This one is totally for the geeks.
Grab the defibrillator paddles! I attempt to resuscitate my 32-year old video-gaming relic.
In the world of Attention Deficit Disorder there is a clinical term: “hyperfocus.” Usually someone with ADD (like myself) can’t keep things straight, but sometimes we can do one solitary thing like a madman and focus on nothing else, even eating or sleeping, until the crazy thing is done.
Welcome to my hyperfocus of the week: rewiring a pair of Intellivision Flashback controllers for my Intellivision II Master Component.
Like many other Intellivision fans, I jumped up and bought the new Intellivision Flashback, and was AMAZED when I held the new, perfect replica controllers. Also like many others, wondered if the things would actually work with the old Intellivision II. In fact, it was all I could think of night and day, so it simply had to be done. The only trouble is that the Flashback controllers, while operationally exact, have the pins all switched-around in the plug. Plugging them straight into an Intellivision II made them as useless as trying to wave a Playstation 4 controller in front of it. Not going to happen. Luckily, I’m not the first person to explore this. So did Paul Nurminen (better known as ‘Nurmix’), host of the Intellivisionaries Podcast. THIS LINK takes you to a thread where he tirelessly figured out the correct pin settings (with diagrams), and THIS LINK takes you to a very nice extension cable he has created from his experiment to make it easy to plug a Flashback controller directly into your Intellivision II or Sears Super Video Arcade with no fuss at all. It’s very cool, and you should purchase one (or two), if you are going this route for your own classic gaming needs.
But I wanted things to look really good. I was not satisfied with an extension cable, no matter how cool it was. Everything had to fit together as well as humanly possible. That’s the problem with ADD, it gets dangerously close to an obsessive compulsive disorder.
See? Look at that picture, above. It’s just not right. For one, the controller cable isn’t coiled, like the original on my Inty-II (yes, I call my Intellivision II an Inty-II, leave me alone). The plug sticks out, so I’d have to unplug it when I was done, instead of just putting the controller back on the unit. lastly, you can’t scrunch-up that non-coiled cord properly to get it all under the controller in the little compartment the coiled-cord originally fit in, so I’d probably have to stuff the controllers in a drawer, anyway, leaving my Inty-II naked.
Not acceptable. I want to rewire the controller, use the cool coiled cord instead of the new controller’s cord, so it fits right back in the game unit when I’m done playing with my ancient video game. Basically I want it to look like they’re SUPPOSED to go with it, instead of looking like they are totally out of place. And don’t think I didn’t consider spray-paint to try to make them the same stinking color…
First things first: The controllers had to be disassembled. The Flashback controller was easy, as it has four screws on the back, and snaps together at the bottom. The Inty-II controller? Not so much fun, as it was made to be a throwaway, replaceable unit – no screws. It just snaps together like one of those “no glue” car model kits. When Mattel shut down the Intellivision division of their company after the big video game crash of the early 80’s, no replacements were ever manufactured, leaving collectors and hobbyists to fend for themselves. You had to get it apart, but, more importantly, put it back together after fixing it. Luckily for me, I was never intending to put it back together – so I wasn’t exactly gentle…
By using Nurmix’s information (link above) about the controller pin assignments, I worked out the wiring arrangements. I had to figure out which wire went to which pin in each wiring harness (original, and Flashback), and which wires had to be swapped when putting them together to make the Flashback controllers work with the Intellivision. Another problem remained: Getting the original Inty-II wires to go into the controller from the bottom. The flashback wiring harness simply juts out of the top of the controller, making it impossible to fit the space that housed the original controllers. I thought about drilling a new hole in the back of the controller, but opted for a much simpler approach: I’d go in through one of the existing screw-holes. If surgeons go through your belly button to yank out your gallbladder, why couldn’t I repurpose a spot on the controller? Besides, I was sure the controller would be just fine with only three out of four screws. Almost every piece of electronics I’ve ever opened winds up a screw short when I’m done putting it back together, and they all seem fine…
I had to make the back screw hole a tad bigger to fit the plastic/rubber stress relief of the original cable. I learned long ago that soft plastics bow to the will of a phillips screwdriver, and, since the hole was already there, it took very little twisting to make the hole functional. It was just recently that I had actually used Shoe Goo on a shoe – never had a need, before – And when I did, I realized that God had smiled on the makers of Shoe Goo. The stuff has a million and one uses. Now it has a million and two: Attaching the stress relief to the back of an Intellivision controller.
Amazingly enough, the controller that was never intended to fit in an Intellivision II manages to do just that. The cable and cable plug manage to hold up the top half when it’s resting in the space, and the slightly longer bottom half of the controller rests on the Inty-II, so it actually sits flush.
I won’t go into the boring details of connecting nine itty-bitty wires to nine OTHER itty-bitty wires, and also keeping track of which wires have to be connected to which wire, since there were no matching colors, AND they had to be miss-matched to make them functional in the new controller, but it involves scratch-paper, schematics downloaded from the internet, lots of really small pieces of electrical tape, a bunch of patience and some takeout pizza (the pizza, however, is optional). I kept about two inches of wire connected to the new controller to attach to the old wiring harness. I would also like to point out that the Inty-II was the perfect workbench for this project, since the controllers fit right in the thing.
After completing the rewiring, and a little “open face” testing, it was time to put the controller back together. The Intellivision controller (love it or hate it) was truly unique. It’s guts are basically a plastic sheet with a printed circuit. The sheet folds over itself to create the contact points for the side buttons, keypad and disk. Really, the only moving parts are the side buttons and the spring that the disk sits on. The bubbled number “keys” on the keypad are nothing more than a facade, something for you to feel as you push down and press the plastic beneath, It itself is simply a plastic sheet that sits on top of the circuit sheet. My first thought looking at it was, “amazing,” and my second thought was, “amazing that they kept working, at all…”
Placing the cover over the top, I was reminded of one thing: I have purposely removed one screw, but still have the socket for that screw in the top half of the controller cover. That space is now occupied by my cable harness – I clipped it off with a wire-cutter (remember kids, soft plastic doesn’t really need fancy tools).
After screwing the assembly back together, I was rather impressed. Not only do the controllers now fit, albeit differently than the original controllers, but the darn brown color doesn’t look too bad against the tan of my Inty-II. The seventies and eighties design aesthetics collide – and manage not to look that funky. The only thing left to figure out is covering the back hole where the wires were originally sticking out of the controller. I wanted to use the original stress relief to the Flashback’s original cable, but, once again, it sticks out the back, ruining the fit into the space for the controllers – and I’m not taking two steps forward, just to take one step back. Defeats the purpose.
What the heck, maybe just a piece of electrical tape, no one will ever notice…