“I can fix it.”

When I was young lad, I used to take stuff apart. I was pretty good at it. Getting it back together was a skill I wouldn’t attain until I was older. I learned a lot, even if I did end up ruining a lot of perfectly good machines and devices.

These days, I’ve got a pretty solid understanding of how things work. Now when I take something apart, it goes back together just fine and works like new. It may have been a rocky ride to get to that point (I’ve literally set things on fire), but it’s a neat skill to have. Particularly when it comes to video games. And not just playing them, either.

Speaking of which, I am still moving forward with my plans to make that video game. I don’t get a whole lot of time to work on it, but it’s coming along. The name of the project has changed. It’s no longer “The Conductor.” I’ve dropped the “The.” Just “Conductor.” It’s cleaner. I intend to draw upon my electronic and mechanical experience to create the content of the game, specifically the environments.

But more on that another time.

Without our beloved electronic devices, there would be no video games. The first video games ever created were done in universities and government labs on giant mainframes like the PDP-10. Those early machines may not have had much computing power, but the truth is you don’t really need much for a game. Still, you do need some. In fact, whatever your individual definition of a video game may be, I think we could all agree that video games simply wouldn’t exist without some sort of electronic wizardry.

So what sort of video game-related opportunities are available for the hobbyist electronics engineer? At the very least, if your shit breaks, you’ve got a shot at fixing it. Just remember: if there’s a chance it’s under warranty, check before you even pick up your screwdriver. A scratch on a screwhead may be enough to void the whole thing.

If you’re handy with a soldering iron and you’ve got some programming chops, there’s the Uzebox, which is an open-source 8-bit game console and available from Adafruit Industries. It comes unassembled, and I really wish I had more time to tinker with things, ‘cause this thing looks neat. Imagine having built from scratch your own game console, and then making your own games for it. Pimp!

I’ll say this: if there’s a more noble use for a person’s electronics skills than something done in the pursuit of playing or making video games, I don’t know what it is. Personally, my experience has been mostly with repairing and modifying, with some cleaning and restoration here and there, particularly on some of the more vintage consoles I’ve owned.  Here’s some highlights:

  • The PS1: I bought a load of PS1 games from a guy recently, and he threw in his PSOne console, which was Sony’s last model of the first PlayStation era. The thing worked, but I didn’t care for it. I happened to have an older PlayStation with a bad laser assembly, and it turns out Sony didn’t make a whole lot of revisions between the old and new models. So it was a pretty easy swap to put the new laser in the old PlayStation, with just a little modification needed to make the plastic trim piece fit.
  • The PS2: I still have my original PlayStation 2, which served for a while as my primary DVD player, as well as my only game console. It’s still in use as a DVD player in my office. It hasn’t broken yet, but I did take it apart a while back and gave it a good cleaning, along with some lubrication on the laser’s moving parts. I love that thing.
  • The PS3: I hadn’t planned on getting a PlayStation 3, since I had an Xbox 360, and none of the PS3-exclusive games really caught my eye at first. When my brother’s PS3 died, I bought the carcass from him and set about raising it from the dead. I found a good source for the disc-drive assembly on eBay, and bought a bigger hard drive (Sony isn’t as particular about their hard drives as Microsoft). Today, my PS3 gets daily use, as both a gaming machine and an entertainment hub. Well worth the investment of time and energy.
  • ps3controllerThe PS3 Controller: I only mention this one because I consider it to have no small amount of cosmic significance. While playing GTAV on my PS3, I was lamenting the feel of the R2 button/trigger. It’s probably just the shape of my hand, but that trigger never felt right. It probably impacted my performance. Around the same time, I found an odd thing in the waiting room at work, a small trigger-shaped piece of plastic with the number 2 on it. I recognized it as a button from a controller and set it aside in case someone came looking. Then, not too long after that, I discovered what it really was after seeing one on the shelf at our local Meijer. It wasn’t a button at all, but an add-on for that right trigger on the PS3 controller. It’s designed to snap on to it and make it more comfortable. The one I found doesn’t snap on like it’s supposed to, but after I added a piece of double-stick tape, my PS3 controller feels much better in my hand. It just looks a bit lopsided. And yes, that’s a Sixaxis. Still haven’t sprung for the DualShock 3.
  • The Xbox 360 controller: If you’ve ever bought a Play ‘n Charge Kit for the Xbox 360 wireless controllers, you know they suck. The batteries eventually stop charging, and you’re forced to buy another battery pack. Well, I didn’t much care for that. When my battery pack stopped holding a charge, I ripped it apart and found a pair of more-or-less standard AA-size batteries soldered to a tiny circuit board. So I bought a battery holder from Radio Shack and glued it to the now-empty Play ‘n Charge battery pack, which I’d glued back together. It still snapped on to the controller like it was supposed to, and it charged exactly the same, but now when the batteries quit charging I could just replace the cells in the battery holder with regular rechargeable batteries. That poor thing isn’t around anymore, so I don’t have pictures.
  • headsetThe headset: I love my Jensen headphones. I bought them at the now-shuttered CompUSA store in Monroeville, PA about fifteen years ago. They sound great, and they’ve held up remarkably well, considering all I’ve put them through. When it came time to shop for a headset to use for online gaming on my PC (CoffeeBot49 on Steam, mailbot49 on Origin), I knew they’d need to stack up to the Jensens in terms of comfort and sound quality. Plus I’m extremely cheap. My solution was to add a microphone to the Jensens. I had an old Xbox 360 headset laying around, so I removed the microphone boom from that and attached it to the body of the Jensens, running the wires through the earcup and making everything look pretty with heat-shrink tubing. I cabled the microphone wire to the headphones wire with some stylish red zipties. The results are, in a word, perfect. Perfect enough, anyway. The entire package may not be pretty, but it works great and stands as one of my all-time favorite projects.

I should mention that I’ve never done anything that would give me any sort of unfair edge in my gaming skills. If you’ve ever played against me online, you’ll know I’m telling the truth.

So if you take anything away from this post, it should be the sense that it’s okay to tinker. It may be worth it one day when a piece of broken equipment stands between you and your video games.

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