11 Replies Latest reply on Dec 12, 2016 12:27 PM by mistsonata

    Ellie tries to hack a Retron 5 controller into something that doesn't suck.

    mistsonata

      (This post is very long and has lots of pictures. If you're here to help, but don't want the whole storytime thing feel free to skip to the summary at the end.)

       

      So here's the thing, I'm basically a total amateur. I only started soldering earlier this year, and I still understand very little about electronics and how they work. But that's never stopped me from doing stupid things before.

       

      Right now, the stupid thing I'm doing is trying to make a Retron 5 controller into something that doesn't suck. I love my Retron 5, but its wireless bluetooth controller is awful. It's clicky, it's got this weird pseudo-analog stick style d-pad, it feels light and cheap, and it's just all around uncomfortable to hold. I've got an 8bitdo SFC30 as my go-to Retron wireless controller, but I have to do a weird button combo to get into the menu and not all of the buttons are represented on the controller, and I just want something easier.


      Initially my first plan was to hotwire the inputs from a different controller to the PCB on the Retron controller. So the first step was to take apart the Retron controller to see what I was working with, and that's when I was met with my first lucky break.

       

       

      93hBX11.jpg?1

      Half of the work has already been sorta done for me here, with the directional inputs as well as L1 and L2 already set up to be wired to another PCB. All I really have to do is figure out what to do for the other buttons and I'm set, right? Well, maybe not.

       

      I needed to find a controller that would fit the PCB inside, or at least would be easy to mod so that it could fit inside. For a while I was looking to the Xbox 360 controller, which has lots of room, but I decided that the subpar d-pad wasn't worth it. For a while I was actually considering the Xbox One controller, but every broken xbone controller I've been able to get my hands on so far has been either easily fixable or there's nothing wrong with them in the first place, and they're too nice for PC gaming to take apart (and besides they have a really weird thing going where one of the face buttons is actually connected to the first PCB and it was a little too complicated for me). That's when I turned to the Dualshock 3 and stumbled across my second lucky break.

       

      fQ32N8e.jpg?1

       

      The DS3 has a great d-pad, four buttons as well as two sets of shoulder and trigger buttons, and it's set up so that I can easily attach a bunch of ribbon cable to pretty much everything except the analog sticks and L3/R3 (just don't mind the shoddy soldering job). Not only that, but if I take the second DS3 PCB out, everything on the input PCB but the middle area are fully supported and don't need any backing to keep it steady. Unfortunately, I don't have everything going for me, as the space inside the DS3 controller is still pretty cramped, and I don't think I could fit the Retron controller PCB as is. So, I'm pretty sure I'm going to try to cut the PCB up and remove what I don't really need.

       

      Now, this is a bit of a tall order for me, as I have no idea what almost all of these little metal components on the Retron PCB are supposed to do, and I couldn't find a schematic of the board online, but I think I've got a way to make it quite a bit smaller. I couldn't find a schematic for this piece of hot garbage online (not that I know much about reading schematics anyway), so I had to improvise.

       

      gjb2I2I.png?1

       

      I pulled some of the pictures I took into photoshop and started mapping out what connects to what, with particular emphasis on the inputs. The red lines are paths I found on the front, and the blue lines are paths that I found on the back. The small green dots are the holes where I'm pretty sure the paths are passing through to one side or the other. The purple circles are surface leads, mostly located on the back. I've highlighted where I believe the paths from the button inputs come from in yellow, and right now my initial plan is to cut the PCB where those yellow lines end, up and down the board. As for the bluetooth antenna, I'll either cut around it or remove it and connect it to the PCB again with a wire. In theory this should slim up the PCB quite a bit, but not enough to be able to fit in the DS3 (especially if I want the USB cable to be in the right place) so I'm still a bit stuck there, and I may have to make a bit of a modification to the controller. I feel like I might be able to cut off the bit with the indicator lights and rewire them so that they're near the USB port like they are on the controller, but I'm getting too far ahead of myself, because while testing out the DS3's PCB I came across a potential problem.

       

      I have a cheap, dinky continuity tester that I've been using to poke around and see what connects to what, and up until this point I've been able to get a good idea of which lead sends signals and which do not. I've tested a bunch of the surface leads to make sure I knew where the ground was, I've tested the buttons to make sure I know which prong sends the signal when it's pressed, but when I tried to test the DS3's inputs to make sure that pressing buttons actually sends a signal to the wires, I get nothing. On the shoulders and triggers, there's a very basic circuit, one path splits off and connects to the pads that the other two leads connect to, and pressing down the little rubber contact pad onto it gives me nothing for any of these buttons, left or right, even after extensive cleaning.

       

      So to sum up, I'm trying to take a Retron 5 controller and connect it to the button pad PCBs from a Dualshock 3. I'm planning on cutting up the Retron PCB around where the yellow lines on the above diagram end, but unfortunately I've been testing the DS3 PCB and pressing buttons doesn't connect a circuit between either the ground or the "ADCC" or "ADCD" lines (no idea what those mean, and google doesn't reveal anything, but I suspect it has something to do with power) and what I'm wondering now is if the button inputs work differently between these two PCBs (in which case, this project may be screwed unless I can figure out a workaround), or if maybe every button in this DS3 PCB is broken (I doubt it, but it's possible). I've checked the continuity between the solder joints and the wires and everything. It doesn't make sense to me.

       

      There are some other concerns I have, including the fact that there's a symbol on the Retron board that looks like the symbol underneath one of the capacitors (a circle with a bunch of lines on one side) and I'm wondering if there's supposed to be a capacitor there. I'm also wondering if I need to make sure that the blue line running along the diagonal line on the side of it needs to be connected to something (I'm guessing it's supposed to have power coming through it, so I might be able to connect it to where the power's supposed to go on the DS3, either "ADCC" or "ADCD").

       

      Here's a link to all the pictures I've taken so far in case there's some info I'm missing. Even if you don't feel like offering advice, I'm sure I'll figure things out myself in time. If I end up screwing up and breaking everything here, I'll at least have learned something (I hope). If you have any suggestions for me, though it would really help. Thank you!

        • Re: Ellie tries to hack a Retron 5 controller into something that doesn't suck.
          shabaz

          Hi,

           

          You're making life quite hard for yourself if you choose to cut the PCB in your first image (Retron controller?). If you do that, you'll have to carefully scrape off the green surface and attach wires, which can tear off the tracks easily unless secured with (say) glue. It can get intricate if the tracks are close together. It is not impossible though, it is feasible. You will save the space of that diagonal part of the board if you can manage it though. I just don't know if it is worth the risk/effort, this is for you to decide.

           

          The diagonal blue track is common, after you've cut the PCB, you'll need to solder a wire to that blue track on the PCB, and then attach the other end to one end of each of the buttons.

          The other end of each of the buttons has its own individual connection.

           

          The rubber buttons behave the same way as the buttons on the Retron controller. To be honest the rubber buttons you might replace with are sometimes inferior compared to the

          ones you've got on the controller; they are microswitches and are more expensive. They do make a defined click sound though as you say, since they rely on metal snapping against metal inside compared to the conductive rubber against the PCB.

           

          If you were to cut the board, you could do as you say and have some wire for the antenna but it is a precise length of track so you don't really want to modify the length or extend it - a wire behave the same as the track, so by adding the wire you will be extending the length which is a negative thing because it will reduce the wireless range - the wire/track has to be a certain length for best performance, no longer, no shorter.

           

          The directional controller cannot (practically) be replaced with an analog controller by the way, it doesn't interface the same, so you may want to keep the existing buttons for those.

          3 of 3 people found this helpful
            • Re: Ellie tries to hack a Retron 5 controller into something that doesn't suck.
              mistsonata

              Thanks so much for the info! The idea of cutting the PCB was actually one of the reasons I decided to make this post (and join the community), I wanted to make sure that I knew exactly what I need to do to get the cut off leads to work, and if that was going to be more trouble than it's worth. I have successfully soldered in tight spaces before, even if it was kinda sloppy, so if nothing else cutting up and sanding down the PCB for a bit of micro soldering will be good practice. Thanks for the advice about the blue wire, but do I really need to connect it to every button? If it's common ground, I should be able to just connect it to the ground lead on the DS3 PCB right? Or does it not work like that? The bit about the antenna is interesting, though, I'll definitely keep that in mind, no matter what I decide to do.

               

              I think the quality difference between rubber pads and microswitches is probably a matter of taste. Just about every controller I've ever held has had the rubber pads, so maybe I'm just used to it, but the clickiness of the Retron controller's buttons is distracting and the way it's made with thin buttons backed by springs just makes it all feel less solid and stable in my hands, even if the switch itself is technically a higher quality part. The Retron controller's form factor is uncomfortable as well, but I ended up not adding that to the list of complaints.

               

              I'm not entirely sure what you're referring to with your last line there, though, and I'm hoping you could elaborate. I think maybe you got confused by my description of the Retron 5's d-pad and thought that it was analog? (I did call it a pseudo-analog d-pad) It only looks like an analog stick of sorts, but in reality it's a weird mechanism that has four directional micro switches just like the face buttons. I think one of the pictures shows it with the little assembly taken off and you can see it there.

                • Re: Ellie tries to hack a Retron 5 controller into something that doesn't suck.
                  shabaz

                  An electrical path is needed from that particular common point on the PCB (it could be ground signal level but it may be something else, but in any case the precise signal value doesn't matter as long as the wire is soldered to where that diagonal track is currently) to all the switches.

                   

                  Regarding the last point, I don't know what the Dualshock has (I'm not knowledgeable on games controllers) so I wanted to just let you know that if the Dualshock has analog controls, they won't be usable. Apologies if you already knew that or I confused things.

                  1 of 1 people found this helpful
                    • Re: Ellie tries to hack a Retron 5 controller into something that doesn't suck.
                      mistsonata

                      The Dualshock 3 has 2 analog sticks and a 4-input directional pad, and that's what I'm planning to wire the Retron controller to. One of the pictures in the gallery I linked also shows the DS3 PCB, and it has its own ground circuit as well as two paths that I think are supposed to be voltage (one of them is labelled ADCC and the other is labelled ADCD, and I have no idea what those mean yet). So right now I'm just kind of perusing information on voltage leads on PCBs and stuff.

                        • Re: Ellie tries to hack a Retron 5 controller into something that doesn't suck.
                          shabaz

                          Hi Ellie,

                           

                          I'm not sure what ADCC/D refer to, but could be related to voltages as you say.

                          Regarding your comment 'The Dualshock 3 has 2 analog sticks and a 4-input directional pad, and that's what I'm planning to wire the Retron controller to' the analog sticks can't be wired to the Retron, unless the Retron already has analog capability (which it doesn't appear to from the first photo in your post). If you were to try to connect the analog sticks to the Retron, you'd get odd behavior because the Retron circuit is looking for only two voltage levels, whereas the analog sticks will have a varying quantity. You may find that Retron controller thinks the analog stick is always pressed or there may be an undesirable position where the controller thinks the button is pressed. You could try it, but I suspect the result may not work too well. I'm hoping someone else with experience on these controllers might step in and comment, I can only comment from experience with other circuits which use analog signals. Anyway you could give it a try if you think it might work, but it might be worthwhile to do it without cutting the PCB first, just wiring your Dualshock to the microswitches on the Retron controller, and then you can desolder the wires and revert to the original behavior if things don't work out. If the microswitches are not pressed then it is as if they are not there, so you don't need to desolder the switches to attach the wires from the Dualshock controller to the Retron PCB.

                          1 of 1 people found this helpful
                            • Re: Ellie tries to hack a Retron 5 controller into something that doesn't suck.
                              mistsonata

                              Sorry, rereading it now, I made it sound like I was going to try to hook up the analog sticks to the Retron controller somehow. I meant that I was going to connect to the d-pad and face/trigger buttons only. The analog sticks have already been taken out actually, as they're part of the second PCB inside the DS3, the one that I don't need, so they're not even part of the end product.

                               

                              Right now I'm doing some tests on spare circuit boards, testing the best ways to cut them and expose contacts near the edge. I think I'm going to try to hook up the ADCC/D leads to different VCC lines on different parts of the controller and see if that works

                    • Re: Ellie tries to hack a Retron 5 controller into something that doesn't suck.
                      spannerspencer

                      Hi Ellie! Welcome to element14! Great to have more retro gamers on here

                       

                      So, if I could initially summarise what you're working on: You want to hack a RetroN controller into a Dualshock's case? Does that about cover it?

                       

                      As Shabaz says, cutting up the PCBs is such an intricate job, I suspect it won't ultimately work. And it may not be very reliable either, because as Shabaz also says, soldering direct to the tracks is tricky, it weakens them, and they'll probably peel off and break fairly quickly.

                       

                      I feel sure that I read something about a third-party bluetooth controller getting support for the RetroN5 -- you have to update the firmware, from what I remember, but it'd still be a better controller. I'll have a look for the info, and get back to you 

                      1 of 1 people found this helpful
                      • Re: Ellie tries to hack a Retron 5 controller into something that doesn't suck.
                        spannerspencer

                        Okay, I think I've found it. I know this isn't exactly what you're wanting to do, but I think it might be your best option for swapping out the awful RetroN wireless controller with something better.

                         

                        A company called 8BitDo makes retro-styled wireless controllers for iOS and Android (primarily, but they're bluetooth -- you can use them for pretty much anything). A little while ago they released a variation on the controllers' firmware, that makes then compatible with the RetroN5.

                         

                        From what I've read, it can be a bit of a headache getting them set up, and you have to install new firmware on the controller itself before it'll work, but these are seriously nice devices! I like the NES30 Pro, especially:

                        NES30-Pro.jpg

                         

                        Here's a bit more reading on the subject of updating the firmware for these controllers, in case that's a route you think you might try. Keep us posted!

                        2 of 2 people found this helpful
                          • Re: Ellie tries to hack a Retron 5 controller into something that doesn't suck.
                            mistsonata

                            Hi Spencer! Thanks so much for taking the time to help.

                             

                            I actually already knew about the 8bitdo controllers and their ability to function in Retron5 mode, I even mentioned in my original post that my SFC30 is my go-to wireless controller for the Retron. This project was just something I wanted to do, because I had the Retron controller lying around and I wanted to try to do something with it, so if I ended up with a controller that no longer worked it wouldn't be a big deal. Never practice on something you're not ready to throw away and all that. I had no idea that the NES30 pro had so many buttons though, so I might actually be getting one of those for the future just for the extra buttons on the bottom.

                             

                            Unfortunately, it looks like shabaz was right. I managed to get everything hooked up and working really well, but the moment I tried to cut it, rewire it, and fit it into the controller (an ordeal unto itself) there was a lot of lag and most of the buttons weren't really responsive. It DID work, though, even if the performance was now just too poor to play with. I may come back to it in the future, but for now I think I'll set it aside until I've got some more experience under my belt.

                              • Re: Ellie tries to hack a Retron 5 controller into something that doesn't suck.
                                spannerspencer

                                Ah, that's a shame about the lag. Another thought did occur in the meantime, that you could pretty easily build an arcade controller much like those on the PIK3A and PIK3A Mk II, as the microswitches for the joystick and buttons could simply piggyback onto the RetroN controller's PCB. That'd be a fairly simple, and pretty cool project, and it'd be way better than the RetroN's controller!

                                 

                                And apologies for totally missing that you'd already had a go with 8BitDo's stuff!   How did it go with that, by the way? Did you have to update the controller's firmware and re-pair it with the RetroN5?

                                1 of 1 people found this helpful
                                  • Re: Ellie tries to hack a Retron 5 controller into something that doesn't suck.
                                    mistsonata

                                    Yeah, I kind of wish I were more into the arcade style controllers so that space was less of an issue. Unfortunately I didn't frequent the arcades, and a home console controller is more familiar to my hands. If I feel like it in the future I might try to make something small like something akin to the SNES/NES Advantage controller, so I'll probably bookmark those links for future reference. I'm thinking of doing a retropie project next, though.

                                     

                                    As for the 8bitdo controllers, I love them (I have multiple), and they work really well with the Retron 5, you just have to hold down the L button while pressing start to put it into Retron mode. You don't really have to update the firmware more than once I've found, but thinking about it now I probably should. You also have to adjust to the weird switch between button mappings on your games and the button mappings that the Retron 5 forces you to use in the menus (I think there might be a way to fix that on the 8bitdo end, though now that I think of it).

                                     

                                    If you're into playing with the original retro console hardware, by the way, 8bitdo has wireless bluetooth receivers for both the NES and SNES that work with their controllers, it's pretty amazing stuff. They can even act as bluetooth dongles for your PC.

                                    1 of 1 people found this helpful