NES to Xbox

Over the years and getting good deals on mixed gaming odd and ends on ebay, I’ve acquired quite a few NES controllers. You know the kind – the iconic boxy less-than-comfortable-yet-so- nostalgic-we-accept-them-anyway ones.

Amongst all my NES controllers I had one that wouldn’t work – its 4021 Control Chip was apparently shot. Being useless to the NES now, I thought of other usages – decoration on my car rear view mirror or maybe on my backpack. Hack it up to work like those NES controller mp3 players we’ve all read about. Or maybe just keep it around for spare parts.

I didn’t like any of these ideas all that much and I really just wished I could use it in some way. It wasn’t long before I got the idea to use it as an interface device with my Xbox 1. To interface the NES controller with anything else would require removing the 4021, and since mine was shot anyway, there would be no loss. For the project I wanted to use a controller that wouldn’t matter, so I purchased a Madcatz controller.

Copied controller make for great hack projects

Copied controller make for great hack projects

When it arrived, the fun began. The first thing you need to do is open that NES controller up – its held together by six small star screws and the back plate easily comes off when the screws are removed.

The stock NES controllers inner beauty

The stock NES controller's inner beauty

In the middle of the PCB is the NES 4021 Control Chip. Mine wasn’t working, but regardless you’ll need to remove it. There are a number of ways you can successfully remove it. First, you could simply cut off the pins and then use a soldering iron to loosen and drop the remaining bits out, you could use a soldering iron and a solder sucker/braid and drop the chip out that way, or you can go overboard and use a heatgun like I did. At the time I did this, I didn’t have a solder sucker yet, so I was unable to use that approach.

If using a heatgun, first wrap the entire PCB in thick plastic – the kind of waterproofing walls, not grocery bag plastic. Then, use a marker to outline a box around the 4021 chip. Remove the PCB and use an knife to cut out a small rectangle. Tape the plastic tightly over the PCB. Next, wrap the entire board except for where you want the heat applied with tinfoil. By doing this, you will ensure you do not damage any part of the board. This is a risky process, so don’t blame me if you destroy your NES PCB.

Your NES controller should now look like this.

Your NES controller should now look like this.

With the 4021 chip removed, yo can now clearly see the trace lines. I had the fun time of mapping the NES controller’s 4021 pinout. Since the NES controller’s cord had only five wires (thus the need for the 4021 chip to decode those few wires) and yet the need for 9 (eight for the buttons and one ground) I had to replace the cord too. Use anything you can find that has at least nine wires. old printer cables work great here. Because you won’t be using the old cord, this means that only nine of the sixteen pins matter.

My crude diagram showing which pins are which.

My crude diagram showing which pins are which.

Once traced, The fine small soldering began and after a bit of work, I was able to wire an NES controller right to the Xbox 1 controller!

Here you can see the points where you need to solder to in order to do this project on the Madcatz Xbox controller:

Marked in red are possible solder points. Choose which buttons you want to use.

Marked in red are possible solder points. Choose which buttons you want to use.

Before soldering, you need to consider where the cord to the NES controller will go. I thought the best place would be where the memory card slot was, so I removed the memory card pins (since you will never need them anyway). Feed the cord you will use for the NES through the hole and hot glue it in place so it doesn’t move. Once this is all done, you will end up with a setup like this

an NES controller wired to a Madcatz Xbox 1.

an NES controller wired to a Madcatz Xbox 1.

Next carefully fold the wires on the NES side into place where its old cord was and put its back on and screw it in place. On the Xbox Controller tape down the face buttons as they will now be nothing more than decoration. Carefully reapply its casing and screw it back in place. If everything went according to plan, you should now have a working NES controller on your Xbox!

Use it with emulators, collections, and even some Xbox 1 games that don’t require a ton of buttons!

And here it is! Ready for some NES action?

And here it is! Ready for some NES action?

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3 Responses to “NES to Xbox”

  1. Excellent tutorial! Pretty straightforward and lots of pictures, also not too heavy on technical details.

  2. Hey man really interesting stuff. Keep up the great work. Good way to make it sound simple as well. har har har

  3. Commander Keen Says:

    “For the project I wanted to use a controller that wouldn’t matter, so I purchased a Madcatz controller.”

    I lol’d.

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