I got into the classic video game retro scene in about 2001 when I finally got a home computer. Within a matter of months, I loaded my computer with pretty much every video game for every console released between the Atari 2600 and Super Nintendo, as well as all the original 80s arcade games on the MAME Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator. For the full arcade experience, I splurged on a HotRod Ultimate Josytick Control, which basically looks like the joystick dashboard of an arcade machine, a steering wheel, a trak ball and a light gun for my PC. But the one controller that eluded me was the classic ‘paddle’ or ‘spinner’ control. For years after getting back into classic gaming, I lamented the fact that no company had created a control that mimicked the Atari 2600 paddles, the ONLY way to play games like Night Driver, Breakout and Kaboom!
My retro arcade flashbacks reignited my love of video gaming, and soon my TV was overloaded with a PS2, Gamecube and Xbox, so my focus on the retro games waned. And that’s why I somehow never heard about the “Stelladaptor,” the ultimate USB adaptor for PC that hit the market in about 2004. Well I’ve discovered it, purchased it online, and am in love with it. This is what I’ve been waiting for. The idea is so simple. This USB adaptor lets you connect your old Atari 2600 joysticks, paddles, and driving controls to your PC so you can use the proper controllers when playing your Atari 2600 emulators.
And that’s what I did until like three in the morning last night. This simple and brilliant little adaptor, which is recognized as a PC USB joystick, is supported by Atari 2600 emulators like Stella (hence the name of the adaptor) and x26. FINALLY, I’m playing Circus Atari and Kaboom! with a paddle, while the driving controllers work perfectly with Indy 500.
I also fired up my old Atari joystick for rounds of Space Invaders (a port I’ve always preferred to the original arcade game), the atrocious but endearing Atari 2600 Pac Man disaster (I whined for weeks when it first came out and was immediately sold out at every store), and one of the best non-arcade shooters ever, Imagic’s Demon Attack. What an unbelievable game. While I’ve had it on compilations on my PC and Playstation 2, playing it with an old Atari joystick brought back the memories. Memories of how SORE your thumb would get being placed on the top of the joystick for hours to control your game. Memories of how sweaty your hands would get gripping that piece of black plastic with the orange button. And memories of how the little rubber pads on the bottom corners of the joystick would start to ‘melt’ as a result of your sweating hands, leaving a smear of black on your hand. Gross! Those rubber pads have been absorbing my sweat for nearly 30 years!
Using the Stelladaptor is a beautiful plug n’ play experience with Atari 2600 emulators, and it also works somewhat with MAME. Unfortunately, while MAME supports the controller, it isn’t quite as simple or effective. It took me a while to figure out how to get it to work with arcade versions of Super Breakout, Circus Atari and Arknoid. It involved quite a bit of tweaking of the controller options hidden within the ‘properties’ menus of each individual game ROM because I could find no helpful explanations on the setup online. While those three games worked, I had no success with the arcade version of Night Driver. And while it would be a beautiful thing to finally play Tempest with a spinner control, the catch is that the Atari 2600 paddles have a ‘stop point to both the left and right of the spin, while Tempest requires infinite 360 degree rotation of the spinner in each direction. So I thought I was being smart when I hooked up the Indy 500 driving controller, which does spin 360 degrees infinitely, but when I did that and configured the controller for MAME, Tempest went all screwy. It just wouldn’t work. Bummer. But all hope was not lost. I next turned to my Atari – 80 Classic Games CD-ROM compilation after installing a patch online that offers Stelladaptor support. It works fantastic. And not only that, but it lets you CHOSE to use the driving control to play Tempest! And there you have it. The original arcade version of Tempest the way it’s meant to be played.
I tried several other CD-ROM games. The Activision Anthology Remix CD-ROM offers an option for Stelladaptor AND Stelladaptor as a paddle controller, yet playing Kaboom! was a disaster. Response time was terrible, the controller completely lagging behind my spinning movement. I then fired up the Infogrames modern remakes of Breakout and Pong. Breakout recognized the paddle controller when I switched the in-game controller option to joystick, but again, the controller would not respond in time with my movement of the spinner. And forget about Pong. You can’t even navigate the menus when the paddle controller is plugged in. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find patches for any of these games. Finally, I tried the Stelladaptor with the updated version of Warlords, but the game does not recognize it because it only offers mouse or keyboard control (AWFUL). But I must say, while the remake of Warlords plays mostly the same as the original (aside from the crappy controls), it is a visually astounding update. Ironically, the ‘classic’ arcade version of Warlords is available on the game CD-ROM, and when you choose to play it, the game actually RECOGNIZES that a Stelladaptor is connected and offers it as a controller option in the setup menu! WOW. Now why didn’t they offer it in the Warlords remake setup menu??? Oh well. The only other thing I really have to test now is connecting TWO Stelladaptors to see if I can play a four player game of Warlords, which is supposed to work according to the Stelladaptor manual.