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.

40 thoughts on “Putting a Trackball Inside A Controller

  1. From the write-up: “The electronics for the controller also follow in the most hallowed traditions of case modders: perfboard, hot glue, and many fine strands of wire.”
    From the site: “No hot glue! Everything has it’s own custom made board with screwposts. This way it is easily serviceable should someone get nacho bits in the buttons.”
    Looks pretty cool, though. I like the PS1 triggers used as grip buttons. He should do a KS (but for a wireless version).

        1. Or could some cable management. Unless you keep good documentation of all the connections, fixing or debugging that down the road could be an issue.
          I wouldn’t use those type of perfboard material as they tend to break. Small FR4 perf boards from China are pretty cheap these days and they can handle a bit more mechanical abuse.

  2. The work is amazing, but the write up needs less enthusiasm.

    “leverages the superior layout and precision of the keyboard and mouse combo, without making any compromises.”

    The trackball *IS* a compromise on it’s own. In fact from the write up the whole thing is one big compromise as the keyboard/mouse combination is “the obviously superior input device”.

    This is not to underrate the work involved in this project, I am impressed. It’s the write up that I have issues with.

    1. It does look nice.

      The keyboard, however, would become an issue if the user does a lot of typing.

      Hmm, I wonder if anyone has ever tried adding a chording keyboard to the side-grips of a suitably large controller.

      1. Those keyboards aren’t really for typing, beyond just messaging other players, “gg lol” “gief monies pl0x hue hue hue”. You can only do that in quiet periods, and there’s voice chat anyway. Chording would probably be more trouble than it’s worth, don’t think you could concentrate on remembering chords while you’re trying to play, probably the little keyboard is quicker for what it does. And they’re a handy source of little keyboards for hackers.

      2. The keys are too tiny to be good for button mushing and twitching as and you can easily press the wrong ones without looking. That’s one thing I like about controllers as they buttons are enough far apart and you can go by feel.

    2. Indeed.
      At the end of the day its mostly about human/computer datarates.
      Its quite hard to beat a mouse in terms of speed and precision.
      Trackballs, imho, really dont work nearly so well.

      For my own taste I think the closest was with Nintendos Wii motes – nothing to do with motion sensing, but rather the IR pointer facility. Criminally underused, but the 1024×1024 pixel IR camera combined with the reference points certainly made turning around and aiming in FPS games vastly quicker then with sticks. (still inferior to a mouse mind you).
      I wonder if someone could hack up a similar system for PCs streaming set ups.

  3. If they author actually played video games, then they would’ve omitted their pop-culture “keyboard+mouse bettur than controller!111”.

    I’m a PC gamer through and through, and whilst a mouse and keyboard are better for most games, some games (like Ori and the Blind Forest) really benefit from an Xbox controller. Sometimes different jobs require different tools, most of us here should understand that, I’d hope.

    1. FPSes are mouse all over though. Those tiny little thumb sticks don’t have the range and accuracy (you get ONE!) to aim guns, it’s why auto-aim is necessary in so many console games. I dunno why they don’t use the motion-sensing to control the gun. But beside all that, a mouse is best.

      Small trackballs are actually a bit useless, I dunno how much good this is going to do in practice. I’d probably have stuck a port in for a normal mouse, if it were me.

      1. There are developments boards and framework/library for USB HID to prototype something together. It is well within reach of a hacker to roll their alternative motion control schemes. e.g. using MEMS accelerometers, gyro etc for tracking 3D movements to emulate a mouse.

        1. I was thinking of the motion sensing already in joypads. Obviously the Wii has lots of form for using the controller as a gun, but it seems like an obvious thing to do for other consoles.

      2. I only use my gamepad for driving/racing games on the PC. You can not really drive a car well with binary inputs from the keyboards WASD keys. Analog triggers for acceleration/break and precise stick-based steering make a really big difference there. For all the other games i play, mouse and keyboard just feels much more fitting. (Maybe it has to do with the fact that I don’t buy and hardly ever play on any consoles too)

      3. Sticks are about as useless at being mouses as keyboards are at being sticks.

        Basically one platform typically has inferior movement but superior aiming.
        The other superior movement and inferior aiming.

        Its why a FPS might work great on a PC, but playing Mario Galaxy would suck.

      4. Splatoon uses the controller’s motion controls for aiming. I’m terrible at it though, I couldn’t get used to it. Some people use it to great effect since you can turn and stop very rapidly.

    2. I can get by with the controller on normal/hard for single player FPS without auto-aim as it just gets in the way anyway. The left thumb stick for movements, keys and dpad are great as the extra separation reduces the issues with keyboard – finger landing on the wrong keys. For a hard level when I need much faster aim or more control, I use the mouse and controller together. Quite a few games let you use them together.

    1. Result: Joypad-mounted, smallish trackballs are slightly better than analogue thumbsticks, but still nowhere near a mouse and keyboard.

      Which I could have guessed from experience. Not used many small trackballs, but they suck. Same problem as the analogue thumb sticks, you get full-range, or high accuracy, but not both. You can move a mouse a lot further, accurately, in an instant. You can’t with a trackball.

      1. Certainly, a controller with a trackball is not as precise as a keyboard + mouse combination. But what is missing is a comparison with keyboard + trackball combination.

        I’m using a Logitech M570 trackball since a few years and I can say that you don’t have so much loss in accuracy or full range. I can make 180° in an FPS just by “launching” the ball with my thumb as I can click precisely in fast games where you need to click everywhere. I tend to think that a classic mouse is not as good because you have to move your arm (and be on a good surface) and you can hit object on your way there. Spilling coffee on your keyboard usually happens because you move your mouse too fast and hit the cup with your hand ;)
        (and, using a trackball cured my wrist pain due to shitty mices)

        1. Your Logitech (just looked it up) uses a medium-size trackball, better than the mini ones that really are pretty useless. I really miss my old one, bit bigger than a snooker ball, eventually the rollers wore out, old optomechanical serial type. Could do with a new one, but they’re a bit expensive to buy without testing. So I bought new Teflon feet for the mouse instead.

  4. One of the prototypes of the steam controller was this, but the trackball was positioned so that it replaced the right stick on a xbox style controller and the ball was exposed on top and the bottom of the controller so you could control it from either side.

  5. Microsoft Strategic Commander paired with a Microsoft Trackball Optical 1.0. Would be nice to have both of those back in production, with the trackball upgraded with silicon carbide balls for the trackball to spin on instead of the steel ones that wear down and let it drag in the socket.

    What about joysticks? They get no love anymore. Pair a Saitek Cyborg 3D with the Strategic commander and you’ve a decent setup for 3D space shooters.

    I need to have a dedicated game PC with room for all that and my old PS/2 PC-Dash, the old one with the built in program reader which reads off the printed inserts. Would need an XP install just to run the software for designing and printing those sheets. Aside from that, the original PC-Dash will work on any computer you can somehow adapt a PS/2 keyboard to. Jack it in, insert the paper, slide the reader and you’re ready with a custom command keyboard. One key for IDSPISPOPD! :)

    1. I got a beautiful, old-style, wireless USB joystick, for 2 quid! From PC World, only thing there that wasn’t a ripoff. They’re a bit better for price nowadays, not much more than the going rate for a lot of stuff, though it always helps if you know what you’re buying.

      Anyway… 2 quid! Boxed, brand new. I should have bought a few at that price, but I thought there had to be something wrong with it. There wasn’t.

      That said, the point of this post is, I never use it. I tried it with Mechwarrior, the sort of game where a stick, with top-hat, throttle, and all the rest, should be useful, but keyboard and mouse was better. More accurate, more buttons. Apart from maybe flight sims I think joysticks have had their day. The pad is better. And mouse and keyboard are better than that, for most things. Platformers are better with pads, so are puzzle games, but FPSes and the like, definitely need a mouse.

  6. Had the same idea a few years back but never did it. Planned to make it with a Gamecube controller, as the design of these were really simple. Just replace the bottom-right joystick with a trackball and you get a really good controller.

    1. Not to mention the built-in assumption that efficiency and accuracy are the only concerns, even in FPSs. It’s a matter of personal preference, plain and simple. A mouse+keyboard player will usually beat a controller player in vs, but again, if optimal accuracy and efficiency were the sole driving concern then we’d play with aimbots even in singleplayer.

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