I’ve been working on this story for a while now. Both as a blog post and as a stream/YouTube video. Everything started a few months ago when I discovered my N64 Controller Pak from the late 90s had stopped working. What was the Controller Pak? It was a memory card for saving or transferring save files for Nintendo 64 games. The Controller Pak wasn’t required for all games. Some, such as Super Mario 64 using memory in the game cartridge for saves. Other games, like Turok, had no cartridge memory and entirely relied on the Controller Pak. And then others, like Perfect Dark, could use both cartridge memory or a Controller Pak.
Anyway, my Controller Pak was not working, and I knew it was time to attempt a repair. I wasn’t worried about the failure. The Controller Pak used a 3.3V coin-cell battery to keep the contents of the SRAM stored. At 20+ years old, a dead battery was a common problem for these Paks. I assumed all I needed to do was solder a new battery into the Controller Pak, and everything would be working again. A quick order to eBay, and a few days later, I had a 10x of CR2032 batteries with solder tabs. I also purchased three more official Controller Paks just in case I had issues.
Have you ever had one of those moments when clicking through Wikipedia you learn something that blew your mind? I had one of those moments in 2020. I was clicking through some pages about Top Gear games when I landed on Top Gear Rally and saw the sentence, “In 1999, the game was ported to Microsoft Windows as Boss Rally.” What? I had played Top Gear Rally on my Nintendo 64 since 1997 and never knew a PC version existed. Clicking the link to Boss Rally’s Wikipedia page revealed the original developer of TGR ported the game. I knew at that moment I had to find a copy.
I want to give a big shout-out to the online retailer The Peaceful Outcome (TPO) and their PS2 Noctua upgrade kit. If you have a PS2 with a loud fan, then this kit is perfect.
Backstory: I have owned my PS2 since Christmas 2001. The entire time the fan in the system was loud. I always assumed that was normal since I had never really listed to another PS2 in a quiet setting. Fast forward to 2019, and while walking in my neighborhood, I found a PS2 in a box that was sat out on the street for junk pickup. It was a later revision fat PS2 that lacked the firewire port. I grabbed the unit, took it home, and discovered there were no significant issues. I was surprised to learn the system was virtually silent when compared to my PS2.
Recently I was playing through the original Final Fantasy XII, and the noise of the PS2 finally got to me. Other members of the RetroRGB Discord server had talked about the fan upgrade, so I went to eBay and bought one for myself. I felt $35 for the Noctua fan, fan guard, 3d printed rear panel parts, and wiring pigtail more than reasonable, and the results were impressive. The installation took less than one hour, and my PS2 is now completely silent. Check out the before and after.
For instructions on removing the original fan from a PS2, I recommend following the guide posted at iFixit.com. The process involves completely removing the PS2 mainboard from the bottom shell to get the fan unplugged from its header.
For everyone interested, I’ve uploaded a scanned copy of the operations manual of EON’s GCHD Mk-II video adapter to the Internet Archive. I couldn’t find a copy of it anywhere online recently and needed to figure out how to change some settings on the adapter I own. I hope that uploading the manual to the Internet Archive will allow it to be preserved for as long as possible.
If you’re not aware of the GCHD Mk-II, it is a plug-n-play adapter for the Nintendo GameCube that converts the system’s digital video signal to HDMI and Component video. The GCHD is an awesome product and one of the easiest ways to get high-quality video from a GameCube. The GCHD can also convert 480i and 240p video sources to 480p which can lead to better image quality on fixed pixel displays.
GCHD and other products like the Carby from Insurrection Industries also show what can happen when people in a community share their ideas and skills. Without Ingo Korb and his GCVideo opensource project, none of these products would exist.
If you want to learn more about getting the best video quality from your GameCube, I recommend watching RGB 316 by My Life in Gaming.
If you are interested in purchasing a GCHD Mk-II for yourself then check out the links below. (these are affiliate links)
Today I’m going to describe the installation and review of replacement N64 joystick parts sold by Kitsch-Bent. As described by their website, these parts are made of polyoxymethylene plastic for durability, and I’m impressed with the quality. They look like OEM parts.
Why do N64 joysticks wear out? The answer is twofold. The bottom of the stick rides in a bowl and grinds the surface of the bowl away over time. That is the white powder you eventually see around the base of the joystick. As the bowl wears away, the joystick sinks lower into its assembly, and this causes the movement to feel sloppy. On top of that, the joystick slides inside slots to push gears around. The slots will eventually lose their shape causing joystick to have too much play.
Disassembly of the N64 controller is very easy. There are several Philips screws around the perimeter of the controller, plus two more screws in the expansion port. Once you are inside the controller, the next step is to move the trigger button from its home on the backside of the joystick assembly. Now, unplug the joystick from the main PCB and unscrew it from the shell. Finally, carefully remove the last screw from the joystick assembly. There is a spring inside the assembly pushing the joystick down into the bowl, and when the screw is released, pieces may go flying.
The inside of the joystick assembly may look complicated, but the mechanics are simple. As the joystick moves around, it pushes the gears, which turn optical encoder wheels. The optical encoders turn the analog movement into digital numbers used by the controller to determine how far the joystick has moved from its home position. This is the same technology used in older computer mice used. The 8-Bit Guy did a video on how mice work if you want to learn more.
Installing the new parts is straightforward. Remove the joystick, spring, and gears. Remove the old bowl. Transfer the optical wheels to the new bowl. Reverse the process to install the parts.
That’s it. Overall, I’m happy with these parts sold by Kitsch-Bent. At $1.15 for the bowl, $0.95 for the gearsets, and $1.05 for the thumbsticks, you can repair several joysticks for the same cost as one aftermarket replacement. Most repairs should only need new gears and maybe bowels. The longevity of the components is still unknown. I don’t play my Nintendo 64 daily as I did in 1996-1999, so I don’t expect the joysticks to wear out.
I recently decided to replace the electrolytic capacitors in the power supply of my original PlayStation. This is preventative maintenance because over time the fluid from the capacitors can leak out and cause corrosion to solder pads and traces on PCBs. My Life in Gaming’s “Analog Frontiers Part 2” video details of the risk and challenges around keeping older hardware from destroying itself.
Where is a good place to find capacitors? Amazon, eBay, Mouser, Digikey, and Newark are all common places to purchase electronic components. But Console5.com has made a name for itself by selling complete capacitor kits for hundreds of consoles, computers, arcade boards, and more. They have become the first place to stop when looking for capacitors for older consoles.
In my case, I needed a kit for a ETXNY209A1B power supply from an SCPH-7501 model PlayStation. This PSU had the following electrolytic capacitors:
Console5 did not have a specific kit for my power supply, but the detailed information in their wiki allowed me to find a kit that would work. The ETXNY169A1B PSU kit had the same capacitors plus an extra 1 μF capacitor my PSU did not need. With capacitors in hand, the next step was to heat the soldering iron and remove the old caps. More on that later.
If you are wanting to get into racing on Gran Turismo Sport using a wheel, there is one important thing you need to know. GT Sport does not allow the player to adjust the wheels’ maximum rotation range like many other games. This isn’t a big issue in earlier versions of Gran Turismo if you use the popular Logitech G25 and G27 Driving Force™️ wheels. They have undocumented button combinations to manually set the maximum rotation.
Gran Turismo Sport is different. The game is on PlayStation 4 and doesn’t support Logitech’s older wheels. The G29 Driving Force™️ is Logitech’s replacement and, sadly, doesn’t have the button combinations its older siblings have. If you use the G29 to place GT Sport you will be stuck using 900 degrees of rotation in many of the cars.
Thankfully, there is another wheel that solves this problem. Thrustmaster, the company behind detailed flight simulator controls, sells the T300 RS race wheel for PS4 owners. While the wheel features 1080 degrees of rotation, it also has a MODE button. Holding the button and pressing left or right on the D-pad allows you to change the max rotation from 1080 degrees down to 270 degrees. Thrustmaster even documents this feature on the support site http://ts.thrustmaster.com/faqs/eng/thr_eng_00155.pdf. This effectively recreates the features racers of the G25 and G27 used in Gran Turismo 5 & 6 for the PlayStation 3.
There was an important note in that support document, “This tip will not function properly in some games (such as GRAN TURISMO®) which adjust or modify the angle of rotation at startup or the restart of each race, according to the type of car being used.” That statement is true with GT Sport. Every time the game is in control of your car (auto-drive in the pits, rolling starts, pausing/unpausing the game, etc.) Gran Turismo Sport will reset the T300 RS’s max rotation back to 900 degrees in most cases. Once you are in control of the car you can use the button combinations to reset the rotation setting.
That is the important tip to remember. When you are in control the of the car you can change the T300 TS max rotation using the MODE button combinations and it will not change until the next time the game take control.
I’ve been playing Gran Turismo Sport since it launched in 2017. One of the new features that Polyphony Digital added to the series was the ability to create and share decals and liveries for cars, helmets, and race suits. Car customization is not new in racing games; the Forza series was doing this in the Xbox 360 generation, and I remember Top Gear Rally for the Nintendo 64 gave players the ability to customize the paint scheme of the cars. It’s cool to see some of the content players are uploading to Gran Turismo and even cooler that you can download the liveries/decals and apply them to your own vehicles.
However, there is one fatal flaw with GT Sport with the community content: the search is TERRIBLE. I think the search shows “popular content” (like the top 100 overall) then you apply filters to that list. When you show “by date” the date range is only 3-7 days at a time. There’s no way to search for a specific livery across the years of content.
The features are bare with only a search box to type in your search term and a drop-down to pick a specific car. Ultimately, what more do you need? M_Anony also has search engines for decals, helmets, race suites, and replays.
I knew it was only a matter of time and now I am proud to say that SNES gaming works on the PS3, again. One coder by the name of eiz compiled the Snes9x emulator for the PS3. Another coder, squarepusher2, has taken the source code and worked to improve it. As of writing, Squarepusher2’s 4.2.1 build plays most games with no issues. Both NTSC and PAL roms are supported. Things such as a GUI still need to be address and loading freezestates hasn’t been implemented, but those are not the highest priority. Even with only two people working on this project the progress has been phenomenal. I can’t to see what comes out next.
A lot can be said for the security features built into the PlayStation 3. It took almost four years for enthusiasts to find a way to run unapproved code on the PlayStation without the use of the “Other OS” feature. Sony quickly removed Other OS after hackers used it to gain low-level access to the system. Now there is a way new way to “jailbreak” the PS3 and run applications. All that is involved is a programmable USB device and source code. Other people have taken the code and ported it to devices so you can use your android phone or Linux PIM. Someone even managed to port the code to the TI-84 calculator. If working with DIY components and code isn’t your sort of thing, complete USB packages can be purchased from resellers online. Eventually all of this could lead to a homebrew community as large as the PSP with lots apps and mods. Personally, I’m waiting for the emulators to be ported over so I can get some SNES action.