Building a custom Xbox Adaptive Controller peripheral, part five


New to this series? Parts one, two, three, and four are worth catching up on before continuing.

There's a lot of ground to cover with this week's installment of Xbox Adaptive Controller hacking, so let's dive right in. First up, I recruited some professional help with soldering. Alex, whom some of you may know as the bubble guy from the TR BBQ, solders for a living and is about 10 times faster than I am at the task. He helped me whip up two of the experimental switches shown below. Thanks, man.


The first switch is this tilt switch. I figured if I'm going to experiment with this stuff, why not explore DIY motion controls? It's super simple: just a ball bearing that completes the circuit when it touches the internal contacts. I've got a couple ideas for how to use this bouncing around in my head, but they haven't coalesced quite yet. I can't shake the idea of an oversized joystick, but that wouldn't really be bringing anything new to the table. At just $6 for ten of them, though, it feels like the sky's the limit for crazy ideas.

The second switch is this magnetic contact switch. It has a lot of potential. When I was testing it, I found that it triggered the button a few millimeters before making contact. Cool. I need to run some more tests and try to trigger it with something other than the magnet that it came with to see if I can extend that distance. I'm spoiled for choice by the concept of a touch-free button that costs less than $2 a pop.

The third experimental switch is based on the Sanwa switches I picked up earlier. I got to thinking that a ball pit ball would make a good topper for the switch if I could mount it securely. The ball is light enough that the switch can pop it back up, and it also makes the switch a much easier target to hit. A few strategically placed drill holes in the button cap and a single zip tie was all I needed to bring things together. I added some Gorilla Glue in an attempt to hold air in the ball, but it's not structurally important otherwise. I'm very happy with the result and plan to follow up the red button with orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple ones. Hey, speaking of colors...


This is more fun than it has any right to be.

Even though I have a couple options for games to have Ellie try with her controller, I couldn't shake the feeling that a custom-made game was the right place to start for learning about how Ellie would interact with it. When it comes to programming problems, the person I turn to is my nephew (sorry, Bruno). He recently helped me with renaming my saved .wtv files and he's the one to blame for the abomination that is Jellies vs. Whales.

What we would later call Sundoodler started as my request for him to make a game that was like an "RGB Etch A Sketch" where "the cursor could roll off the edge of the screen, Pac-Man-style." Just over an hour later and with the only additional input consisting of links to some rainbow-colored yarn and a sunglasses-clad sun, he was finished. The kid is good.

Ellie's custom Xbox Adaptive Controller rig - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Hopefully, this conveys the scene well, it's hard to share otherwise. Light is on solely to benefit the photo.

With Sundoodler fired up on the floor projector and the switches of my contraption plugged into the A, B, X, and Y ports on the back of the Xbox Adapter Controller (directionally corrected for portrait-mode play), it was time for the big test! Ellie was acting pretty sleepy but she did spin the rollers a bit, both with her left arm and her feet. This was the first time she'd spun them with the switches adding their resistance to the rollers, and it didn't slow her down much at all. Phew! She wasn't big on watching the ceiling at the same time as spinning, but she watched a little while I was playing via the secondary inputs on a keyboard.


Why do I only ever see the list of things I want to do next?

As for the frame itself, I've wrapped it up to add some color and also to cover up the screws I put in the bottom of most of the joints to hold everything together. I'm reasonably happy with its appearance, but I still want to switch to pool noodles at some point. My plan to use Q-tips and Gorilla Glue to lock the switches into their calibrated positions worked perfectly. I would estimate that the keys register a press correctly 99% of the time, and when they don't, it's because my ribbon-covered key stem technique proved a bit too hard to push back against. I expect this will improve with time and wear.

This post probably marks the end of my weekly cadence for the series. I need some extended time to observe and adjust what I have so far, as well as to work out just exactly what I want to create with the newest experimental switches, before I'll have content for another post. It's exciting just to know that the new switches are an option, though, and I'd appreciate your help brainstorming about them in the comments. Thanks to all of you that have contributed your thoughts and ideas so far. I'll be back when I have more to share or if Ellie does something awesome with what I have so far—whatever comes first.

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