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I’m a Smash 64 player as well as a mechanical engineer who has been modifying my controller for competitive play. Years ago I started this project to improve my CAD skills while I was still in school by reverse engineering the OEM joystick parts. After completing the CAD files, I decided to use 3D printing services to make the parts. With enough interest from the Smash 64 community, I continued the project. I eventually released the brass gears, capless sticks, and slim sticks. However, I decided to discontinue these as they had quite flawed designs; the brass gears and nylon stick manufacturing had very loose tolerances and the resin printed slim sticks were way too brittle. Other than material and manufacturing issues, the OEM stick design was also quite flawed, so I decided to change the design.
Redesigning the N64 Joystick
I would not be the first person to make a redesign to the OEM joystick. Linus had designed the SteelStick before I even started this project and there have been a lot of clones since its creation. So why didn’t I use the same concept? While I was impressed by Linus’ design, I believe his design is a patch rather than a solution to the issues with the OEM joystick. Along with solving these issues, I wanted to improve the design of the joystick in general. This meant reducing the amount of wear points for serviceability, resolving flickback, and making the joystick more repeatable all while preserving the integrity of the original design.
Here is a cross section of my redesigned stick. The most obvious difference is how the stick is held in place. It is now held in place to the gear with a steel pin rather than being constrained by the gate and bowl. Because it is held by the pin, the stick no longer touches the bowl removing the point contact that was once there. Instead of putting all the load on a point, it is now distributed along the surface area of the pin significantly reducing wear. The joystick is also now repeatable because it no longer depends on the gate to hold it in place, reducing tolerance stack ups in the assembly. With this new design, the main points of wear would be the pin location and the bottom of the stick that rides along the slot of the gear. By making the gears with a harder material than the stick, only the stick should wear over time which should be easy to replace. The parts are made with resin printed plastics to reduce their weight as having too much weight results in larger flickback from the momentum. All the redesigned parts are possible for me to produce on my own 3D printer. My only bottleneck with this design would be acquiring reused OEM parts like SteelSticks but the condition of the parts is not important for the reasons stated above.
Testing and Feedback
Even though the design of the joystick had been done for over 2 years from my initial twitter post, there was still some refinement to do. I had several competitive Smash 64 players including myself test the stick. With any project, nothing works the first try and there were some failures. Initially the printed parts were made from the same material which meant I had to replace both the gear and stick. Another issue from testers was that the stick would snap as well as the pinned gear that held the stick. The issue with resin printing is that most materials are brittle and cannot handle the impacts during gameplay. However, industrial 3D resins have recently been developed to match the hardness and impact resistance of polycarbonate and ABS. With the durability of the stick resolved, the last thing I needed to resolve was flickback of the stick users were still experiencing. In mechanical systems damping is used prevent overshoot. Damping usually comes in the form of friction, which we want to avoid. Luckily, viscous damping exists so the fluid experiences friction instead of the mechanical parts that would otherwise experience abrasion. By using a viscous damping lubricant to the joystick, I was able to still reduce the wear rate while adding the damping needed to prevent flickback. With these updates, I’ve received positive feedback from testers and the joystick design is in a state where I am finally comfortable to release.
When they are produced, I will be selling these joysticks on my store. Because the joysticks parts are made and assembled by me, they will not be readily available. Another bottleneck that exists is the use of OEM parts such as the encoders, encoder PCB, and gate. In order to get these joysticks to as many people in the community as possible, I will be limiting joystick orders to one per customer. To address the shortage of OEM parts, I am willing to take donations but I will also be providing a service where I will take an OEM joystick module and “upgrade” it for a customer. Initially shipping will only be available to the United States. The release is still a work in progress and I am currently working on the logistics.