A discussion started a while ago on AtariAge about the different methods of creating a Joystick for the Atari 8-bit with more than a single fire button. There was much back and forth but the final consensus was that simple is best (and easiest to implement) and a design for a three button controller using the PotX and PotY pins as two extra buttons was settled upon. Aside from the Controls themselves and a box, only a couple of resistors and a cable would be required.
As with anything designed by committee, there were immediately requests for extra functionality, options and variations which threatened to derail the core idea of adding a couple of extra buttons. And so these joystick controller boards were born!
Board one, the little board, is designed for just a bunch of buttons from eBay, hence the name. There are many Arcade Controls kits available on ebay for about $20, just like this.
They come with all the necessary buttons and cables and are “reasonable” knockoffs of genuine Sanwa arcade controls. All that would be required to interface these with our Atari’s is a board to plug the cables into and a joystick extension lead.
There are Up, Down, Left, Right connections for “Happ” style joysticks, and a single 5pin connector for Sanwa type joysticks. There are three connections for the fire buttons and an extra two connections for side mounted buttons for Pinball Flippers. The pinball flippers are mapped to “Left” and “Right” directionals which works fine for Pinball Construction Set but Davids Midnight Magic is reversed. Advanced Pinball Simulator used “Z” and “/”.
We really need someone who loves pinball to patch these titles so that everything is using the same controls!
At the bottom there is a place for a SPDT switch that will switch the function of Button F3 between “Fire 3” and “Up”, this allows the use of a button for jump or kick in games that use it. If you don’t wish to implement this functionality you will need to bridge the center pad to the function you want to implement.
The cable connection is layed-out to fit a standard female d-sub connector so the board can plug into a joystick extension lead, but you could always just solder the wires straight to the the pads if you are using the cable from a cheap Megadrive pad or something.
The only required components are the 2x 330Ω Resistors. The connectors I used are JST-XH (2.5mm) ones, these match the cables that come with most Arcade controller kits but you don’t have to use them. I got joystick extension leads from Aliexpress because they were $3 each from there, but $12 from eBay, they took forever to arrive but they work fine.
Now we move on to the bigger of the two boards, I call this the Kitchen Sink because I threw every compatible idea we came up with into it. As well as everything above there are connections for both paddles and a driving controller! I’ve added switches that enable these controls, enabling them will cost you functionality elsewhere, “Fire2” is switchable with one Paddle (the Right one), “Fire3” is switchable with the other (Left) Paddle (though you do get “Up” on F3 if you enable that paddle). Enabling the driving controller will disable the joystick because Atari driving controllers use the up/down directions for the driving controller.
It is possible with this board to enable the joystick, 2 fire buttons, fire3 as up and still have the Left paddle enabled for a throttle controller or positional control. You can have left and right Paddles, a Driving controller, left and right flipper buttons and a Fire button! The switches needed for this are two DPDT switches and a SPDT switch.
If you want to implement your own Paddles you will need 1MΩ Potentiometers and the driving controller I used is this one from Digikey which works but it isn’t smooth turning like the official Atari driving controller.
I’ve designed a case to mount three buttons, two flippers, a stick and a switch for Fire3/Up. My printer is in a very cold place at the moment and my print suffered because of it so I painted my joysticks in XL colours to hide the so-so print finish, I used screwed small rubber feet to hold the base on. I’ve ordered some tiny metal Atari logo stickers from here to finish off the sticks.
Of course these devices are useless unless there is software to support them. There is already an effort underway on GitHub by user ‘ascrnet’ and others to patch some of the old games to work with the new control options.