Build your own accessible Alpakka gaming controller
Meet Alpakka: a customisable, open source gaming pad with additional features to improve performance and user experience. Input Labs designed it and they are a new organisation creating open source 3D-printed gamepads with a focus on accessibility. We quite like their mission statement: “Democratizing videogame controllers”.
It may be simple enough to put together yourself at home, but the finish is super-professional and it feels just like a “real” video game controller.
Focus on accessibility
Input Labs have carefully designed Alpakka with particular groups of users in mind. They hope to improve the gaming experience for people who find it difficult to use keyboard commands to move around in games, or to use a thumbstick for aiming. But Alpakka’s bespoke design isn’t just for people who find themselves in need of a modified controller for accessibility reasons. It will also improve your gaming experience if you want to play FPS or mouse-cursor games from the comfort of your sofa, or if you are after a more natural way to aim at things inside games that’s closer to how you move when using VR.
How is it made?
Raspberry Pi Pico provides all the brains that Alpakka needs to work. The custom firmware is open source. As are the STL and M3F files for the 3D-printed elements. You can also have a poke around the PCB schematics if you like.
Finer electronic specs detail the two gyros, rotary encoder, buttons, directional switches, and thumbstick that make up the rest of the controller.
How do I hack it?
There is an entire Developer Kit explaining how to set up and use the Alpakka firmware, as well as how to set up a developer environment so you can connect to the controller, get logs, send commands, and use a physical reset button. Input Labs’ Developer Kit isn’t essential if you want to hack Alpakka to better meet your needs, but it will help a lot.
Jump to the comment form
I was excited to see this here as a “focus on accessibility” sounds perfect for my friend that really struggles with modern controllers. He has motor control problems which left him totally unable to use PS5 controllers following the brain-dead Sony design. He ended up selling his pride a joy console as it was unplayable. He’s just spent a small fortune buying another console following the relesease of a new “pro” controller that’s a different shape so he can actually use the thumb sticks. On the other hand, Microsoft have loads of accessible features built into their controllers and games, they are leagues ahead on this. Shame on Sony.
I’m not really sure the “focus on accessibility” is really aimed at my friend and those like him, it seems more like marketing so far. There’s no specific info on the website and the video playthroughs are clearly aimed at people who have good motor control and can use gyro-based aiming (this is a non-starter for my friend). This looks great as a super customisable controller but I think it stops there. Would love to be proved wrong, there’s a small but very enthusiastic market of gamers let down by poor hardware designs.
Ben Heck does a lot of customized controllers for the accessibility scene. But I think his focus is mainly on one-handed designs, and he uses official controller parts. It’ll be neat to see what comes of this! Urge to get a 3D-printer… rising!
From what I’ve been reading, Alpakka aims to those people with little to mild impairments, while Microsoft controller is more targeted to more serious cases.
That is really cool. I am also wondering whether it could be adapted for compatibility with non USB devices. So to emulate NES or NeoGeo controllers for example? NeoGeo ones are especially hard to come by and there’s a lot of price gouging going on.
Raspberry Pi Staff Liz Upton
Dave! Nothing to add, but we REALLY miss you. Drop us a line when you’re next in the UK!
NES and SNES controllers are electrically pretty simple and easy to clone. I’m not familiar with the neo geo, but from some quick searching it seems to be even simpler.