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A Breach In Protocol

Alpha Protocol

Alpha Protocol (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the risk of being entirely premature, I’ve made some basic steps towards the goal of being able to fiddle around inside that other maligned Obsidian game Alpha Protocol.

There are two basic roads to take on this, but unfortunately I’m not smart enough to personally pull off either of them, so I’ve got in contact with people who can. Will something good come of this, or will I end up looking like a big fat idiot? Who knows! I think at least one route is likely to bare fruit.

Stick Around For Joy*

One thing I’ve been meaning to do for ages is to build an arcade machine. When I was a little kid these dream machines were top of the gaming food chain and the idea of owning one in your home was a seemingly impossible fantasy. Since then we’ve had MAME and the death of the entire arcade industry to show the authentic coin-op experience is far from out of reach if you’ve got the cash and the patience. It’s not quite in the same league, but way back when I managed to pick up a huge great Playstation 1 arcade stick cheap (I think it was about £40) from a local Cash Convertors and used it with great success in MAME via a parallel port convertor I built from plans on the net. It was my own poor man’s slice of the arcade dream, and it scratched the itch for a while, but in the end I largely pensioned it off for a vastly superior (not to mention less desk dominating) Xbox 360 Fighting Stick EX 2. As such the lumbering great thing has been banished to a cupboard, a fate that was further enforced by how crappy the thing was.

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I forgot to take a picture of it before modding, so here’s one stolen off the Shoryuken guy’s post. It’s not a late ’90s third party controller unless it has useless slow motion and “Turbo” buttons on it!

As you can see here it identifies itself as a Skream (who?) JY-202 controller on its lurid ’90s front panel paintjob. Even trying to find evidence of this thing’s existence on the internet is shakey, with the only real reference being this post on the Shoryuken forums where a likeminded individual decided to mod their stick. As stock this thing is pretty feeble; the plastic is cheap and held together with self tapping screws that quickly lose their purchase, the buttons are a generic sort that aren’t that bad ( they actually have a sort of low rent seaside pier charm), and the sticks are truly atrocious, with a football pitch long travel on them. They’re stamped with a Chinese mark and the letters “LS” whatever that stands for – and no, it’s definitely not Sanwa LS.

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The old stick’s guts. Note the replaced microswitch – the previous owner had killed the stick and that was probably why it was sold to begin with, so I stuck a cheap Maplins jobby in there ages ago

As said above I’d always dreamed of souping up some abandoned jamma cab, but seeing as I neither have the room and the fact they’re now increasingly rare and valuable – what with every arcade under the sun long since closing down (RIP in peaces Goodge Street Casino) – that seems a pipe dream. So I thought I’d go to town and pimp out this hunk of junk; if I ever do get a Jamma cab I can just reuse any buttons and stick on it anyway. Against my better judgement I sunk a big chunk of change on a Sanwa button and stick kit from Gremlin Solutions (they even had them in the same shades of XTREME ’90s vomit green and eye gouging pink!) and eagerly waited for the postman.

Once they arrived I found my cheerful lack of any thought or planning quickly came to bite me in the backside. The new buttons were literally about 1mm too big in diameter to fit inside the old holes. Nevermind. A quick trip to Halfords netted me some cheap grinding bits for my trusty Black and Decker, and a bit of elbow grease soon ground down the holes. I started out working with the finish face down to keep it free of scratches, but actually found that had a negative effect – I would accidentally push down too far causing the bit to slip off and my gut reaction would be to pull it back out, causing the base of the grinder to scratch all over the place, so I actually ended up working with the finish facing up. Even though the new buttons were bigger than the old ones, the old ones had a bigger lip on them, meaning I could actually still restore them if I ever wanted to replace them (e.g. to use the Sanwa ones in a cab).

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Holes ground out and the first new button placed

I used the wiring harnesses included in the Sanwa kit, but used joining blocks to avoid soldering, and to ensure I could reuse them later in a real cab.

The joystick posed a new problem I stupidly hadn’t considered: the screw mounts didn’t match up! This put everything into jeopardy, there simply wasn’t any other way to mount the stick. A little bit of calm thinking easily solved this. The screw holes actually DID line up if you mounted the stick slightly at an angle. Thankfully this was only like a couple of degrees off, and makes no difference at all in actual use. The bigger worry was the stick still being sturdy. While only using two rather than four holes was never going to be as good as using all four, I was surprised at not noticing any difference once I had the screws in tight. It’s rock solid in actual use, and the short throw on the Sanwas is lovely.

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The mounted stick. Note the screws mounted at diagonals and the glimpse of the other misaligned mounting holes…

 

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The left stick and buttons fully installed

As a finished whole it’s actually a pretty nice stick now. I didn’t bother replacing the start buttons (they hardly need quick response) and the end buttons are old leftovers as the kit only gave me six a side, but I’m not bothered as hardly any games use more than the Capcom standard anyway (only one I can think of off hand is Narc and some NeoGeo games). The old pink buttons are visibly the wrong colour here, but they actually originally WERE the exact same colour as the new ones as visible underneath. It seems the sun bleached the cheapo plastic on them to make them how they are now. The Capcom layout makes it great for two player games of Street Fighter or Dark Stalkers, and the dual stick means it’s also good for the likes of Robotron. The only downside is I kept the original Playstation connectors, meaning it has to be used with some cheapo PS2 to USB adapters I got off ebay. It also means it won’t work on the Xbox so I can’t use it with Cave’s shmup ports, unfortunately (although in theory I think it can work on the Ps3?).

The finished article. I swapped around the leftover buttons but the colours don't quite match up - mainly due to the old pink buttons being bleached by the sun.

The finished article. I swapped around the leftover buttons but the colours don’t quite match up – mainly due to the old pink buttons being bleached by the sun.

* (with apologies to Amiga Power)

Hello there

Welcome to Moburma’s Hacks – a blog about my personal exploits making computer hardware and software do things they probably weren’t meant to do, and information on how you can do the same too, if you’d like.

 

The main focus is generally videogame related stuff, particularly as a place for my work on the games DCS World and Fallout New Vegas.