Tag Archives: Controllers

Padhacking and Other Strangeness

In the summer of 2017, I hacked a spare Nintendo Wii I had lying around so I could install some emulators on it. Hacking a Wii is extremely easy, and I’d recommend you give it a shot.  While there’s a slight risk of bricking your hardware, hey, it’s 2018: if you still have a Wii, chances are it’s not doing anything other than collecting dust. The Wii homebrew scene is pretty quiet these days, but there’s loads of fully functional, high quality emulators and homebrew games already out there.  You can even turn your Wii into an alarm clock. Give it a shot!

Getting a Wii to run some arcade ROMs with Retroarch isn’t too difficult – but who wants to play Street Fighter II with this?

NOBODY! Well, at least not I, noted arcade stick nut Steven J. White. I needed an authentic arcade controller. And it had to be a good one. Sure, I could probably have just bought one, but Wii arcade sticks are somewhat expensive, and I’m cheap. On top of it, I’d already hacked up just about every other arcade stick I owned. The solution? BOOZE.

After finishing a bottle of Blood Oath Bourbon, it dawned on me that the box that it came in was something I MIGHT be able to use as an arcade stick – plus it had a nice little sliding top I could use an access panel for future repairs, if need be. So with that in mind, me and my buddy Adam extracted the PCB from an old Wii Classic Controller, dremeled up the box, ran some wires, and…. PRESTO.

The #bloodoathbourbon stick is done… for now. #arcadestick #retrogaming

A post shared by Steve White (@subspace_briefcase) on

A classy, and mostly functioning arcade stick for the Wii. Why “mostly functioning?” Well, that’s because the buttons that were mapped to the Wii Classic Controller’s triggers (second column from the right) produced inconsistent results. After a bit of research (meaning checking out this long dead thread on shoryuken.com), I learned that this is because the left and right trigger buttons on the Wii classic controller, much like their Gamecube forbears,  are analog/pressure sensitive. This means you can’t map them cleanly to a simple arcade-style push-button without soldering in some resistors and diodes. Lacking these components and a comprehensive guide to work with, I decided to go another route:

The Classic Controller Pro. This bad boy, ostensibly designed so that people could comfortably play first-person shooters on the Wii, has 4 strictly digital trigger buttons, meaning no additional components would be necessary. So, with that in mind, Adam and I got back to work.

Dream team back at it again! #padhacking #retrogaming #fightstick

A post shared by Steve White (@subspace_briefcase) on

After a quick PCB replacement, we found that the arcade stick now worked perfectly. But hey, by that time, we’d finished another bottle of booze.

It was hard not to look at the beautiful, clear front on that bottle of Booker’s and not think that it would look positively BEAUTIFUL with a PCB slammed into it. We had another Classic Controller Pro ready to go, so we just went for it:

First, we drilled some holes and mounted the buttons (24 mm, in case you are looking to recreate this) and joystick. Notably, we had to mount the joystick sideways and adjust our wiring accordingly, as the box wasn’t wide enough to accommodate the standard positioning. The astute reader will note that we chose a color scheme that paid homage to the Neo Geo MVS cabinet. After that, it was just a lot of soldering and running wires:

The end result came out looking pretty good:

The #bookersbourbon #fightstick is complete! #padhacking #retrogaming

A post shared by Steve White (@subspace_briefcase) on

Ooooooh, sexy! You may note that I left the analog sticks attached. While they’re functionally useless, I thought it might be cool to leave them in there in case I ever decided to get creative – maybe some day I’ll mount them on the sides and use them as pinball flippers, I dunno. They look kind of cool resting in the middle, if you ask me.

So now I had two fully-functioning Wii arcade sticks. But I also had a lot of spare parts, and a strong desire to keep making unconventional controllers. One thing that has always intrigued  me are “stickless”  fightsticks.

A conventional arcade style joystick, at its core, is just a lever that smashes into one of four buttons for each of the cardinal directions.

Shamelessly stolen from an e-bay store.

Digital d-pads operate on much the same principle. There’s a subset of the fighting game community that prefers to skip the stick entirely, opting to put directional buttons on the face of the controller instead. I don’t know if that’s a way I’d want to play to play fighting games, but damn if my hands don’t get cramped when playing old school NES RPGs.

It was then I got inspired by this cigar box:

This here blunt box, which a former co-worker abandoned on her desk, would be perfect for my RPG controller. It didn’t hurt that I had a long-unused Retro-Bit dogbone style NES controller just sitting around.

So, I got to work. First, drilling some button holes….

Then dropping in the dogbone PCB and running some wires…And, finally, putting it all together, and dropping in an LED for style points (pro-tip: hot glue is a great lightspreader):Not pictured here, because I’m not a great documentarian: having to shave down the lip on the right side of the box lid so I could actually open and close this thing when all was said and done. The trickiest part of all this? Running a nice, clean looking ground loop through the 4 buttons on the side AND the 6 buttons on the top. The end-result?

The KILLER BEE! A fully-functional, extremely impractical NES controller without a d-pad. While I haven’t gone nuts with it yet, yes, it does work just fine for RPGs. Because I’m nuts, I thought it would be fun to put A and B on either side, making this controller usable by both lefties AND righties.  This may be the weirdest thing I’ve done yet, but I’m super pleased with the result.

So there you have it folks! When it comes to retro controllers, if you’re willing to crack a few eggs, you can get some nice omelettes. I’m not sure what I’ll make next, but I’ll be sure to post about it when I do!

Mod Fever!

Recently, I’ve gotten the mod bug. Maybe it’s the logical consequence of owning a ridiculously oversized retro console/game library; maybe I just got tired of paying other people to mod things for me. Either way, I picked up a brand spanking new soldering iron about a month and a half ago, and I haven’t been able to stop.

First, I kept it relatively simple, installing a stock mod boards. After a few failed attempts with a Turbo Duo (more on that in a later post), I found some success with an N64  RGB amp… the results came out looking pretty good.

You’re going to have to take my word on it when I tell you I installed the mod myself. I didn’t think to take a picture of the completed installation, and I’m too superstitious to open it up and poke around now.

With a successful console mod under my belt, I started thinking about controller mods, which led me to slagcoin and its treasure trove of PCB diagrams. You have to crawl before you can run, so I thought I’d start small, by putting an LED in an old third-party Genesis controller.

Putting LEDs into old #segagenesis controllers. Because why not? #retrogaming

A post shared by Steve White (@subspace_briefcase) on

As that didn’t prove too difficult, I came to the conclusion that virtually everything could be improved through the edition of an LED. Like, say… a few Genesis controllers I spray painted a couple of months back.

Finally got the green monster up and running! #segagenesis #retrogaming

A post shared by Steve White (@subspace_briefcase) on

Pleased with these results, I got a little more adventurous, and decided to go to town on a limited edition Sega Saturn controller.

This clear #segasaturn controller looks great with… another led. #retrogaming

A post shared by Steve White (@subspace_briefcase) on

And, finally, since I had an old NES Advantage that needed cleaning, I thought I’d give it a new paintjob and drop in some green LEDs.

Fun little cosmetic mod for the advantage. Fresh coat of paint and two new LEDs. #nes #retrogaming

A post shared by Steve White (@subspace_briefcase) on

While I think I’ll be putting LEDs into things until the day I die, I was still hungry for more.  After looking at some NES controller PCB diagrams, I became convinced that I could add a new button – a “C” button, if you will – that would function as a simultaneous press of  “up” and “B.”  Theoretically, this would allow me to fire subweapons in games like Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden with a single button press. The inspiration came from the “III” button on the Avenue Pad 3 for the PC Engine, which functioned as a second “select” button.

Image source: genkivideogames.com

A lot of games for the PC Engine used “select” for gameplay functions, and  this bad boy made it easier on the player to make that button press. My “up and B” mod probably wouldn’t be as useful, but hey, I had soldering fever, and I wasn’t going to stop.

I had some tiny little buttons from a breadboard kit, and I figured I’d use them. My first attempt, in all its glory:

The wires on the right side of the button are running from “up” and “B.” The wire on the left side is running out to a ground. On a certain level, this actually did work – pressing that button did trigger “up” and “B” simultaneously. Unfortunately, however, pressing either “up” or “B” individually ALSO yielded simultaneous presses of both buttons. This is because this was a “SPST” – single-pole, single-throw – button. Basically, the wiring of the button was such that by placing “up” and “B” on the same side of the button, I was actually wiring them together.

After reading up a bit and consulting a friend (who happens to be an engineer), I learned that what I needed was a “DPST” – dual-pole, single-throw – button. This would allow me to wire my custom button in such a way that it could complete the circuits for both “up” and “B” without linking them together. My second attempt:

Alternate view:

It’s a little more difficult to see, because I reinforced my soldering job with hot glue, but the wires on the right side of the button are running from “B” and a ground and, the wires on the left side of the button are doing the same thing for “up.” The ugly end-result:

It ain’t pretty, but hey, that Nintendo Power sticker from ’93 wasn’t much of a looker to begin with. Did it work?

HELL YES IT DID! The button is kind of touchy (cheap parts or bad soldering on my part, not sure which yet), but it works – you can see it when Ryu sticks his hand out. Fun stuff!

I’d encourage any retrogaming enthusiast to pick up a soldering iron and try their hand at some mods. While I’m still a neophyte in the modding arena, I feel like I’ve revealed exciting new depths to my chief hobby.  It’s easier than you think!

More to come!