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Atari Combo Controller

Finished Combo Controller

I enjoy bringing out the old Atari 2600 for some classic Pacman or Missile Command but I can't play my copy of Breakout without a paddle controller. To solve this horrible dilemma I thought would be fun to make one since Atari hardware can be a bit difficult and expensive to get your hands on in Australia. Considering the circuitry is so basic, why build just a paddle when I can integrate multiple controllers into an epic combo. This design combines the joystick, paddle and keypad controllers into a single compact unit.

The controller consists of two sections. A combined joystick / paddle controller and a keypad. The former has a permanently attached cable as it's always used and the keypad portion has a removable cable. This controller works on the Atari Flashback as well.

Finished Controller

Joystick / Paddle parts:

  • Case - I used a small wooden craft box but a plastic electronics enclosure will also work well.
  • DE-9 Female Connector and Housing - The Atari controller port uses a standard DE-9 connector.
  • Ethernet Cable - Eight connections are needed which a cheap, readily available ethernet cable can provide.
  • Joystick - I salvaged mine from an old Sony arcade controller but any arcade joystick will do.
  • Pushbutton - Normally open, momentary on.
  • 1 Megaohm Linear Potentiometer - A pot knob will finish off the look.
  • Toggle Switch - SPDT.

Keypad parts:

  • 1x Male & 2x Female DE-9 Connectors - Used for the detachable cable. If you permanently mount it just a single DE-9 female is required.
  • Ethernet Cable
  • 12x Tact Switches - Through hole switches with a plastic cap.
  • Perfboard - A suitable mounting surface for the switches
Basic Parts Required

Since my enclosures height and width was only 147mm x 107mm with 9mm thick walls, a well planned button layout was required to ensure the parts will fit while still being comfortable to use. Just need to do some measurements of each part's dimensions and put it all on paper.

Button Layout

Once happy with the layout, I made a photocopy and stuck it to the enclosure. A swift tap of the hammer on a nail is all that's needed to mark the center of each hole. To mark the edges of the keypad slot I just used a scalpel to firmly cut along the perimeter.

Template Stuck

The template can now be removed and you're left with the required markings. Use a drill bit for the smaller holes and spade bits for the larger diameters. A dremel with cutting disc was used to remove the keypad slot but you could probably get away with a jigsaw. I also drilled out a hole for the cable and filed a slot for the keypads male DE-9 connector.

Ports Cut and Enclosure Sanded

The original latch wasn't very suitable so it's been replaced with a magnetic cabinet latch. Clean the lot up with some sandpaper to get ready for paint. Considering the very bland stylings of Atari hardware, I didn't want to do anything too adventurous so a few coats of matt black did the job.

Painted Enclosure

The joystick / paddle portion was connected as per the schematic below. It's basically a combination of the individual joystick and paddle circuitry with a SPDT switch toggling the fire button between the joysticks fire pin (6) and the paddles fire pin (4). if you didn't want to include this switch you could install a separate fire button for the paddle and joystick.

Joystick / Paddle Schematic

Clip the end of the ethernet cable and strip it back to reveal the wires. These wires will be in twisted pairs so separate and strip the ends.

Ethernet Cable Stripped

The easiest method to solder to the DE-9 connector is to add a small amount of solder to the wire (pre tin) and to each pin on the connector before joining them. Now just place the wire on top of the pin and briefly apply the heat of your soldering iron. The solder you've already applied will flow together and make a secure connection.

DE9 Female Soldered

Make connections to pins 1 through 8. Keep note of which wire colours you connect to each pin so you can make the proper connections easily on the other end. The pin numbers are usually labelled on the connector but they're also readily available online. Once all the connections are made, install the DE-9 housing to protect the solder joints and give a nice clean look.

Finished Plug

The joystick I salvaged had a couple of faulty microswitches. Most joysticks use four microswitches with levers to detect the movement of the stick. I was lucky that this one used a standard microswitch therefore I had replacements on hand.

Joysticks Microswitches Replaced

Have a look which switch is activated by each directional input and take note so you can make the correct connections later. Header pins were added to each components wiring for easy connection and removal.

Joystick / Paddle Inputs

Now's not a bad time to give everything a once-over. I used my Atari Flashback to test the functionality of the circuit on a breadboard so any mistakes could be corrected early.

Testing the Joystick

Before soldering the other end of the joystick / paddle cable to anything, thread it through its hole in the enclosure. A piece of perfboard and female header pins was used to interface with each input component.

Various Connections Made

As the keypad uses a removable cable, I soldered a short length of ethernet cable to a male DE-9 connector. The keypad requires connections to pins 1 through 7 and 9. This will be located next to the permanent cable on the enclosure and allow an ethernet cable with female DE-9 plugs at both ends to connect it to the Atari.

Basic Keypad Parts

7cm x 5cm perfboard accomodated the switches well with enough border to secure the keypad to the enclosure.  As per the schematic below (image source: AtariAge.com) connect each row and column creating a 4 x 3 matrix.

Keypad Schematic

I stripped some solid core wire to make the connections. A dab of hot glue insulates against any shorts between rows and columns.

Keypad Connections Made

Add the 4.7k resistors and solder your ethernet cables wires to the locations lebelled on the schematic. I only used a small amount of hot glue to secure the keypad as I've only been able to test it with my multimeter. My copy of Star Raiders is still en route. I'll update this post once I receive it.

Internals

I had to remove two of the screw tabs from the joystick with my dremel to get it to the required size. I was also a bit lazy and used hot glue to mount it but it appears to have fit the bill.

Finished Controller

Once everything's installed and connected you can hook it up to your Atari and experience some retro goodness. I used my label maker to mark which switch position is for the joystick or paddle and added some rubber feet.