Ultimarc Mag-Stik Plus Joystick Part One
Review by James McGovern
The Ultimarc Mag-Stik Plus Joystick
The Ultimarc joysticks arrived wrapped in brown packing paper and the ball-top upgrades were additionally encased in lengthy Ziploc plastic bags. All items were perfectly intact despite the long hop over the pond.
The first thing I noticed pulling these things out of the box is the feel of quality. They are reasonably hefty and appear to be very solid and well-made.
I also noticed that the threads of the ball-top sticks were covered with clear plastic protectors. I pay attention to these seemingly minor additions in packing routines as they say a bit about the vendor's attention to detail and care for the product shipping to the customer.
The shafts for both types of sticks, the oval-top and the ball-top, are metal, the oval-tops came with a plastic collar which adds thickness to the shaft and I believe acts as a spacer to the joystick base.
Converting to Ball-tops
The next thing I wanted to do is install one of the ball-tops. I ordered the ball-tops as these are destined for a cabinet that was built with the classics in mind. I currently have Wico 8-way leaf-switch joysticks keeping with the classic arcade style of the test cabinet.
The major drawback to the sought-after Wicos, is the fact that they are 8-way which makes it very difficult to play games which require a 4-way capable joystick. It is the switching feature of the sticks that really piqued my interest and the ball-tops were absolutely needed to keep the look of the game consistent.
In order to replace the oval-top shafts with the more classic arcade- style ball-tops you must first remove the nylon-lined lock-nut at the base of the shaft.
Above you see the two different style shafts side-by-side with the locknut and related assemblies removed. The locknut secures the "U" shaped actuator pictured in the lower right in the above image. This actuator is threaded by the joystick shaft, which threads a spring and a washer of sorts that looks as if it has a bit taken off the sides.
Below you will see a close-up of the locknut and the "U" shaped actuator. Notice the pins on either fork of the actuator, these are part of the switching mechanism. Also look closely at the image below and see if you know where I am about to screw up.
Here Begin the Screw-ups
So where did I screw up? In the image above there is a threaded female to male extension shaft still attached to the locknut. This is included on the oval-top joystick shafts, but is not needed on the ball-tops. I put the entire thing together like this with the ball-tops before I realized that the extra length would no longer allow the unit to actuate the switching function.
Above the "clipped" washer in the second to last image above, leading towards the top of the joystick is another actuator, this one made of plastic. It not only the surface which impacts the micro switches during operation, but it is also crucial in the 4-way to 8-way and back switching function.
Once these items have been removed the joystick shaft slides through the top and the base is ready for the replacement. In the image below you can see the retro-fitted base and you will see the black plastic actuator peeking out from the bottom of the joystick base.
One of the two slots in the black plastic actuator is pictured below. By pulling up and turning the joystick shaft, your goal is to engage the pins of the metal actuator with the slots of the black actuator closer to the top of the shaft. The spring provides the resistance to this action, keeping the stick in place during game play.
That "clipped" washer we talked about can also be see below. This provides a metal barrier between the spring and the plastic actuator above.
Getting to the Heart of the Matter
Next up? How in the heck does this magnet contraption work? We're going to need to take it apart to find out. This is always my favorite part.
I took the bottom of the base off first, thinking the magnet was housed there. It is not and the I found that this portion holds the white plastic switching lever. We are going to need to get a little bit more thorough.
Ha ha. I found it (after taking the entire stick apart). Inside the base, at the top in the image above, you can now see the doughnut shaped magnet. Pictured in the lower right is a white plastic sleeve. This sleeve contains a metal washer which rests on top of the magnet when assembled. These magnet, this sleeve, and the metal washer inside are the meat of the magnetic-return feature.
In the closed position, the sleeve rests atop the magnet below. When the joystick shaft is rocked back and forth in order to contact the micro switches, the magnetic attraction acts like a spring to pull the shaft back to the vertical position.
Tools Earn Their Keep
Satisfied in my knowledge of how these arcade oddities work, it's time to install them in the test cabinet. Here I hit a major snag in my planning. As you can see below my control panel is already populated with 8-way Wico leaf-switch joysticks. The control panel is made of metal and has custom artwork on top so I am pretty well locked in on my layout. It turns out that the mounting plates for the Ultimarc Mag-Stik are not the same size and the holes are not even close to lining up. Yipes.
This is what we call an opportunity for field modifications! To the RetroBlast workshop! (Queue bat-theme)
Shortly I will be releasing a how-to article detailing the process by which I created the custom mounting plates pictured above, but suffice it to say I learned allot. It took a little bit of "adjusting" to get everything to line up, but we are now ready to mount the sticks.
Both sticks are now mounted on the panel (yes that IS blue painter's tape, don't laugh, it's structural). Compare the picture above with the shot below of the control panel before the conversion. The Mag-Stik's take up mush less real estate than the old-school Wicos.
As I installed the sticks I found a fairly important gotcha in the design of the ball-top shafts. This is not a deal breaker but it strikes at the heart of a debate that rages in the video arcade community. One that can be likened to age-old debates such as, "tastes-great or less filling and tomato or tomaato. This of course is whether or not dust-covers go over or under the control panel. I have always preferred to install them under the panel as I generally think it looks cleaner and you do not end up with a ring around the joystick shaft on the control panel from the dust cover slowly wearing on the control panel. On the ball-top shafts, there is a metal protrusion, I believe used to anchor the shafts on top of the joystick base, that prevents you from taking the dust cover off in order to install it under the control panel. You can see the retainer in the image below between the dust cover and the bottom of the joystick shaft. The covers look ok though on the control panel and so far have not caused any issues.
I want to mention a few quick comparison notes between the Wicos and the Mag-Stik. I include these only as a benchmark of sorts, a reference point to draw from. As you can see in the picture below, I have set the Wicos in front of the completed control panel populated with the Mag-Stiks. The ball-tops of the Wico are slightly larger in diameter as are the Wico shafts as compared to the Mag-Stiks. The Mag-Stiks also peek up from the control panel a little higher than the Wicos. While I have pretty large hands and this does not cause a problem for my favorite game, Stargate, the size differences should be considered depending on your application especially if you are replacing your Wicos as I have done.