This node assumes you have at least a basic understanding of electronics.

Maybe you've always preferred authentic arcade controls to the classic Atari 2600 joystick. Maybe you need another set of paddles so you can play some 4-player Warlords. Whatever your reason for wanting a custom Atari controller may be, you're in luck, because they're incredibly easy to make.

In most modern video game systems the controller is a rather sophisticated device. With all the buttons, analog joysticks, LEDs, vibrating motors, and other doodads controllers have these days a microchip is necessary for the controller to communicate with the console.

The Atari 2600 is not a modern video game system. It was designed with the intent of being simple and cheap to manufacture. The controller connects with a standard DB-9 connector and uses no microchip. To do a similar project with most consoles you would need to strip down an old controller for its PCB, but thankfully for us the Atari controller contains no proprietary parts.

First of all, you're going to need some supplies:
  • 1 male DB-9 connector (preferably a housing as well)
  • 1 cable with at least six wires (some old CAT-5 works great)
  • Some sort of project housing
If you want to make a joystick, you'll also need:
  • 1 Joystick (I recommend Happ Controls)
  • 1 momentary pushbutton (once again, go with Happ)
If you want to make a set of paddles you'll need:

Note that it is possible to make a controller that includes both a joystick and a set of paddles, but I'd recommend just including one or the other.

After you've retrieved your parts, it's all a matter of assembly. It's probably a good idea to drill the holes and mount the components in your project housing before wiring. Where things are placed and what kind of housing you want to use is really up to you. After that is done you can figure out what should hook up to each pin by pulling apart an existing controller, but I'll spare you the trouble and list the pinouts here:

1 Joystick Up
2 Joystick Down
3 Joystick Left
4 Joystick Right
5 Left Paddle
6 Fire
7 +5v
8 Ground
9 Right Paddle

For a joystick controller you can ignore pins 5, 7, and 9. Just wire the joystick and fire button to the appropriate pins and common ground.

A set of paddles is a little different. Because the Atari 2600 has only one fire button, the paddle fire buttons use joystick left (for the left paddle) and right (for the right one) instead. Also remember that the potentiometers hook up to +5v instead of ground. You're going to want to cut the poles on the pots down to a shorter length. I used a hacksaw, but there are probably better methods.

Test all of your connections with a multimeter, then close it up and you're done. Have fun with your home-made controller(s)!

This entire thing came about when I wanted to find another pair of paddles for my 2600 prior to a party. After seeing the amount a pair in decent shape sells for, I decided to make my own. To my surprise, there was very little information on the subject available on the Internet. After a little research and reverse engineering, this is what I came up with. The results were a nice (if a little stiff) pair of paddles for less than US$20.

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