Podcast Episode 1 - Hacking Game Controllers

Video screenshot of the tutorial on makezine.com

This week on the IAP, we highlight a tutorial covering hacking a game controller.

Show Notes & Links


Announcer: This is the IAP - Interactive Accessibility Podcast with Mike Guill and Mark Miller. Introducing Mike Guill and Mark Miller.

Mark Miller: Hi, I'm Mark Miller and this is accessibility Specialist Mike Guill and this is your accessibility podcast. Hey Mike, how you doing?

Mike Guill: Hey Mark, how you doing?

Mark: I'm doing well, thanks. So, let's get right into it here. This is the first podcast we've done for Interactive Accessibility. It's the IAP (Interactive Accessibility Podcast), and we have kind of a cool topic I think to lead this off. So Mike, you wanna give us a little bit of background on this how-to video that you've found?

Mike: Yeah, so I came across this video from a link on Twitter. One of my friends who I follow on Twitter posted this and the gist of it is that it's a video tutorial from YouTube that's highlighted on Makezine.com. It's a website that shows you how to make stuff, and this is pretty technical, you know, it's not for the faint-hearted. It requires a little bit of soldering...

Mark: Right

Mike: ...tearing stuff apart, but essentially, using a microcontroller (which is a piece of electronic, you know, like microelectronics) you can plug into a PC and program yourself using some pretty basic commands. Using a microcontroller, you can create macros and you can create defined events based on say one button click, OK?

Mark: Gotcha

Mike: So what this person has done who's shown this tutorial on how to hack a video game controller and then program an Arduino microcontroller (is what it's called) to press a bunch of buttons for you and make movements. It's...

Mark: And what I love about this is that this is sort of people solving the accessibility issue for themselves. Literally cracking the hardware open and making it work the way that they need it to work.

Mike: Yeah, that's right, because some people can't, even a very basic like in this example it's a Nintendo, it's an NES controller. So it's not high tech. It's got four buttons, it's got the little movement pad on the left, it's not high tech. However, there are a whole load of people with mobility impairments, motor skill issues, who can't press those buttons or couldn't press two buttons together at the same time, or that sort of thing.

Mark: So break it open, do some soldering, and you're all set. I love the title of this video, too. It's "Hack a Video Game Controller for Greater Accessibility" right? All well and good. And in parentheses, "Or Cheating"

Mike: Or cheating, right. Well, that's the other thing...

Mark: Well it leads to accessibility just sort of being better overall, right? It's like you can make it accessible which also makes it so good you're cheating.

Mike: Well at the end of the video, I mean of course, the guy shows an example on the screen of him, he has programmed the Ardiuno to press, to complete the first level of Mario.

Mark: The whole thing? So you don't have to do anything. Like...

Mike: Yeah, so he presses his one button, and it runs through Mario, the first level.

Mark: That's fantastic. So that's pretty much AI, right there. Or not even AI, but just...

Mike: Well, it's not AI, because the controller can't respond to actions on the screen. Or it doesn't receive feedback from the game system. The only thing it does is press buttons according to timing.

Mark: It's brilliant

Mike: What I like about this and what makes it brilliant to me, is that this doesn't have to necessarily be something to get you through Mario. It could be a video game where you can't, where it's hard for a person to press buttons with their thumbs. Well now they can do it with their foot switch, or head wand, or some other device that they use where a person who might previously been actually unable to play a basic Nintendo system can now play pretty much any game they wanted to, with maybe a little bit of help from a friend who knows how to solder.

Mark: Right. Well, you know what else I really... really strikes me about this too is that we figure out things in our world based on games, right?

Mike: Yeah

Mark: Kids play games, and that sort of translates to skills that they're gonna need when they're older, and all that kinda thing. So it makes me wonder, and sort of glad that somebody is taking the time to break this gaming structure apart, to make it more accessible, and it sort of makes me wonder what this is gonna lead to in a more practical world. Or, how is this effort going to allow somebody with a disability to go back to work? Basically... or do something that they really want to do that they're unable to do right now.

Mike: Yeah, I mean that's so true. Because as it is, you go into an office building, where some people with disabilities might be working there, and you already... it's kind of rare to see alternative input devices. You know, like rotary knobs or push switches, or you know, specialty hardware hooked up to PCs.

Mark: Right

Mike: And even in the office space where there are people with disabilities who have to use those systems, they have to sort of struggle through with the traditional keyboard/mouse setup.

Mark: Mmm hmm.

Mike: I would love to see more custom built input devices or just maybe some... maybe not even necessarily custom built, but the custom built stuff is going to drive the... sort of the enlightenment, if you will, of how possible this is and what kind of market is out there for it.

Mark: Well, but I think you're on to something there, because custom built or something that's modular really does make a lot of sense and I say that because one of the women that works for us, for Interactive Accessibility, has cerebral palsy and one of the things that in one of her blogs that struck me was that some people with a similar disability (people with cerebral palsy), their needs vary greatly...

Mike: Yeah, that's true.

Mark: You know, somebody may have better gross motor control with their hands and then somebody else may not have motor control at all with their hands. Or whatever the case is. So, the idea that "hey look" you know my... the disability that I have may be sort of customized to me, a little bit. Why not have a device that's customized to me? And to the disability that I have, you know. So further thought on this is what if things did become a bit modular from a hardware standpoint? Instead of going "Here: here's your device. This is a one size fits all." "Here's your device, and if you need this aspect of it you can plug this in. If you need this aspect you can plug this in, or you can get rid of that and replace it with this. So that it's easier for you to use in your special circumstance." You know?

Mike: Yeah, and that's a smart idea, you know. People already already have a lot of USB cables hanging out of their computers, for various...

Mark: You think?

Mike: ...peripherals and all that kind of stuff. Yeah. But it would be... it would make sense to have something that was, say a, like you said, like a controller device maybe that had a bunch of add on ability to it that was more modular.

Mark: Sure. Well, and I think that's...

Mike: I'm putting on my inventor hat now, right?

Mark: You're writing your... you're sending off patents as we speak, I'm sure. So I can't get 'em first. Thanks. Thanks, Mike. But in... that is... well, you know necessity is the mother of invention, and the first thing that somebody does, is that they take a screwdriver and they pry something open when they find these sort of individual needs or things that aren't solved yet, and then that becomes something more modular. So I think that this is just an incredible sort of first step. If you step back and take away the kind of coolness that you're cracking into something and messing around with it... and you take the humor out of it the "or cheating" or you know, all this, and you really look at what's happening here. This is a trailhead of something that could really end up being a game changer, I think.

Mike: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I'm sure we're gonna have podcast notes when we post this up, so let's put the link to this tutorial and video in our... so people can check it out.

Mark: And it's makezine.com is the website, so if you want to check out that website in general, that's a way to go, but we'll post the specific URL to this video.

Mike: Yeah

Mark: Yep. Cool. All right. Well, thanks Mike.

Mike: Yeah

Mark: Good first podcast, huh?

Mike: Yeah, I think so.

Mark: All right. And thanks to the listeners. Probably a few now, but please spread the word. We're gonna keep doing this, we're gonna keep talking about different... kinda current subjects that come up, so look out for our next podcast, and please keep listening.

Mike: Yeah, thanks Mark

Mark: Yeah, we'll talk to you.

Mike: All right.

Announcer: The IAP - Interactive Accessibility Podcast brought to you by Interactive Accessibility, the accessibility experts. You can find their Access Matters Blog at Interactiveaccessibility.com/blog


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