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My Retro Memories – Giving Dad Control – Gave Me Something as Well

Posted by Michael Tarallo on

UPDATE : Since I wrote this post - my dad lost his battle with IPF (Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis) and passed in 2019. He will be missed but never forgotten. I know he is proud of my accomplishments and I owe his inspiration to the creation of RetroGameBoyz. I miss you dad. 

My controller modding projects and hobbies have evolved into an official side business under the company name RetroGameBoyz. I no longer mod existing older NES controllers. I now manufacture my own brand new patent pending circuit boards (PCBs) and DB9 cables and use mold injected and 3D printed controller cases. I have sold 4000+ controllers worldwide to date of varying configurations (Atari 2600 / 7800, Colecovision, Commodore (Push up to jump button mapping), Commodore GS (true 2 button), MSX, Odyssey 2, Vectrex, Amiga, Sega Master System and a new custom Robotron dual D-Pad controller for the Atari 7800 and now a new Atari 5200 Arcade stick).  I maintain a strict level of product quality and personalized customer satisfaction and positive 100% feedback on eBay. I have products available on Amazon, Etsy, eBay and just opened a new marketplace on walmart.com. (I will be pulling away from these as I build up my Shopify store.)  If you want to see what is currently available visit RetroGameBoyz.com - this will redirect to my eBay store but eventually will be the main address for my Shopify store. You can aslo look me up on twitter https://twitter.com/retrogameboyz or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/retrogameboyz or YouTube. See social links under sidebar menu. 

The Story

One day I broke out a few of my old video game consoles to show my Dad what I have been collecting. We had just finished reminiscing about the days when we had the Atari 2600 and I thought it would be fun to show him what other consoles I had in my collection. I went up to my office and brought down a Colecovision and a Atari 7800. Both were consoles I never owned growing up. (Hell, only the rich kids had the Colecovision.) However, when attempting to play some games, my Dad was unable to hold the controllers properly due to pain from the severity of his
rheumatoid arthritis. A chronic disease that causes joint pain, stiffness, swelling, disfigurement and decreased movement. He has suffered with this for many years. Yet, he has been able to adapt and still attempts to do what he can. However, that night he was unable to play with my son and I. He simply was unable to work or grip the controllers comfortably because of those awkward controller designs. Seriously, even when I attempted to use them, my thumbs ached a bit and I don't have arthritis,....yet.

Not really happy with what I witnessed and being of an analyst mindset, I was determined to find a solution. Digging through what I call my retrogaming graveyard - a box of busted games, controllers, wires and console parts - I pulled out an old Nintendo NES controller. The wires were frayed, it was a bit yellow and had a few dents - it was the perfect candidate for the job! I brought it to my Dad and I told him to hold it - "Pretend like you're playing.", I said. In short, he was able to navigate around the control pad with little to no discomfort. Even his right thumb, which is shaped like a backwards letter L, was able to depress the buttons.  This got me to thinking.

Previously, I was working on an a project where my son and I used an old Atari joystick to control some servos with an Arduino micro-controller. I recall the Joystick circuitry being fairly straightforward and wondered if it was similar to the NES controller. This project inspired me to cut the Atari DB9 cable from the joystick and "crack open" the NES controller and start inspecting. Having a small electronics background with some basic knowledge of PCBs, capacitors, resistors, diodes, transistors etc. - oh not to mention a steady hand, mad soldering skills and keen eyesight - I was able to figure out an approach that would transform a standard NES controller into a functioning Atari 7800 controller. I was so excited about my success I captured the moment on video to share with others.

So, the next time my Dad came to visit, he was actually able to play some classic games on the original consoles with my son and I. It was a pretty cool moment and I can see that he was proud of what I did. But... the story does not end there. This experience has allowed me to explore something new. I now actually have a creative hobby for once. I have always been envious of those that would be able to play or talk sports, play an instrument, create fantastic meals, were well traveled etc. as I really was not skilled in those areas or was not particularity interested in any of those things. All I had was my work (which I excel at) and my family-life. That is all well and good of course, but I really never had anything that defines my particular interests or who I am - so to speak. Yes, I like video games and I am content creator (primarily at my job), but what about something that is just for me? Collecting, tinkering, repairing and working with retro games and consoles has taken on a whole new meaning for me. I found a wonderful community on Twitter that shares in the same interests and have even made some new friends. I've been able to incorporate my love for retrogaming into some aspects of my job which has also been fun - even in situations where I am recognized by the company for it. Overall, searching for a solution to a particular problem for my Dad had opened a new area of discovery that helped better define who I am, unbeknownst to me.

Since all this transpired, I started exploring more, educating myself, taking suggestions from others whom wanted me to created modifications for them etc. and eventually learned how to create other controller configurations to support other retro consoles and computers. I have also repaired and modded some consoles as well. Replacing capacitors on motherboards, fixing power connectors, replacing video and memory chips. Turning what other people see as video game junk back into fully functional items once again.

All I will leave you with is - if perhaps you have not found your passion yet, it may pop up when you least expect it. Once it does, continue to peruse it and love what you do as you may inspire others to do the same. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

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