Perfecting A Bluetooth N64 Controller

Love it or hate it, the Nintendo 64 controller doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Dedicated fans are still looking for ways to use the unique trilobed controller with modern systems, and they won’t be satisfied until they perfectly replicate the original experience. [Shyri Villar] has been working on perfecting a blend of original and modern hardware that looks very promising.

The project started when [Shyri] found that you could take the internals from a modern third party Bluetooth N64 controller made by 8BitDo and put them into the original controller’s case. This would give you the original buttons back, and overall a more authentic weight and feel. Unfortunately, this usually means dumping the original N64 joystick for the 8BitDo’s.

What [Shyri] wanted to do was install the 8BitDo PCB into an original N64 controller, but adapt Nintendo’s joystick to communicate with it. Unfortunately, since the original joystick used optical encoders and the 8BitDo version uses potentiometers, there’s something of a language gap.

To bridge the divide, both the X and Y dimensions of the joystick get their own PIC12F675 microcontroller and X9C103S digital potentiometer. The microcontrollers read the X and Y values from the original joystick’s encoders, and use the digital potentiometers to provide the 8BitDo with the expected analog input. Right now the electronics are held on two scraps of perfboard tucked into the side “wings” of the controller, but hopefully we’ll see a custom PCB in the future.

If you’re more interested in going back in time with your trusty N64 controller, then you might be interested in learning more about how one hacker managed to hook it up to the MSX.

An MSX With A Nintendo Controller

Console owners inhabit their own individual tribes depending upon their manufacturer of choice, and so often never the twain shall meet. But sometimes there are those what-if moments, could Mario have saved the princess more quickly through PlayStation buttons, or how would Sonic the Hedgehog have been with a Nintendo controller? [Danjovic] is finding the answer to one of those questions, with an interface between Nintendo 64 controllers and MSX hardware including the earlier Sega consoles.

In hardware terms, it’s a pretty simple device in the manner of many such projects, an Arduino Nano, a resistor, and a couple of sockets. The clever part lies not in its choice of microcontroller, but in the way it uses the Nano-s timing to ensure the minimum delay between button press and game action. The detail is in the write-up, but in short it makes use of the MSX’s need to attend to video lines to buy extra time for any conversion steps.

The MSX computers have had their share of controller upgrade courtesy of Nintendo hardware in the past, we’ve seen a Wii nunchuck controller talk to them before, as well as a SNES one.

Header image: [mboverload] (Public-domain).

Nintendo 64 Homebrew Via Game Shark

The Nintendo 64 is a classic console now, and much loved, despite losing in commercial stakes to the dominating PlayStation from Sony. It’s one that doesn’t always get as much attention in the homebrew and hacker scene, compared to platforms like the NES and Game Boy. This means the tools required to work with the console aren’t as well-known. However, there’s a remarkably easy way to load homebrew on to the Nintendo 64, if you’ve got the right hardware.

To pull this off, you’ll need a N64 Gameshark, particularly a version higher than 3.0. These included a parallel port and the relevant onboard logic to allow the console to receive data and commands from an attached computer. [Nathan] demonstrates using the gs_libusb utility to deliver homebrew code to the console, using a USB to parallel adapter to make it easy from a modern computer.

The tools are available on github if you wish to try the hack for yourself. Most hacks we see of the platform are of the portable variety, but if you’ve got something fresh, you know who to call.

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“Yell To Press B” Mod Makes N64 Controller Worse

There’s probably no reason anyone would actually desire a mod like this. Well, no good reason. But [William Osman] had been pondering what it would be like to play some classic games with inputs other than buttons, and decided to make an audio sensor responsible for pressing the B button on an old N64 controller. This “Yell To Press B” mod was also something unique to show his hosts when he visited the YouTube video game aficionados, [Game Grumps].

[William] acknowledges that the build is a bit of a hack job, but the project page does a good job of documenting his build process and covering the kinds of decisions involved in interfacing to a separate piece of hardware. After all, most budding hackers have sooner or later asked themselves “how do I make my gadget press a button on this other thing?” [William] ends up using a small relay to close the connection between the traces for the B button when triggered by a microphone module, but he points out that it should be possible to do a non-destructive version of the mod. Examples exist of reading the N64 controller’s state with an Arduino, which could form the basis of a man-in-the-middle approach of “Yell To Press B” (or anything else) instead of soldering to the button contacts. A video is embedded below, in which you can watch people struggle to cope with the bizarre mod.

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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.

Add-On Board Brings Xbox 360 Controllers To N64

Many of the games released on the Nintendo 64 have aged remarkably well, in fact a number of them are still considered must-play experiences to this day. But the years have not been so kind to the system’s signature controller. While the N64 arguably defined the console first person shooter (FPS) genre with games like “Goldeneye” and “Perfect Dark”, a modern gamer trying to play these classics with the preposterous combination of analog and digital inputs offered by the N64 controller is unlikely to get very far.

Of course, you could play N64 games in an emulator and use whatever controller you wish. But where’s the challenge in taking the easy way out? [Ryzee119] would much rather take the insanely complex route, and has recently completed work on an add-on board that let’s you use Xbox 360 wireless controllers on Nintendo’s 1996 console. He’s currently prepping schematics and firmware for public release, with the hope that support for additional USB controllers can be added by the community.

Nintendo historians may recall that the N64’s controllers had an expansion port on the bottom where you would connect such accessories as the “Rumble Pak” and “Controller Pak”. The former being an optional force feedback device, and the latter a rather oddly named memory card for early N64 games which didn’t feature cartridge saves. Only “90’s Kids” will recall the struggle of using the “Rumble Pak” when a game required the “Controller Pak” to save progress.

Thankfully [Ryzee119] has solved that problem by adding battery backed storage to his adapter along with some clever code which emulates the “Controller Pak”. Similarly, the “Rumble Pak” is emulated by the Xbox 360 controller’s built-in force feedback and a bit of software trickery. Specific button combinations allow for enabling and disabling the various virtual accessories on the fly.

But the best part of this modification might be how unobtrusive the whole thing is. Not only does it allow you to still use the original controllers and accessories if you wish, but it only requires soldering a handful of wires to the console’s motherboard. Thanks to the surprising amount of dead space inside the system’s case, it’s not even a challenge to fit the board inside. You do need to use the official USB Xbox 360 controller receiver, but even here [Ryzee119] opted to put a USB port on the board so you could just plug the thing in rather than having to cut the connector off and trying to solder it to the board yourself.

It probably won’t come as a surprise that this isn’t the first time [Ryzee119] has fiddled with the internals of a classic Nintendo system. We’ve previously covered his fantastic custom PCB to fit a Raspberry Pi Zero into a GameBoy Advance.

[Thanks to Gartral for the tip.]

N64 Emulated In VR Makes Hyrule Go 3D

The Nintendo 64 had some groundbreaking and popular 3D games, and [Avaer Kazmer] felt it was only right to tamper with things just enough to trick an emulator into playing Ocarina of Time in VR, complete with stereoscopic 3D. The result is more than just running an emulator on a simulated screen in virtual reality; the software correctly renders a slightly different perspective of the world of Hyrule to each eye in order to really make the 3D pop in a way the original never could, and make it playable with VR controllers in the process. The VR emulator solution is called Emukit and works best with Exokit, a JavaScript web browser for AR and VR environments for which [Avaer] is a developer.

It turns out that there were a few challenges to work around and a few new problems to solve, not least of which was mapping VR controllers to control an N64 game in a sensible way. One thing that wasn’t avoidable is that the N64’s rendered world may now pop in 3D, but it still springs forth from a rectangular stage. The N64, after all, is still only rendering a world in a TV-screen-sized portion; anything outside that rectangular window doesn’t really exist, and there’s no way around it as long an emulated N64 is running the show. Still, the result is impressive, and a video demo is embedded below where you can see the effect for yourself.

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