Building Arcade-quality Joysticks Compatible with Atari 2600, 7800, 400/800 and Colecovision
The controller port pin-out and form-factor of the Atari 2600 VCS was preserved on both the 7800 and 400/800 computers. It even found its way onto the Colecovision. With such a wide array of compatible consoles, we chose to first build a durable joystick for this format. With bulging collections of game cartridges, we were dying to play them on a better joystick.
We built this "101 model" from the guts of an Atari 7800 Joystick. This preserved the second fire button for the 7800 games that made use of it and was still comatible with all the 2600, 400/800 and Colecovision games. When the arcade parts arrived, we were stoked to get this project underway.
Images of the Joystick 101 Project for the Atari 2600, 7800, 400/800 and Colecovision
We needed both arcade parts and an enclosure. We debated what to use to house this beast we would make and decided that a wooden "box" would offer the most flexibility. After deciding on a size, we were free to drill holes for the joysticks and buttons exactly where we wanted them. A wooden enclosure would also weigh more than metal project boxes. We wanted it to have some heft, so it would stay still on a table top while we beat the hell out of it playing games. For this reason we designed it with both Player 1 and Player 2 side-by side, which also gave it more of an arcade feeling.
We asked around and researched arcade parts then decided on Happ Controls - who later evolved into SUZO-HAPP. They had a wide array of products and seemed to be a major supplier to the amusement industry (still are to this day). Soon we had lumber and electronics. We were ready to build!
Arcade Joystick Supply List
Two Atari 7800 Joysticks (preferably defective, as you only need the cables).
Extra wire for lengthning your cable runs to the joystick poles.
Blades onto which you solder the wiring for connection to the micro-switches
Push Button w/ horizontal microswitch #58-9100-L (for Red - other colors available)
You can enter the part numbers above on the SUZO-HAPP site or navigate to the Amusements area to see what else is available. Keep in mind "Gaming" is apparently what goes on in Las Vegas. The gaming WE do is filed under "Amusements". Um... ok.
Tools for the Enclosure
Electric jig saw (or equivalent)
Electric Drill (or equivalent)
1 1/8" dirll bit for making button and joystick holes
One ½" x 12" x 6' plank of wood
One 2" x 4" x 6'
in sacrificing the Atari 7800 controller, label the wires before removing them from the PCB and fire buttons. This will save you the frustration of realizing that the North position of the arcade joystick is sending a South signal.
The 4 point base of the Happ arcade joysticks have 4 switches (North, South, East, & West) that are depressed based on the position of the shaft of the stick. The "North" position creates on-screen motion straight up just as the "West" position send the action to the left. Moving the stick to the North-west (upper-left diagonal) corner depresses both the "North" and "West" buttons which creates diagonal motion. This is how the 7800 joystick sends info to the console. Keep in mind that these directional markers are at polar opposites when looking down on the top of the joystick. This will help avoid wiring it to the wrong poles.
You can begin soldering the blades onto the wires and then attach them to the micro-switches. I prefer using the blades as it keeps all the heat away from the switches - lessening the chances of frying a switch from excessive soldering. Have I mentioned I'm not very adept at soldering?
The fire buttons need to be placed through the top of the enclosure prior to attaching the micro-switches. With this in mind you may want to paint or urethane the surfaces prior to installing the buttons. Painting around the buttons is a pain in the ass and will likely get paint in places you don't want it.
Enclosure / Housing Preparation
Once you start setting up the wiring, you may want to rush into testing, but this can be done at a later time as nothing is irreversible until you seal the housing and may not have easy access to the switches and wiring. The connections are fairly simple so don't worry about testing just yet.
We decided on a 30" width which seemed to leave enough space for two side-by-side set ups. If that dimension works for you, its time to cut the 12" wide plank and measure out button and stick placement. When yo settle on the width of your project, divide the board into two equal halved and center the joystick and buttons within each "Players" half. Use the 1 1/8" drill bit for both the fire buttons and the joystick. This bit will allow free motion of the joystick.
When you are done drilling, slap a few coats of paint and urethane on to preserve it. You don't want random stains sinking into the raw wood. After it dries, you can attach the fire buttons and mount the lower portion of the joystick assembly.
Finalizing the Electronics
Lets assume you have a painted plank of about 30" and you've mounted the 4 fire buttons and the lower joystick assembly. Now, is a good time to test things. Attach the microswitches to the buttons and 4 points of the joystick - you labeled them before, right? Attach the joystick cables to your home console of choice and verify that the joystick's directionality is correct and that the fire buttons work.
Finalizing the Enclosure / Housing
Now you need to whip out some common sense and cut your 2x4 to match the length and width you decided on for your project. The 4" height will be plenty to separate the 2 planks leaving enough room for the electronics. I'd suggest screwing the planks to the 2x4 along with wood glue on all the seams. This is much stronger than nails. I left the back open for ease of access if needed, although you can seal the box if desired.