3D-Printed Rotary Dial Keypad Is Wonderfully Useless

Right up front, let us stipulate that we are not making fun of this project. Even its maker admits that it has no practical purpose. But this 3D-printed Commodore-style rotary dial keypad fails to be practical on so many levels that it’s worth celebrating.

And indeed, celebrating deprecated technology appears to be what [Jan Derogee] had in mind with this build. Rotary dials were not long ago the only way to place a call, and the last time we checked, pulse dialing was still supported by some telephone central office switchgear. Which brings us to the first failure: with millions of rotary dial phones available, why build one from scratch? [Jan] chalks it up to respect for the old tech, but in any case, the 3D-printed dial is a pretty good replica of the real thing. Granted, no real dial used a servo motor to return the dial to the resting state, but the 3D-printed springs [Jan] tried all returned the dial instantly, instead of the stately spin back that resulted in 10 pulses per second. And why this has been done up VIC-20 style and used as a keypad for Commodore computers? Beats us. It had to be used for something. That the software for the C-64  generates DTMF tones corresponding to the number dialed only adds to the wonderful weirdness of this. Check out the video below.

We’ll hand it to [Jan], he has a unique way of looking at the world, especially when it comes to clocks. We really enjoyed his persistence of phosphorescence clock, and his screw-driven linear clock turns the standard timekeeping UI on its head.

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The Rotary Joystick Can Take A Beating

It’s a well-known fact amongst the older set that games used to be harder. Back in the 1980s, most home computers had awful keyboards, barely adequate joysticks, and the games had to be difficult to have any longevity, because there’s only so much you can fit into a single sided disk. Some of these games became known as joystick killers, due to the repetitive thrashing movements required to win. [Jan] was tired of letting Decathlon and its ilk get the better of him and his controllers, so built a joystick that was up to the task.

The basic concept of [Jan]’s rotary joystick is that many games required a fast and repetitive left-right motion to be executed by the player, but weren’t too concerned if a few up or down movements were in the mix. Thus, instead of a traditional shaft-based joystick, instead a rotary mechanism was employed. The player rotates the joystick’s wheel, which has a magnet fitted. This triggers a series of four reed switches, for up, down, left and right. By rotating the wheel quickly, it simulates the rapid left-right motion well enough to beat most of the vintage C64 games that were giving [Jan] trouble, and it makes an ideal controller for the 2018 release, Crank Crank Revolution.

We like the spirit behind any build that uses hardware to overcome intractable gaming problems. We’ve seen similar approaches used to beat Guitar Hero. Remember Guitar Hero? That was a thing. Video after the break.

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Two Joysticks Talk To FPGA Arcade Game Over A VGA Cable

We really love when hacks of previous hacks show up in the tip line. It shows how the hardware hacking community can be a feedback loop, where one hack begets the next, and so on until great things are everywhere. This hacked joystick port for an FPGA Pac Man game is a perfect example of that creative churn.

The story starts with Pano Man, a version of the venerable arcade game ported to a Pano Logic FPGA thin client by [Skip]. We covered that story when it first came out, and it caught the attention of [Tom Verbeure], particularly the bit in the GitHub readme file which suggested there might be a better way to handle the joystick connections. So [Tom] took up the challenge of using the Extended Display Identification Data (EDID) circuit in the VGA connector to support an Atari 2600 joystick. The EDID system is an I²C bus, so the job needed the right port expander. [Tom] chose the MCP23017, a 16-bit device that would have enough GPIO for dual joysticks and a few extra buttons. Having never designed a PCB before, [Tom] fell down that rabbit hole for a bit, but quickly came up with a working design, and then a better one, and then the final version. The video below shows it in action with Pano Man.

We think the creative loop between [Skip] and [Tom] was great here, and we can’t wait to see who escalates next. And it’s pretty amazing how much IO can be stuffed over two wires if you have the right tools. Check out this VGA sniffing effort to learn more about EDID and I²C.

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Interfacing The Sidewinder Joystick to AVRs

The Sidewinder line was a series of gaming peripherals produced by Microsoft, starting in the 1990s. After some initial stumbles, several cutting edge joysticks were released, at a time when the home computer market was in a state of flux, transitioning from legacy interfaces like serial and parallel to the more modern USB. In this interim period, Sidewinder joysticks used a special method to communicate digitally over the game port interface, which more typically used a kludge to read joysticks in an analog manner. [MaZderMind] managed to reverse engineer this protocol, and implemented the interface on an AVR microcontroller.

The technology is loosely described in US Patent 5628686, which discusses the method used to communicate bidirectionally with the Sidewinder joystick. [MaZderMind] found that the patent documents didn’t correspond exactly with how the Sidewinder Precision Pro communicated, but it was close enough that the operation could be reverse engineered.

The plan is to use the vintage joystick to control a quadcopter, so the interface was implemented on an AVR, and a graphical LCD installed to act as a display for testing the operation. [MaZderMind] also captured data on an oscilloscope to indicate in detail the quirks of the joystick’s operation.

Yes, it’s entirely possible to use a more modern microcontroller with a USB joystick. However, there are few that measure up to the standards of the old Sidewinder hardware, and sometimes the best tool for the job is the one you’ve got with you. A traditional single joystick is a different take on quadcopter control, but there’s other options – gesture control is possible, too.

 

Custom Joystick For An Old Commodore Finds An Unlikely Home

Retro hardware is getting harder and harder to come by, with accessories such as joysticks and mice dropping out of the market the fastest. So if your old machine needs a new joystick, you may find yourself whipping it up yourself. While you’re at it, you might as well have some fun as [Tom Tilley] did when he built a C-64 joystick inside a replica disk drive case for his rare SX-64 luggable.

Anyone who remembers the amount of desk space the classic Commodore 1541 disk drive occupied might wonder why someone would want such an enormous base for a joystick. But rest assured that no actual 1541s were harmed in the making of this joystick; rather, [Tom] created a smaller replica of the drive case from MDF. The face of the case is about 80% original size, and the depth is cut down to about half the original, so the joystick actually ends up being a manageable size while offering a nice, broad wrist support. The drive door is 3D-printed and painted, and adorned with the original green and red LEDs. Decorations like the front badge and even replicas of the original rear panel labels, connectors, and switches were printed from files off a website devoted to recreating Commodore hardware from paper. Because Commodore love knows no bounds.

It’s silly, but it works, and we love the attention to detail. Hat’s off to [Tom] for not settling for yet another joystick build, and for keeping the Commodore flame burning. They may be tough machines, but they won’t be around forever.

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Gesture Control without Fancy Sensors, Just Pots and Weights

[Dennis] aims to make robotic control a more intuitive affair by ditching joysticks and buttons, and using wireless gesture controls in their place. What’s curious is that there isn’t an accelerometer or gyro anywhere to be seen in his Palm Power! project.

The gesture sensing consists not of a fancy IMU, but of two potentiometers (one for each axis) with offset weights attached to the shafts. When the hand tilts, the weights turn the shafts of the pots, and the resulting readings are turned into motion commands and sent over Bluetooth. The design certainly has a what-you-see-is-what-you-get aspect to it, and as a whole it works much like an inverted, weighted joystick hanging from one’s palm.

It’s an economical way to play with the idea of motion sensing, and when it comes to prototyping, being able to test a concept while keeping costs to a minimum is a good skill to have.

The N64 Controller Gets Brass Gears Through 3D Printing

The controller for the Nintendo 64 is a masterpiece of design, and despite being more than two decades old, people are still using this controller competitively. Smash Bros, you know. Those competitive gaming enthusiasts are hard on their controllers, and after decades and tournaments, the analog stick will wear out. Previously, this required a rebuild or simply replacing the entire controller. Now there’s another option: a completely re-engineered analog stick, all made possible thanks to 3D printing.

[Nam Le] is a student at Cal Poly, and as would be expected for a very specific subset engineering students, had to track down new N64 controller every few months. The stick on these controllers wear out, so [Nam] decided to make the most durable joystick that has ever fit inside an N64 controller.

The design of the N64 stick is pretty simple, and exactly what you would expect if you’ve ever opened up an analog joystick. There’s the stick itself, which is connected to gears on the X and Y axes, which are in turn connected to encoders. This entire assembly sits in a bowl. After twenty years, the mating surface between the stick and the gears wear down, and the bowl becomes deformed. The solution here is obviously to engineer something sturdier, and despite what most of the 3D printing community will tell you, ABS and PLA just won’t cut it.

[Nam] re-designed the gears and bowl out of brass using lost-wax casting using 3D printed parts. These brass parts were mated with 3D printed gears and an enclosure for the bowl. The stick is nylon, an important design choice because this is the first part to wear down anyway, and it’s also the easiest part to replicate. Yes, this is designing an analog stick for the strength of materials and Real Engineering™ for those of you keeping track at home.

Right now, the joystick works as intended, and lasts much longer than the stock version. The goal now is to get this stick tournament-legal for some serious Smash time, in the hopes of not replacing controllers every few months.