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This Brand New Take On A Rare Atari Controller Is Amazing!


Testing out a modern recreation / reimagining of the Atari 2800 all-in-one joystick and paddle controller built by Lee Smith’s Workshop!


A couple of months back I partnered up with my good friend Lee from the channel Lee Smith’s Workshop. If you’re not familiar with his channel it’s well worth checking out - he does all sorts of awesome 3D printing and electronics projects - perhaps most famously his ZX Mechtrum which is a ZX Spectrum with a custom case and mechanical keyboard which he even put into production and made available for sale - which is very cool.

Alright - perhaps I’m giving myself a bit too much credit with this one. I say we partnered up on a project but it basically consisted of me posting him a rare Atari controller that he’d taken a particular shine to after seeing it in one of my videos so he could whip up his own interpretation of it.

Either way, that controller was this one - a really cool integrated joystick and paddle controller as shipped with the Japanese Atari 2800 in 1983 and later the Sears Video Arcade II in the US.

Oh, and before we get into this, I should just point out that this isn’t something that we’re selling or anything like that, it’s just a cool project that I was somewhat involved with that I thought you’d enjoy checking out.

Anyway, I’ve always loved the way this controller feels in the hand and checking these out side by side we can see that Lee has recreated all of those lovely ergonomic contours perfectly. I have to say the quality of the 3D printing on this is some of the best I’ve seen - it’s basically like a commercial product. Oh, and I do like that he used a texture called “fuzzy skin” on his knob for extra grip.

Stop giggling at the back.

Speaking of commercial products - unlike Atari who used a flexible membrane PCB for the joystick directions and even the buttons - Lee’s used some lovely tactile microswitches in this one which gives it a really nice feel and a nice loud click.

It also has a proper self centering mechanism which - in my experience at least - is better than anything Atari ever managed to come up with.

The 2800 console has a button on it to switch between paddle and joystick modes. So for maximum compatibility with various systems Lee actually moved this onto the side of the controller itself so basically you can use it with anything that supports either an Atari joystick or Atari paddle controller.

Now, I don’t want to take this apart and risk breaking it because it’s literally the only one I have and it’s a bit fiddly inside but if you want to see how it all fits together as well the whole design and manufacturing process I’ll link Lee’s video in the usual places so you can check it out.

But I think the important thing is to see how well it actually works so I’ve got my Flashback II console here ready to go. Now, there’s a whole story about this and how it was one of the first mini consoles and how it can be modified into a full blown 2600 and I won’t go into all that here but it is something I’ll be covering in a future video.

This tiny console harbours another secret that a lot of people might not be familiar with: the designer - the legendary Curt Vendel - actually added paddle support even though it only shipped with joysticks, and you can get to the secret paddle menu with a certain combination of inputs on the menu screen - up 1, down 9, up 7, and down 2 - 1972 - the release date of the original Pong arcade game and the year that Atari was essentially born.

All promising so far, and now we can pick Super Breakout from this hidden menu and switch the controller over to paddle mode. There’s a bit of a deadzone at either end and it feels a bit more sensitive than an original Atari paddle but that’s not a bad thing at all and it really doesn’t take much getting used to.

Back in joystick mode again and I ended up spending quite a bit of time playing Battlezone and the short throw of the joystick and the self centering makes this so much nicer than the usual Atari joystick experience.

And of course this wouldn’t be a ctrl-alt-rees Atari 2600 video without a bit of River Raid.

So, Lee, my hat is off to you. This is such a cool thing and having the joystick and the paddle all in one controller is so handy and it just works perfectly. I know you put a huge amount of work into this and it’s really paid off. For everyone else if you want to go over and bug him and see if he’ll make you one then that’s between you and him - I don’t know if he’ll appreciate me saying that but there you go.

Of course there’s also the potential for maybe a USB version that would work with emulators and MiSTer and that kind of thing but that’s all I wanted to show you for now. Big thanks for watching and to my supporters whose names you see on screen as I speak and again I’ll link to Lee’s video and my Atari 2800 video in the usual places if you want to check those out.

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Relevant Links:
Lee Smith Mechtrum Video:
My Atari 2800 Video:
Lee Smith 2800 Controller Video:

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