I recently got hold of an old Atari 800 and some peripherals. Thanks to the answers to this question: How to clean (or prep) Atari 800 or any old computer

I have it cleaned up and am using it. One immediate problem I see is that I only have one joystick. Can someone tell me how to buy or adapt something for use as an Atari 800 joystick? I suspect the one I have will give out at some point (it's very old). Plus a second controller would be nice. I'm not interested in a pristine original joystick particularly. If there are plans around on what the configuration is (pin outs, etc.), I'm up for building something or adapting something. Perhaps there is a dedicated vintage Atari group where this is better asked? Thanks

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    Did you already have a look at this page: epanorama.net/documents/joystick/ataristick.html? – Martin Rosenau Aug 26 at 4:35
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    Are you saying you are or are not interested in a pristine original joystick? (You wrote "note", and I wonder if that's a typo for "not", but I can't be sure.) If you are interested, new-old-stock joysticks are still pretty easy to find. Remember that Commodore 8-bit and Amiga systems use the same joystick port. – Jim MacKenzie Aug 26 at 15:05
  • Thanks Jim. I meant "not". Typo fixed. I imagine there are some people that want to restore their system to original specs and use original equipment. More power to them! I'm simply interested in a joystick I can use. If I can get a "new-old-stock joystick" somewhere and it's not too expensive that's certainly a good option. Where would I look (Ebay?)? Otherwise, building one is not out of the question. – Dave Aug 27 at 1:42
up vote 3 down vote accepted

You can still buy replicas of the famous Competition Pro joystick (search on Amazon, for example), albeit with a modern USB interface. These need to be "de-modernized" to use with a retro computer, which is, however, pretty simple (connect the cables directly to the microswitches, and fit a DE-9 [commonly known as DB-9, the joystick ports] to it). You can even leave the original USB cable intact to be able to use it with a modern PC.

Another way to build a proper joystick is to use a joystick kit intended for the RetroPie set of arcade replicas - These also come with a USB interface but can be modded to expose the switch contacts directly on the DE-9. You also need to build a simple case to house everything.

You can also every now and then find China-made replicas of the original Atari 2600 joysticks on eBay, that should be a "plug in and go". These replicas are, however, known to break easily and not as sturdy as the originals.

Other than that, you can still sometimes find original 80ies joysticks used from eBay - Those very probably have been used for 25+ years, however, and are sometimes of dubious quality.

Note that even if the connectors for joysticks are typically DE-9, every vendor developed their own ideas for the pinout - you need to carefully check the wiring before connecting a new joystick.

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    Joysticks that used a DE-9 to connect one "digital" joystick or joypad (as opposed to using one connector for two sticks, or using an analog joystick) had pretty consistent wiring for the direction controller and one button. The wiring for additional buttons, if any, would vary, but the joystick and primary button of anything that would look like an Atari-compatible joystick would generally be compatible with the Atari. – supercat Aug 27 at 18:54
  • @supercat The various ZX Spectrums had at least 2 different pinouts on the available joystick interfaces. – tofro Aug 27 at 19:59
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    @supercat Most of other makes had buttons or paddles on pin 5, some had +5V there, others had +5V on pin 7. If a connector has more than up, down, left right and fire connected, it's starting to get dangerous, if you have a Sinclair computer, earlier. A table for comparison is here: wiki.icomp.de/wiki/DB9-Joystick – tofro Aug 27 at 20:05
  • Okay--I'd not realized that the Sinclair was a single-stick-per-connector digital joystick that used a dangerously-incompatible pinout. All of the other computers and controllers I'd seen meeting that description would--so far as I'd observed--support at least basic functionality pretty much across the board, but if that Wiki article is correct, plugging in a Sinclair controller into most other machines and pushing left would be very bad. – supercat Aug 27 at 20:11
  • @supercat To add to the confusion, there were 3rd-party joystick interfaces for the Spectrum that used "standard" pinout connectors. Pre-Amstrad Interface 2 used standard pinouts as well. – tofro Aug 27 at 20:15

While you can still get 1980s-vintage joysticks, some of the PVC cable sheathing is beginning to de-plasticize with age, so the cable can effectively fall off. Before I realized they were basically unreplaceable, I threw out three Konix sticks that had that problem …

Building your own isn't hard, though. I made a ridiculously over-engineered box out of 6 mm birch ply, and installed a Sanwa-compatible arcade joystick and two arcade buttons. I wired it all together with a terminal block leading to 8-way stranded cable with a DE-9 (DB-9) Female Socket Connector on the end. Not counting design time, it cost less than buying a NOS 80s joystick, and it's solid enough to outlive me.

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