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The All-In-One Open Source Arcade Controller: Keyboard/Mouse/Joystick Control + RGB LED Drive + Accelerometer! Read more

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This project was successfully funded on December 8, 2013.

The All-In-One Open Source Arcade Controller: Keyboard/Mouse/Joystick Control + RGB LED Drive + Accelerometer!

Josh Wolf
Project by

Josh Wolf

First created  |  4 backed

See full bio Contact me

About this project

If you missed out on this Kickstarter, visit www.wolfwareeng.com to pick up your Howler Arcade Controller or Arcade Kit for late March delivery!

Thank you all for shattering the $10k goal! I will be working hard over the next few months to deliver you the best Open-Source All-In-One Arcade Controller so you can relive your childhood memories!

What is the Howler Arcade Controller?

The Howler Arcade Controller is a 4 joystick, 26 button, gamepad controller, keyboard controller, mouse controller, 96 channel LED driver USB composite device designed for interfacing to controls on a home arcade system. 

*Update Video* 

LED Show!

See if you can count how many times I say "so" in the video… 

's video poster
Play

The Bearded Nerd Presents: The Howler Controller in Action!

's video poster
Play

How did I come up with it?

I was building my home arcade machine and wanted the ability to light up each of the buttons and joysticks with an RGB LED. I also wanted to be able to configure each button and joystick as keyboard, mouse, or joystick input. I did a thorough search on the internet but there was no single device that could do everything I wanted. In order to do what I wanted it would have cost over $250 and require 5+ circuit boards.

I thought to myself, "I am an Electronics Engineer, I will just design my own" and that is how the Howler Controller was born. I slaved away designing a prototype: drawing the schematic, doing the board layout, soldering the parts, writing the firmware, writing a Windows driver, and Testing (this required many hours of Punch-Out!, Pac-Man, TMNT Arcade and Track & Field ). 

My "prototype" was working very well so I posted it on a few arcade websites and there was immediate interest and feedback. The version I am working on now is based largely on that feedback.

My Design Story

You're probably all wondering how this "life-changing" piece of technology came to be. Well here is how it all went down...

Proof of Concept Stage:

Step 1: Cut a hole in a box...

Proto-Controller
Proto-Controller

Step 2: Put your stick in the box (joystick that is)...

Proto-Controller Populated
Proto-Controller Populated

Step 3: Using an Atmel microcontroller dev kit, write some firmware to drive RGB LEDs using a dedicated LED driver chip over the I2C interface connected to a breadboard which the PC sees as a USB composite device consisting of a USB Generic HID device for driving the LEDs, a HID Joystick device, a HID Keyboard, and a HID Mouse device. *DEEP BREATH* Was that geek speak nerdy enough for you?

Alpha Stage:

Step 1: Develop a schematic diagram of the Howler Arcade Controller hardware, at this point it was simply known as "Arcade Controller"

schematics
schematics

Step 2: Use a CAD tool to place the components on the board.

Step 3: Change the pinout of the connectors because the board is impossible to route using only 4 layers.

Step 4: Change the pinout of the connectors again because the board is STILL impossible to route using only 4 layers.

Step 5: Finally got a good pinout for the connectors, routing is going well... Hear crying coming from upstairs, oh ya it's my turn, almost forgot I had a 1 month old... what time is it anyway? 4am? well baby isn't sleeping so why should I?

baby
baby

Step 6: Order the boards. Send them daily emails asking if they can make my boards faster. Realize I want to change the system architecture and email to ask if they can halt production. They tell me the boards have already shipped. Start schematic capture of the Beta version. Receive Alpha boards and never populate... At least solder mask is a cool colour...

Alpha
Alpha

Beta Stage:

Step 1:  Update the schematic based on my new architecture (completed even before I received my Alpha boards).

Step 2: Spend an entire weekend in the basement re-routing the entire PCB. Again send files off to board vendor.

Step 3: Bombard board vendor with "have they shipped yet?" emails.

Step 4: Check tracking number on my phone every 5 minutes. Confirmation that boards have arrived YAY! (on a friday night). 

Beta
Beta

Step 5: Cancel my plans to go out drinking to come home and solder the boards... (how nerdy is that???)

populated board
populated board

Step 6: Plug in board: wait for it... wait for it... YES, no smoke! And it is even recognized as a USB device!

Step 7: Build 4 player Arcade machine to develop and test the Howler Arcade Controller. The arcade machine shown actually uses 2 Howler Arcade Controllers because there are actually 38 buttons in the system. Up to 4 controllers can be connected in a system to add up to 104 buttons and 16 joysticks (I don't even have that many friends...).

arcade 1
arcade 1
arcade 2
arcade 2

 Step 8: Spend WAY too much time playing TMNT:

TMNT
TMNT

Step 9: After I had my TMNT/Punch Out!/Track & Field fix, I went to work re-writing all the firmware that was written in the Proof of Concept stage because of the new architecture.

Step 10: Spend 2 weeks reading about USB Generic HID device programming. Write rudimentary Generic HID driver to control LEDs.

Step 11: Write rudimentary command line program to drive LEDs.

Step 12: And that bring us to where we are today. (see production stage)

Production Stage:

I am currently in the layout and routing stage of the production version of the Howler Arcade Controller. The differences between the Beta and Production version are as follows:

  • Added spring pin connectors for all connections, no soldering is required!
  • Added an accelerometer for use as a bump sensor in pinball games.
  • Made the board easier and quicker to produce.

What I am offering Kickstarter supporters is this production version of the PCB.

The production version will be a larger version than the Beta with spring pin connectors, similar to the image below:

Productionish
Productionish

Things left to do:

  • Complete board layout/routing and order PCBs
  • Update firmware
  • Update USB Generic HID driver for LEDs
  • Complete Howler Config app
  • Complete command line program

Howler Arcade Controller Specs:

1) 4 joystick ports:

  • Each joystick port consists of 4 inputs (Up, Down, Left, Right). These inputs can be configured as a digital joystick input, keyboard button press, or mouse input for trackball/spinner.
  • Each of the four joystick ports can drive its own RGB LED (+5V@17mA per LED) with 255 levels per colour. This means more than 16.5 million colours per RGB LED!!!

2) 26 button ports:

  • Each button port can be configured as a joystick input, keyboard button press, or mouse button press.
  • Each button port can drive its own RGB LED (+5V@17mA per LED) with 255 levels per colour. This means more than 16.5 million colours per RGB LED!!!

3) 2 High Power RGB LED drives:

  • Two High power RGB LED drives (6 channels total) for driving more power hungry LEDs (Trackball and Marquee illumination)
  • High Power LED drives are capable of driving up to 350mA LEDs. (May be limited by power supply used).

4) Accelerometer:

  • Integrated accelerometer for nudging and bumping in pinball games.
  • Can be configured as either an analog joystick input or a digital joystick input/keyboard button press with a set threshold.

5) USB Upgradable - for future updates or if you want to write your own firmware.

6) Dedicated pins for each input means that all buttons can be activated simultaneously!

7) Howler Config Application which allows unlimited configuration combinations of USB Keyboard, Mouse or Joystick inputs.

Howler Config Application
Howler Config Application

8) Requires only ONE USB connection to the computer. Similar set-ups would require 4 or more USB connections!

9) LEDs can each be individually controlled (255 levels of brightness). Total number of LED channels is 96! Similar set-ups would require 3 or more LED driver boards!  The series current limiting resistors are also included on the PCB for all button and joystick RGB LEDs. The resistors are set for +5V 17mA LEDs. No external series resistors required, just plug in the RGB LED and go! Common Anode RGB LEDs are required and diffused LEDs are recommended.

10) Working on command line program (future feature) that would integrate with popular front ends so that each game would light up the buttons and joystick based on their original configuration. (i.e. If you are playing TMNT Arcade, the controls would light up BLUE for Leonardo, RED for Raphael, ORANGE for Michelangelo, and PURPLE for Donatello). This program will also offer various LED illumination effects (sweep, bloom, chase, etc)

11) No Soldering Required! All connections are spring connections that accept 20AWG-24AWG wires.

12) Up to 4 controllers can be connected to a system for up to 104 buttons and 16 joysticks. 

Kits:

Paradise Arcade Controls
Paradise Arcade Controls

I am excited to announce that we have teamed up with www.paradisearcadeshop.com to bring you complete RGB LED arcade kits! All kits include everything you need to build an awesome arcade console. 

The components used in these kits are top quality and feature:

Paradise Arcade RGB Balltop Joystick

LED Stick Shown (RGB pic coming soon)
LED Stick Shown (RGB pic coming soon)

These joysticks are custom made by Paradise Arcade Shop and include a strong spring for centering and can be adjusted for 2, 4, or 8 way action!

IL RGB Pushbutton (Concave or Convex)

IL RGB Concave Pushbutton
IL RGB Concave Pushbutton
IL RGB Illumination PCB
IL RGB Illumination PCB

These 1 1/18" diameter pearl white translucent pushbuttons are specifically made for RGB illumination. These high quality pushbuttons are made in Spain and include a 50g Zippy microswitch. Each IL RGB Pushbutton comes with an RGB illumination board custom made to fit without modification. You will have the option of choosing concave (old school) or convex (competition style) buttons for you kit!

All required wiring

Wiring Harness
Wiring Harness

All kits come complete with required wiring so all you need to do is build the enclosure, connect USB to you computer and start gaming!

There are 3 versions of the kit available: 

The Lone Wolf (1 Player Kit):

  • 1x Paradise Arcade RGB Balltop Joystick
  • 12x IL Pearl White Translucent Push Buttons with 50g microswitches and RGB LEDs
  • Howler Arcade Controller
  • +5V Power Supply
  • USB A-B Cable
  • All required wiring

An example 1 Player Configuration is shown below:

1P Setup Example
1P Setup Example

Alpha Vs Beta (2 Player Deluxe Kit):

  • 2x Paradise Arcade RGB Balltop Joysticks
  • 26x IL Pearl White Translucent Push Buttons with 50g microswitches and RGB LEDs
  • Howler Arcade Controller 
  • +5V Power Supply 
  • USB A-B Cable
  • All required wiring

An example 2 Player Deluxe configuration is shown below:

2P Deluxe Setup Example
2P Deluxe Setup Example

The Wolfpack (4 Player 'Lite' Kit):

  • 4x Paradise Arcade RGB Balltop Joysticks
  • 26x IL Pearl White Translucent Push Buttons with 50g microswitches and RGB LEDs
  • Howler Arcade Controller 
  • +5V Power Supply 
  • USB A-B Cable
  • All required wiring

Two example 4 Player configurations are shown below:

4P 'Lite' Setup Example 1
4P 'Lite' Setup Example 1
4P 'Lite' Setup Example 2 with Pinball
4P 'Lite' Setup Example 2 with Pinball

Open Source

Many of you have been asking if I could make this project open source. Since the firmware will be USB upgradable I have decided to make it open source! I will be providing the source code for the firmware once the units ship. I will also be providing an interface document for the communications protocol between the RGB LED controller and the USB HID device so that a driver can be written for any operating system.

What does this mean?

This means that the possibilities are endless. We could have an entire community of Howler Arcade Controller enthusiasts (pay maybe I am dreaming). But a few examples of things you could do:

  • make a USB midi controller so you could design your own electronic keyboard
  • make a crazy 96 channel USB controller LED chaser
  • With 42 inputs and 96 outputs connected to a computer over a USB port, the sky is the limit.

Future LEDBlinky Support

I have confirmation from the creator of LEDBlinky that they will be providing future support for the Howler Arcade Controller in this awesome program. For those of you unfamiliar with LEDBlinky, it is an arcade LED Control Software and Animation editor that interfaces with many of the popular Front-End softwares (MaLa, AtomicFE, GameEx, Hyperspin, Maximum Arcade, etc).

LEDBlinky will make the Howler Arcade Controller even better! Check out www.ledblinky.net to see what it can do!

Team

Here is the Complete Howler Arcade Controller Team:

Hardware Design: Josh Wolf

Firmware Design: Josh Wolf

Software Design: Josh Wolf

Test Engineering: Josh Wolf

Marketing: Josh Wolf

Video and Images: Josh Wolf

No wonder the video is so lame, an engineer made it...

I am going to be participating in the Kicking it Forward program that helps more creators get funded. Learn more at: http://kickingitforward.org

Timeline:

November 2013: Complete schematic capture, board placement/routing and order PCBs. Work on Firmware, Howler Config Program, Howler LED DLL, Howler Commandline program.

December 2013: Test first run of PCBs (by playing a lot of Punch-Out!, Pac-Man, TMNT Arcade and Track & Field). Complete Firmware. Work on Howler Config Program, Howler LED DLL, Howler Commandline program.

January 2014: Complete Howler Config Program, Howler LED DLL. Work on Commandline Program.

February 2014: Complete Commandline program.Order high volume run of PCBs (If the Kickstarter community comes through!).  

March 2014: Ship out Howler Arcade Controllers to Kickstarter Supporters!

Risks and challenges

I am an Electronics Engineer with over 10 years experience designing hardware, firmware and software for various projects. I have already built the Beta Howler Arcade Controller PCBs, written the firmware, started a Windows DLL, and started the Howler Config utility.

I have designed the PCB to be as easy to build as possible and have chosen components that are readily available. I should be able to receive boards from my overseas contacts with a 2-3 week turn time.

I need the help of the Kickstarter community in order to get volume pricing for components. I also want to get the Howler Controller out there in volume to get support from the arcade community to better integrate with more of the popular software programs.

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    Early Adopter - 1 Production Howler Arcade Controller PCB at an early adopter price! As an added bonus I will also include the +5V/2A power supply and USB A-B cable for the first 50 Kickstarters. Just connect some buttons, joysticks and LEDs and you're ready to play!

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    Early Procrastinator - Missed the boat on the Early Adopter? Don't fret, for only $6 more you can 1 Production Howler Controller (fully assembled and tested as all PCBs will be), +5V/2A power supply, and USB A-B cable. Just connect some buttons, joysticks and LEDs and you're ready to play! Don't miss out on this one, only 250 units at this pledge amount!

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    1 backer

    1 Production Howler Arcade Controller PCB. This is the PCB ONLY and DOES NOT include the +5V/2A power supply or USB cable. Just connect some buttons, joysticks and LEDs and you're ready to play!

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    4 backers

    1 Production Howler Arcade Controller PCB, +5V/2A power supply, and USB A-B cable. Just connect some buttons, joysticks and LEDs and you're ready to play!

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    7 backers

    The Lone Wolf (1 Player Kit):
    1x Paradise Arcade RGB Balltop Joysticks,12x IL Pearl White Translucent Push Buttons with 50g microswitches and RGB LEDs, Howler Arcade Controller, +5V/2A Power Supply,
    USB A-B Cable, All required wiring

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    Ships anywhere in the world
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    33 backers

    Alpha Vs Beta (2 Player Deluxe Kit):
    2x Paradise Arcade RGB Balltop Joysticks, 26x IL Pearl White Translucent Push Buttons with 50g microswitches and RGB LEDs, Howler Arcade Controller, +5V/2A Power Supply,
    USB A-B Cable, All required wiring

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    Ships anywhere in the world
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    25 backers

    The Wolfpack (4 'Lite' Kit):
    4x Paradise Arcade RGB Balltop Joysticks, 26x IL Pearl White Translucent Push Buttons with 50g microswitches and RGB LEDs, Howler Arcade Controller, +5V/2A Power Supply,
    USB A-B Cable, All required wiring

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    Ships anywhere in the world
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    Be a part of the design: 1 Production Howler Arcade Controller PCB with +5V/2A power supply and USB A-B cable PLUS you and ONLY you get to choose the color of the circuit board (choose from: green, red, yellow, blue, black, or white)!

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Funding period

- (45 days)