We love retro gaming and vintage consoles here at Hackster.io, but, when you take off the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia, it becomes apparent that old school gamepads were awful. The NES controller was a small block of sharp plastic with buttons placed perfectly to give you thumb cramps. The Atari 5200 controller was a weird design with a numeric pad that looked more like an industrial machine controller than a gamepad. Dr. Scott M. Baker’s Atari 5200 controller adapter lets you use the far more ergonomic PlayStation 2 DualShock 2 gamepad and play in comfort.
Dr. Baker originally built a completely custom controller to replace the inadequate one that came with the Atari 5200. Then, he decided that he should use the same concept to build an adapter to connect a DualShock 2 to the Atari. The Atari 5200’s controller input is analog, and it expects to see a range of resistance from 0 to 500k ohms based on the joystick’s potentiometers. Dr. Baker’s original custom controller used digital components and an ATtiny861 microcontroller, and then simulated the analog output with digital potentiometers.
The PlayStation 2’s DualShock 2 controller takes analog readings of the joystick positions and buttons, but then outputs that information to the console digitally via SPI. Dr. Baker’s adapter polls the SPI connection to determine joystick and button states, and then outputs them to the Atari 5200 through digital potentiometers just like his custom controller. The adapter even includes a num pad for complete compatibility. If you want to build your own, Dr. Baker has provided his code and PCB schematics.