● You *must* get a gamepad
● Recommended gamepads
● Gamepads not to use
● Using real controllers via special adapters
● Look-a-like USB Controllers
● Real controllers modified for USB
● Using your Playstation 3 controller
● Especially for arcade
You *must* get a gamepad
The emulation experience is not complete without a gamepad. I mean, think about it. Mario and Sonic weren't meant to be played with your darn keyboard. Also, long use of the keyboard for emulated games is bad for your hands.
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I recommend the Logitech Dual Action Gamepad. It's USB, plug-and-play, compatible with Windows and Mac, and it's cheap. With its 10 buttons it can easily be used for any classic gaming system. There are two versions of it (the distinction can be a little confusing). The nicer version, called "F310", has nifty rubber grips on the sides and colored buttons:
• Logitech Gamepad F310 @ Amazon
And the cheaper version doesn't have the rubber grips and there's one less button:
• Logitech Dual Action Gamepad @ Amazon
If you want to browse more good gamepads:
• All of Amazon's gamepads
• All of TigerDirect's gamepads
• All of CompUSA's gamepads
But read through "Gamepads not to use" before choosing other gamepads.
If you keep reading this guide I will introduce you to gamepad alternatives that will make your emulation experience even more authentic. However, I don't recommend them because the Logitech Dual Action Gamepad is a 'powerhouse' that can handle any classic gaming system; especially Playstation 2 since it's modeled after its controller.
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Gamepads not to use
1. DO NOT use gamepads designed for a 3D environment. These gamepads look like the ones in the thumbnail to the left. The direction pad for these gamepads are built like a highly sensitive trackball, which I call a trackball-type d-pad. Sometimes in product descriptions they're called a "floating D-pad." They're for the purpose of easy navigation in 3D games. Using such a direction pad in classic video games, which are only up, down, left and right, results in very poor play control. For example, if you press UP you'll go LEFT instead. So how can you be sure if a gamepad's d-pad is trackball-type or not? Well, if you're going to buy the gamepad online, all the cheap gamepads generally are not trackball-type. Computer supply stores like Best Buy and CompUSA have demos laid out of their gamepads, allowing you to test 'em yourself before your purchase.
2. I highly recommend that you do not purchase those cheapo gamepads that only come with 6 buttons. Remember that the SNES controller, the 2nd version Genesis controller, and many arcade games require at least 8 buttons.
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Using real controllers via special adapters
You also have the option to use your own video game controllers with your PC via a special adapter. Such as the controllers from your Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Playstation, Gamecube, X-Box, etc. They usually go for around $20 US. A good brand for these types of adapters is Smartjoy.
• Here's Smartjoy on Froogle to give you some places where you can purchase them.
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Look-a-like USB Controllers
Companies have released USB controllers that look very similar to the real thing. There's not much offered, though. Here are a few I found on Amazon:
• USB NES Controller ~$14.00
• USB Super Nintendo controller ~$15.25
• USB Super Nintendo controller ~$15.41
"Real controllers modified for USB" is a better option since there's more variety.
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Real controllers modified for USB
You also have the option to use authentic video game controllers that had been modified to USB. Yep, they cut off the end of the chord and replaced it with a working USB plug. They range from $22-$32 US. Or you can purchase the $17 USB kit to modify your own controllers to USB. Click the following link to visit their site.
• RetroZone - USB-modified controllers for NES, SNES, Genesis, TG16, Saturn, Atari, and more!
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Using your Playstation 3 controller
Yep, it is indeed possible to use your Playstation 3 controller as a USB gamepad on your PC. There are several tutorials out there showing you how to do that. Here's one of the better ones:
• How to Use a Playstation 3 Controller in 64 bit Windows 7 and Vista
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Especially for arcade
And then there are the Classic Authentic Arcade Joysticks. To my knowledge, there's only one company that makes these special PC joysticks, and they are X-Arcade. The following is an informative review of the X-Arcade brand joysticks from this website. It'll answer any question you have about it.
Price: $129.95 US (2-player model)
Requirements: PC, Mac, or gaming console
Those who experienced the classic arcade games of the 70s and 80s remember excitedly manhandling the joysticks and franticly beating the large buttons on the arcade machines. Many times the excitement of the game was amplified by getting so physically involved, the spastic tap-tap-tap of the buttons and clunking of the joystick movement as a player used his entire arms to strive for the high score.
Over the years game controllers have evolved to require as little space and physical involvement as possible, with everything fitting into the player’s hands and the physical requirement only being the wiggling of fingers and thumbs. While there is nothing wrong with this evolution, the tactile experience from playing games has all but disappeared.
Even worse, trying to play the classic arcade games with a handheld controller creates frustration from control problems because the games were not designed for modern handheld controllers. Try playing the cornucopia of 80s maze-games using a directional-thumb-pad and the problem becomes obvious.
The X-Arcade controllers fill this void. These controls duplicate the classic arcade with real joysticks and large buttons, all reintroducing the tactile experience and subtleties missing from handheld controller gaming. The X-Arcade controllers can also be used with modern games, giving a more solid experience to modern gaming on your Mac, PC, X-Box, Game Cube, or Playstation.
The X-Arcade 2-player controller is a large, solid unit measuring 24 inches wide, 14 inches deep, and 6 inches high (including the joystick height and connections on the back). It is made of 1/2 inch cabinet board with a black melamine surface, making it solid and giving it the required weight to remain stationary during gameplay.
The controls are equally solid and taken directly from the arcade. With 2 large joysticks, 8 buttons for each player, 1 and 2 player game start, and side-mounted "pinball" buttons on either side of the unit, this controller is designed to match almost any gaming demands.
As delivered, the X-Arcade controller comes with the main controller unit and an adapter unit for the specified platform. The Mac and PC units include a USB adapter, but specific adapters are required for each console. The adapters plug into the X-Arcade controller cable and then into your computer or console. No additional drivers are required for computer installation.
For computers, the X-Arcade sends keyboard commands as feedback from the game controls. Configuration with games and emulators is simply a matter of changing the game’s keyboard settings. Games that normally don’t work with other hand-held controllers work with the X-Arcade as long as the game has keyboard setup options.
The controller has 4-modes: one setting is the default, and the other three are programmable. All are accessed by moving a slide-switch on the back of the unit and pressing a button next to the switch to verify the setting change. Our games worked perfectly using the default setting, but the programmable setting might be useful for others needed greater customization.
Configuring games to use with the X-Arcade is similar to most controllers, but instead of configuring controller settings the keyboard settings are used. Open the keyboard control settings in your game and activate the X-Arcade controls when prompted to setup the corresponding game actions.
Setup for MAME, MAME32, MacMAME, X-MAME, and other emulators was equally simple, using the General Input settings to configure all games. Individual games can also be setup differently as needed.
As shipped, the X-Arcade joysticks are 8-directional, but some gamers may want this limited to only 4 directions. This constraint requires opening the controller and flipping a part on the joystick hardware.
After using handheld game controllers for so long, the solid and tactile feel of the X-Arcade took a few minutes to get used to. The joysticks offer resistance and self-center upon release, but are surprisingly sensitive to directional movement. The large arcade buttons make many games easier because of the ability to “rapid-fire” using the entire hand.
One of the most noticeable differences while gaming is auditory feedback. The X-Arcade delivers solid clicks and other sounds as the joysticks and buttons are used.
The 2-player X-Arcade offers a feature that the one-player unit does not. Some of the classic arcade games (such as Robotron 2084) use 2 joysticks for control, something that is very difficult to reproduce without... 2 joysticks. These games are played perfectly with the 2-player controller, with one hand on each joystick.
There are no complaints about this product, and its purchase is highly recommended.
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Chapter 2: The History of Video Game Emulation (not affiliated with this site)
Chapter 3: Downloading & Setting Things Up
Chapter 4: Video Game Emulator Tutorials (below)
Chapter 5: Gamepads
Chapter 6: Extracted Video Game Music