After I built my recent 2600 arcade controller, I got to thinking about building a simple, mid-sized 2600 combo controller, featuring both a joystick control (with its fire button), and a paddle control (with its fire button). Mostly because, why not…and also because I don’t find this solution currently being offered by anybody else. After spending a bit of time with the layout, in an attempt to maximize the ergonomics within the space constraints, I had come up with a plan that I felt would work out well, and would be very comfortable to play with. Then I started considering the graphics for this new controller. Originally I had thought about modifying and re-using the woodgrain CPO that I designed for my Switch-O-Matic controller, but then I had a better idea. My memory was jogged, and I remembered that ATARI had already made such a controller that I could model mine after, perhaps you’ve seen one:
While I love the look & symmetry of the controls on the original kiosk, I do take issue with their layout. So, as I was building this controller from scratch…I laid out the controls a bit more ergonomically…and, more appropriately for the 90% of us gamers who manipulate an arcade stick with our left hand…and not our right. So behold, my:
2600 VGSC Edition – VVG Enhanced Controller
Built into a Hammond Mfg., 14” x 8.5” aluminum sloped-top enclosure (which has been reinforced and weighted), this new controller offers the same dual-control functionality of the original kiosks, in a smaller form-factor…that’s a bit more comfortable in your lap...and a little easier to store when not in use.
Controls-wise, the original kiosks featured a WICO leaf-switch joystick w/ a CX40-esque lever (versus their standard 1-1/2” ball knob shafts), (2) 4-piece arcade leaf-switch push-buttons, and a potentiometer with an ATARI Tempest/Warlords knob (for the paddle control). In an effort to design this as an affordable controller, and to, of course, appease those who need to hear their joystick clicking (to ensure that it’s working), I selected my favorite modern joystick…the venerable iL EuroJoystick 2, 8-way micro-switch joystick for this build. Now looking at the joystick handle, you may be thinking that it doesn’t look like any EuroJoystick 2 that you’ve ever seen…and that’s due to the custom handle that I designed and machined for it. The factory handle for these sticks is a molded bat, but I was going for a bit more authenticity with regards to mimicking the original kiosk controls. So I replaced the molded bat handle with an iL threaded shaft, and I custom machined the handle, modeled after the CX40 stick. Starting with a length of 3/4” (across the flats) solid aluminum hex stock, I pre-cut a short piece to the approximate necessary length, machined flat the top face (perpendicular to the sides), machined flat the bottom face (to achieve the final length), drilled and taped a M6x1.00 hole, and milled a 10mm pocket in the lowest portion, so that the knob would completely sleeve over (and cover), the lower portion of the round threaded shaft. This minimizes the round shaft’s visible exposure, and allows the hex knob to sit as low as possible to the control surface, mimicking the CX40. Then for comfort, I turned down, and softened all of the edges / hex points of the knob on a lathe…and to recreate that oh-so-familiar feel of the rubber boot on the CX40, I coated the knob in black PLASTI DIP. This is the first time I’ve used the PLASTI DIP products…and I have to say, I’ve very impressed with it. It seriously feels exactly like the rubber boot on the CX40, albeit a bit more robust/solid feeling…due to the aluminum knob that it is adhered to, versus the hollow plastic lever of the CX40.
Here's a side by side comparison of my first prototype hex handle/knob on the iL, next to a CX40. This initial one was a bit high off of the base, which after I made this one, and took some further measurements, I realized that I could get it to drop down a bit lower, and get it closer down, to the control panel's surface.
To compliment the modern joystick, I was then looking for a modern push-button to use. As a perfect paired match to the joystick, I normally would have installed iL PSL-L concave plunger, micro-switch push-buttons w/ Cherry micro-switches. But due to the shallow mounting depth available near the front half of these sloped-top enclosures (with regards to the Paddle control’s fire button), they simply wouldn’t fit. So I selected the only shallow-mount concave plunger push-button available (and another personal favorite of mine), the Ultimarc GoldLeaf push-button. While they have “leaf” in their name…these are not like the vintage external leaf-switch push-buttons from the days of old. They employ an internal key-switch, like those found on modern Japanese buttons… but these feature the look of the vintage arcade buttons, due to their smaller and concave plungers. So they require no maintenance or adjustments, and will offer years of trouble-free service. For the audibly desperate, who have to hear their buttons click when they’re pressed (because if they don’t, they’re not working obviously)…you’re out of luck here unfortunately. The GoldLeaf buttons use a silent switch, so that clicking noise that you need so that you can sleep at night…simply won’t be present. The only other option here would be to use an iL PSL-L micro-switch push-button for the joystick’s button (where the depth allows for it), and use an Ultimarc GoldLeaf for the paddle’s button. I’d have to compare the 2 side by side, to see how close they are in look and color, to determine how viable this would be.
For the paddle control, I never had any intent on using a knob from a CX30 paddle controller. Because for one, the kiosks used an ATARI arcade knob (so I would too), and two, I find the slightly smaller diameter arcade knobs more comfortable than the larger CX30 knobs. Especially when mounted to a controller sitting on my lap (or on a desk), versus one that is held in my hand. With this in mind, I selected a Bourns 1M Ohm potentiometer, with the appropriate/necessary shaft dimensions to accept the knob that I would be using. The original ATARI Tempest/Warlords knobs haven’t been manufactured in what, probably 35-40 years. So while they can be found…they can be very expensive. I’ve seen some places offer NOS knobs for $75.00 (for just the knob), and one place had molded reproductions made a few years back, which they sell for $25.00. Again, as this was an attempt to make a budget-friendly controller, I opted to try 3D printing a reproduction knob. Using a model that I found on thingverse, I printed this reproduction ATARI Tempest/Warlords knob, with black Tough PLA filament, a layer height of 0.1mm, and with 100% infill. For those familiar with 3D printed parts (versus their molded counterparts), you know that you will always be able to see/feel their layers, but with the fine layer height that I printed, they’re very minimal…and post-print sanding could always be done to make them smoother, should one choose to do so.
For the artwork, I obviously selected to mimic the ATARI table/counter top Video Game Selection Center kiosk’s color scheme (versus the full-sized POP kiosk), as I think the orange coloring pops very nicely, much more so than the grey. I copied as much of the artwork/text that was appropriate for this controller, and sized/moved items and text as necessary. The artwork here (as per my usual), was photo inkjet printed on Epson premium glossy photo paper, and dual-sided, heat-laminated with 5 mil glossy lamination media, with UV protection. The artwork is applied with 3M double-sided adhesive sheeting, and goes edge to edge on both the CPO and the front marquee. The control panel fasteners used are #8-32, black-oxide, carriage bolts, matching the look and feel (or lack thereof) of the fasteners used on the originals.
Next, I had to make a decision…how to account for the fact that 2 paddle controls plug into one controller port…but I only have room for 1 paddle control, on this controller. Option 1, was to ignore the problem, and only provide the use of paddle “control 2” (pins 4 & 5), which is used by player 1 for most games. Option 2, was to install a C&K DPDT push-button switch (with mechanical indicating cap (black/white)) which basically, at the push of a button, re-wires the paddle control and its fire button from “control 2” (pins 4 & 5), to “control 1” (pins 3 & 9). I opted for option 2, install the extra switch, and allow for the use of both paddle controls…which is useful for alternating-play, 2-player games, and also games like M Network’s Astroblast, which uses “control 1” for player 1. For simultaneous-play 2-player games, a small custom adapter cable could be made so that both this controller, and a regular set of CX30 paddle controllers could be plugged in at the same time, but wherein you wouldn’t end up with 2 potentiometers connected to the same pins at the same time, causing interference. Alternately, with 2 of these controllers, only a standard wye-cable would be necessary, so long as their “paddle” switches were set opposite of each other.
Then I had to decide if I was going to disengage 1 set of controls, while the other set was in use. I considered this for the reasons of any possible hardware/software conflicts when the paddles can be auto-sensed, as well as to prevent any unintended physical contact with 1 set of controls, whilst manipulating the other. So if for example, the joystick and paddle controls were always all active, a game like Astroblast, will default to paddle controls…joystick mode is not possible; and with a Harmony cart, you would navigate the menu with the paddle controls versus the joystick controls. Additionally, if the paddle controls are active, then its push-button would be actively wired to either joystick “left” or “right” (depending on which paddle you’ve selected). If while playing a joystick game very feverishly, your hand/finger(s) inadvertently pressed the paddle’s push-button, you could get an unwanted input, which may cost you a high score. So to address this issue, I installed a C&K 4PDT (only using 3 poles) push-button switch (with mechanical indicating cap (black/white)) so that I could engage/disengage the paddle controls when desired. I originally considered engaging one set and disengaging the other with this switch, but couldn’t come up with any reason to disengage the joystick controls (no software/hardware conflicts, and far enough out of the way for any physical interference when manipulating the paddle controls). I still have the option to do this if I find a reason where this would be necessary. So as it is currently wired, when in “joystick” mode, the joystick controls are active, and the paddle controls are in-active, and when in “paddle” mode, both the joystick and paddle controls are simultaneously active.
These ancillary controls are located in the upper half, between the joystick and its push-button, as shown below. The upper switch toggles the paddle controls on & off, and the lower switch select which paddle is connected.
And finally, rather than hacking and whacking an already short 6’ DE-9 extension cable, I installed a custom crimped 10’ cable, which can be wrapped up neatly on the enclosure’s rear mounted cord cleats. Then the enclosure was finished off with a set of mechanically fastened soft rubber feet on the bottom, to provide stability, and prevent scratching, when placed/used on a table or desk.
So there you have it, a quick few words and tips describing how to build a beautiful and robust kiosk/combo arcade controller for the Atari 2600, should you have the inclination. Additionally for those interested, much of the hardware can be swapped for other types/styles/brands…the only real limit is the shallow mounting depth for the paddle’s button. If you’re looking to play ports of the most modern SHUMPs, or the latest installment of TEKKEN on your 2600, you can easily install a more appropriate Sanwa JL-series joystick, and mating buttons. If you want to go vintage old school, you can squeeze in a WICO joystick and 4-piece arcade leaf-switch push-buttons. If you want to go in between those, you can select the iL EuroJoystick 2 and use the factory molded bat lever, or install the threaded shaft, and use a more conventional ball knob. Let the world be your oyster!
Now for me, my original plan was to build this, add it to my catalog/portfolio of controllers, and then sell this one off. But as I got into the design and build of it, I really started developing a fondness for it, and decided to build, and keep it for myself. But being me, I didn’t simply want just any old controller, I wanted a little something special, so may I present to you, my:
The Orange Special – VVG Enhanced Controller
To the unknowing, this model will look near identical to the one pictured above, but there are 2 major differences, selected by me, for my personal preferences. Firstly, and the only item semi-visually obvious, is the knob used for the paddle control. I prefer the ATARI Super Breakout arcade knob for my paddle play. So I sourced an original arcade knob from ebay (no reproductions or printed parts here), and I’ve installed that here, on The Orange Special. Secondly, and most importantly, is the joystick. Externally, you can’t tell any difference, but what’s installed inside, is a Buttercade OpticIL joystick.
While it has been made sometimes annoyingly obvious by some, that there are those, who need to hear a joystick click, to verify that it’s working…I personally, am not one of those people. And while I don’t absolutely lament the clicking of micro-switches (unless they’re super loud Japanese ones), I definitely prefer silent controls. So even though the obvious choice here would be to install a WICO leaf-switch joystick like the kiosk originals…I decided to install a silent optical joystick…like those that were sold as options and upgrades to the original leaf-switch joysticks, back in the day. In this instance, the Buttercade OpticIL starts its life as an iL EuroJoystick 2, has its micro-switches and switch actuator removed, and gets a custom PCB which accommodates the necessary electronics, magic, and witchcraft…that can harness the awesome power of light. This in turn, provides a silent joystick solution, without all of the fuss, all of the muss, and all of the maintenance of external leaf-switches…that so many people seem to be afraid of. Additionally the OpticIL PCB includes 2 sets of dip switches (one set for the cardinal directions, and another set for the diagonals), which allow the user to adjust the sensitivity of the joystick for their preference, and offers 4 different levels (Minimum 1 – Maximum 4) of sensitivity, unique to each set of directions. No, the diagonals cannot be completely turned off, to make this 8-way joystick a true 4-way…but they can be “de-sensitized” so that it’s a lot more forgiving when playing 4-way games.
And now...that’s all. Hopefully I’ve been able to provide a little bit of inspiration and/or some helpful information, to any of those considering building their own custom controller(s). Enjoy!