Thumbs Up for This Custom Atari 5200 Controller

It may be nearly 40 years old, but the Atari 5200 still inspires legions of fans to relive the 8-bit glory days of their youth. There was much to love about the game console, but the joystick-and-keypad controllers were not among its many charms. The joystick didn’t auto-center, the buttons were mushy, and the ergonomics were nonexistent.

Retro-aficionados need not suffer in silence, though, thanks to this replacement controller for the Atari 5200. [Scott Baker] didn’t want to settle for one of the commercial replacements or, horrors, an adapter for the old PC-style joystick, so he rolled his own. Working from the original Atari schematics, [Scott] devised a plan for using a readily available thumbstick controller as the basis for his build. The essential problem was how to adapt the 10k pots on the new joystick to work in an environment expecting 500k pots, which he solved using an analog to digital and back to analog approach. The ADCs on an ATtiny85 convert each joystick pot’s voltage to a digital value between 0 and 255, which is sent to a 100K digital potentiometer. A little fiddling with RC constants brings it back in line with what the console expects. The thumbstick and buttons live on a custom PCB – kudos to [Scott] for designing an ambidextrous board. The video below shows the design and the finished product in action.

[Scott] is on a bit of a 5200 kick these days; he just finished up a Raspberry Pi multi-cartridge for the venerable console. His controller should make retro-gameplay on the console a little easier on the hands.

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Ted Dabney, Atari, and the Video Game Revolution

It may be hard for those raised on cinematic video games to conceive of the wonder of watching a plain white dot tracing across a black screen, reflecting off walls and a bounced by a little paddle that responded instantly to the twist of a wrist. But there was a time when Pong was all we had, and it was fascinating. People lined up for hours for the privilege of exchanging a quarter for a few minutes of monochrome distraction. In an arcade stuffed with noisy pinball machines with garish artwork and flashing lights, Pong seemed like a calm oasis, and you could almost feel your brain doing the geometry to figure out where to place the paddle so as not to miss the shot.

As primitive as it now seems, Pong was at the forefront of the video game revolution, and that little game spawned an industry that raked in $108 billion last year alone. It also spawned one of the early success stories of the industry, Atari, a company founded in 1972. Just last week, Ted Dabney, one of the co-founders of Atari, died at the age of 81. It’s sad that we’re getting to the point where we’re losing some of the pioneers of the industry, but it’s the way of things. All we can do is reflect on Dabney’s life and legacy, and examine the improbable path that led him to be one of the fathers of the video game industry.

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VCF East: The Mail Order App Store

Today we take the concept of a centralized software repository for granted. Whether it’s apt or the App Store, pretty much every device we use today has a way to pull applications in without the user manually having to search for them on the wilds of the Internet. Not only is this more convenient for the end user, but at least in theory, more secure since you won’t be pulling binaries off of some random website.

But centralized software distribution doesn’t just benefit the user, it can help developers as well. As platforms like Steam have shown, once you lower the bar to the point that all you need to get your software on the marketplace is a good idea, smaller developers get a chance to shine. You don’t need to find a publisher or pay out of pocket to have a bunch of discs pressed, just put your game or program out there and see what happens. Markus “Notch” Persson saw his hobby project Minecraft turn into one of the biggest entertainment franchises in decades, but one has to wonder if it would have ever gotten released commercially if he first had to convince a publisher that somebody would want to play a game about digging holes.

In the days before digital distribution was practical, things were even worse. If you wanted to sell your game or program, it needed to be advertised somewhere, needed to be put on physical media, and it needed to get shipped out to the customer. All this took capital that would easily be beyond many independent developers, to say nothing of single individuals.

But at the recent Vintage Computer Festival East, [Allan Bushman] showed off relics from a little known chapter of early home computing: the Atari Program Exchange (APX). In a wholly unique approach to software distribution at the time, individuals were given a platform by which their software would be advertised and sold to owners of 8-bit machines such as the Atari 400/800 and later XL series computers. In the early days, when the line between computer user and computer programmer was especially blurry, the APX let anyone with the skill turn their ideas into profit. Continue reading “VCF East: The Mail Order App Store”

More Than Just An Atari Look-Alike

The Raspberry Pi has been a boon for hackers with a penchant for retro gaming. Redditor [KaptinBadkruk] Wanted to get on board the game train and so built himself an Atari 2600-inspired Raspberry Pi 3 console!

A key goal was the option to play Nintendo 64 titles, so [KaptinBadkruk] had to overclock the Pi and then implement a cooling system. A heatsink, some copper pads, and a fan from an old 3D printer — all secured by a 3D printed mount — worked perfectly after giving the heatsink a quick trim. An old speaker and a mono amp from Adafruit — and a few snags later — had the sound set up, with the official RPi touchscreen as a display.

After settling on an Atari 2600-inspired look, [KaptinBadkruk] laboured through a few more obstacles in finishing it off — namely, power. He originally intended for this  project to be portable, but power issues meant that idea had to be sidelined until the next version. However — that is arguably offset by [KaptinBadkruk]’s favourite part: a slick 3D Printed item box from Mario Kart front and center completes the visual styling in an appropriately old-meets-new way.

That item block isn’t the first time a lightshow has accompanied an Atari console, but don’t let that stop you from sticking one in your pocket.

[Via /r/DIY]

Hackaday Links: December 17, 2017

Where do you go if you want crazy old electronic crap? If you’re thinking a ham swap meet is the best place, think again. [Fran] got the opportunity to clean out the storage closet for the physics department at the University of Pennsylvania. Oh, man is there some cool stuff here. This room was filled to the brim with old databooks and development boards, and a sample kit for the unobtanium Nimo tube.

The Gigatron is a Hackaday Prize entry to build a multi-Megahertz computer with a color display out of TTL logic. Now, all this work is finally paying off. [Marcel] has turned the Gigatron into a kit. Save for the memories, this computer is pretty much entirely 74-series logic implemented on a gigantic board. Someone is writing a chess program for it. It’s huge, awesome, and the kits should cost under $200.

What’s cooler than BattleBots, and also isn’t Junkyard Wars? BattleBots, but in drone form. Drone Clash was originally announced in March, but now they’re moving it up to February to coincide with the TUS Expo. What could be better than flaming piles of lithium?

The Atari Lynx went down in history as the first portable console with a color LCD. There was a problem with the Lynx; the display was absolutely terrible. [RetroManCave] found someone selling an LCD upgrade kit for the Lynx, and the results are extremely impressive. The colors aren’t washed out, and since the backlight isn’t a fluorescent light bulb (yes, really), this Lynx should get a bit more run time for each set of batteries.

Like dead tree carcasses? You need to butcher some dead tree carcasses. The best way to do this is on a proper workbench, and [Paul Sellers] is working on a video series on how to make a workbench. He’s up to episode 3, where the legs are mortised. This is all done with hand tools, and the videos are far more interesting than you would think.

If you need some very small, very blinky wearables, here’s an option. This build is literally three parts — an LED matrix, an ATtiny2313, and a coin cell battery. Seems like this could be an entry for the Coin Cell Challenge we have going on right now.

A Video Game Odyssey: How Magnavox Launched the Console Industry

What was the first video game console? If you said the Atari 2600, you would be wrong, but we’d forgive you. After all, the Atari was early and widely sold. It also had the major features you expect from a video game. However, there was an earlier console available. the Magnavox Odyssey.

This system was black and white, had two wired controllers, and while it didn’t quite have cartridges, you could select from one of several games. The system seems inexpensive today at $100 (not including the optional light gun). However, adjusting for 1972 currency value, that’s equivalent to about $600 today.

It was not an impulse buy, and the differentiation between games was mostly an exercise in imagination. But the the Magnavox Odyssey nevertheless brought computer technology into the home and that was exciting. It proved a market existed for home video gaming, and served no small part in the success of Atari.

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Firework Shows, The Vintage Atari Way

In the summer of 1987, the Atari magazine ST-Log caried a piece entitled “Atari Sets Off Fireworks!”, a profile of the use of Atari computers in professional firework displays by Astro Pyrotechnics, a now-defunct California company. Antic podcast host [Kevin Savetz] tracked down the fireworks expert interviewed in 1987, [Robert Veline], and secured not only an interview, but a priceless trove of photographs and software. These he has put online, allowing us a fascinating glimpse into the formative years of computerized pyrotechnics.

The system uses not one, but two Ataris. An ST has all the display data and scheduling set up in the Zoomracks card file software, this is then exported to an 800XL which does the work of running the display. We’re told the code for the 800XL is loaded on a ROM cartridge for reliability. The 800XL is mounted in an aluminium briefcase with a small CRT monitor and battery, and a custom interface board stuffed with TO220 power transistors to fire the pyrotechnics themselves.

It’s unlikely that you’ll be breaking out a vintage Atari yourselves to fun a firework show three decades later, but the opportunity to examine in detail a real-world contemporary commercial use of a now-vintage computer doesn’t come along too often. You can read the original article on the Internet Archive, and listen to the [Veline] interview on the podcast episode.

This is the first Atari firework controller we’ve brought you, but we’ve shown you plenty of others like this beautifuly-executed Arduino build. And if you wonder how to trigger the fireworks themselves, how about destroying a resistor?