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Building a Better Joystick

Customized Joysticks

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#1 hizzy OFFLINE  

hizzy

    Dragonstomper

  • 724 posts
  • Location:Montreal, QC

Posted Wed Apr 19, 2017 5:48 PM

Hi!

 

For those of you who have been following my post about arcade buttons, you know that I have been working on making an Atari 2600/7800 joystick. This has been quite an adventure for me. I could have probably just bought a stick for a quarter of the price that I have spent on tools and parts, but where's the fun in that? :D

 

This journey started about a year ago, when I was looking for something do to with my niece & nephew (10 & 7 years old).  I thought it would be fun to introduce them to the 2600. They were pulled in by the game play of Space Invaders, Pac-man (8k, of course), Adventure, Missile Command, and a host of homebrews. I saw this as a good learning moment, and we fiddled around with Batari Basic. Eventually, a CX-40 broke down and I bought a rebuild kit, and we fixed it up. I want to stress this: I NEVER fixed anything electronic in my life, up until that point. It's going to sound silly, but it was exhilarating! Something was broken, and, lo and behold, it now works!! Opening up the CX-40 got me to open up a bunch of other stuff: A Nintendo toaster that wasn't reading carts, a genesis that was on the fritz, and an electric knife, of all things. Before I knew it, I was soldering with the kids. I found myself learning alongside them. 

 

It was in one of those perennial threads: "CX-40 vs the Competition Pro vs Yada Yada" that I started to take note of the world of controllers beyond the CX-40. 

 

I had no idea that joysticks could illicit such passionate debate, and I was equally surprised to learn of all the options out there for the Atari fan. I went on the hunt for sticks of all varieties, spurred on by this video (This guy is hilarious, btw):

 

 

Eventually, I picked up many the Competition Pro joysticks. There are several variants, all with different qualities, and they can feel quite different from one another. This guy is a Comp Pro Jedi:

 

 

I tried a bunch of sticks, but everything I used felt a bit lacking. The Competition Pros were cool, but they were often quite stiff. I liked how you could switch out the different micro switches inside, but I wanted a higher level of customization. I wanted to play with spring tension & button sensitivity. I thought there could be something more out there. There were some sites selling custom sticks, but I was still not sure what I was looking for and that's when I thought to educate myself. I was going to build my own sticks, I resolved. 

 

Now, this is the point where I ended up spending a little bit of cash & a lot of time exploring all of the options out there. 

 

Happ, IL, Sanwa, Seimitsu.  With my R&D team, my niece & nephew, I tested a bunch of parts. Over the course of many months, I got joystick wiring down to second nature, and went from soldering iron, to Chinese soldering station, to some fancy shit, if you pardon my French. 

 

Building something is cool, and building something cool is, well, even cooler. That's when I thought: the parts & wires need to go into a bad-ass box. Thus, began another search...

 

Inspired by Analogue Interactive's wood Neo Geo line, I contacted a bunch of local wood workers. This took me into an altogether different world: Veneers, varnishing, and, um, wood. I met with many people, but most were full on contractors who didn't have time for my project, others were completely mystified: “You want to build what? A joystick box?" This went on for a few months. I thought about building a box myself, but electric saws are kind of terrifying and I like my fingers too much. 

 

By luck, I happened across the website of a guy who builds furniture. Impressed by his work, I shot him off an email. I went into detail about what I wanted to build, sent some concept images, dimensions. I heard back from wood dude quickly, and, even more incredibly, he was enthusiastic about my project! He's not a gamer, but he knows his trade. We started putting together prototypes out of a variety of woods. Soon, we will be experimenting with colors & finishes. I was thinking to do one in black, in the Atari style, but he's got me thinking to try out a few different looks.

 

I thought I would share the building process with everyone in this thread. Attached below are some pictures of our preliminary work. I believe we the darker wood is Walnut. We bought a few types of wood. I can't wait to see this thing when it's done. It's been quite a haul. Feedback is much appreciated! I should have photos of a final version in a couple weeks! 

 

Thanks,

 

h

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Edited by hizzy, Wed Apr 19, 2017 5:57 PM.


#2 hizzy OFFLINE  

hizzy

    Dragonstomper

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  • 724 posts
  • Location:Montreal, QC

Posted Thu Apr 20, 2017 9:07 AM

In everything I said above, I forgot something: Should the top of the stick be slanted or flat? The first model is slanted, and pretty comfortable. Are there any flattop advocates? :)



#3 Wyluli Wolf OFFLINE  

Wyluli Wolf

    Moonsweeper

  • 279 posts
  • Location:Florida

Posted Thu Apr 20, 2017 9:55 AM

Very cool post.  I know what you mean when you say you spent more on tools etc. than just purchasing something "but where's the fun in that"?  Exactly.  It's fun to tinker and I'm glad you are enjoying it.  Those wooden cases look very nice!  

Out of curiosity, which joystick did you find that you liked the best?  Sanwa, Happ, IL, etc.?

 

I like the way the slanted top looks on the box.  Ergonomically I'm not sure if it would be more comfortable slanted or flat.  I seem to recall arcade machines sometimes have a slight slant to the control panel.

 

Anyway, have fun with the project and keep us updated!  Thanks for sharing.



#4 edladdin OFFLINE  

edladdin

    Moonsweeper

  • 416 posts
  • Location:Athens, Georgia, USA

Posted Thu Apr 20, 2017 11:21 AM

Wonderful project! I went down much of the same path in 2013/2014 and what a fun ride that started. 😊

#5 hizzy OFFLINE  

hizzy

    Dragonstomper

  • Topic Starter
  • 724 posts
  • Location:Montreal, QC

Posted Thu Apr 20, 2017 1:43 PM

Very cool post.  I know what you mean when you say you spent more on tools etc. than just purchasing something "but where's the fun in that"?  Exactly.  It's fun to tinker and I'm glad you are enjoying it.  Those wooden cases look very nice!  

Out of curiosity, which joystick did you find that you liked the best?  Sanwa, Happ, IL, etc.?

 

I like the way the slanted top looks on the box.  Ergonomically I'm not sure if it would be more comfortable slanted or flat.  I seem to recall arcade machines sometimes have a slight slant to the control panel.

 

Anyway, have fun with the project and keep us updated!  Thanks for sharing.

 

HI!

 

I found that I really liked the JLF, especially after tweaking it with new micro switches and springs. After that, I like the Seimitsu. My preferences take a few things into consideration.I want to be able to go between 2 way, 4 way & 8 way, so Sanwa & Seimitsu stand out in that regard. They have well designed restrictor gates, feel great, and have many options for customization. The IL/Happ sticks feel good, but I want to switch between balltop and battop, change shaft covers, dustwashers, etc... Also, I don't think IL/Happ have a 2 way restrictor gate, which I like to use for Space Invaders. I think IL is great if you want one particular colorway. They feel pretty good. Sanwa, being king of the marketplace, has many options and aftermarket parts, plus it has an amazing feel. 

 

I was a bit skeptical about the slanted top until I actually tried it. It felt amazing, bot on the lap and on the table top. I will probably try a flat top, too. I am curious to see what people think about the slant vs flat question. On the top of the box, there is a little flat spot, which I am unsure about. When done, the box will have smooth, rounded corners all around.

 

I'm also curious to ask: where do people stand on the question of feet? If a stick is going to be on your lap most of the time, does it need feet?

 

Thanks for the replies!

 

h






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