Building a custom Xbox Adaptive Controller peripheral, part four

If you're just joining this series, I encourage you to flip back to parts one, two, and three to get yourself up to speed. They are quick reads with short videos and should give you all the context you need. Last time, I introduced my final pick for the switches I wanted to use in the controller and shared a rough idea of what I wanted the frame to look like. I had a lot more time this weekend to work on the project, and I'm very happy with the progress I made and the results so far.

I started with the assembly of four of my switch holders. I'm still amazed by the coincidence of how well these things fit together. Between the PVC/switch duo and the massage roller-paint roller combination, this project has proved far simpler to build than I ever imagined. After the switches were together, I plugged them into the Xbox Adaptive Controller (now paired with the NUC-in-a-box), and made sure they were all registering button presses as expected. Everything was all good. 

With the switches secure in their mounts and functioning correctly, I tested out an idea that came to me just a couple days earlier. I wanted to know if using an audio splitter would allow multiple switches to control the same button press on the XAC. I was already dreaming up all kinds of ways that could be used before I confirmed that, yes, it worked exactly as I'd hoped. Two different physical switches could trigger the same input on the controller. Nice. This discovery is going to add a lot of flexibility to future designs. I now expect to take a modular approach to some of the additions I have in mind. It'll be easier than breaking down and reassembling a single gargantuan contraption. Allowing for multiple methods of triggering the same button on the controller is also a huge boon to creativity.

Perhaps what I'm most excited about when it comes to the input splitting is that I can build an entirely separate controller to test out my other switch ideas and use both controllers with the XAC at the same time. There's a lot more stuff I want to try out, but as you'll see below, my original concept is coming together quite nicely, and I just don't feel like slapping extra bits and bobs on is necessary or wise at this point. But I love bits and bobs, so I expect to build a second controller full of my crazier ideas and aimed at allowing our 17-month old, Wren, to join in on Ellie's experience, whatever that ends up being. In my head, I'm picturing a reversal of the trope where an older sibling helps a younger one get past a level. We'll see. At any rate, let's check out what her experience is looking like so far.

Ellie has always had cable management issues…

I've got to say, wow, the Kailh Speed Bronze switches were a game changer. Thanks to their fast and audible triggering, it was super easy to calibrate the rollers for minimum resistance while also being confident I was getting a solid button press. I haven't glued anything into place yet, but when I do, I won't have to worry about whether I'm locking them into a bad position or not. After I take a couple days to think things over, I'll probably use a combination of glue and screws to fix everything into its ideal position. After that, some zip ties, pool noodles, and athletic wrap should take care of the rest, and I'll finally be able to try it out with Ellie for a real play session.

First up will be Proteus, a game that TR gerbil Pbryanw suggested early last month when my XAC first arrived. Beyond that, I have precious few ideas for what kind of experiences Ellie could actually use the controller to enjoy. The difference between her having fun spinning some rollers and realizing that spinning them is influencing what is happening on her ceiling is not something we're taking for granted. It's a pretty big leap for Ellie, but on the cusp of feasibility given her abilities.

My wife offered up an interesting idea that I'll be noodling on for awhile. Maybe Ellie's interaction with the controller could be thought of less traditionally. Don't have her play a game, but let her participate in her own way. Maybe Ellie could be an element of chaos in a co-op game, like the world's cutest RNG, or perhaps a rogue chef in Overcooked. Or maybe there's a role for her to play in an asymmetrical game—something that puts us at her mercy, like the player that controls Bowser in Mario Party for the Wii U. I think she'd like that. Now, we just need to find such a thing. Any ideas?

Continue reading: Parts onetwothreefour, and five.

Colton Westrate

I post Shortbread, I host BBQs, I tell stories, and I strive to keep folks happy.

Comments closed
    • Usacomp2k3
    • 1 year ago

    My wife asked if she could use it to control a photo slideshow?

      • drfish
      • 1 year ago

      That’s a great idea! There’s a couple ways I can probably make that work easily. Thanks. 🙂

    • sweatshopking
    • 1 year ago

    This is fascinating engineering, thank you for taking the time and energy to write this up and let us all know how it’s going!

    • Anovoca
    • 1 year ago

    [quote<] The difference between her having fun spinning some rollers and realizing that spinning them is influencing what is happening on her ceiling is not something we're taking for granted. It's a pretty big leap for Ellie, but on the cusp of feasibility given her abilities. [/quote<] I would think that moving the rollers to be less in peripheral view of the game screen and more in front of her should encourage her discovery of this. In the current configuration they appear to be very close to her head and require her to fully turn to look at them.

      • drfish
      • 1 year ago

      It’s tricky. I completely understand your point, we ran into a related issue when testing out [spoiler redacted] with Wren. She was interested in what was happening on the ceiling, and she liked the built-in buttons on the XAC, but she couldn’t coordinate both at the same time because she could only see one at a time.

      Ellie’s anatomy limits her range of motion significantly. For example, she can just touch her fingers together, but not so much her elbows. She also can’t flex her elbow joints. Flat on her back and using her shoulders to more her arms and spin things is right in her comfort zone, though. I [i<]think[/i<] keeping the rollers low and to the outside will work better than asking her to raise her arms up and nearer her her face to roll them. Typically, she only performs that motion when bringing objects to her mouth. That said, this is one of the reasons I'm stoked about the input splitting, because I can maintain the integrity and function of the frame as it is while testing out other modules. Something I'll be sure to do before fixing every in place is add a tee near each of her arms and legs so I have an easy connection point for experiments/add-ons.

    • bandannaman
    • 1 year ago

    So cool. I’m eager to see where Ellie takes this!

    I wonder if a game like [url=<]Osmos[/url<] might be an interesting application.

    • DPete27
    • 1 year ago

    I see that the switch mounts have a threaded element. Are/can the threads be used in a manner to allow quick and easy adjustment of switch position?

      • drfish
      • 1 year ago

      That was my original intent when using the inserts that were threaded on the ID and OD. However, post-assembly rotation was pretty hard on the key’s pins/solder joints and I didn’t want to stress them out. So, I switched to the ones that weren’t threaded on the OD so I could do my distance adjustment linearly. For the range I need, they nearly stay in place on their own (another happy coincidence). A Q-Tip and a light application of Gorilla glue should hold them in place securely enough to use while still allowing me to break them loose again if I need to.

      The threaded section on the ID is [i<]almost[/i<] the right size to allow the switch to just screw right down into it, but it's not quite there. I would have run into the same issue with stress on the pins anyway, though. Overall, it's really easy to get the switches tuned in now that I'm using the Kailh Speeds, the click plus a spare mm of travel makes all the difference.

    • MrDweezil
    • 1 year ago

    Regarding input splitting, they also made that possible via software with the copilot feature.

      • drfish
      • 1 year ago

      Copilot is on my list to test out, as is the entire Xbox Accessories app. The input splitting “trick” I figured out fits in even better with my plans than tapping in an entire Xbox controller, though. It’s icing on the cake. 🙂

    • zot1744
    • 1 year ago

    I’ve been a long-time TR reader, but this series of articles forced me out of hiding (had to create an account) to say: Great Job! Really enjoying these articles, so keep ’em coming!

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