Vectrex Controllers

Everybody needs a decent controller for their Vectrex, right?

img_1224The controller that comes with a Vectrex console is an analog joystick with 4 buttons and a chamfered, right angle plugged unit with a ‘telephone’ style coiled wire.  Not the easiest thing to repair or replicate if you’ve ever had the misfortune to have worked on one.  If you have a Vectrex – you will have had to or will have to in the future.  On a personal note, mine had a broken spring on one of the joystick poles. I repaired it years ago with a donor spring from an Atari 2600 cart.  The problem is, you need to remove the top decal sticker to enable access to the screws to open the dang thing up, thus, ruining your controller’s looks 🙁

Fast forward many years and Silverfox0786 designs and has printed some small pcbs that enable the Vectrex to use digital and / or analog controls and of course all 4 buttons. Without these pcbs you can’t easily use any other controllers or adapt modern controllers – mainly because of the analog controls the Vectrex expects. The pcbs are populated with components – soldered on by hand.  These pcbs could be used to make all kinds of custom controllers for the vectrex using 4 or 8 way joysticks or analog sticks.  Even a rotary controller could be made using these pcbs.

My part was to design and manufacture the rest of the controller.  Basically a machined box and lid to house the pcbs, wires, joystick and buttons.  Another weak point of the original Vectrex controllers is that the buttons get a buildup between the button and contacts, which need to be cleaned to repair. This had to be addressed as I had also had this problem in the past (button 4 to be precise) As I am mainly an arcade type of guy, this controller was going to be using arcade buttons – Sanwa OBSF 24 to be precise.  The joystick parts and cables were sourced by Silverox and are a similar unit to the analog stick you’d find in a modern Xbox / Playstation controller, with a custom machined joystick.
The controller housing is made from a solid block of aluminium and is approx. 180x75x335mm

I designed the machined parts using cad cam software called OneCnc XR6.  I wrote all the Haas CNC programs with OneCNC and also manual programming where needed.

The CNC machining looks pretty slick (if I may say so myself!) The manufacture of this main part was done in 5 seperate operations.

Op1 – Hold in a machine vice and mill back face, outer profile, chamfers and engraved serial number.
Op2 – Hold in a machine vice and mill rough face to finished thickness, pocket out insides with mounting pillars, lid recess, chamfers, drill & tap mounting thread holes.
Op3 – Simple side op in a machine vice to drill cable hole.
Op4 – Sent off to a local treatments company for black anodising.
Op5 – Engraving on CNC machine though the black anodise to leave a cool looking Vectrex logo.

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The top lid that holds the 4 arcade buttons was made on the same CNC machinery and was done in 2 operations.  A fixture was also made to hold the part for machining. Before machining, the perspex was band sawn to a rough excess size.

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Op1 – Hold in a machine vice to drill and countersink 6 mounting holes.
Op2 – Hold aluminium fixture in machine vice and then screw perspex to the fixture through the created holes from op1. Circular generate joystick hole and 4 button holes (good size to maintain a tight fit) Mill profile (to match housing lid recess) and chamfer top profile edge.

As with all decent inventions, we had a few snags to overcome.  The pcbs went through a small design change and fly leads were used to attach the joystick units to the pcbs. I also had to move a few pillars around to get the joystick centred properly etc. A full day of soldering was done by both of us and then more soldering later on.

Then some more soldering, to finish.

Testing and fine tuning has been done on each and every joystick with the Vectrex test program.

A lot of work was needed to get these things up and running.  Real life,running a bi weekly podcast, maintaining a garage full of arcade machines, working 50+ hours a week etc. got in the way of this project and I am quite proud of how they worked out.  As a final note – these controllers will NOT be made again by myself.  This batch is the only batch I will ever make.