Rube Goldberg PC/Console Game Hack

There’s no holy war holier than establishing whether PC games are superior to console games (they are). But even so, there’s no denying that there are some good console titles out there. What if you’d still like to play them using a mouse and keyboard? If you’re [Agent86], you’d build up the most ridiculous chain of fun electronics to get the job done.

Now there is an overpriced off-the-shelf solution for this problem, and a pre-existing open-source project that’ll get the same job done for only a few bucks in parts. But there’s nothing like the fun in solving a problem your own way, with your own tangle of wires, darn it all! The details of the build span four (4!) pages in [Agent86]’s blog, so settle down with a warm cup of coffee.

Here’s the summary: an Xbox 360 controller is taken apart and turned into an Xbox controller. The buttons and joysticks are put under computer control via a Teensy microcontroller. GPIOs press the controller’s buttons, and digipots replace the analog sticks. Software on the Teensy drives the digipots and presses the buttons, interpreting a custom protocol sent over USB from the computer, which also gets some custom software to send the signals.

So if you’re keeping score: a button press on a keyboard is converted to USB, sent to a PC, converted to a custom serial protocol, sent to a Teensy which emulates a human for a controller that then coverts the signals back into the Xbox’s USB protocol. Pshwew!

Along the way, there’s learning at every stage, which is really the point of an exercise like this. And [Agent86] says that it mostly works, with some glitches in the mouse-to-joystick mapping. But if you’re interested in any part of this crazy chain, you’ve now got a model for each of them.

 

Mouse Pen from Old Parts

No offense to [Douglas Engelbart] but the computer mouse has always seemed a bit of a hack to us (and not in the good sense of the word). Sure we’ve all gotten used to them, but unlike a computer keyboard, there is no pre-computer analog to a mouse. There are plenty of alternatives, of course, like touchpads and trackballs, but they never seem to catch on to the extent that the plain old mouse has.

One interesting variation is the pen mouse. These do rely on a pre-computer analog: a pen or pencil. You can buy them already made (and they are surprisingly inexpensive), but what fun is that? [MikB] wanted one and decided to build it instead of buying it.

The main parts of the pen mouse include a cheap mouse with a failing scroll wheel, a bingo pen, and the base from an old web camera. There’s also a normal-sized pen to act as the handpiece. The project is mostly mechanical rather than electrical. [MikB] took the mouse apart and cut the PCB to fit inside the base. The rest of the build is a construction project.

The result appears to work well. [MikB] includes instructions for installing the mouse correctly in Linux. The net effect is like a tablet but doesn’t’ require much space on your desk. We’ve seen plenty of mouse projects in the past, of course. We’ve even seen hacks for a head mouse if that’s your thing.

PS/2 Keyboard for Raspberry Pi

A lot of people can bake a cake. Sort of. Most of us can bake a cake if we have a cake mix. Making a cake from scratch is a different proposition. Sure, you know it is possible, but in real life, most of us just get a box of cake mix. The Raspberry Pi isn’t a cake (or even a pie), but you could make the same observation about it. You know the Raspberry Pi is just an ARM computer, you could program it without running an available operating system, but realistically you won’t. This is what makes it fun to watch those that are taking on this challenge.

[Deater] is writing his own Pi operating system and he faced a daunting problem: keyboard input. Usually, you plug a USB keyboard into the Pi (or a hub connected to the Pi). But this only works because of the Linux USB stack and drivers exist. That’s a lot of code to get working just to get simple keyboard input working for testing and debugging. That’s why [Deater] created a PS/2 keyboard interface for the Pi.

Even if you aren’t writing your own OS, you might find it useful to use a PS/2 keyboard to free up a USB port, or maybe you want to connect that beautiful Model-M keyboard without a USB adapter. The PS/2 keyboard uses a relatively simple clock and data protocol that is well-understood. The only real issue is converting the 5V PS/2 signals to 3.3V for the Pi (and vice versa, of course).

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Putting a Trackball Inside A Controller

Gaming on a PC is obviously superior and you would be a fool to argue otherwise. The keyboard and mouse is the obviously superior input device, but there are times when you just want to play games on a couch. [Gabriel] has an interesting solution to this input problem in the second version of his KeyBall Controller. It’s a controller, but it leverages the superior layout and precision of the keyboard and mouse combo, without making any compromises.

[Gabriel]’s KeyBall Controller began its life as several generic console controllers. The main body of is mostly a clone of the original Xbox S controller. Inside, there are parts from a clone SNES controller, a PSX controller, a generic USB trackball, and an iPazzPort USB handheld keyboard.

The construction of the KeyBall follows in the tradition of the best case modders we’ve ever seen: cutting plastic, gluing plastic, applying epoxy putty, and lots of sanding. The electronics for the controller also follow in the most hallowed traditions of case modders: perfboard, hot glue, and many fine strands of wire. Inside the controller is a USB hub to connect all the different USB devices.

It’s a great device that finally solves the problem of putting a traditional keyboard and mouse layout in the palms of your hands.

YAPZH! (Yet Another Pi Zero Hub)

You’d think just about all the permutations of adding a hub to the Raspberry Pi Zero were done. But you’d be wrong. [Daniel’s] approach is to put the Zero inside the existing case for the hub. The LogiLink hub used is in a nice metal case with mounting flanges on the side. It looks robust and not much like a typical consumer hub. This hack would serve well where the Zero and hub might take a few wacks.

Wiring between Zero and Hub
Wiring between Zero and Hub

It took some fiddling with the hub components but he made it work. The easy part was wiring the the power and USB test points on the Zero to the hub.

More challenging were the mechanical aspects to physically fit the Zero into the case. Four LEDs were removed since their only purpose was indicating if a cables were plugged into the hub. There are four electrolytic capacitors standing upright that occupied the space needed by the Pi. [Daniel] repositioned them to lie horizontally to provide room for the Zero.

With the Zero able to fit inside the case the next steps are to create mounting holes in the USB board and cut holes in the case to access the HDMI and USB ports and the SD card holder. Some finicky work with a Dremel provided the holes and the cutouts. Fortunately, the mounting holes on the Zero aligned with some open spaces on the USB board. If they don’t, some glue and standoffs might be sufficient.

The only aspect [Daniel] left for you to hack is access to the GPIO port. That would require another cutout to bring out a ribbon cable for controlling your world. After such a nicely detailed writeup with a plethora of pictures, he had to leave something for other hackers to do.

Driving WS2811 LEDs with…VGA?

We thought we’d seen it all. All the ways to drive WS2811/2812 “Neopixel” LEDs, that is. And then [Steve Hardy] comes up with a new one: hacking a computer’s VGA output to drive 500 WS2811s in a string. And it’s quite a hack. You can check out the video (it’s worth enduring the horrible wind noise) below the break.

bits[Steve]’s big realization was that he could send the digital data that the Neopixels needed by carefully selecting a resolution and clock rate for the VGA to match the timings that the WS2811 modules wanted. A resolution of 840×1000 at 28MHz produces 70 pixels per WS2811 bit, or 12 bits per line. This means two VGA lines need to be sent for the RGB triple for each LED, hence the 1000 rows.

There are some further tricks before [Steve] got around to writing a custom OpenGL shader that converts regular graphics to his strange black-and-white bit pattern to drive the LEDs, but you’re going to have to read [Steve’s] blog for all that. If you’re waiting for a full code write-up, [Steve] says that one’s pending.

We’re just stoked to see the computing power that lies within a video card used for other purposes. Once you think of the VGA output as a general-purpose high speed (analog!) output, it opens up a whole bunch of possibilities if you can write the corresponding video software. As [Steve] points out, he’s only using the red channel right now — he could trivially add another 1000 LEDs just by tweaking his video code.

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USB Proxy Rats Out Your Devices’ Secrets

If you need to reverse-engineer a USB protocol on a computer running Linux, your work is easy because you control everything on the target system — you can just look at the raw USB data. If you’d like to reverse-engineer a USB device that plugs into a game console, on the other hand, your work is a lot harder. Until now.

serialusb is a side-project by [Mathieu Laurendeau], alias [Matlo]. His main project, GIMX is aimed at gaming and lets you modify your gaming controller’s performance by passing it first through your PC and tweaking the USB data before forwarding it on to the target console. Want rapid fire? You got it. Alter the steering-wheel sensitivity curves? Sure.

GIMX is essentially a USB man-in-the-middle between your controller and your console, with the added ability to modify the data along the way. For hardware that’s not yet supported by GIMX, though, either [Matlo] would need to borrow your controller, or teach you to man-in-the-middle your own USB traffic. And that’s what serialusb does.

The hardware required is very modest: a USB-to-serial adapter and an ATmega32u4-based Arduino clone. Many of you could whip this together with parts on hand, and it’s the same hardware you’d need to run GIMX anyway. Data goes through your computer, is usbmon’ed and wireshark’ed, and then passed over serial to the ATmega which then converts it back into USB, plugged into the console. A very tidy little setup.

In case this seems familiar, we’ve covered a similar trick by [Matlo] before that used a BeagleBoard as the computer in the middle. That’s a sweet setup for sure, but if you don’t have a spare single-board computer lying around, now you can get it done for only around $5 in parts. Happy USB reversing!