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doubledown's ATARI 7800 WICO Arcade Controller

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Well a couple of weeks ago, a friend (and fellow AA member) was over one night, and we were hanging out and playing some games.  Then we got into talking about controllers in general, and then more specifically, controllers for the 7800.  Thus far I’ve made a 2600 themed controller, into which I installed 2 buttons wired for the 7800 (for the additional 7800 compatibility), and then I built my 8-bit / 7800 compatible Robotron: 2084 controller, but I hadn’t yet made a “basic” or “themed” controller dedicated for the 7800.  So we started talking about some ideas, and I grabbed some hardware I had around for a few other projects to see what we liked the feel of, and what would fit into the enclosure we were going to use.  Then I pulled out one of my 7800 consoles, and bam…like a bolt of lightning, the idea was right in front of our faces.  So after a bit of artwork design, the ordering and inevitable waiting for parts, a bit of machining, and then assembly & wiring…I’d like to unveil my:

 

7800 WICO Edition – VVG Enhanced Controller:

 

O0FDmy.png

 

Once I pulled out the 7800 console and realized just how similar its shape, size, color, and texture were to that of the joystick’s soon-to-be enclosure, it seemed like a no-brainer to attempt to replicate the console’s look. 

 

P9FGP4.png

 

So “cosmetically”, I reproduced the look of the 7800 console by drawing & applying CPOs of the “Atari/Fuji logo & rainbow” plate, the glossy black 4 button & power LED bar, as well as the front controller port & selector switch face.  I intentionally left the majority of the control surface uncovered, as the enclosure’s factory, textured black finish, is a near perfect match to that of the original 7800 console.  Oh yeah…and the “simulated” power LED on the controller is in fact a real LED that lights up when the console is turned on:

 

QFChBc.png

 

Now let’s talk hardware.  We chose a Hammond Mfg, 14.00” x 8.25” aluminum, sloped-top enclosure.  Which, as always, I reinforced with additional/internal steel angle bracing to provide the rigidity (and a nice little bit of extra weight) that the factory-designed enclosure is severely lacking in.  Additionally, as per my usual, the factory assembly hardware and adhesive feet were disposed of immediately, and I installed larger and additional fasteners, again, for the benefit of the enclosure’s rigidity.  Then I installed mechanically fastened, soft rubber feet, so that there’s no worry of adhesive failure or softening over time, which could result in the loss of the feet off of the bottom.  I custom crimp my own 9-pin controller cables so that I can make them any length I want (within the limit of the 500’ spool).  Plus the cable itself, and the connector parts that I use, are of a lot higher quality than what’s used on modern 9-pin extension cables available at your local ebay.  In this instance, I wired a 10’ controller cable, and I installed 2 cord cleats on the rear of the enclosure, so that the cord can be neatly wrapped up for storage. 

 

GMeWcx.png

 

Now lastly, and probably most importantly…on to the controls.  There are lots of options for joysticks and push-buttons on the market today.  Ranging from your cheap-o knock-offs available on Amazon and ebay (which can work for the budget-minded), Japanese & Korean controls which are great for modern SHMUPS and fighting games (and when mounting depth is a concern), America-style controls from manufacturers like HAPP and iL, and then there’s the option of vintage controls.  Back in the original era of the 7800, and especially a few years before from whence several of its arcade ports were actually spawned, the WICO leaf-switch joysticks were extremely popular, and were used by loads of arcade game manufacturers.  Fortunately, due to their desirability, the WICO sticks are currently being reproduced by Arcade Shop for people who want that original arcade/WICO feel.  So for this project we chose a 3.5”, 8-way, black ball-knob, WICO leaf-switch joystick, which due to it’s mounting depth, just fits into this housing.  We selected the black ball-knob, versus WICO’s signature red ball-knob, to better match the knob found on the Atari ProLine joystick…as this is a 7800 themed controller after all.  Then for arcade/era correctness we went with (2) orange, concave plunger, 4-piece, leaf-switch push-buttons, also available from Arcade Shop…as using micro-switch or key-switch style push-buttons, with a leaf-switch joystick, would just be flat-out wrong.  There are 2 basic styles currently available for leaf-switch arcade push-buttons.  A few places offer a “leaf-switch” option/modification for use with their standard long plunger, micro-switch push-buttons.  I’ve used them, they’re fine, there is nothing wrong with them, but due to the heavier plunger spring used in these push-buttons, they don’t feel quite like the old-style 4-piece push-buttons do, and they can't be adjusted for length of travel, or for trip-wire sensitivity like the old-style 4-piece buttons can.  So the other option is to buy the original 4-piece style, which is what we went with for this project.  They cost about $8 more per button, but with only 2 buttons on this controller, it seemed like the right way to go. 

 

5Pe0Zq.png

 

So there you have it, my take on an arcade-quality, era-correct, Atari 7800 joystick controller.  Alternatively, if you are one who prefers the tactile and auditory experience of  micro-switch based controls, the WICO joystick and leaf-switch push-buttons could probably be substituted with an iL EuroJoystick 2 (with bat-top or ball-knob), and iL PSL-L concave plunger push-buttons, all with Cherry micro-switches…but I would need to verify the mounting depth of the iL joystick first.  Enjoy!

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Nice design. (I don't particularly like the mimicry joystick connectors and switches, but overall very impressive. The joystick cord cleats are a great idea. Certainly beats wrapping the cord around the box!)

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Thanks for the feedback.  I figured as I was trying to replicate the looks of the console, and the front ports/switches are part of the console...I'd try to add them in if possible.  In real life these console parts are black on black plastics, with the silver pins in the controller ports.  So drawing them in 2D, with varying shades of black can only be so realistic, but I will say that the details look better in person, versus an on-screen picture.  I had momentarily considered installing real physical controller ports and selector switches (non-functional, obviously) for the "authentic" look, but the added parts cost and installation time didn't seem worth it.  In all honesty, I think my favorite part is the functioning power LED.  The cord cleats are pretty inexpensive, it just takes a little added time for their installation, but it is nice for convenience-sake. 

 

This is the first time I've used this small 14.00" x 8.25" enclosure for a "joystick" controller.  I've used it a few times before for a pair of, all-button Asteroids controllers, and a few Bally/Midway cocktail: Space Invaders & Galaxian 2-way lever controllers.  It's a decent/ergonomic size for a single joystick, and 1 hand worth of buttons, but at this point I think I'm so use to the larger 17.00" x 11.25", and 20.00" x 11.25" enclosures that I have been using, that it will take a little time to get use to.  I'm thinking about making an arcade game themed controller for the 7800...just trying to decide on the game...currently I'm thinking Commando.  

Edited by doubledown

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I like the controller you have made here, but I'm not wild about the size of it. No...I still think it is too large overall because a controller really shouldn't be larger than the system you use it with in my opinion. Especially given the fact that I like to put my controllers ontop of the console when not in use. I have a dust cover for all of my consoles so the controllers won't scratch them up, but if the controller is bigger than the system, then I simple don't have room for it since storage would require it to be put into a closet or other space away from the system. I actually think the size of the controller housing that Curt Vendel used on his arcade pro controllers he was making about a year or so back was about the right size to me. And it is the controller I tend to use the most when actually playing a game.

 

As for an arcade themed controller for the 7800, I would think that Commando is an excellent idea or maybe Crossbow would be a good one?

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I completely understand your thoughts, and obviously if you were to ask 2 different people for their opinions on anything, you will get at least 3 different answers.  😄 

 

And you will never be able to satisfy 1% of the people, 100% of the time  😄

 

I can honestly say, that size, with regards to "space-savings", has never been even a consideration, with any of the controllers that I've built. If I'm playing an actual 300+ pound arcade cabinet, most of the time I'm monkey-fisting the joystick, and palm/wrist support isn't that important, nor is there any worry of the cabinet shaking/moving about when I move the joystick.  But when a "small" joystick controller is in my lap, or on a tabletop in front of me, I want to be able to fully rest my palms/wrists on the controller surface for support/comfort, plus to act as added weight to hold the controller from moving around when manipulating the joystick.  For this to happen with my normal adult sized hands (I cannot palm a basketball, as a size reference), the joystick center needs to be in >/= 4" from the left edge, and up >/= 5" from the bottom edge, the main index finger operated button needs to be in >/= 6" from the right edge, and 0.0" to +1.0" above the center-line of the joystick in the Y axis, with a maximum button separation of 1.40", center-to-center.   As always this is all personal preference, but this is my defacto standard that I use.  I occasionally cheat these numbers a little bit when necessary, or if I'm using a donor controller housing that can't/won't allow for this.  But over the years I've bought or used joystick/arcade controllers that don't conform to anything near this, whereas the joystick is too close to the side or bottom edges, or the button spacing is something crazy like 1.5" or more, and I just don't like them.  Don't get me wrong, they're obviously usable/functionable...just not by me.  I know lots of people use, or have used, the Radica S.I. PnP sticks for their 7800, but I personally shutter when I look at how small they are.  Again, personal preference, entitled to personal opinion...blah, blah, blah...just my 3 cents.  

 

I've started the hunt for an original Coin Controls, 8-way, leaf-switch, joystick (the original used in the Commando arcade cabinets) so we'll have to wait and see how that turns out.  I don't think I would do a Crossbow themed controller, simply due to the fact that the arcade cabinet used a Light-Crossbow as it's controller, not a joystick.  I realize that the 7800 port can use a joystick as an alternative, but it's just not arcade correct.  Plus I have very fond childhood memories of playing Commando, and I don't know that I've ever played Crossbow.  

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Thanks.  It feels and plays really well.  It's new owner was over last night and we were play testing it for a while. 

 

Side note...I did score a deal for an original Commando arcade joystick last night, so I'll just need to order a housing and (1) green button and (1) white button and I'll be able to make "my" Commando Edition 7800 joystick controller.  I started on the artwork last night, it should be pretty easy to finish up.  The one huge benefit of 7800 controllers is their simplicity...no keypads, no analog/digital controls...a simple joystick and 2 buttons.  

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2 hours ago, save2600 said:

...and two resistors.   :grin:

...clearly, and in some instances (see post #1) an LED and a 3rd resistor!  😁

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Your work is absolutely Mind Blowing!   (I'm not a big fan of leaf switches when microswitches are available, but that's just me)...It looks Incredible!

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Leaf switches are the real deal man! Can't believe how popular noisy, clicky microswitches are here. Especially those goofy Epyx 500XJ sticks and Competition Pro's... at least the comp. pro's have a stiff return to center, but you need to wear ear protection while using them.  🤣

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Yep!  Nothing like a little tactile feedback.

 

I must block it out or turn the game up because I can't remember noticing or even hearing it.   HMMMmm...  BITD I had a ColecoVision joystick (A Questar if memory serves) and it had leaf switches as did my old arcade games (Looking at my Frenzy machine right now).   And not too long ago I got a WICO Ball Top (Finally) and man that thing is stiff, and heavy, and rough to use for very long!  I'm not the Incredible Hulk after all...I know there's nostalgia, etc.,  but I much prefer microswitches for their smooth, easy, and accurate  operation.

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Yeap..I actually own an original Commando arcade cab and first thing I did was remove the original leaf switches and put cherry micros in their place. Only issue I've noticed is that I must have wired the common and signal wire on the fire button backwards because one shot happens automatically soon as you hit the ground but works normally after that. Wasn't bothered enough but it to reverse it around...LOL.

 

But yes I've pretty much replaced all the leaf switches in my arcade cabs with micros as I got tired of cleaning the leaf switches every few months and "reforming" them for better contact and response. I can say that with a full size arcade you don't notice the clicking switches since the arcade sounds drown that out. I do notice them in joysticks and it doesn't bother me because I usually have the sound up a pretty good clip through my receiver.

 

And BTW... @save2600 I actually prefer the Epyx 500xj to all the other controllers I've got in my collection. I like to pull them out and use them on any single button games as they fit so well in my hand and using my index finger for the fire is very natural. My only complaint with them is that the decals on most of them are starting to peel from them pretty badly and they tend to hurt when sticking up into your hand when using it. 

 

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Wow...hard to believe 2+ people can't agree on one simple thing like leaf-switches vs. micro-switches!!!  🤣  Who knew that this was such a controversial topic!?!

 

Personally I can deal with either, and when applicable (especially when building an Experience Controller), I try to use whatever the "original" specified controller was, chosen by the developer and/or publisher, who knew the proper way to play their game!  Its not my place to tell others how wrong they are, or how ridiculous their opinions are whey they differ from mine!  😁

 

And in all seriousness, I really can use either switch style, but when regarding micro-switch joysticks...I definitely prefer some of the vintage sticks from HAPP, Coin Controls, and/or MCA, or modern iL EuroJoystick 2s...a lot more than the Japanese Sanwa, and/or Seimitsu sticks.  Don't get me wrong, these sticks are fine too.  I've used them previously, but for older style games, I like the stiffer feel of the "American/Western" micro-switch joysticks, vs. the looser Japanese Candy Cabinet variants.  

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We're just having fun, it's all good! Just get a little excited when I see someone using leaf switches around here for a change.  :grin:

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Could you imagine how loud it would be playing Robotron: 2084 with 2 micro-switch joysticks!?!  Fortunately Eugene Jarvis, and the good people at Williams Electronics, realized that this would be a disaster, and installed WICOs.  😉

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1 hour ago, doubledown said:

Could you imagine how loud it would be playing Robotron: 2084 with 2 micro-switch joysticks!?!  Fortunately Eugene Jarvis, and the good people at Williams Electronics, realized that this would be a disaster, and installed WICOs.  😉

Sure, if you had Robotron's sound turned off.  It's a very noisy machine.

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Goes for any arcade machine really, my Turbo machine has 2 speakers plus a woofer.  Arcade games were meant to be loud and create an experience.  Then place that 1 game in a room with 50+ other games and see how loud and awesome it is. 

 

The clicky "annoyance", that trouble's most people with regards to micro-switches, is only audible when they don't play with the game volume turned up loud enough.  

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I once bought a replacement Midway control panel from arcadeshop.com, that came with a 4-way microswitch based joystick - forget the make. But it was sooo noisy, resonating against the metal CP, that I immediately swapped it out. And yeah, the game volume was plenty loud, just didn't matter in this case. 

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On 6/24/2020 at 9:20 PM, save2600 said:

I once bought a replacement Midway control panel from arcadeshop.com, that came with a 4-way microswitch based joystick - forget the make. But it was sooo noisy, resonating against the metal CP, that I immediately swapped it out. And yeah, the game volume was plenty loud, just didn't matter in this case. 

I believe you....But rarely get the chance to use that cute little confused icon.

On 6/24/2020 at 8:16 PM, doubledown said:

Goes for any arcade machine really, my Turbo machine has 2 speakers plus a woofer.  Arcade games were meant to be loud and create an experience.  Then place that 1 game in a room with 50+ other games and see how loud and awesome it is. 

 

The clicky "annoyance", that trouble's most people with regards to micro-switches, is only audible when they don't play with the game volume turned up loud enough.  

I believe it was some company called Nintendo who once said Play It Loud.

 

And then instantly apologized for it when stupid people complained.

 

On 6/24/2020 at 4:43 PM, doubledown said:

Wow...hard to believe 2+ people can't agree on one simple thing like leaf-switches vs. micro-switches!!!  🤣  Who knew that this was such a controversial topic!?!

 

Personally I can deal with either, and when applicable (especially when building an Experience Controller), I try to use whatever the "original" specified controller was, chosen by the developer and/or publisher, who knew the proper way to play their game!  Its not my place to tell others how wrong they are, or how ridiculous their opinions are whey they differ from mine!  😁

 

And in all seriousness, I really can use either switch style, but when regarding micro-switch joysticks...I definitely prefer some of the vintage sticks from HAPP, Coin Controls, and/or MCA, or modern iL EuroJoystick 2s...a lot more than the Japanese Sanwa, and/or Seimitsu sticks.  Don't get me wrong, these sticks are fine too.  I've used them previously, but for older style games, I like the stiffer feel of the "American/Western" micro-switch joysticks, vs. the looser Japanese Candy Cabinet variants.  

 

Whaaaa?    Next you guys will be telling me that you prefer CRTs rather than LCDs or think Vinyl is superior to CDs*...:lolblue:

 

 

 

 

 

*(In Reality,   it's Not quite my actual, subtle, nuanced, exacting opinion (available upon request only (for purposes of this thread(and furthering my agenda of using way too many parentheses(s))))))...It was more like what if I was one of those guys like in a Jag Forum or something who would write something and then take off with his head down as the fighting starts...Probably better if ya don't answer me.   It's just a bit.

 

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For all the true leaf-switch fans out there, firstly..."blessings and riches".  Secondly, I received the original Coin Control leaf-switch joystick today that I'll use in my Commando Edition 7800 controller:

 

Xs2EK2.jpg

 

It looks and feels amazingly good, especially when considering the fact that its about 35 years old.  I'll take it up to work tomorrow, tear it down, and get it all cleaned up and ready to go.  Right now I've got the CPO artwork pretty much done...I just need to finalize the machine gun & grenade artwork bits sizing, rotation, and placement on the CPO.  Then of course I still need to order the enclosure and the green and white buttons, but I'm waiting to place parts orders until next week, when I've figured out all of the bits and parts I'll need for my next 3 or 4 controllers...saves on shipping a bit that way.  

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I finally got all the parts in, and had the opportunity this weekend to machine and assemble my: 7800 Commando Edition - VVG Enhanced Controller:

 

8JxXIz.png

 

Built into a Hammond Mfg. 14" x 8" aluminum enclosure and featuring:

 

**Coin Control, leaf-switch, black ball-knob, 8-way joystick (arcade original)

 

**Concave plunger, 4-piece, leaf-switch, push-buttons (1) green, (1) white (arcade original)

 

**Arcade cabinet inspired CPO artwork

 

**Custom-crimped, 10' controller cable, w/ rear mounted cord cleats for its storage

 

Now I just need to find myself a copy of Commando!  

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