Intro: How to Fix a Madcatz Arcade Fightstick SE, and Why You Shouldn't.
Did you get caught up in the recent Street Fighter 4 frenzy? Did you realize that the game's really meant to be played with a high-quality arcade stick? Did you miss out on the chance to buy a Hori stick, or think it's ridiculous to spend $150 to get a high quality peripheral?
If so, you might have gotten a Madcatz Arcade Fightstick SE, like me. You might have read reports online that describe how it's prone to breaking - that a loose washer in the stick destroys the thing from inside. You might also have read Madcatz's official response, which says that it's a rare occurrence, and most sticks are fine.
There are two basic parts to this Instructable. First, I'll tell you I think the guy from Madcatz is a liar, and that it's extraordinarily unlikely that you'll get an Arcade Fightstick SE that actually works properly. Second, I'll tell you how to fix it.
Okay, there's a third part - I'll tell you why you shouldn't do it, even if you're reasonably mechanically inclined.
Oh - and a zero-th part: If you find your stick "sticking" in any position - you're not touching it, but you're constantly registering a direction - your stick is screwed. You will either need to fix it (NOT RECOMMENDED) or return it to Madcatz to get them to do what they should have done from the start. You're out $80 bucks for a week or so. You have a right to be pissed, and you should let them know about it.
Step 1: Disassembly
Get all the tools you'll need. You will need:
1.) One Phillips head screw driver - one that fits REALLY well in the external screws.
2.) One large-ish flathead screwdriver
3.) A razor blade or utility knife, or something sharp
4.) Superglue, or epoxy
5.) Courage - I'll explain this in a bit.
Okay. The first thing to do is take off the back plate. Flip the stick over, and unscrew the six screws on the back - two in the center, and four in the rubber feet in the corners. The rear plate should come off without any problems.
What you'll see on the inside is the image above.
Step 2: Extraction
So, now you can easily see the stick, the buttons, and the various other bits and bobs. The stick's held in place by four screws, which have some red Loctite-like substance on them. You MAY need to cut this away with the razor blade. On mine, I just stuck the screwdriver in, and turning it immediately broke the seal without any problems.
HOWEVER: First, you need to disconnect the ball top from the joystick. For that, you'll need the flathead screwdriver. Stick the screwdriver into the notch on the butt-end of the joystick, grab hold of the top, and twist. Yeah, I'm sure there's some innuendo to be had there, but whatever. The top should come off without too much trouble. Pull off the circular "dustcap" as well - the little disc - and put both aside.
Now, unscrew the four screws holding the stick down.
Next, you're going to have to unplug the stick from the cable its attached to. Sounds easy, but Madcatz has glued it into place. I used a utility knife to cut through the glue, and pry the connection loose. This took a bit of doing, and you don't want to pull too hard on anything, so take your time, and be careful. Just run the blade along the seam at the top, and when it gets deep enough that you have some leverage, pry gently. On the other side of the connector, there's a little bit of a clasp thing - just cut through and pry.
Step 3: Here's Where It Gets Challenging
Okay. You've got the stick loose. Awesome.
Here's a warning: There's a big metal plate on the front of the stick. Don't take this off unless you absolutely have to. There are four screws holding the plate to the plastic body of the stick. When I unscrewed them, using a very well-fitting screwdriver, I sheared one of the screws. I've read online of MANY other people doing this as well. The screws are basically Loctited into the nuts in the body, and while you might be able to get them all out, it's really a crapshoot. Didn't work out for me, and I didn't realize you don't have to take off the plate 'till it was too late.
A note: I have seen a report where someone didn't take off the mounting plate, and while trying to pry off the Restrictor Plate, bent the metal mounting plate. That's one reason you might be tempted to remove the mounting plate. I still wouldn't recommend it. You can not bend the plate if you're careful. I was REALLY careful, and still sheared the screw.
Now, your challenge is this: On the bottom of the stick is the "Restrictor Plate" - a thick piece of transparent plastic that restricts the joystick's movement. You have to take this off.
On a tangent - seeing this was interesting for me. The plastic is really thick, and strong. Made me realize that you can really slam the stick around, and not worry about putting too much stress on the important bits - the switches, the board they're mounted to, etc. Obviously, there's a limit, but it's much more durable-looking than I would have initially imagined.
Back to the task at hand. You have to take the plate off. It's held in place by four snaps. This is really problematic, because there's no really elegant way to get the thing off. You basically have to pry, and hope for the best. The worst part is, the only thing you have to pry against are the microswitches, which are attached to the PCB underneath. If you break the PCB, you're done, so you have to be really careful.
I basically used my thumb to press the black snap-part in as far as I could, then wedged the flathead screwdriver between the switch and the clear plate. I tried to hold the thing in such a way that I wasn't putting any additional stress on the board, but this is a place where you're going to have to be quite gentle yet forceful at the same time. Getting the first snap off was easy. The second and third took some time, and I couldn't for the life of me figure out a way to get the fourth one off.
Seriously. No idea. I've seen pictures of people who have done it, but I couldn't make it happen.
What I did instead was lifted the plate up as far as it would go, and I managed to slide the PCB/switch assembly out from under it.
When you pull the switches/board out, look at the top. The places where the green layer have been cut through is where the washer was flailing around and is eating your stick. Fun!
Still, now that you've got this assembly out, you're well past the most difficult part. Everything from here out's pretty easy - not that you don't have to be careful, though.
Step 4: Glue. You're Going to Need Lots of Glue!
If you got THAT reference, you might have grown up in the SF Bay Area, and watched PBS as a kid...
Anyway - you're actually not going to need that much glue. Most people seem to use superglue, but I searched the house from top to bottom and only had epoxy, so I used epoxy. And a toothpick. I probably should have mentioned that at the start.
If you're going to use epoxy, read this first, THEN mix up the epoxy. Don't mix it now, or it'll be too set to actually use. Hur.
The crux of this whole problem is a small washer. The washer appears to be there so that the little plastic thing that holds the spring in place has a metal surface, rather than a plastic one, to butt up against. In theory, it's great. In practice, it's a fatal flaw. As you can see in the picture, when you hold the stick to one side, the washer kicks up a bit. This is what's eating your PCB. This is what's causing the stick to "stick" in a direction.
If you look carefully, you can see where the washer was maybe supposed to sit. I don't know if they just forgot to glue the thing down during manufacturing, or what, but there's not much in the way of a recess for the washer to sit in, and there was no glue - some sort of lube, but no glue.
I think this is a manufacturing defect. They should have either co-molded the washer, so that it was genuinely embedded in the plastic, or at the very least, press-fit the washer into the plastic body. Okay, even less than that, they could have glued it down. But they didn't. And I don't think it's that they failed to glue down 5% of their sticks - I think the entire manufacturing run was done sans glue, and that every stick in the first run of sticks is likely to have this problem. I might be wrong - maybe the lube is one part of a two-part glue, and they ran out of the other part. Whatever it was, though, a stick you purchase is VERY LIKELY to have suffered from this problem, based on anecdotes, and a careful observation of what, exactly, went wrong.
We'll talk a little more about this later.
Anyway - mix up your epoxy, according to the manufacturer's instructions, and use the toothpick to spread a little between the washer and the stick body. For me, held the stick to one side, shoved some epoxy in the gap, then rotated the washer by hand to make sure I'd applied glue all the way around.
Then, I returned the stick to its neutral position, let the spring mechanism press the washer into place, and waited for the epoxy to set. Hopefully, epoxy hasn't seeped through the center and crept its way into the joystick mechanism, or you're hosed. For me, it was fine.
After a few minutes (I waited about an hour), move the stick around. Is the washer set in place? Yes? Awesome. Time for reassembly.
Step 5: Reassembly
Reassembly's actually pretty simple. Slide the PCB/switch assembly back into place. Since you probably didn't note the original orientation of the assembly relative to the stick (as I didn't), note that the plug points to the side. If you've still got the mounting plate on, just point the plug so that the wire leads are perpendicular to one of the long sides, and you're good. See the picture if you're still confused.
Click the restrictor plate back into place. For something that was such a pain to get off, it goes back on really easily. Plug the cable back on the stick. Screw the stick back into place. Grab your flathead screwdriver, and jam it into the slot on the butt-end of the stick. Slide the dustcap back on (textured side up!) and screw the ball top back on.
A note - make sure you don't trap the dustcap between the ball top and the top of the stick. Sounds dumb, but I did it, and didn't realize until I'd closed up the stick!
Now, screw the back plate back on.
WARNING: You can screw down those center screws as tight as you like, but if you crank the screws in the rubber feet down too hard, you'll just crush the rubber, tear through it, and need new rubber feet. For those four screws, be gentle, and don't tighten them too hard. "Too hard" is a vague term, but basically, tight enough to compress the rubber, but not tight enough that the screws begin digging into the rubber. As long as you're AWARE of the problem, you'll be fine, I'm sure.
Also make sure taht you didn't jostle the main cable, and its stress-reliever out of position. You'll notice that when it's done right, it's ziptied to one of the screw posts.
Once you've closed everything up, fire up a game and give it a whirl. Your stick shouldn't "stick" into place, and you can play with some confidence that your stick won't simply destroy itself over time.
Step 6: Why You Shouldn't Do This
I'm closing with a repeat of the thumbs-down picture here for a reason.
Don't do this. Don't buy this stick. Even if you're mechanically inclined (I'm a mechanical engineer by schooling), there are a LOT of failure points that you can't guarantee won't just break. The clips on the restrictor plate, the screw that just sheared on me, the need to really put a lot of stress on parts that aren't meant to be stressed, and the fact that you paid $80ish dollars for a stick that should have just worked straight out of the box.
I managed to fix the stick, but I never replaced that sheared screw. I don't notice a difference, and it's not a big deal, but it was a pain to extract the remains of the screw from the nut it was jammed in. That's why I said earlier you'll need "courage" if you want to try to fix this. It's not "courage" that you can do the job, that you can tackle the challenge ahead - it's courage because this is a completely unknown quantity you're dealing with that can inadvertently blow up in your face at any moment. Break the PCB, snap a clip, shear a screw - there are some things you'll have to do that really do stand a high probability of breaking, and in a way that will render your investment in the stick even more useless than it is out of the box.
Madcatz has had a reputation for many, many years for putting out sloppy, poorly-designed products. To really put the right emphasis on it, this is the BEST Madcatz product I've ever had the pleasure of using, and it's STILL a piece of garbage.
Once it's fixed it's actually not bad, but out of the box it's unusable. Even before the PCB gets destroyed by the washer, the washer makes the stick register faulty directions and get "stuck" in a direction. You then have either a choice of sending the stick to Madcatz, which will take who knows how long, or opening it up yourself and voiding the warranty. If you break anything in the stick, which you're quite likely to do, you either have to shell out for a replacement stick (available at various locations online), or junk the whole thing. Replacement sticks run ~$25 for a high-quality Sanwa stick - but that means you're now up over $105 for the stick, plus the time it took to mail-order the thing, and the pain in the butt of having to do all this stuff when you just paid $80 for a stick that was supposed to work in the first place.
There are other shoddy things as well - some small - like the fact that the "Guide" button on mine had the adhesive 'X' logo completely off-center, which actually makes THAT button stick as well, to larger things, like reports of pretty widespread button failure after substantial use. If you're dumb enough (like me) to think it's not a problem, and you're capable enough to fix this sort of thing, again, realize that there are points of failure that you can't guarantee won't just fail on you.
Still, the best reason not to get the stick is to not support a company that shipped something that failed this badly. Other options include Hori, which has shipped sticks for Virtua Fighter and Soul Calibur, or just buying the parts and building your own, which I'm planning to do for a second (primary) stick. I'll be putting that up on Instructables as well, but for now, I'm still waiting for the bits to arrive in the mail.
Anyway, good luck - whatever way you choose to go, a good arcade stick is a great, great peripheral. I wish this was it, but it isn't.
One last thing: Thanks to the myriad people out there who posted their fixes for the problem, including the people on the forums at shoryuken.com, and a variety of bloggers who posted solutions of their own with photos.