Atari Paddle Controller Design


Review, ergonomics, disassembly, and explanation of the Atari paddle controller.

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#Atari #paddle #controller


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  1. I started out gaming on an Atari 800XL, but I don't think we owned paddle controllers. I feel like I missed out what seems like a pretty fun gameplay experience.

    To my knowledge, classic gaming is pretty popular nowadays and a lot of people use either emulation, or more recently, FPGA systems like MiSTer/Analogue NT/Mega SG etc. I'm surprised at the lack of USB controller options for anything even slightly specialised. For example, I tried searching for Atari style paddles, spinners, four way leaf spring joysticks and trackballs. You can find components to be fitted in arcade cabinets, but nobody seems to make stand-alone controllers (handheld or to be placed in the lap/on a tabletop).

    Even something as simple as retro style gamepads that aren't noticeably inferior to the originals seem to be few and far between. What really gets me is the fact that it's already become difficult to find good quality PS3 controllers despite the console being discontinued relatively recently. Brand new first party ones are stupidly expensive, you're never sure of the condition used ones will be in, a lot of the ones advertised as official are knock-offs and third party ones are almost universally awful and/or don't have all the features of the first party controllers (some functions being required for particular games).

  2. I've just found my Dad's old Atari 2600 (6 switches on the front, not 4) and the paddles need a good clean. I've got a can of Servisol Super 10 which is a cleaner and lubricator. Do you think this would be ok to use?

  3. That's it! I'm getting an or two again! Actually what I'd like to do is figure out how to connect an Atari Paddle controller to a PlayStation 2 to play some of their arcade games.

  4. The oddest and most interesting thing about the paddles, to me, was that unlike the Atari joystick controllers, they came in pairs which plugged into a single controller jack with a Y connector. This had a number of consequences. Unlike joystick games, paddle games for the Atari 2600 could have up to four players (and I wonder if the whole motivation for this was originally so they could put Quadrapong on the Video Olympics cartridge). The early Atari 8-bit computers had four of these jacks, so they could in principle support eight players, and I think Super Breakout for the computers actually allowed that.

    The Atari Touch Tablet was a nifty peripheral for the 8-bit computers that just registered internally as a pair of paddle controllers representing the X and Y coordinates. That made it easy to program for–Atari BASIC's paddle functions, which automated the involved business of reading the pots, could read it. Since there were two paddle inputs to a controller jack, it just needed a single plug.

    The Atari 2800, a restyled 2600 intended for the Japanese market (and sold in the US as the Sears Video Arcade II), had hybrid joystick/paddle controllers–but since there was now only one paddle per jack instead of two, they had to put in four controller jacks just for the purpose of supporting four-player paddle games, and have a physical switch that indicated whether you were using the paddle or joystick function on the controllers.

  5. One thing I really appreciate about the Paddle controller is the knob size. You usually don't think about it but when you use a smaller knob, such as the Sears Video Arcade II hybird paddle joystick, a pinch like grip is required which is harder on the fingers & wrist. But the paddle controllers feel the perfect diameter

  6. The paddle made me think about how modern games put movement in the left hand. I bring this up because I use my right hand for games like Pac-Man or when playing the 2600 using the standard controller.

  7. That's a pretty good idea the side grip posture, not unlike an RC car controller grip, comfy. 🙂 My main critiques are that I wish I could snap them together like you could with brackets like other Atari controllers, in that approach at least one paddle would be left handed. 😉
    Other than that from looking at the pinout there are two other major omissions, the paddles could have had some more buttons as joystick commands are left over there, and the joystick itself could have had two additional buttons using the Omega Race approach turning paddle pins into buttons as in "full left turn", Fire1,Fire2, and Start/Pause would be my layout choice.

  8. Hmm, as a rightie, I think I held it in my right hand and used my left hand to turn the paddle, but I can't be sure. Maybe I just wasn't very good at playing Atari, as I didn't own one.

  9. Many hours spent playing Circus Atari with those paddles. Button flips the side of the man on the seesaw during play. I'm a lefty and used the double finger (index middle) to push the button.

  10. Same goes for certain microswitch controllers: some of them just 'feel right' to your liking. Be it a short or long throw and/or light or stiff.

  11. The paddle controlers are also the secret to how the Atari 7800 added a second button to a one button controller port without breaking backward compatibility. Basically, the buttons are tried to the "button" pin, and then either the left or right paddle pin with a resistor. 2600 joystick games would ignore the paddle inputs where as 7800 games would check these values when the buttons were pressed, allowing it to distinguish one from the other.

  12. When the N64 came out, they were bragging about having an analog controller. My dad asked "What is so great about an analog signal? digital signals work better." I didn't know the answer back then, but maybe that was because I was 12 years old at the time.

    Have you ever looked at sensors used in car engines and other car components? You might find it interesting. I once read an article about getting 450 horsepower from a Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo, and learned about the MAF (Mass Air Flow sensor). At that point, I knew I would be able to work on computerized cars.

  13. I love paddle controllers and games. I have famicom, sms, ps and atari paddles as well as some old school pong devices

  14. I've been wanting to get a paddle to play kaboom and other games that would be better than using a mouse. Thanks for doing this video!

  15. Seriously amazing work. I’m absolutely loving what you do. Keep at it, you’ll hit it lucky with the algorithm and blow up.

  16. Programmer here.
    Just wanted to add a slight correction to the explanation at 6:31 of how the paddles are read by the game. The program must first manually discharge the capacitors for the paddles, and then consistently check at intervals for each paddle to see if its respective capacitor is full. This takes time during the picture-drawing stage of the program (kernel), which is why paddle games tend to be a bit limited in graphics.

  17. Awesome video as always! My favorite paddle game to play on the Atari 2600 was Warlords, especially when I could get 3 other people to play it with me.

  18. I use a namco volume controller to play this sort of game. Getting it to work on the PC without a dead zone wasn't much fun, though…


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