Turn your Wireless Keyboard into a MAME Controller!

For those of you that have a wireless keyboard laying around, you might be tempted to turn it into something else, like a wireless MAME controller. For those not familiar with it, MAME stands for “Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator” and is generally used to run older arcade games on a computer.

Encoders are available for this purpose, however, intending to save some money, and having an unused wireless keyboard, I decided to try to make one myself.  As far as I know there are no wireless encoders available for this purpose, so that was part of the motivation for trying this.

In this post I go over my mechanical design for the cabinet as well as the electrical process of going from keyboard to MAME controller. I did eventually get the thing working, but if more than a couple buttons were pressed simultaneously, some presses were omitted. The conclusion I eventually came to was that it was better to use an encoder to control everything. Not wireless, but much more reliable. If I absolutely needed a wireless controller in the future, I would think modding an actual wireless controller (or two) in a similar manner would have worked better for my purposes.


  1. DanAdamKOF says:

    Here’s someone that used an encoder wirelessly in their joystick build: http://shoryuken.com/forum/index.php?threads/wireless-upcb.55587/

  2. grefz says:

    You have the plan?

  3. I built a wireless MAME controller too… single player… but I molded mine out of fiberglass. Sparkly, red… awexome. ;-)

    MAME is fun but I think a stand-up version would be much more fun to play at.

    • lostalaska says:

      Sweet, even if it didn’t work out great using a wireless keyboard modded up I can learn from your missteps. I want to build a large 2 player side by side controllers into one box I can set on a table in front of my TV for Street Fighter marathons. I also kind of want to build a track ball setup for Golden Tee for my non gaming friends since that seems to be a game everyone plays… after a few beers.

      I like the idea of using fiberglass… have to look into the process some. I’ve only used fiberglass for wrapping a custom built wood ocean Kayak in high school and haven’t messed with it since.

  4. Reggie says:

    No so worried about the wireless side of things but finding a better keyboard will probably help with the number of keys you can press at the same time. You should expect at least 3 keys to be able to be pressed at the same time (ctrl+alt+del as a minimum set of 3 keys). My ideazone zboard will do 8 keypresses at a time, so following on from that, using a gamers keyboard rather than a bog standard keyboard is probably going to be the best idea for getting more simultaneous keypresses.

    • NewCommenter1283 says:

      okay long angry rant here, summary:
      USB never worked with enough keys at same time for me.

      ive said this before, and i will say it again:

      people tell me there is a new USB (keyb.) spec if you want to shell out the money, but that kind of thing really does not belong on this site! if u say “dude, just buy it” then


      pps: ive never ever, EVER seen a USB keyboard that can play doom/skulltag with enough keys to do tricks like strafe-jumping while firing AND aiming AND holding shift all at the same time. so thats like 1shift(run) 2ctrl(fire) 3a(jump) 4alt(strafe) and 5)arrowkey(move) or two, so like 5 or 6 keys, so instead of USB i connect my PS2 keyb with PS2 and my game controler (NES) to my PC using a serialport, AVR, and winXP’s built in serial->keyboard emulator/option

      and yes i know nes doesnt even have that many buttons, but i configd my avr to do combo moves like on a console. aka hold jump and reload then arrow and avr sends pgup/pgdn for looking around

      F***MICE FTW!

  5. Bob says:

    I was thinking of something like this, but using an original Xbox (not 360) controller. Once you disassemble it, you would have:

    2 – analog x/y pairs (two joysticks)
    14 – digital buttons (the 6 buttons, back, start, the two analog ‘click’ buttons embedded in the joysticks, and four for the D-Pad)
    2 – remaining analog pots (the triggers), which could be repurposed as digital buttons, or use as a volume controls, etc.

    A wireless Xbox controller can be had for $10 or less, or even cheaper if a wired USB connection is ok. Plus the wired version adds a USB hub to your controller (which could be handy).

  6. Rachie says:

    Why did you cut out large rectangles for the joysticks? You do know they’re meant to be mounted underneath the control panel with only a small hole for the shaft, don’t you? The joystick won’t stick up above the control panel, and it will be stronger too.

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