Build A DIY Spinner To Get Your Tempest Game Going

These days, controls in games are fairly standardized by genre. Most RTSs, FPSs, and RPGs all control more or less the same way. But one type of controller that has fallen by the wayside is the paddle, or spinner. [jesster88] is a big Tempest fan, however, and a spinner is crucial. Thus, what else is there to do but whip up one’s own?

Tempest is one of the more difficult classic games to categorize.

The build is based around a wired optical mouse. It’s pulled apart, with its main PCB installed into a 3D printed enclosure. Inside, the optical sensor is pointed at the base of a spinner constructed out of a printed drum and an off-the-shelf knob. The spinner is installed in a skateboard-style bearing for smooth rotation. As it spins, the optical sensor detects the motion and reports it as mouse movement via USB.

[jesster88] uses the device for playing Tempest with MAME. We imagine the technique could be adapted to work with other games that rely on spinner or paddle inputs, too. Meanwhile, if you’re whipping up your own retro game hacks at home, don’t hesitate to let us know!

8 thoughts on “Build A DIY Spinner To Get Your Tempest Game Going

    1. It will skip if the distance between the mouse surface sensor and the drum is too great or if the drum surface is not a dark color and opaque.

      I haven’t had any skipping issues through all of the blue levels until the second red level and I tend to play twitchy.

      I’m pretty low key most times; do, when my din saw me play a Tempest arcade machine the first time he was startled by how quick and lively I played.

      I like your design. I considered doing a USB clone of the original Tempest spinner as an optical encoder sensor to an Arduino to USB configuration but found this easier.

  1. Many years ago, when I was 17, the Tempest machine at the local arcade (pool hall with video games) broke down.

    This was in a small town. Taking it to be fixed would mean an hour drive to the town that had a shop that would do work on video games.

    I talked the guy that ran the arcade into letting me try to fix it. He agreed, so my brother and I loaded onto our old pickup, hauled it home, and set it up in the basement.

    It didn’t take long to find the problem – a burned out transistor in a high voltage switching power supply. The schematic (with part values and IC types) was in (I think) a booklet in a pouch on the inside of the back cover of the housing.

    There was a scorched looking power resistor next to the dead transistor – I figured the transistor was simply baked to death from the waste heat of that big ceramic resistor.

    I got out the Radio Shack transistor book and looked up a comparable type for the dead transistor – I think the original was an MPSA06. The replacement I chose met all the electrical specifications, but it also had a little heat sink tab. Have you ever seen a TO-92 transistor with a heat sink tab?

    On our next trip to town, I picked up a couple of the needed transistors.

    With the transistor replaced, the Tempest machine ran again.

    My brother and I played quite a few games of Tempest with the back of the machine off and the coin panel open so you could just reach in a flip the coin detector switch for another credit.

    I was going to just take it back, but my dad talked me into going through the whole alignment process that the schematic booklet showed. That got all the lines straight and the colors correct.

    The arcade guy was thrilled to have his machine running again.

    A week later, he called back. Tempest had died again. I swapped out the transistor, all good for another week then it quit again.

    I replaced the transistor a third time, and he left the machine shut down then sold it at a video game auction. It ran on auction day with no trouble, and somebody bought it.

    Back then, 17 year old me couldn’t figure out why that transistor kept dying.

    30 year old me finally realized that there was a big ole electrolytic capacitor conncted to that transistor – and that capacitor was next to that hot power resistor.

    I should have replaced the electrolytic capacitor while I was at it. That’d have probably solved the problem for good.

    The power supply was similar to (if not identical to) the one in the vector graphics Star Wars machine. I “fixed” the Star Wars machine at the arcade the same way as the Tempest machine.

    The arcade ended up selling off the video games, keeping only the pool and snooker tables. There weren’t enough kids in town for the video games to make any money.

    1. My family had a tabletop Tempest at our laundromat. Same problem, same repairs. I also had access to the DIP switches that allowed demo mode — you could start at any of the 99 available levels of the game instead of maxing out at the level below the last one played.

  2. it took me years to build a full size virtual pinball machine with haptic feedback including solenoids, surround sound exciters and motors. Just below the screen I have a full set of MAME controls including a spinner just for Tempest. Too bad I can’t upload a picture.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.