Steel Battalion Controller Grows Up And Gets A Job

We’re going to go out on a limb here and say that the controller for Steel Battalion on the original Xbox is the most impressive video game peripheral ever made. Designed to make players feel like they were really in the cockpit of a “Vertical Tank”, the controller features dual control sticks, three pedals, a gear selector, and dozens of buttons, switches, and knobs. Unfortunately, outside of playing Steel Battalion and its sequel, there’s not a whole lot you can do with the monstrous control deck.

HID Report Descriptor

But now, nearly 20 years after the game released, [Oscar Sebio Cajaraville] has not only developed an open source driver that will allow you to use the infamous mech controller on a modern Windows machine, but he’s part of the team developing a new game that can actually be played with it. Though gamers who are imagining piloting a futuristic combat robot in glorious 4K might be somewhat disappointed to find that this time around, the Steel Battalion controller is being used to operate a piece of construction equipment.

In his blog post, [Oscar] focuses on what it took to develop a modern Windows driver for a decades old controller. It helps that the original Xbox used what was essentially just a rewiring of USB 1.0 for its controllers, so connecting it up didn’t require any special hardware. Unfortunately, while the controller used USB to communicate with the console, it was not USB-HID compliant.

As it turns out, Microsoft actually provides an open source example driver that’s specifically designed to adapt non-HID USB devices into a proper game controller the system will recognize. This gave [Oscar] a perfect starting point, but he still needed to explore the controller’s endpoints and decode the data it was sending over the wire. This involved creating a HID Report Descriptor for the controller, a neat trick to file away mentally if you’ve ever got to talk to an oddball USB device.

In the end, [Oscar] created a driver that allows players to use the Steel Battalion controller in his game, BH Trials. Unfortunately there’s something of a catch, as drivers need to be signed by a trusted certification authority before Windows 10 will install them. As he can’t quite justify the expense of this step, he’s written a second post that details what’s required to turn driver signing off so you can get the device working.

Earlier this year we saw an incredible simulator built around the Steel Battalion controller, were an external “coach” could watch you play and give you tips on surviving the virtual battlefield. But even that project still used the original game; hopefully an open source driver that will get this peripheral working on Microsoft’s latest OS will help spur the development of even more impressive hacks.

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PC And Console Gaming United Courtesy Of Origin

When folk at Origin PCs realized that their company was about to celebrate its 10th anniversary of making custom (gaming) PCs, they knew that they had to do something special. Since one thing they did when the company launched in 2009 was to integrate an XBox 360 into a gaming PC, they figured that they might as well refresh and one-up that project. Thus 2019’s Project ‘Big O’ was born.

Naturally still featuring a high-end gaming PC at its core, the show piece of the system is that they also added an XBox One X, Playstation 4 Pro and Nintendo Switch console into the same full-tower GENESIS chassis. For this they had to strip the first two consoles out of their enclosures and insert them into the case each along with their own (appropriately colored) watercooling loop. Unfortunately the optical drives got ditched, presumably because this made things look cleaner.

The Switch was not modded or even cracked open. Instead a Switch dock was installed in the front of the case, allowing one to dock the Switch in the front of the case, and still use it in a mobile fashion after undocking it. Meanwhile an Ethernet and HDMI switch simplify the interfaces to this gaming system a lot, requiring one to only plug in a single HDMI and Ethernet cable to plug in all capable platforms. The result is a pretty sleek-looking system, definitely an eye-catcher.

Since Origin will never, ever, sell the Big O to customers as it’s just a promotional item, it does tickle the imagination. Case-modding and combining multiple computers (often an ATX and mini-ITX) system into a single case is nothing new, but aspects such as having a dockable Switch feature, this clean aesthetic and overall functionality makes one wonder what an enterprising hobbyist could accomplish here.

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An Epic Mech Cockpit Build For Steel Battalion

Steel Battalion was released for the Xbox in 2002, and remains one of the most hardcore mech simulators of all time. It became legendary for its huge twin-stick controller covered in buttons, and for deleting your save game if you failed to eject in time. It took giant robot gaming to a new level, but fundamentally, you were still playing in front of a TV at home. Things really got serious in 2015, with the completion of the Big Steel Battalion Box – the battlemech cockpit of your dreams.

Coaching the player is a key part of BSBB gameplay, with a manual created specifically for this purpose.

If you’re thinking this is just a television in a dark room with some stickers, you’d be very wrong. The Imgur thread covers the build process, and it’s one heck of a ride. Things started with a custom cabinet being built, intentionally sized to induce claustrophobia. There’s a swivelling seat with a 4-point harness, and a hatch to seal the player inside. During initial testing of the box to determine how dark it was, one of the makers was trapped inside and had to call for help. That should highlight how serious the build really is.

The controller was modified and hooked up to custom electronics to add realistic effects. Get hit? Feel the seat rumble thanks to motors and a subwoofer in the base. Mech terminally damaged? The entire cockpit is bathed in flashing red light. There’s even smoke effects rigged up to make things even more stressful during battle.

The entire setup is connected to the outside world, where a coach can view the action inside through a video feed from the Xbox and several internal cameras. A basic manual is provided to help the coach keep the player alive during their first moments of combat. This is courtesy of a custom intercom setup, built using surplus Chinese aviation headsets. There’s even a red telephone to give that authentic military feel.

It’s a build that covers just about every detail you could think of. If you’re keen to try it out, it’s on permanent loan to The Museum of Art And Digital Entertainment in Oakland, California. It recalls memories of a similar build created to play Artemis. Video after the break.

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Use Your 360 Controllers On The Original Xbox

Microsoft’s original Xbox was regarded curiously by gamers and the press alike at launch. It was bigger, bulkier, and featured an eldritch monstrosity as its original controller. Thankfully, Microsoft saw fit to improve things later in the console’s lifespan with the Controller S, but nothing quite compares to the simple glory of the Xbox 360 controller. Now, there’s a way to use one on your original Xbox.

This project is the work of [Ryzee119], who previously adapted the controller for use with the Nintendo 64. An Arduino Pro Micro, acting as a master controller, talks to a MAX3421 USB host controller, which interfaces with an Xbox 360 wireless receiver, either genuine or third-party. The Arduino reads the data from the wireless receiver and then emulates a standard controller to the original Xbox. The system can handle up to four players on wireless 360 controllers, requiring an extra Arduino per controller to act in slave mode and emulate the signals to the original Xbox. In testing, lag appears roughly comparable with an original wired controller. This is a particularly important consideration for fast-paced action games or anything rhythm based.

It’s a well executed, fully featured project that should improve your weekly Halo 2 LAN parties immensely. No more shall Greg trip over a controller cable, spilling Doritos and Mountain Dew on your shagpile carpeting. Video after the break.

[Thanks to DJ Biohazard for the tip!]

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Original Xbox Gets Hardware Transplant, And Is Very Fast

The original Xbox launched way back in 2001, to much fanfare. This was Microsoft’s big first entry into the console market, with a machine packing a Pentium III CPU, and commodity PC hardware, contributing significantly to its bulk. Modding was a major part of the early Xbox scene, and as the original hardware has grown too feeble to keep up with modern tasks, enterprising makers have instead turned to packing the black box with modern hardware. The team at [Linus Tech Tips] decided that other builds out there weren’t serious enough, and decided to take things up a notch.

The build starts with a passively cooled compact power supply, a Core i5 8400 6-core CPU, and a GeForce RTX2070 to handle graphical tasks. Parts were carefully selected for a combination of performance, packaging, and with an eye to the thermal limits inherent in stuffing high-powered modern hardware into a tight Xbox shell.

All manner of oddball techniques are used to make the build happen. The GPU is connected through a PCI Express cable, which we were surprised to learn was a thing, given the nature of high-speed signals and long transmission lines. The Xbox shell had its original metal insert and plastic standoffs removed, with an aluminium inner shell being CNC cut and bent up on a pan brake to act as a new internal chassis. There’s yet more carnage to come, as the GPU has its extraneous DVI port hacked off with a grinding wheel.

In the end, after much cutting and cajoling, the parts come together and fit inside the case, making the sleeper build a reality. It’s fun to watch the team fiddle with config files and struggle to load and play local multiplayer games, as they realise that there are just some things that consoles do better.

Regardless, it’s an impressive casemod that goes to show what you can pull off with some off-the-shelf parts, a well-stocked workshop, and some ingenuity. If you’re looking for more case mod inspiration, try out this all-in-one printer build. Video after the break.

[Thanks to Keith O for the tip!]

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The Mac That Helped Build The Xbox Rides Again

The original Xbox, released in 2001 by Microsoft, was notable for being built out of largely off-the-shelf PC components. With a custom Pentium III CPU and IDE peripherals, the console was much closer to a contemporary desktop computer than any of the dedicated game consoles which had come before it. Which of course makes perfect sense if you think about it. Microsoft would want to use technology they were intimately acquainted with on their first foray into gaming market, and if there’s anything Microsoft knows better than forced system updates, it’s x86 computers.

But for their follow-up system, the Xbox 360, Microsoft decided to go with a PowerPC processor they co-developed with IBM. Naturally this meant they needed PowerPC development systems to give to developers, which is how Microsoft ended up briefly distributing PowerMac G5’s. [Pierre Dandumont] came into possession of one of these oddball Microsoft-branded Macs, though unfortunately the hard drive had been wiped. But with the help of a leaked drive image and some hardware sleuthing, he’s now got the machine up and running just like it was when Microsoft was sending them to developers between 2003 and 2005.

Since you’re reading this on Hackaday, you might have guessed there was a little more to the story then just downloading an ISO and writing it to the hard drive of a PowerMac G5. There’s apparently some debate in the community about whether or not it’s some form of rudimentary DRM on Microsoft’s part, but in any event, the development kit operating system will only run on a G5 with very specific hardware. So the challenge is not only figuring out what hardware the software is looking for, but finding it and getting it installed over a decade after its prime.

Most of the required hardware, like the Intel 741462-010 network card or 160 GB Seagate ST3160023AS hard drive were easy enough to track down on eBay. But the tricky one was finding a Mac version of the ATi Radeon X800 XT. [Pierre] ended up getting a much more common ATi FireGL X3 and flashing it with the Mac X800 firmware. This is a little easier said than done as depending on which manufacturer made the memory on your specific video card you have to fiddle with the clock speeds to get a usable image, but in the end he found the winning combination and the development kit OS booted up with his hacked graphics card.

So what does all this get you in 2019? [Pierre] admits nothing terribly useful, but it’s still pretty cool. The system lets you run Xbox and Xbox 360 binaries, and even features the old Xbox 360 “blade” style dashboard. He says that he’s only had limited success getting retail games to actually run on the thing, but if your goal was running Xbox 360 games in 2019 there’s certainly better ways to do that anyway. Like, buying an Xbox 360.

We’ve previously talked about the Xbox 360’s rather unusual processor, but around these parts we more often see projects which involve tearing Microsoft’s sophomore console apart than digging into how it actually worked.

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Xbox One X Gets Aluminum Laptop Makeover

While many a gamer was willing to brave hand-to-hand combat this Black Friday just to get a few bucks off of Microsoft’s premium-tier game console, [jomega] was already cutting his to pieces from the comfort of his own home. Not dissuaded by the system’s fairly high sticker price or relatively limited modding scene, he decided to transplant his Xbox One X into an incredibly slick laptop-style aluminum enclosure.

Turning a game console into a “laptop” is hardly new, Ben Heck has been doing it for over a decade now, but in general they tend to look pretty clunky. With a few exceptions, the builder’s goal is not so much to make the final result look sleek and professional, but simply to take their favorite games on the go. But from the start [jomega] wanted something that would not only allow him to take long walks in the park with Master Chief, but look gorgeous doing it.

One of his goals was to make the final device thinner than the original system, so the first step was to assemble virtual representations of the Xbox’s principal components in CAD to find the most efficient placement for everything. Long before the first pieces of aluminum were cut, [jomega] already knew where each part and screw was going to end up. The time he invested in planning out the build in CAD more than made up for itself when it came time to assemble the final product, and also means this design is highly reproducible should he decide to build another one on commission.

Even though the final system seems impossibly thin, no hardware or functionality had to be left out. Even the optical drive, which on the stock console is something of an afterthought to begin with in an era of digital downloads (rumor has it the next Xbox will drop optical discs entirely), has been retained. Special consideration did need to be given to cooling the 4K powerhouse though, and [jomega] warns that running the system with the case open or the fans off can have dangerous consequences.

Thanks to the Xbox One’s wireless capabilities (for both Internet connection and controllers), there’s a notable lack of ports on the case. This made the design a bit easier, as [jomega] really only needed to have a connector for the AC power cord in the back and a couple of holes for the system’s power, eject, and controller sync buttons. He did add in a USB port for convenience, but even that could be skipped to make things easier.

In the past we’ve seen some rather husky Xbox 360 laptop builds, and at least one attempt to build a more slimline version, but this latest entry in the long line of portable-ized Xboxen has set the bar very high.

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