Projects of days past.

When I was younger, still in middle school, I grew very excited about console emulation. The idea is easy enough to get your head around. You get software meant for one piece of hardware (say, a classic Nintendo video game), and use another piece of software to emulate the original hardware on another (say, a personal computer). The details of course are many, and complex, and the software (the original programs, the emulators themselves are often free software) itself is often shared illegally, but this is a thriving scene.

I first found out about this around 1994, around the same time I got my first pc, a 486 SX@25MHz. I used an app called nesticle (which featured some rather disturbing humor), and downloaded copies of Super Mario Brothers 3, Metroid, and the Legend of Zelda, all of which I had cartriges for.  How awesome it was! No more blowing to get them to start up. No more stupid blinking red light with the console didn’t even know it had a game in it. No more crappy TV. I was hooked.

Several years latter, when I heard about Final Fantasy III (6 in Japan) and Chrono Trigger, after the were both long considered collectors items and no longer actively produced, I played them all the way through using ZSnes on dos with an 8 bit graphics card. This made the graphics a bit difficult, things like cloud layers were completely opaque, obscuring the playing field, but I was persistent. These issues had more to do with the fact than that 486 was getting pretty dated more than anything to do with the application. The first time I played Final Fantasy 3, it was at an average of 5 frames per second. In fact, the first time I played all 3 of my favorite games (Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI, and the excellent Xenogears), it was via emulation, and at less than ideal results. I own games for both, but no hardware.

I never actually owned a PlayStation 1, and I didn’t get a Super Nintendo until I was in a Nostalgic mind set late into my college career. In time, the emulators got better, and that old 486 was replaced with better and faster machines. Now, even the best playstation emulator isn’t even as taxing as Windows 7. There are even real time image resizers which make a game look a lot better then the original.

This has a issue though. The keyboard is often a poor replacement for any of the original controllers. This is especially true for the old arcade shooters and fighters such as Metal Slug and King of Fighters. This brings me to my point in this blog. Thanks to the original support of Arcade Controls, back in 2000 I made my first arcade joystick. This was later replaced with a full conversion of the Street Fighter 2 arcade game in 2001, which unfortunately didn’t have a place in our house when we bought it in 2005, and a winter in the garage killed it. I then used to parts to make a working Pac-Man Arcade Game costume in 2007 for Halloween. Finally, a year ago, I really came to miss having a good set of controls and pieced this together in about an hour. Fair warning, this is not my best work at all.

So what are we seeing? The body was cut from a single plank of red cedar. It’s the first time I ever worked with such a softwood and a high speed tool like a router, and I was pretty surprised by the amount of splintering. In the end, I left most of the gouges and just sanded the rough cuts. After it was screwed together, I used a power planer to clean up the bottom edge a little, and a router on all upper edges, cutting through at least one screw. The holes for all buttons and the center joystick hole were drilled using a 1 and 3/8″ (I think) spade bit. A bit of sanding with some heavy grid sandpaper got rid of any last sharp corners, but it’s still quite ugly.

The controls were purchases from a company in Elk Grove Village, IL called Suzo-Happ. It’s nice they are so close now, but at the time I bought all of them, I was in Baltimore. The Joystick is a Super Joystick, and the buttons are mostly Competition Pushbuttons, with the exception of the 1st player start button. The joystick is held on by two machine screws on the right side, and the left side was just snugged against the side wall. On the underside, all the buttons are wired up to an I-PAC keyboard encoder. While mine is a great deal older revision that the current one, it still works great. The device takes all discrete inputs, and appears to the computer as a keyboard, while avoiding many of the issues of a traditional keyboard. There is no ghosting and slow responses, or blocked keys as is common when using a keyboard as a gaming input.

The layout is for both 6 button arcade fighting games, and for play station 1 emulation. Other (older) systems seem to fit into these constraints easily as well. The purple button on the top left simulates a coin in for arcade games, and a select button for NES, SNES, and PSX emu.

Still, this was a quick job, and one which I would like to redo here at some point. The first thing I need to do is get a USB cable for this guy. It originally was purchased with a PS2 cable, and unfortunately, I now have very few computers with a PS2 port anymore. Running through a converter doesn’t seem to work well. When I redo the case, I’ll make it wider, as there is no place to rest by hand on the left, and I’ll use internal bracing, so no screws are shown. I’ll also get a new joystick due to all the paint on this one. Something that I can easily change from an 8 way to a 4 way (diagonals physically blocked) for the games that don’t support diagonals very well.

Game On!


About Grant Wagner

General class ham: KC9SJQ
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