Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Fighting Putt! - A Cheap Sega 6 Button Pad Knockoff - First look!

So, guess what turned up today, oh, what you read the title already?  Well you guessed it, all the way from Chinay...

The wee box was a bit crumpled, note the SEGA branding on the box itself.
Purchased from a supplier chosen basically at random, for less than £1,50 or about 2 USD, the controller arrived in just a plastic bag with the address sticker, and some thin foam surrounding the box, which was hopelessly crushed, bad news for all you collectors out there for this rare and quality offici.... oh.

Looks a bit like an official Sega pad, a bit.
The worst thing about the pad so far is the length of the controller cord, so good luck sitting more than 2 feet away from your machine.

Pressing on the D-pad with firm but not unreasonable force....
Of course it doesn't really matter so much, if the pad itself is reasonable, the D-pad is not the worst, but its incredibly spongy and has an immense amount of travel/deflection, probably up to about 45 degrees between opposite corners if you really try, it has about 3 times the travel of a standard pad. All of the buttons are also very well traveled, they protrude from the casing a lot more than an official pad and will press in a very long way.

Thats enough of that anyway, so lets bravely remove the 5 screws and open it up, who knows what lurks within....

There's like a green thing with wires, and some funny looking rubber stuff...
Good news! China saved me some time there by molding the 5th screw into the casing itself, leaving just 4 tiny fasteners to hold the clam-shells together.

It has some halfway decent silicone parts (its seemingly difficult to get this aspect wrong for even the most penny pinching manufacturer) but check out the worlds cheapest PCB - its that kind of material that feels more like compressed cardboard than fiberglass or whatever.

Note the black dot in the middle of the PCB, this is the multiplexer chip, packaged directly on the PCB as cheaply as possible, so this is not good for spares for a real pad, but @ less than £1.50 delivered from halfway around the planet, you knew that anyway.

Since carbon coating would be an additional expense, there's none of that, so the pad will become less responsive, probably very quickly, due to oxidation of the bare copper and a relatively small contact area on the zig-zag copper contact strips.

In the above picture you can probably also make out the very fine & flimsy registration tabs on the buttons, to hold them in alignment with the fascia, not all of these are present and its easy to fit the buttons the wrong way.

So, worth buying? At £1.50 delivered, its an OK spare pad, its basically so cheap as to be disposable, but I really don't think items like this should be disposable, most of this one will be discarded / recycled as I just want the board, and no doubt many broken Fighting Putt's will go on to form a significant fraction of retro gaming e-waste in future, no doubt the assembly line workers are paid next to nothing and what's up with that name, really.

Monday, 12 October 2015

New Amiga A1200 Case Parts!

Hey all, so I've been developing this replacement/upgrade component for your Amiga's CPU "Trapdoor" Expansion port.... Here's one of the latest which turned up just today from shapeways.

The panels are available from shapeways, above is the original packaging it came in, it was also wrapped in a balloon/bubble wrap thing to keep it safe, all the way from the Netherlands. 

Installation is best done by flexing the panel a little, i made the clip a little long so it sits very securely, but it's just a little too long to push fit.  Don't be put off though because it's incredibly easy to fit in the case and to remove it.  Its made of a tough, laser sintered nylon but it has some springy flexibility to it, its not as brittle as ABS or many other casing materials. 

It also means the Amiga runs cooler, helping to ensure a longer life, and I had some issues with my accelerator card overheating with some 3D games, like my favourite game of all time, Frontier. 

Now, I can play that game without the colours going all funny and crashing after 20 mins.:) 

Get yours from right here buddy! A1200 Expansion Port Trapdoor Cover

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Amiga CD32 - Arcade Style Controller

Hello! And first let me thank you in advance for attempting to read the following article, It's been a while since I updated this blog, and for a long time I've been collecting parts for a brand spanking new controller for retro gaming....

Can you guess what it is yet? Here's a clu...
First to arrive, over a year ago - this wonderful CD32 arcade controller board from KM Tech - essentially a 1:1 replica of the internal electronics of a CD32 joypad, which you can use to interface your own choice of buttons and joystick to your own Amiga.

This has the exact same parts in the exact same configuration as an official Commodore CD32 pad, and on a lovely shiny and well made PCB, you have to provide your own wood, though.

Next to arrive, a full set of buttons and a joystick, received as a gift last Christmas, sadly I didn't take a pic of these before installing, so you'll just have to imagine a set of arcade buttons well packed in a cardboard box and lovingly wrapped.  They were from and arrived in perfect condition, but don't rush off and order a set just yet! 

These parts, in order to work in synergy and accomplish the feat of being good at controlling things which happen in games, require an enclosure, something to hold them all stably and ergonomically together, this is the hard part.  I decided to make something which might approximate a section cut from a real arcade stand-up cabinet, and went for a wedge type form to slant the deck toward the player, I felt this would make up somewhat for the cumbersome form, and I was right... Anyway,  partly for economic reasons (I'm pretty broke right now) and probably wussy lefty green environmental concerns, I also wanted to use only recycled / scrap material for the casing and after some frantic cutting, sawing and sanding last week, I ended up with a pile of toxic plastic dust (which mostly blew shamelessly into the environment I sought to protect), and this beast:

Yes, it is absolutely gigantic! Not one for "studio apartments"
It's huge, its heavy, but its a lot of fun to play a game with, minus the smokey atmosphere and strange men in overcoats who have a free neo-geo for you if you step into the back of their creepy looking van, its the closest thing to the arcades I remember from my youth.  The fully assembled controller really makes a difference for all sorts of games, but for shooters it makes a real difference and who cares about the environment when you're having fun eh?

The 'found' material, gives it a rugged 'ghetto' styling we can all appreciate.  The perspex fascia was from a friends LCD monitor - I tried fixing it and only broke it more (sorry Paul!) the thick piece at the front of the unit an old chair leg, and the rest are just random bits I found laying around in a rarely used cupboard / may have been the rarely used cupboard... Shhhhh. 

Hopefully it will look better sanded and painted! If I'm feeling flush I might get a design printed on vinyl to lay over the perspex, first though I need to settle on what features I want on-board. Joystick aficionados may have noticed the added switch above the joystick. This 3 position switch allows me to turn off the "Up" micro-switch on the joystick, and at the same time remap the blue button to "Up" on the interface board.  The point being that most Amiga platform games are limited to pressing "Up" for jump, if red is commonly the fire button (Zool 2, Ruff & Tumble for example) then blue will be jump, right next to it.  This makes controlling games for me much easier, as I'm more used to console type control schemes, where up usually just makes your character uselessly look upward, and jumping is nearly always a button press.

Wiring the buttons to the board is a breeze compared to making the case, but each wire needs to be soldered - forget about using a standard pin header for solder-less connection, according to the manufacturer, this drives the resistance too high, which can cause problems.  The instructions also state that each switch should be wired to with it's own common or ground connection - I found this was not the case, you can see the bank of unpopulated via's below. This really saves a lot of soldering and also halves the mess of wiring required, I cross connected the  grounds on the micro-switches instead of daisy-chaining to reduce the length of any circuit formed - I can't see how the resistance is any higher this way for individual presses, but perhaps it does when certain combinations are pressed.  I haven't noticed any problems so far however.
You really can't go wrong, but ensure the output to the Amiga (just out of shot lower left) is wired correctly with a continuity meter - ) ever paranoid of error and seeing how you could potentially blow one of the Amiga's chips up if wired incorrectly, I triple checked mine.
Another thing to note about the board, it cannot use common headers, and the convenient wiring options available, otherwise all the wiring could simply be plugged in using standard arcade parts. Apparently the completely non-standard arrangement is deliberately to prevent people from doing this.

Even with the gigantic enclosure, I had some problems finding a place to install the board, you can see its very close to the lowest button and the excessively thick piece of wood (an old pine chair leg) I'm using for the front of the enclosure - I didn't really think about this at the start, so if you're building your own, make sure to allow for this. I wanted to keep the depth of my controller to a minimum, so there was no room below the buttons to install, and again I wanted to keep my wiring runs as short as possible if electrical  resistance was going to be an issue. You can see from the pics that there's a lot of empty space on the board, it could be reduced significantly, on the flip-side of that, "arcade" usually implies oversize, heavy duty, so it somehow seems appropriate... Eh, I'd still like to see a smaller version in future though, just from the POV of efficiency, and being able to potentially cram more things inside as small a casing as possible.

So ronery...
I tried to emulate a CD32 Joypad layout and colour-scheme; the black buttons are the shoulder buttons and 1up is the pause, so hopefully I wont become confused when instructed to press a certain colour in any of the oooh, 10 games? which might require it.

Just like a city from TRON, maybe.

Coming back to the heart of the controller, the board and why it is necessary: Even though it says CD32, it should work on any Amiga, but if you're using a non-AGA machine its sadly complete overkill, as I suspect no CD32 games work on any computers other than the AGA chipset equipped A1200's and A4000's, and CD32's themselves of course. 

For older machines like the A500 we can simply wire the buttons and stick directly to a suitable cable, and plug it straight into the Amiga.  Older games generally only use 1 button (occasionally 2) no additional chips or other components are required as we only need to support 2 buttons.

So, why do we need extra chips for more buttons? Why do we need more buttons on our controllers at all!?  If we go back into the mists of time, the early & mid 80's, games really only required at most 8 directions and 2 buttons to control the action. So why make a design more complex and expensive than required?  2 buttons were just fine most of the time, heck, one button was just fine and dandy - this was after all the era before Street Fighter 2.

During the golden age of the arcade fighting game, and the 4th generation of games consoles - generally the first 5 years of the 1990's - it became a trend with manufacturers to increase the amount of buttons available on their controllers. Partly to support multi-button fighting games, ans partly to outdo their competitors. The Megadrive from 1989 had 3, the SNES, released a couple of years later, had to have a few more, culminating in the controller nirvana of 1994's Sony Playstation pad with a whopping 8 buttons (I realise some are screaming "Colecovision!" and "Jaguar!" but I've done the math here, and I'm choosing to ignore them, as I'm also ignoring pause, select and other buttons not normally used in play;)).  Add a couple of analogue sticks for err, analogging, and you have the same control pad you've been gently caressing for the past 20 years.

The synth-pop listening, hairspray sniffing gamer of the 80's might fall right off their folding bedroom chair if confronted with this modern style of controller, Practically convulsing at the hilarious mass of buttonage liberally scattered over its alien looking injection molded casing... But this all seems normal now.   Indeed, to those from the past, the sight of an Xbox 360 controller and its similar, yet even more outlandish assymetric layout might cause uncontrollable frothing, or the expulsion of gooey chunks of Wham! bar mixed with Iron Brew, all over the nearest black and white portable TV; potentially obscuring that nights episode of Airwolf, Tomorrow's World or the Krypton Factor....

"UP" To Jump....

In the 'controller war', Amiga's were quickly left behind, 1992's A600 and A1200 featured NO official improvements in this area beyond their older models, a new generation of commodore machines left to rot with control schemes leaving a player to press "up" to jump in a platformer or perform a convoluted joystick maneuver to release a smart bomb... Sometimes the keyboard would have to be used to supplement the lack of buttons - imagine having to stop firing to lash out and hit the spacebar to save your spacecraft from imminent oblivion, the horror, the horror...

Perhaps Commodore thought computers should be treated differently, after all Amiga's come with a keyboard that has millions of buttons, too many to count, (count em?) and those are great for gaming on, right? Perhaps they simply couldn't be bothered - and why should they, since most existing and planned games were designed with single button schemes in mind, and even console conversions could be made to run with alternative, if awkward single button schemes.  Bafflingly, the Amiga actually supported TWO (count 'em!) separate joystick buttons from the off, but very little software, and very few joysticks supported this - many Amiga sticks had multiple buttons, but they were all wired to the exact same pin and no software developer wanting to be successful wants people to also have to buy new hardware to run a single game.

Commodore finally addressed this when they released a dedicated games console, the CD32 in 1993, to compete with the fourth and the coming fifth generation consoles like the Sega Megadrive and Sony playstation. Now with no keyboard to fall back on, and to provide the optimal level of control for all the exciting titles of that era which might (but probably didn't) end up on the new machines, way, way, waaaaay more buttons were required to be within easy reach of our fetid gaming fingers, and the CD32 joypad was also born, funky looking gizmo that it is - people either seem to love or hate them, such is typical with most 90's electronics.

So, C= cleverly worked out that no self-respecting gamer would purchase a console in 1993 or beyond, if it didn't possess a serious amount of buttons for properly expressing some appropriately 90's 'tude in that era's 'tude filled games. There is a problem though, the CD32 Like all Amigas, used a 9 pin D-sub type connector, and if buttons and joystick directions are all basically switches, and for every extra switch, you require an extra wire; how do we get 4 directions, 8 action buttons and a pause button, along with a common or ground connection on one single 9 wire cable?

Infact, if we use a logic chip or two to encode and convert the switch presses into digital signals, really only 3 wires are absolutely required. One for ground, one for digital data, and one to supply a chip with a suitable voltage so the chip can perform this electronic sorcery, to encode any combination of button presses into digital signals.  Games can then be written to 'listen' for the combination of pulses that indicate that a particular button has been pressed, rather than simply to tell if a switch is on or off.  The beauty of this is that the Amiga hardware design required no modification, so this can also work on older machines as its all driven by software.

Which is great, as I don't own a CD32 (boo!) but my Amiga 1200 is very similar internally to, and capable of running the same games as Commodore's ill-fated games console!

So, now we know why I did this, other than the cool factor and street cred it provides, I find its a lot more enjoyable simply to play games with it, and it preserves the old sega pads I was otherwise using. The remapping of up is a real bonus and easy to accomplish compared to a joypad mod, and really worth the effort.  It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up! (or making one out of old furniture and other junk;))

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Wandered Over to the Retro Nook....

.... For some classic gaming action on a saturday afternoon, but no.


Rrrrrrwwwwridge! Rrrrrwwwwwrraaaacerrrrrrrrrr!
Maybe I'll get a go later, once he's slept off the fresh fledgling pigeon, the innards of which are still laying on the kichen roof... blegh!

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Cheapo Amiga Floppy Emulator Inbound!

Almost seems to fit the case, almost...

Just saw a thread over at English Amiga Board about this... You can now get a 20 quid (delivered) floppy emulator, and with just a quick flash of its firmware you can turn it into a shugart drive emulator, allowing you to read and write virtual ADF files.

I'll be picking one up shortly for my un-accellerated second A1200 machine, which i'm presently running on floppys 'burned' from my more upgraded machine (look, if you're going to have 2 machines you'd better use both of them, right?;))

So now its incredibly cheap to get access to a huge array of amiga games and run them on real hardware without needing WHDload and the associated Amiga upgrades required to play many of the games:

Amiga 1200 ~ £75
CF HDD + CF card ~ £30
WHDload license £15
020 + fastram accellerator (bare minimum) £80

So really if you're looking to get into amiga gaming on the real hardware, you can either spend probably more than £200 on a WHDload machine or less than 100 on a machine and floppy emulator, this may open up the hobby some more for those on lower incomes as the only previous efforts at producing a floppy emulator weigh in at around £60 - not far off the cost of a brand new ACA 020 (and IMHO, you'd be much better off with the accellerator at that point)

Here's a link:

Hats off and bravo to the man who figured this out! I knew there was some potential here, I am really pleased that someone else had the idea, someone with the actual skills to do something with it!

GOTEK emulators are available on ebay (of course!) probably best to order one from the far east, you'll need to buy or make up a cable for the flash software and a pc to soft mod the drive. 

Wait! Dont run away and get drunk yet, there's more! If thats not good enough, and you have a Raspberry Pi languishing under a pile of old circuits then good news!  At the moment there are at least 2 different projects are underway for an interface board which allows the Pi to be installed inside any Amiga and handle a much larger number of .ADF files.

You can follow the development along in english here

A whole 500mhz ARM equipped Pi might be a bit of a sledgehammer to merely act as a fake floppy drive/disk manager for machines that rarely operate at over 14mhz but just goes to show how much computers have developed over the last 20 years.  I wonder what other ways new computers could be interfaced with old to add further capabilities? Perhaps a tiny but powerful Raspberry Pi could serve up disks and perhaps also act as a soundcard or graphics card?

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Remember the dead HDD I mourned in this first post of this blog?

Well it came back to life!

Last year I took the drive out of its protective anti-static bag, to see if I could do something with it.  I noticed that inexplicably, some thermal conductive paste had become smeared over part of the logic board.  I removed the paste but some of it was still lodged in vias, I plugged it into the modified external enclosure/caddy and tried reading the disk.  It spun up and stayed spun, I was then able to read off all the files I really wanted to keep and then attempt to copy the entire disk, I got every last bit of data off that drive and onto a much new 3Tb unit.

So what happened? Holy intervention? Aliens? Anti-Gremlins?

I think the initial failure was entirely to do with the logic board, which had perhaps overheated, or through lots of heating and cooling cycles had fractured a solder joint between one of the components and the PCB.   This is at least partly to do with the ROHS certified lead free solder that the logic board is held together with, its the same thing that causes Xboxes to die early deaths with that annyoing red ring.

I believe that when I cleaned off the conductive paste some of it became lodged in whatever cracks had appeared, re-bridging the connections and allowing charge to flow around the board and through all the components again.

Presumably, if this is the problem then the fix will only be temporary, but could be fixed permanently by reflowing the IC's, however I've now put the drive to a more dignified rest along with many others in a storage cupboard, in a stolen green tesco crate. Even if i reflowed it it would not be reliable enough for any serious use and 500Gb really isn't much these days anyway!

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Classic Gaming Hardware mod - 001 - PSX Dualshock to Amiga CD32

Some may know of my enthusiasm for nearly all things Amiga, the Commodore Amiga, on which I began making digital artwork, or something approximating digital art anyway...  And it was also fun for games!  In the mid 90's Commodore released a games console called the CD32; basically one of their desktop machines stripped of its keyboard, with an additional custom chip and integrated into a games console form factor with integrated CD-ROM drive.  As single button joysticks just were so passé by '93, the machine also came with a proprietary Joypad, akin to the Sega 6-button or the SNES joypad.
Computing chaos in the retro-nook, the safety goggles do nothing, but were useful to store tiny screws...

All the extra buttons on these types of pads mean that the simple approach of treating every button as an individual switch, with an individual wire in the cable would be impractical. In order to prevent these pads from requiring lots of individual wires and massive connectors, the button presses are converted to digital signals and sent on a single wire.  This means that to convert one pad from one machine to another you need pre-programmed microchips to allow the pad to talk to its new host machine.

Fail to increase your understanding of this concept with this useless infographic I made.
Recently I bought a board from from a small retro-peripheral manufacturer called KMTech, which does just this, even better, it fits (with some modification) into an old PSX Dualshock controller, specifically the SCPH-1200.  Its designed to fit into a different type of pad, but I prefer the Dualshock, also helped I had a couple of examples of these already.
The 'Amipad' board, with Dualshock shoulder button boards installed.  The 2 microchips convert button presses into digital signals, which are decoded within the Amiga, meaning lots of buttons can send on/off signals on a single wire, swish!
I just had to make a couple of modifications, because the pad that this board is designed to go into is near identical, just a matter of testing for fit and removing what gets in the way - these are located entirely near the middle of the pad, 3 posts where the cable is normally wound for strain relief and some jutting bits of plastic near the cable exit.  On the lower shell the only part which needed modification is a support post, all these are shown in the image below.

upper and lower 'shells' of the controller.

The cruelly removed guts of the Dualshock pad. Lean closer "k kuh kill meeeeee" it seems to whisper... to the spares bucket with you!
 Anything that interferes with the position of the board, even by a couple of milimeters, must be removed, or the function of the buttons will be impaired, so it needed some tweaking to get it right.

The board should sit as flat as possible.

I could have re-installed the analogue board, though this leaves a couple of gaping holes in the pad, this might be a nice place to add some rotary switches for something.

Assembled with the analogues removed.
 But I decided to add some plastic covers, glued in place with some contact adhesive. I had to grind the plastic down on the pad to get a snug fit.
I haven't worked out a good solution for strain-relief on the cable yet, on the ami-pad the cable is secured to the analogue board (which means destroying the analogue board) so any suggestions welcome.  I should probably sand and paint the pad (perhaps a delightful retro yellow/brown:D) as its no longer going to work with anything Playstation related!

Playing the CD32 version of Benefactor (which needs all the extra buttons) on the Amiga 1200 computer.
As you can see in the above image, the buttons are now confusingly labelled and will have to be painted or some solution found.

Maybe one day I will design and 3d print my own shells and buttons!