I recently build a little USB-SNES-Gamepad for my Android Tablet, because I didn’t like using the on screen controls of the emulators. It just wasn’t fun playing the games of my childhood without the original controller in my hands. Luckily my Tablet has a standard USB port with host capability and supports thumbdrives, keyboards and mice out-of-the-box. So I figuered I could easily put the controllerboard of a usb keyboard inside the spare original SNES gamepad i had liying around.

So I grabbed a cheap usb keyboard at a fleamarket for 3€ or something and tore it apart. Inside a normal keyboard these days is little more than the usb controller board and two matrices made of plastic. So I first I had to find out how those matrices actually worked to make them fulfill my purpose and was happy to find an incredibly good website about everything there is to know about keyboard matrices.

The principle of those matrices is quite simple: If a button is pressed, it will short one vertical line with a horizontal line inside the matrix. If you now apply some current to one of the lines (e.g. the 3rd horizontal line), and a button is pressed, the current will flow through a vertical line (maybe the 2nd) and now the controller board knows that which button was pressed (perhaps the letter ‘a’).

The Android SNES emulator I was using allowed for assigning every all keyboard buttons freely. And now that I read this incredibly interesting website, I knew I could increase the amount of buttons that could be pressed simultaniously by trying to put all buttons on one line in the matrix. But I also wanted to map the arrow buttons of the keyboard to the d-pad of the gamepad, so i could also navigate using gamepad. At first I tried to “decrypt” the matrix, to find out what button belonged to what contacts on the usb-controller, but this wasn’t fun. So i just scratched off this halfway conductive plastic stuff from all the contacts, plugged the controller in my computer and started xev.

Then I mapped all the outcomings of those shortcuts in the matrix and drew them inside dia for an overview. Here you can see my ugly “wiring” diagram.

All the blocks on the outside represent a pin on the controller and all the blocks in the middle a button on the keyboard. Sometimes I used the matrix to find out what buttons also were on the same line to speed up the process. but as I didn’t want to map all the buttons. I stopped when I had all those I needed.

So I disassabled the gamepad and the first thing I did was making a terrible mistake: I started cutting all the lines on PCB, thinking that i would just wire up each button with the appropriate pins on the usb-controller. But actually you can just use most of the printed wiring on the PCB of the gamepad and thereby avoid a lot of hassle.

So I compared the wirings of the matrix and the gamepad to solder as little as possible. I just cut the ground wire of the controller at some points so that multiple buttons on the gamepad that had a common ground would have the same line inside the keyboard matrix.

Still it looked like a mess, but that wasn’t a big deal, because it looked all clean and tidy once I put the gamepad back together.

Now I can finally be completely nostalgic, playing the games of my childhood, as they meant to be played.