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The Atari VCS/2600 was released in 1977. At the the time of this writing, that was 36 years ago. The consoles themselves, impressively, are pretty sturdy. Sadly, the joysticks don't fare as well. Many people resort to using Sega Genesis controllers, since they are compatible. However, I wanted to make an arcade-quality joystick for my Atari. I could go to the trouble of hunting down Atari joysticks in pristine condition, but I grew up with one. Frankly, they weren't very good. But they were simple.

Step 1: What You'll Need

You'll need a nice arcade-style microswitch controller. I got one from adafruit. You'll want a button. I also got it from adafruit. You'll want an enclosure of some sort. I had one lying around that I had picked up from Radio Shack a while back. Just make sure it's big enough. If you're good with wood you should make a nice enclosure yourself. I'm not, so I stuck with plastic. You'll also want a DB-9 cable — I salvaged one from a new incarnation of an Atari 2600 controller. I couldn't bring myself to destroy a classic one, so I took apart one that came with an Atari Flashback I got for $10 or so. The upside is that the cable is shaped to lock into an enclosure and prevent damage from pulls. Also, there's an Atari logo on it. You could make your own using an ethernet cable, one or more DB-9 plugs and hoods. You'll want a multimeter to do continuity testing.

Not pictured are some other requirements like wire strippers, soldering iron, extra wiring, a Dremel, a drill, some nuts and bolts (#10 size works ok with the joystick I'm using), etc. You'll figure it out.

NOTE: if you do use a salvaged controller cable, keep in mind that it matters where you get it from. If plan on adding a paddle (not covered here), a cable from a normal joystick will not work. Likewise, pulling one from a paddle will probably not work if you plan to make a normal joystick, though I don't have a paddle to check. This is all because the paddles use pins 5, 7 and 9 which aren't used on a normal joystick. If you're interested in making a combo controller, pin 5 is B pot input, 7 is +5V and 9 is A pot input.
<p>This is really cool. I'm waiting on the parts to make one. I don't have the heart to hack up a original controller like that. However, I took a 2600 controller and soldered on tactile switches from Radio Shack Part# 2750004 in place of the worn out pressure pads. Super responsive and still keeps the original look. Thanks for sharing.</p>
The switches on the joystick are wired NO also?
Nicely done and very cool 'ible!

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Bio: I'm a web developer by trade. I'm a tad obsessed with video games, especially retro games and consoles. I have a wife, a ... More »
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