Produced by Pimoroni, a British company based in Sheffield, the Picade is an all singing and dancing tabletop arcade cabinet that can be put together in an afternoon. For £180 you get everything needed to build your own working cabinet (minus the Raspberry Pi) such as:
- Black powder-coated cabinet panels
- Picade PCB (Arduino compatible with stereo 2.8W amplifier) pre-loaded with the Picade software.
- LCD panel mount with protective overlay
- 8″ LCD panel & driver board
- 2x speakers
- 3.5mm stereo panel mounted headphone socket
- Attractive decals for the marquee and controls
- HDMI, audio, and USB cables
- A proper arcade joystick
- Twelve micro-switch arcade buttons
- Custom assembled wiring looms
- All other fixings, fastenings, nuts, and bolts
The kit is primarily geared towards users of the Raspberry Pi, but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t use it with a mini ITX board or Odroid. In fact the rear door on which you mount the logic board has markings for several different models of computer not just the Pi. Anticipating the needs of their customers, Pimoroni have designed the kit with the hacking and modding community in mind, something they do with a lot of their products.
In 2012 when Pimoroni began their Kickstarter for the Picade I had an opportunity to try a working unit, needless to say the experience was enough to leave me wanting one. It wasn’t until the early last year when I finally got one of their kits but sadly didn’t have any time to assemble it. So the kit sat waiting on my to do list till October came around, when finally my partner and I put it together over several evenings. Assembling the Picade is pretty straight forward so long as you follow the PDF guide provided on Pimoroni’s website. There is also a video guide but in my opinion it is in need of updating, as it led us astray more than once. In the end we resorted to consulting the PDF exclusively, my partner reading the instructions as I placed the pieces together. Contrary to what the video tutorial suggests, make sure to tighten all the screws and nuts using a screw driver, otherwise your cabinet will soon begin to wobble and come apart as mine did after a few plays of DigDug.
The black power coated finish of Picade really sets it off with an old arcade feel, the buttons and joystick are of good quality and fairly responsive to use. At some point I will likely swap them out for more 80s recessed style buttons, but for now they get the job done and look fine.
The Picade comes bundled with an 8” flat panel LCD screen. Originally the kit was available with a 12” panel but I understand supplies dried up and Pimoroni have been unable to source any more at a reasonable price. At first when I removed the panel from its packaging I thought it was mighty small and had some misgivings about its effectiveness for playing games on, but honesty I hadn’t need for concern. The 8” panel compliments the cabinet really well and once your in playing Pacman or Pole Position you really don’t notice it. The picture is clear, sharp and the colours a vibrant, my only regret is the absence of any scanlines, but that’s more a personal preference and something I can probably fix within the Retro Pie software.
With the cabinet built, it is just a case of flashing an SD card with the relevant Retro Pie image, which you can download via their website @ https://retropie.org.uk. Setup is relatively painless and straight forward and should see you up and running in no time at all. Something I did discovered on my first outing, is that RetroPie has more than one Mame emulator to choose from and some ROMs work better in one than they do the other. If you find like I did that a great many of your ROMs aren’t working, you may wish to try using the other Mame emulator. The reason this happens is down to the chipsets the Mame is running, different revisions can sometimes expect different files to be present within the ROM archive. Newer revisions tend to be more compatible but unfortunately the one available on Raspbian isn’t, which is why RetroPie comes with more then one Mame emulator. Swapping between the different versions can be as simple as copying your ROMsets to the appropriate folder on your SD card. It is also possible to change it from within Retropie, just after selecting your ROM the option appear on screen to change the default settings, this also includes which version of Mame is used to run the selected ROMset.
When put together, the Picade and Retro Pie compliment one another well and one can hardly imagine one without the other, both are polished and easily accessible products.
When I began to assemble the Picade, I knew from the get go that I wanted to design some custom cabinet art for it – something that harkened back to the days of my childhood with crazy neon colours and funky 8 bit sprites. One thing about the Picade is that the only decals that come with it are for the marque and the control panel, the sides of the cabinet are left alone. As pretty as the powder coating is, I couldn’t help feel there was something better to do with them, such as cover them up with something bright and retro! So I went about designing the art on my recently aqcuired 15” Powerbook G4. Anyone who says PPC has had its day can go suck a lemon as far as I’m concerned, as this laptop not only oozes style but clocking in at 1.55Ghz it runs Photoshop without breaking a sweat.
As you can probably see in the photos from an early stage there was a very distinct 80s theme going on. One thing I had to keep in mind was to make sure the decal art lined up with the side panels on the cabinet, as I wasn’t just contending with the outside edge of each panel but also the various screw holes and speaker grills that the decals would be covering.
The side art is protected by 1mm thick sheet of clear acrylic that has been cut out to the same shape and size of both MDF side panels. Eventually I plan on making the marquee backlit so that the Picade logo and colours are more vivid to the eye.
In my continuing mission to fiddling with my QL and Spectrum, I was hoping to write an article pitting the two systems against one another. All of that seemed to been scuppered when it appeared that getting Tasword on my +2 would be a painful ordeal. While I do own the software on tape, getting any sample documents off on to the PC would have been a challenge to say the least. Fortunately my friend Zetr0 came to the rescue and with some programming wizardy, I now have a fulling working version of Tasword on my internal compact flash drive. So expect to see an article explaining all real soon!
Over the weekend I attended the Retro Games Fair in Leeds, if you havent been I highly recommend a visit. While a little packed there are some fantastic bargains and the atmosphere is warm and cheerful. I came away with a selection of games, including Knightmare and Dragons Lair for the Speccy.
For more info check out the following link
Hello dear reader! Did you miss us?
BMV is back for another year and I have a lot of fun articles I’d like to cover and maybe we can fit in a few interviews this year from people active in the community. I’m sorry the blog has been a bit quiet but I was away busily tinkering, working on my Atari Lynx video conversion, making an AmigaPi 1200 and several more USB tank mice for friends who wouldn’t stop pestering me for one after seeing the one I’d built I’ve also been playing with a Powerbook 180 and discovering the pitfalls of LCD tunnelling which the entire 100 series seems to suffer from.
Blasting away from 2016 is my Picade build which I finished just before Christmas, now in 2017 I put the finishing touches to the cabinet with some retro electric 80s art. Keep your eyes peeled as I’ll be offering up free cabinet decal art for anyone looking to deck out their Picade in proper 80s style!
-This hack requires a dremmel with cutting and sanding attachments. Always wear goggles and ask an adult for help if your still in school. Please safety first, I take no responsibility for injury or loss of bladder control if you undertake this guide.
Not so long ago I posted an article on converting a broken Amiga Joystick into a working USB controller. In todays blog, I’m going to cover converting an old Amiga tank mouse in to a USB device. Before any of my fellow Amigans start shouting at me for desecrating a piece of retro tech, I’d like to state the mouse was pooched, the internal micro switches had clicked their last. Sure I could have repaired the switches, but I wanted an Amiga mouse for my AmigaPi and I doubt the world will miss one less yellow A500 mouse.
The first thing you’ll need is a broken mouse, please don’t bust up a working mouse, that’s just wrong and a waste of a good device. Next you’ll need to find a donor USB mouse, preferably something small, compact and simple in design. Essentially you’re looking for a budget mouse, the sort you might find in a 99p store. Below is a photo of the mouse I used, don’t worry if it has an internal LED, we can easily snip that out. Next we’ll need a beige USB cable, pick a length that suits your needs preferably something that will connect to the computer and leave enough room for the mouse to sit comfortable on your desk. If you’re still unsure, go for a 1m or 1.5m length cable as you can always trim it down to suit your needs.
We now have the essentials for making an Amiga USB mouse. Unfortunately I can’t walk you through the whole process, as it all hinges on the USB mouse you bought for the conversion. Initially you need to take both mice apart, and remove the electronics from the Amiga mouse. The only parts of the tank mouse you need are the main shell and the flexible plastic sheath around the mouse cord. The best way I’ve found to remove it, is by cutting along the under side with a sharp blade and pulling the cord out through the cut.
Let us turn our attention to the USB mouse, with the lid off you should have a good view of the PCB. The first thing you need to do is check the pinout of the cable because soon you’ll be removing it. To do this, you’ll need a multi-meter so you can perform a signal test on the each wire going from the connection point on the PCB to the pin inside the connector on the other end of the lead. I find it best to draw a simple diagram of the USB cable with the connector and the four pins laid out. I then jot down the corresponding colour wire for each pin.
Usually this is red, black, green, white, but not all cables are the same so been warned. Once you know the colours and where they go, you need to cut the cable leaving roughly 2” inches coming from the PCB as we’ll be using the remaining wires to patch in the new cable, matching red to red, black to black etc. However if you wish to you can completely remove the old cable by de-soldering it from the PCB and solder your new cable directly to the board. This makes for a neat and tidy finish, but it can prove a challenge depending on your soldering skills. So if in doubt, stick to my suggested route and leave some of the old wire in place. This way it will be easy to match up all those colour wires.
Assuming you are happy with the length of your new cable, trim back the outer sleeve and expose the four inner wires. You should have something like red, white, black and green, if your cable came from China you might find you have blue or even an orange in place of one of the standard colours. Not to worry, just check with your meter and make sure you know which pin the wire goes to. Hopefully if you’re really lucky it will match the wires on the mouse, otherwise you might end up with green as white or red as green. Again jot down the colours on your diagram, matching them up to the respective pins. Usually white and black are voltage, green and red are data. But never take anything for granted, always check!
Once you have the mouse rewired, hook it up to your computer and confirm its working. If nothing happens, check your pin out again.
The chances are your mouse came with a scroll wheel and depending on your skill level, you can either remove this with a hot air gun or use tin snips to remove the parts holding the wheel in place. Just be mindful that you don’t damage the traces on the underside of the PCB. A little wiggling is fine just try not to tear the components right off the board as that would be very bad. Assuming the scroll wheel is now removed, hook the mouse up to a computer and check that it’s still works. Hopefully it does, if not, check you haven’t broken and traces. I’ve make two Amiga mice so far and neither had an issue when the wheel was removed.
If you mouse came with a silly blue or red internal LED (note not the optical sensor!) You can snip it off, as the tank mouse doesn’t need lighting up internally. Your optic sensor does use a red led which is directed into a lens, don’t under any circumstances mess with it!
Here comes possibly the hardest part of the hack, inserting the new PCB into the tank mouse. Initially it won’t fit, for a start the optics will sit to high off the ground to be any good. So you’ll need a Dremmel to cut and sand the inside of the tank mouse, removing any lugs or protruding bits of plastic that are in the way. I’ve included a
photo to give you an idea of what it should look like, on both the mice I modded I had to superglue the cover ball cover in place. Depending on the donor mouse, the PCB might be too large for the inside of the Amiga mouse housing. If this happens you will need to trim the PCB with you Dremmel and a cutting disc. Regretfully I can’t walk you through this part as designs differ from one device to another. Usually trimming the board breaks the ground plane, you’ll need to do a little trace work with some wire to get things reconnected. Either way, you’ll have to get creative or find a friend to help you. Alternatively find yourself a donor mouse with a small PCB.
When your happy with the bottom half of the tank mouse, use a bit of blue tack and press the pcb down temporarily so that is sits inside the housing. Hook it up to your pc and take it for a test run. How does it perform? Is the cursor jumping about or shaking? If so, the optical sensor is probably sitting too high. First try pressing down the PCB with your thumb, does it improve? If it does, you might be able to get away with hot gluing the pcb while pressing it down with your thumb. Once the glue sets, the board will remain where it is. Otherwise use your dremmel to shave off a little more plastic before gluing the board in place.
Before you go gluing the board in place, we need to address the mouse buttons. You can do this one of two ways, either with a set of large micro switches or a pair of lever micro switches. The latter recreates the clicky sound of the tank mouse really well, but either will do the job just fine. Now returning to the PCB, you will need to remove the existing switches. As they will likely be too far back and not sit in the same place as the original Amiga buttons. You can either de-solder them or once again snip them off. I can’t stress the importance of being gentle at this point, if you damage the traces on the board at this stage you’ll have a hard time recovering the mess, so take it slow!
With the old switches removed, you can begin wiring in the new ones. Remember the new micro switches need to sit where the old amiga switches did inside the case. If you still have the original tank PCB, use it for comparison. If it helps, use a marker pen to drawn on the inside of the mouse case, so you have some guides to follow. Blue tack is your friend and will allow you to stick the switched down while you line them up with the mouse buttons. Once you have them lined up, you’ll need to wire them up to the new PCB. The wires will only need to be short and while it’s a little tricky to get everything sitting right, with a little time and patience it can be done, trust me I’ve done this twice.
With the new buttons wired up, you’ll need to test the mouse again by connecting it to a computer. If everything works, we’ll move on to the final stage, gluing all of the components in to place. It is up to you but I would strongly advise using a little blue tack to stick everything in place temporarily. Place the lid on the mouse and see if the mouse buttons work. Hopefully they should be clicking away inside the mouse and working just like the original. If things aren’t going exactly as planned, don’t worry because we used blue tack. Just pop open the mouse and adjust the switches a little until they are aligned with the plastic buttons build in to the upper lid. When you satisfied, remove the blue tack and use hot glue to fix everything in place. If you’ve only used a tiny bit of blue tack and don’t want to risk moving anything you can always glue the parts in place as they sit.
Finally with the buttons and PCB fixed in place, you need to put the flexible plastic piece back around the mouse cord. Simply peel it open using your thumbs and slide the cable inside. Because this collar piece is meant to keep the cable from pulling out of the mouse, you will need to use some glue to fix the cable from slipping up and down inside the collar. I did this by inserting some glue in the cut I’d made, not only does this hold the cable in place, but it also fixes the collar back together. Once the glue sets, it will stop you pulling the wires out from inside your mouse. Still, I’d recommend against holding the mouse by the cord.
All that is left to do now is to screw the mouse back together and take it for a spin. If you’ve been testing it a every step, nothing should have gone wrong. Hey presto you have a new Amiga USB mouse!
Since getting my Tandy M100, I’ve always wondered about connecting it to my main Linux machine. Doing so wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility and if successful, it would open up a whole range of things I could do with my tiny computer. Fortunately, there are two tutorials on the subject, but sadly both of them are out of date with the current distro’s of Linux. What follows is my revised version of both tutorials.
I will point out that this setup isn’t perfect, while I had no problem going on IRC chat and browsing directories, I discovered doing other things, such as using text editors was fraught with problems. The text wouldn’t load up on the screen properly or overlapped as the screen scrolled. While this is disappointing, I did find that I could upload text to an open document on my main PC. By running a session of Nano, I could press the UPLOAD button on the M100, select a file stored locally in the M100’s memory and load it in to the empty Nano document. While this isn’t exactly ideal, it does mean I no longer have fiddle around with Minicom. I can quite literally connect the M100 to my main pc and upload the document straight to the Hard Disk.
For any serious use, I would highly recommend using mComm, developed by Kurt McCullum. Availible on Windows and Android, it offers a convenient mass storage media for any TRS80 M100 Micro computer.
Setting up Linux
First we need to teach Linux the TRS100, so that it knows how to display the console when the Micro connects via serial. With a 40 column display, getting text to fit right is pretty important.
"Sudo nano /etc/trs100"
With the empty document open, paste in the following text.
trs100|Radio Shack Model 100:\ :am:bs:xt:\ :co#40:li#8:\ :al=\EL:bl=^G:cd=\EJ:ce=\EK:cl=\EE:cm=\EY%+ %+ :\ :cr=^M:dl=\EM:do=^J:ho=\EH:kb=^H:kd=^_:kl=^]:kr=^\:\ :ku=^^:le=^H:nd=34:se=\Eq:sf=^J:so=\Ep:up=\EA:\ :ve=\EP:vi=\EQ
Originally part of Terminfo, because of it’s age the configuration profile for the model 100 was relegated to a UFO archive in the mid 90s. Luckily Eric S. Raymond found the file and published the details on his website.
With the text now pasted in place, save the file by pressing Ctrl+O, name it trs100. Before we can do anything with this file, we first need to make sure ‘libncurses5-dev’ and ‘libncursesw5-dev’ are installed on your computer. Type the following command in the terminal:
sudo apt-get install libncurses5-dev libncursesw5-dev
With the above files installed, we can now compile the terminfo file we
created by typing the following command
Providing there weren’t any errors, we can now move on to configuring Linux.
This is where things get a little more involved.
Since the last tutorial was written, Systemd has replaced the init sy which is used to open a console session via the serial port. Without it, it would be unable to communicate with Linux. So we must revise what the original tutorial tells us to do. Let’s begin by opening up a new document in Nano with the following command in the terminal
sudo nano /etc/init/ttyS0.conf
With nano open, copy and paste the following in to the window.
# ttyS0 - getty # # This service maintains a getty on ttyS0 from the point the system is # started until it is shut down again. start on stopped rc RUNLEVEL= stop on runlevel [!12345] respawn exec /sbin/getty -L 600 ttyS0 trs100
Save and close the document using Ctrl+O to save. While still within the terminal, type the following command.
sudo start ttyS0
By entering that command, you’ve now started a console via the serial port. But before you go trying to plug in your Micro, there’s just one last thing we need to do. If you’re serious about using your Model 100 with your Linux machine, one thing you might like is to have the output of the console visiable as soon at the PC loads up. To achieve this, we will need to alter the Grub configuration file.
While in terminal, type the following command and press enter.
sudo nano /etc/default/grub
Look for the follow entries and alter them to look exactly as they are
GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX="console=ttyS0,600,trs100" Tip- ttys0 tells Linux which serial port to use, this could be change to ttyS1. 600 sets the communication speed to 600 baud, while this might seem slow, going higher can potentially cause data corruption. Specifying the trs100 profile, allows the console to display properly on the tiny screen of the micro.
# Uncomment to disable graphical terminal (grub-pc only) GRUB_TERMINAL="console serial" GRUB_SERIAL_COMMAND="serial --speed=600 --unit=0 --word=8 --parity=no --stop=1"
Tip-By invoking “console serial”, Grub is told to output via the display and serial. –unit=0, you might want to change this to 1, if your using ttys1. Providing all the fields are now updated, let us recompile the Grub configuration file using the following command
Some text will scroll up the screen, similar to what is below.
Generating grub configuration file …
Found linux image: /boot/vmlinuz-3.13.0-55-generic
Found initrd image: /boot/initrd.img-3.13.0-55-generic
Found linux image: /boot/vmlinuz-3.13.0-54-generic
Found initrd image: /boot/initrd.img-3.13.0-54-generic
Found linux image: /boot/vmlinuz-3.13.0-53-generic
Found initrd image: /boot/initrd.img-3.13.0-53-generic
Found linux image: /boot/vmlinuz-3.13.0-48-generic
Found initrd image: /boot/initrd.img-3.13.0-48-generic
Now connect your null modem cable to your PC and your Model 100. On your Tandy computer, run Telcom and type ‘STAT 48n1e’ followed by ‘Term’. Now place the micro to one side and reboot your Linux machine. As it is rebooting, watch the display on the Model 100, it should begin to display information. If not, you may need to look at what serial port your using, as it might be ttyS1, instead of ttyS0. An easy way to find out is to use Minicom, which allows you to quickly swap between com ports and communicate with your Model 100.
Providing all has gone well, you should see a prompt asking you to enter your username and log in to Linux.
Now go have fun!
Thanks goes to
Sean Gallagher, Brian Hicks, wiki.archlinux.org and help.ubuntu.com
Without whom making this tutorial would have been much much harder.
For anyone with a Raspberry Pi3, this topic may or may not be useful. If like me you own a Raspberry Pi2, you may be facing the challenge of using Bluetooth with your Pi and wondering how on earth you get things started. Depending on how Linux savvy you are, this can be either a walk in the park or a utter nightmare that will leave your pulling your hair out and crying in a corner.
Now thanks to a good friend introducing me to Linux, I’ve been enjoying various distros for well over seven years, my favorite being Xubuntu. But that isn’t to say that I’m by any means a Guru. There are times Linux honestly leaves me baffled, but I felt pretty confident that setting up a keyboard on the RPi would be a walk in the park. After all, the latest addition, the PI3 comes with Bluetooth built in, so you’d think it worked pretty much out the box. When I bought an ultra slim bluetooth keyboard from Pimoroni, I was a little shocked to spend the next two days fighting with it. No matter what I tried the Bluetooth software in x.org refused to work with the keyboard. Thankfully the Raspberry Pi forum came to the rescue and after an hour searching for a solution, I finally had my answer.
If like me you’ve been reading guides telling you to use bluez-simple-agent to set up your keyboard, then you know that such a command no longer works on Raspbian Jessie, Bluez has been updated since those guides were written. Fortunately however Archlinux has a great Wiki page dedicated to using Bluetooth in Linux and how to get things working using the new command “Bluetoothctl“. From what I can tell the process isn’t that dissimilar to “bluez-simple-agent“.
Now I’m going to assume you’ve already installed Bluez on your machine. If you haven’t, then I suggest you get cracking.
– At the command prompt, type “bluetoothctl” and press enter.
– By default your controller is turned off, to switch it on enter “Power on“.
– Next, lets have a look at what your Pi can see, enter the command “Devices“. The computer will list any visible bluetooth devices, along with their MAC address. If you see the device your wanting to use, make a note of the MAC address now, as you’ll need it later.
– If your device wasn’t listed, try putting your pi in discovery mode with the “Scan on” command. Hopefully this will add any device that weren’t already discovered.
– Now turn agent on by typing the command “Agent on“. If successful your Pi should report: “agent registered“.
– Time to try connecting to your device using the address you jotted down earlier. Enter the command “Pair MAC address“. The PI should now attempt to pair to your device, so make sure you entered the address correctly, otherwise it will fail.
– If you’re using a device without a pin, you can manually instruct the PI to trust the device. This is sometimes necessary when your pi needs to reconnect to it. You can do this by entering the following command “Trust MAC xx.xx.xx“. Note after MAC, you should enter the address you have written down.
– Now lets finally establish a connection using the command “Connect MAC xx.xx.xx.xx“.
Hopefully your PI connected successfully to your keyboard, so why not try typing something? Did anything appear on your screen? If it didn’t, try retracing your steps. If you used the “Trust” command, you will have to use the command ‘Remove xx.xx.xx.xx’ to make your Pi forget the device. Once removed, try going through the tutorial again, making sure you didn’t miss any steps.
If typing on the keyboard resulted in letters appearing on the screen, congratulations! You successfully connected your keyboard to your Raspberry Pi. If you reboot your computer now, it will forget everything you have done so far and your Pi and keyboard will no longer be connected. To make sure this doesn’t happen and your keyboard remains connected, we’ll need to create a udev rule. This is our way of telling the Pi to look for our bluetooth device each time it boots up and if present, reconnect to it.
First quit bluetoothctl by typing ‘Quit’ and pressing the enter key, you should now be returned to Terminal. For the next step, begin by typing “nano /etc/udev/rules.d/10-local.rules“. Nano should load up a blank document, which we will use to fill with the following.
# Set bluetooth power up ACTION==”add”, KERNEL==”hci0″, RUN+=”/usr/bin/hciconfig hci0 up”
To save, press “CTRL+O” followed by the ‘ENTER’ key. Next press “CTRL+X” to exit Nano, your computer will now remember to reconnect to your device the next time you reboot.
The above guide is an adaptation of information found @ “wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/bluetooth#bluetoothctrl”
Readers of my blog will probably have seen the Amiga 600PI I built not so long ago, using a Raspberry PI 2 under the hood. Out of all the projects, I honestly have to say this was a labour of love and a lot fun project to build. But like any build, there are the obligatory tweaks that must be made to fix things that might have been missed the first time around. Issues that only became obvious after using a build for a week or two. Which is pretty much how it was for me with the AmigaPi.
After using the AmigaPI for a couple of weeks, I began noticing one or two problems. First on the list, wasn’t so much a hardware problem as software. UAE4ARM is the de facto Amiga emulator for the Raspberry pi, in shorts it’s pretty amazing. But as fantastic as it is, there is yet to be any support for remapping the keyboard. This is useful if you like playing games using the cursor keys or say your old skool and prefer using the good old Spectrum controls Z,X,O,P. At the time of writing, this still isn’t an option, which means its still isn’t possible to make use of the built in joystick ports on my KeyRah V2 interface. Sadly it seems no matter how much people plead for the feature to be implemented, those bringing UAE4Arm to the Pi are focusing on performance over functionality. Which is understandable, as any good emulator requires a decent level of real time performance. Afterall nobody wants to play Amiga games at a snails pace with choppy sound. But in the pursuit for good performance, other features have been neglected. Making UAE4Arm a good attempt, but still vastly lacking when compared to FS-UAE or Win-UAE. Both of which offer a far more advanced level of configuration, we can only hope that UAE4Arm will one day follow suit. Given the number of people using their Raspberry Pi for gaming, it would be a missed opportunity if it didn’t.
In the meantime the only way to play games on UAE4Arm is using a controller, usually this means hooking up an Xbox 360 joypad. I know a lot of people use these on their RetroArch gaming setups as they’re easy to get hold of. Chances are if you own a 360, you already have one laying about the house. However for me, seeing one hooked up to an Amiga 600 seemed as out of place as a Chippendale in a nunnery.
My AmigaPi needed a proper looking joystick, not some Microsoft rubbish. Now there are a couple of ways this can be achieved. Firstly, you can purchase the ready made USB Competition Pro by Speedlink. It looks just like the original, except for the USB connector on the end of the lead. I did seriously consider getting one of those, however digging a little deeper, I discovered more then a few people complaining about lack luster performance. While opinions on the internet are ten a penny, usually where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And at £20 a pop, I didn’t fancy finding out which opinion was right. Especially when I was pretty confident that I could build my own joystick for a fraction of the price.
Buiding A Joystick
The first thing I had to find was a bust Amiga Joystick, I certainly wasn’t about to break a working one just for a hack. At least taking something that is broken and giving it a new life, you’re recycling and not just throwing it in landfill. Luckily in my loft I had a non-working Cheetah 128, which had been
a spare for my Spectrum, until it died.
Taking it apart, I was surprised with the simplicity of the internal workings. Unlike some of my quickshot sticks, the Cheetah use simple metal pads to create open and shut gates. Press forward on the joystick and two metal pads would connect to make a circuit. Luckily for me, this would actually worked in my favour, as it would make converting the stick to USB pretty simple. The only problem now was finding the right sort of USB controller. Scouring the net, I found one company that sold a custom analogue to USB adapters, however they wanted £16! I thought this was a little pricey for a single sided, through hole PCB with only chip. It was after all, doing essentially what all the cheap Chinese controllers were doing – translating the inputs from a series of switches / buttons into something the computer could understand as UP, DOWN, LEFT, RIGHT and FIRE.
Ebay is full of USB controllers styled after SNES, NES and 360 joypads, which you can pick up for as little as a few quid. I was pretty sure one of these would contain everything I needed to convert the Cheetah to USB. So biting the bullet, I bought myself one and waited for it to arrive in the post.
A Note on Retro Game Pad Copies
After arriving at my doorstep, the first thing I noticed was the quality or lack of it Looks were pretty much the only thing the USB pad shared with the original super Nintendo controller. Unlike the latter, the build quality was cheap and flimsy and not at all solid as you’d expect. A quick game of Super Frog on the Amiga Pi quickly revealed how bad it really was, with the D pad often mashing two directions together. Resulting in a lot of unintentional left and right jumps that left me crying for it to end. After ten frustrating minutes I’d had enough and unplugged it. After seeing how rubbish it performed, I felt less guilty about scavenging it’s innards for my joystick mod.
Fitting A Square Block In A Round Hole
Inside the controller, I was faced with a major problem. The joy pad wasn’t constructed anything close to how I’d been expecting. Spanning the full width of the pad was a single PCB, populated with contact-less switches. I’d foolishly been expecting the pad to use mechanical switches, which I could have easily rewired. However a friend later explained to me that a lot of things these days are built using single a PCB to cut down the cost on components. In light of this revelation, I faced having to solder to the surface of the board. While not my preferred way of doing things, I’d just have to like it or lump it. If that wasn’t bad enough, the darn PCB turned out to be 2cm wider then the base of the Cheetah. I’d have to work some serious magic with my Dremmel if it was ever going to fit in the base.
One of the hazards with chopping up a PCB, is that they don’t usually work afterwards, not without a bit of rewiring. Such as reconnected broken ground planes etc, which are needed for the circuit board to function. Lucky for me the design was pretty simple, but I was still thrown a couple of times, chasing the ground. Having never attempted anything like this before, it was a learning process for me, figuring out how the board worked and where best to solder to. This was especially true, as I began cutting portions away to make it fit inside the base. After removing almost all the direction pads and three of the fire buttons, the PCB was finally narrow enough to fit inside the Cheetah, hurray!
If you fancy trying your hand at hacking your own joystick, my advice is to take your time, don’t rush and make a photographic record of your progress. Pictures can come in really handy if a wire pops out and your left wondering where the heck it came from!
To reduce the number of wires I had floating around inside the joystick, I shared the ground from one point on the PCB to all the other contacts. Interestingly, unlike other joysticks of the day, the Cheetah uses a cloverleaf for the main directional stick (pictured left). The only other joystick I know that shares this design, is the original Sinclair sticks that came with the grey Plus 2. This design actually made wiring everything up a lot easier, as its much simpler than those with internal switches. Beneath the star shaped metal plate are four contact screws, which represent UP, DOWN, LEFT, RIGHT. Using wire I’d stripped from an old IDE cable, I hooked the contacts up to those on controller’s D-pad. This is when having photo’s comes it really handy, as more then once I lost my way with the traces on the board. But consulting some photos, I figured out what I was doing wrong and soon had UP going to UP, LEFT going to LEFT and so on.
In theory, when connect to a USB port, the board would register the movement of the stick just as it had the original D-pad. While I recycled a lot of the Cheetah’s original wiring, I also used a lot of wire from an old IDE cable. Not only is it very flexible, but its also very low gauge, which makes it perfect for soldering to the tiny traces on the joypads PCB.
After the wiring, came the next challenge: hooking the joystick up to a USB port and hoping it worked. I’d already had the pad albeit in original form, connected to my Windows PC. It worked straight out the box with a minimal amount of setting up. Hooking it back up, I was pleased to find everything worked first time! After a game of Stunt Car (obviously!) on WinUAE, I began wondering about the buttons in the base of the Cheetah and whether or not they could be made to work. True the wiring inside was more jammed than a sumo wrestler in a phone box. But I wasn’t satisfied, I wanted those darn buttons to work. After all, the natural way of holding the Cheetah was with both hands. The whole time I’d been playing Stunt Car, I kept feeling the urge to use the lower buttons instead of the trigger.
Achieving this feat took some hacking, I can tell you. First I had to find room for the micro switches. There was barely any for them to sit between the PCB and the lid, the only option was to cut out a cavity in the buttons for the switches to sit inside.
As you can see pictured, this was finally how the buttons looked, with the switches recessed inside the red plastic housing. It took several failed attempts on my part, before I found the right depth for the switches. But eventually I was firing nitros in Stunt Car without a hitch. I think the scariest moment was when I screwed everything together. With the top and base finally secured, I was worried everything would squashed together. Luckily, I didn’t need to worry, as it worked fine.
And here is a final image, which I think pretty much captures my feeling at the end of this hack.