MakeyMakey Game Controller (3D Printed)

About: Hello! I'm Simon. I am a teacher who is currently working as a Professional Learning Consultant in Perth, Western Australia. I have a background in Primary School teaching with specialisations in STEM, Digit...

The MakeyMakey is a great tool for having students create innovative ways to physically engage with a computer or even better, their own game. This game controller is 3D printed, although, the same concepts could be applied to any material (extra points for recycled materials).

Supplies:

A MakeyMakey is required along with it's USB cord.
Conductive material is also required. This could include:

  • Screws
  • Bolts
  • Nails
  • Wire
  • Alligator clips
  • Split pins
  • Aluminium foil
  • Copper tape

It would also be handy to have wire snips, wire strippers, scissors, box cutter etc.

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Step 1: Designing the Controller

The first step is to decide on a design for the controller. This will depend on what material you plan to use. I have decided to go with a reasonably traditional design.

The things to consider are:

  • Shape
  • Button layout
  • Size

For teachers, it may be useful to get students to create a sketch and then a prototype out of clay or cardboard. This will enable the students to take some accurate measurements which are useful for designing in CAD software especially. This is a good opportunity to look at various other game controllers and analyse the designs. User experience is crucial here. Ask questions such as:

Why are those buttons in that shape?

Why are the buttons located there?

How could you make it easier for you to use?

Could someone play it with one hand? Why/Why not?

Step 2: 3D Designing in Tinkercad

To design the game controller, I will be using Tinkercad. Tinkercad is a popular, free, online and quite comprehensive 3D design software. I have used Tinkercad with students many times. It can be challenging for students to get used to the online '3D world' but they usually have a quick uptake.

You have to sign up to Tinkercad because it saves all of your files under your profile so you can re-visit them later. When you are logged in, click 'Create new design' to get started.

Start by dragging a shape from the right of the screen on to the work plane. To move around in 3D, drag the cube in the top left or hold down Ctrl on the keyboard and click and drag around the workplane.

When the shape is selected, you can see that you can drag any of the points to stretch the shape. You can define the dimensions of the shape by using clicking on a resizing point then entering the required measurement in the text box.

There are also bendy arrows to rotate the object and a cone-shaped arrow to lift the shape off the workplane.

PRO TIP: When getting students to move objects in the 3D space, click on the 'Top' face of the perspective cube and drag the object to the desired space on the X and Z axes and use the cone-shaped arrow above the shape to lift the shape up or down the Y-axis. Dragging the shape in non-squared perspectives can sometimes be difficult to judge and pretty funky.

Step 3: 3D Designing the Game Controller

Now that you have had a play with the shapes including placement, rotation and measurements, it's time to create your design in 3D.

My controller consists of 2 stretched spheres and a flattened cylinder. (See picture)

You can adjust the colour, amount of sides, segments and bevel amount in the settings. I used this to make it a bit smooth and taper off nicely. The colour is irrelevant at this stage other than easily differentiating between the different shapes.

Here's where the fun bit comes: merging shapes and making holes!

To merge your shapes together, select them (drag a selection around them all or click on one then hold shift and click on the others you want to be selected) and click on the group button which is a part of a square and part of a circle combined (or press Ctrl and G together). Your shapes should all be one piece (and one colour) now but you can ungroup them by pressing the ungroup button next to the 'group' button.

PRO TIP: Ctrl+Z is 'undo' here too .... it comes in very handy!

To make holes (handy for wire, buttons, nails etc.), firstly, create a shape which will represent the hole you want to cut out. I used bolts so I needed 4 cylindrical holes. Make sure that your shapes are the correct measurements and in the correct place. Then change the shape's colour to 'Hole' (see picture), select the hole shapes and the shape you want the hole in and press group!

In my design, I created holes for the buttons, index finger grips and a hole for the MakeyMakey to slot into (this hole had to take the USB port into account). Be very accurate with your measurements.

Step 4: 3D Printing

Firstly, you need to download your 3D model. Click on 'Export' in Tinkercad and choose the appropriate file type. STL and OBJ files are commonly used in 3D printing so either should work fine.

After downloading the file, you will need to import it into your printing software, enable the suggested supports and start printing.

I have attached my original files for your reference. One file is for the original MakeyMakey design the other is the 2018 version. There is no major difference other than the location of the USB port.

PRO TIP: Orientate the controller vertically, so on the print bed it looks as if it is doing a nosedive. This will reduce the number of supports and time removing supports when finished.

After the printing is completed, you will need to take off the supports.

SAFETY: Be very careful here. Sharp and pinching tools can be dangerous when not used carefully. Also, sturdy gloves and eyewear are non-negotiable, pieces of plastic will fly around when taking off the supports.

Step 5: Wiring the Buttons

OK, so they're not really buttons. They're more like conductive points but they serve the same purpose.

Arrange your buttons in the holes as designed and connect them to the appropriate location on the MakeyMakey. I used wire which went to the bolts and was secured between two nuts. You could use alligator clips just as easily.

You will need to come up with a way to earth the person. I ran copper tape underneath the index finger grips so when the player is holding the controller correctly, they are automatically grounded and as soon as they touch the appropriate button it completes the circuit. You could also create a bracelet to the same effect.

SAFETY: Be careful cutting and stripping wire. Make sure your MakeyMakey is not plugged into a power source during this phase.

Step 6: Gaming

Plug in your USB and you should be ready to go!

In our office, we are partial to a bit of Mario World, although, the options are endless.

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