Building a better 360 joystick

Mad Catz has finally released its long-awaited Xbox Live Arcade RetroStick.

It sucks.

I truly do not understand the praise that Joystiq and TeamXbox have bestowed on this thing. Maybe I’m thinking too much about the Atari 2600 joystick upon which this is clearly based, or maybe I’m just too focused on what actual arcade controls — with spring-loaded joysticks and buttons — feel like. Or maybe those reviewers didn’t take that into account at all. But even if they didn’t, they ostensibly plugged the thing into a 360 and played. So did I, as did several other people on staff. It’s an embarassment. I even tried two factory-fresh packaged units to make sure I hadn’t gotten a dud. Sadly, everybody who buys this will get a dud. My review will appear in the April issue.

The more classic games that come out for Xbox Live Arcade, the more impatient I become. I’ve been waiting a long time for a quality arcade stick to come out for 360, and I’m through waiting. This tutorial gave me all the info I needed to do it myself.

And when I say “do it myself” I of course mean “ask Jude to make it for me.” In addition to being a terribly nice guy, an excellent musician, and a bonafide rocket scientist, Jude Kelley (the “Doctor” in front of his name is silent) also repairs, rebuilds, and repurposes arcade machines, supposedly for fun. Armed with my Nuby Street Fighter joystick and Jude’s +20 Soldering Iron of Accuracy, we couldn’t fail.

Naturally, the first thing we did was fail. Using Microsoft’s first-party controller was tough because it’s so elegantly designed. We killed one because its solder points were too small and delicate, so Jude suggested a third-party controller instead, where the circuit boards are usually a bit more hack-friendly (and cheaper). He found one for $25
at Fry’s.

Who makes it? Mad Catz, of course.

It didn’t take long before Jude had carefully created a neat nest of wires inside, and I’d swapped out the buttons (in proper 360 colors, of course) with new Happ parts from Bob Roberts. Within a few hours it was working perfectly.

I’d still like to swap out the stick itself for a Happ Competition, just based on my preference for joystick feel, but it appears that the stick Nuby used is glued in there; Jude suggested building a new box from scratch and moving the other parts over. I’d like that. But spending $50 on the stick, $25 on the hacked gamepad, and $10 for miscellaneous parts still beats the shit out of paying $60 for the abomination they call the RetroStick.

So, there you have it. Ph34r m3, Xbox Live, because I finally have a good arcade stick, thanks to Jude. And why someone won’t make one of these commercially — why Mad Catz didn’t just do this themselves in the first place — I don’t know. I hope Microsoft gives XArcade a third-party controller license soon. They know what they’re doing.

Ironically, my Mad Catz joystick is better than Mad Catz’ Mad Catz joystick.

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