panel and the sticks were done. After testing them both on a couple of (rather bad) arcade runs and, a few days later, I managed to set up a photography set around my desk; these two creations deserved some “vanity shots”!
I am extremely happy with how these two came out!
And now I cannot wait to use them with my son in an endless series of VS matches…