REFRESHING AN OLD GAME CONTROLLER

If your retro-gaming skills ain’t what they used to be, fix your joystick buttons. By Ben Wheeler

If you play vintage game systems, you’ll sometimes find that Mario won’t jump on command, or Ms. pauses when moving left. No wonder: the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) controller just celebrated its 20th birthday, and Atari, Intellivision, and Commodore 64 controllers are even older. Over the course of the hundreds of sessions in a controller’s life, metallic connectors beneath the buttons and direction pad can wear away and no longer complete the circuit that registers a keypress event. Luckily, it’s a simple matter to refurbish old controllers and make them responsive again.

Un refurbished NES controllers are available on eBay for about $5, and may come in any condition. Controllers for older systems can run $5-$20. Refurbished, guaranteed controllers can be quite a bit more: seller-certified Atari 5200 controllers, the most expensive, go for $30.

Vintage controllers fall into two categories: analog joysticks (Atari, ColecoVision) and digital direction pads (NES, Super Nintendo, Sega Master System and Genesis, PlayStation original). Joysticks have more complicated, if elegant, internal mechanisms. Direction pads are easier to fix because they are just a set of buttons overlaid with a piece of plastic. (Modern analog controllers used with PlayStation 2, GameCube, and Xbox, like old analog controllers, can’t be repaired as easily.)

On the earliest controllers, for the Atari 2600 and 5200, Intellivision, and ColecoVision, the internal circuit is printed on flimsy plastic, rather than fiberglass. If these circuits are worn out, you’ll need to buy a replacement circuit (around $6 on eBay) as well as replace the contacts.

MATERIALS: Aluminum foil Double-sided tape, Scissors Screwdriver

Unplug the controller from your console. WARNING: Always unplug a controller before opening it, and don’t plug it back in until it is screwed shut.

The screws may be small, so don’t strip them with a screwdriver that’s too large. When the controller is open, find where the buttons contact the circuit board. Most controllers use rubber to make the button resist. Wipe the metallic contacts on the underside of the rubber with a dry cloth or napkin.

Cut little squares of aluminum foil, one for each button. They should be about wide. Affix them in rows to a piece of double-sided tape.

For each button, cut off a square of foil, with tape attached, and stick the tape side to the metallic contact. Press firmly so that the foil flattens evenly and sticks well.

Replace all parts as you found them: if your controller has an analog joystick, you’ll have to align the joystick’s vertical and horizontal teeth with their proper sockets. Then close the controller and screw the cover back on.

Plug the controller back into your console, fire it up, and enjoy a new level of vintage sensitivity! If any buttons are overly sensitive, the foil underneath may be off-center or not flat.

With the release of Sony’s PlayStation Portable (PSP) comes the usual disappointment at Sony’s lack of out-of-the-box support for the Mac. While the PSP does have a USB mode that allows universal access to its Memory Stick Duo, and the Mac crowd can use a Duo stick to shuttle data (more on that later), this is where the crumbs of kindness end. Fortunately, a ravenous developer community has released some amazingly intuitive applications for Mac and PSP. With free and shareware applications, along with some information on how the stores its data, you can sync music, photos, and video from a variety of sources when you plug your PSP into your Mac.

The primarily uses Sony’s proprietary Universal Media Disc format for games, video, and large media files. Why it is rumored that Sony may open up the format for anyone to read and write with, I’m not holding my breath;

I lived through Betamax, Minidisk, and ATRAC packs 1.8GB of data into its 60mm diameter optical disc. This usually consists of games, music, and movies. But I’m not looking forward to paying over and over again for the content I already own on other media.

Anyway, offers another way of accessing its data, by using the Memory Stick Duo card.

The Memory Stick Duo comes in 64MB to 1GB flavors; you can usually score a 1GB for under $150. A 128MB Memory Stick Duo stores roughly 100 2-megapixel images, 60 minutes of 280kbps/ QVGA video, or 130 minutes of 132Kbps encoded music. Read/write speeds hover between 20Mbps to 160Mbps, depending on the hardware, with Sony stuff talking to Sony stuff.

I have a Sony digital camera, and so I have amassed a small collection of Memory Stick Duo and Duo Pros. Unfortunately, when you format or use the Memory Stick Duo in the PSP, not all the required folders are present by default for viewing all types of data, such as video. But if you get into the stick’s file system, create a new folder, name it to follow own internal naming conventions, and fill it with videos (properly encoded), you can play videos on the PSP. That’s what we’re going to do.

The best way to start is to format the Memory Stick on the PSP. To do this, pop the Memory Stick in, power up, and in the main menu, scroll all the way over to System Setting. Press O, scroll down to Format Memory Stick, choose Yes, and press O again.

From here, there are two ways of viewing the folders that the Memory Stick created. You can pop the stick out and use some type of flash card adapter. (I have a 6-in-l that I picked up for $10; just make sure it handles Memory Stick Pro

— some don’t.) Alternately, you can go into USB mode on the PSP and access the file system from your computer via a USB A to USB 5-pin mini cable. These cables are handy for synching, so if your didn’t come with one (mine didn’t), you might want to make the investment.

To use USB mode, plug the USB cable into your Mac, then plug the mini USB connector into the PSP. Power up, and on the main menu, scroll all the way to the left and select Setting; then scroll down and choose USB Connection and press o. On your Mac you’ll now see a new Untitled disk. That’s your PSP; let’s see what’s on it.

At the root level, there is a MEMSTICKIND file. This keeps track of the content on the Memory Stick, and is of no specific interest to us now.

Double click the folder; inside are four folders: GAME, MUSIC, PHOTO, and SAVEDATA. What is stored in these folders is pretty obvious. GAME is for downloaded games is where the Sony games store their scores and game states. (I haven’t tried it, but I assume you can trade saved data from games with pals to get ahead in levels.)

MUSIC holds MP3s and MP4 and in fact, you can drop some in there right away and play them. The downside with Sony’s bare-bones MP3 implementation is that it doesn’t read tags or album art, and you can have only one level of sub folders under the MUSIC folder.

Also, keep in mind that protected content, like the content from the iTunes Music Store, will not normally play (you can remove the DRM, but that’s another article. Later, I’ll show how to automatically sync this folder up with iTunes. For now, just drop MP3 files in here and they should play just fine.

Next up is the PHOTOS folder. I dropped a few dozen JPEGs in here and they played well. I’ll show you in a bit how to sync automatically with photo.

Where is the video folder? There isn’t one, at least not at this time. My guess is that Sony wants to either sell you a tool to make videos, which will then automatically appear on your Memory Stick ready to play, or they hope you’ll pick up a video disc. Luckily, Sony has used the same folder hierarchy on devices for years, and it’s easy to add the two new folders you need.

Back out to the root level of Memory Stick. You should see the folder. Create a new folder called ROOT, open that folder, and create a new folder inside that called 100MNV01.

If you had properly encoded and named videos, you could drop these in now, but it’s likely you won’t until you convert some. We’ll do that later, after we sync up some music and photos using the life applications.

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