The Evolution Of Wireless Game Controllers

The story goes that Atari was developing a premium model of their popular home video game console, the Atari 2600, for the 1981 fiscal year. Internally known as the Stella RC, this model revision promised touch sensitive game selection toggles, LED indicators, and onboard storage for the controllers. The focus of the project, however, was the “RC” in Stella RC which stood for remote control. Atari engineers wanted to free players from the constraints of the wires that fettered them to their televisions.

Problem with the prototypes was that the RF transmitters in the controllers were powerful enough to send a signal over a 1000 ft. radius, and they interfered with a number of the remote garage door openers on the market. Not to mention that if there were another Stella RC console on the same channel in an apartment building, or simply across the street, you could be playing somebody else’s Pitfall run. The mounting tower of challenges to making a product that the FCC would stamp their approval on were too great. So Atari decided to abandon the pioneering Stella RC project. Physical proof of the first wireless game controllers would have been eliminated at that point if it were created by any other company… but prototypes mysteriously left the office in some peculiar ways.

“Atari had abandoned the project at the time…[an Atari engineer] thought it would be a great idea to give his girlfriend’s son a videogame system to play with…I can’t [comment] about the relationship itself or what happened after 1981, but that’s how this system left Atari…and why it still exists today.”

Joe Cody, Atari2600.com

Atari did eventually get around to releasing some wireless RF 2600 joysticks that the FCC would approve. A couple years after abandoning the Stella RC project they released the Atari 2600 Remote Control Joysticks at a $69.95 MSRP (roughly $180 adjusted for inflation). The gigantic price tag mixed with the video game market “dropping off the cliff” in 1983 saw few ever getting to know the bliss of wire-free video game action. It was obvious that RF game controllers were simply ahead of their time, but there had to be cheaper alternatives on the horizon.

Out of Sight, Out of Control with IR Schemes

Nintendo AVS 1985 Display
Nintendo AVS console deck and IR controller on display.

Video games were a dirty word in America in 1985. While games themselves were still happening on the microcomputer platforms, the home console business was virtually non-existent. Over in Japan, Nintendo was raking in money hand over fist selling video games on their Famicom console. They sought to replicate that success in North America by introducing a revised model of the Famicom, but it had to impress the tech journos that would be attending its reveal at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

The prototype system was called the Nintendo Advanced Video System (AVS). It would feature a keyboard, a cassette tape drive, and most importantly two wireless controllers. The controllers used infrared (IR) communication and the receiver was built-into the console deck itself. Each controller featured a square metallic directional pad and four action buttons that gave the impression of brushed aluminum. The advancement in video game controller technology was too good to be true though, because the entire system received a makeover before releasing as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) that Christmas. The NES lacked the keyboard, the tape drive, and the IR controllers and its change in materials hardly captured the high-end flash of the AVS. The removal of IR meant the device was cheaper to manufacture. A decision that ultimately helped the NES to become a breakout success that in turn brought back dedicated video game consoles single-handedly.

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PlayStation Classic Hacked Live On Stream

When Sony announced they planned to release their own classic/mini/plug-n-play system this year, many fans were filled with excitement at the chance to relive countless classic games from the 90s. However, once the actual list of titles were made public that excitement faded as reality set in. So many favorites like Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon were left off the final PlayStation Classic list, no doubt due to the complexity of licensing agreements. That will all soon change now that [YifanLu] cracked the PlayStation Classic live on a Twitch stream thus laying the ground work for swapping-in a “more curated” list of classic PlayStation games.

Over the course of three days, [YifanLu] documented the process in real-time of cracking the PlayStation Classic’s security armed with little more than a keyboard. The crux of the hack came from fellow hacker [madmonkey]’s revelation that the firmware update files were signed with a key that had been mistakenly left behind on the device by Sony. Or as [YifanLu] stated, “One key is, ‘Hey am I Sony?’…The other key is saying, ‘Hey I am Sony.’ They distributed the key that identifies [themselves] uniquely and this key doesn’t expire for another 50 years or so.”

Once inside [YifanLu] was able to sideload a prototype image of a Crash Bandicoot over USB. He simply overwrote the first title on the list, Battle Arena Toshinden, and could launch the freshly injected game from the PlayStation Classic menu screen. The video below is from Day 3 of the PlayStation Classic hacking series, so skip to timecode (03:44:45) to see the results in action. For a bit more nuance there are another 15 hours or so of video to catch-up on [YifanLu]’s Twitch page. Here’s to everyone getting their favorite onto the PlayStation Classic in the near future.

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Hydrogen Powered Nerf Blaster Is Dangerously Awesome

Nerf blasters have been around for decades now, exciting children and concerning parents alike. Most are powered by springs or compressed air, and are the ideal holiday toy for putting delicate family heirlooms at risk. Not content to settle for the usual foam-flinging sidearm, [Peter Sripol] decided to take things up a notch.

The build starts with a MEGA CYCLONESHOCK blaster, which uses the larger red NERF darts as ammunition. Water tanks are rigged to the outside, fitted with stainless steel electrodes. The original spring & plunger firing  assembly is then removed, to make room for a firing chamber made out of copper pipe. A small taser-like device is used as an igniter. When the charging switch is pressed, current is passed through the electrodes in the water, which splits the water into hydrogen and oxygen gas. This is then passed to the firing chamber, where it can be ignited by the taser module, activated by the trigger.

Despite some issues with the blaster occasionally destroying darts due to what appears to be overpressure, it is capable of higher shot velocities than the stock blaster. For all its complexity, performance is somewhat hit and miss, but the cool factor of a handheld hydrogen bubbler is hard to ignore. [Peter] does note however that the combination of explosive gases and dangerous catalyst chemicals make this one build that’s probably best left to adults.

If this NERF hack isn’t dangerous enough, you might prefer these Taser darts instead. Video after the break.

[Thanks to Baldpower for the tip!]

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