Challenging A Broken DualShock 4 Controller To A Duel

Picture of a DualShock 4 controller PCB, with two joysticks on the sides

A broken PlayStation controller would normally be a bummer, and if the issue is losing calibration that’s stored in a non-documented format, you might as well bin it. For [Al] of [Al’s blog], however, it’s a challenge, turning into a four-part story – so far. The first installment was published January 1st this year, and seeing the pure enthusiasm [Al] has reverse-engineering the DualShock 4 controller, you might guess that this is a New Year’s gift from someone who knows [Al] very well. The list of problems with the joystick is numerous, to begin with – it’s easier to list all the things that work properly, and it isn’t many of them. Perhaps, the firmware problem is is the most interesting one to start with.

We see the malfunctioning joystick torn apart, not literally as much as metaphorically, in that every nook and cranny on the way becomes familiar. To be fair, the controller did start by putting up a fight – connecting it to [Al]’s computer would quite literally make the Linux kernel panic, causing to a divide-by-zero inside a driver. Not to be put off, [Al] looks into the problems one by one, and all roads lead to a malfunctioning firmware inside this DualShock. Firmware it is, then – of course, a proprietary mess. A labyrinth of DMCA-taken-down links leads [Al] to a repository fork, with some seemingly-Sony-internal tools for programming the DualShock’s internal data.

The rabbit hole continues on, leading us through custom setting APIs and binary reverse-engineering, and it looks like we can expect an installment or two in the future – especially if you, the reader, can help [Al] by providing some information from your own DualShock. This is a battle of wits through and through, our hacker battling the depths of a proprietary piece of technology made ubiquitous, and the goal is to get it working or kill time trying. Hackers taming broken technology is a joy to witness. For instance, it’s important that we remember – if your Bluetooth speaker is making annoying noises, you can reprogram it. Now, on the other hand, if your DualShock behaves well, you can reward it with a USB-C upgrade!

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