N64 controllers for emulators
December 18, 2008 11:23 AM   Subscribe

What's the best way to play N64 on your laptop? (Controllers question)

I'm trying to buy my boyfriend two (or more) controllers for playing N64 emulators on his laptop. I believe he's running Mupen 64 Plus on Ubuntu, although he has a Windows partition that he could use if it's the best solution.

What's the best controller to get for N64 gaming, and how can I find out if it will work on his computer? He's definitely savvy enough to download drivers, etc. on his own, but I'd prefer something as simple as possible, since it's a gift!

I don't know anything about emulator peripherals, and I've only used Ubuntu for a couple months, so I feel way over my head in trying to sort through a lot of the forum results when I google this. Thanks in advance for your help! I've searched the archives, and it looked like it's fine if I ask about emulators and interoperability as long as I don't want anyone to help me find ROMs. Hope this question is okay.
posted by scission to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The easiest way is probably to get a PS3 controller. Although you've got a different form factor, it's still a well-built game controller, plugs in via mini-usb and is pretty easy to get working.
posted by Lemurrhea at 11:31 AM on December 18, 2008

You'll want to get a controller with six face buttons to mimic the N64 controller's layout of A and B buttons and the four C buttons. I've used a Saitek P880 for years for this purpose. It looks like that controller has been replaced by the P990, which I assume is more or less the same.

I spent a little while trying to get my P880 working on Ubuntu and had zero luck, but then, I didn't try that hard and I've always been rubbish at getting third-party drivers to work on Ubuntu. That said, the best N64 emulator by far is Project 64, which is Windows only. If switching between operating systems all the time isn't that big a hassle for him, I'd go that route.

On preview, do not get a PS3 controller. The button layout is completely wrong.
posted by sinfony at 11:34 AM on December 18, 2008

Meant to continue on from that. If you're going to get a good controller with the wrong layout, the wired Xbox 360 controllers are quite a bit cheaper and are great (I've always preferred the joystick layout on the 360 controller to the PS2/PS3 controllers). Assuming, of course, that there are drivers for Ubuntu.
posted by sinfony at 11:36 AM on December 18, 2008

Response by poster: I just realized I forgot to ask in the original post--do you think I could buy used N64 controllers and some kind of USB adapter? I mean, I see that these adapters are sold, but would that be likely to work with an emulator?
posted by scission at 11:41 AM on December 18, 2008

Best answer: As long as the computer recognizes it properly, it'll work fine with the emulator. Also, while it would certainly be neat to have actual N64 controllers, keep in mind that the analog sticks on those controllers were pretty crappy and wear out fairly easily; I'd guess that any used controllers around today are in less than great condition.
posted by sinfony at 11:44 AM on December 18, 2008

I think the USB converters are mainly useful for Windows - Windows recognises the controller as a generic USB gamepad (which it has built-in support for), and you would use the emulator options to assign actions to each button on the controller. I am not so sure they would work in Ubuntu.
posted by fearthehat at 12:10 PM on December 18, 2008

Best answer: Ubuntu recognizes generic USB joysticks/gamepads just fine. That's the beauty of the USB Human Interface Device standard.
posted by zsazsa at 12:46 PM on December 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

The USB HID is quaint, but really insufficient for PC gaming as a platform. For example, the axis on one device can be reversed compared to another, or even non-existant. So each app has to allow users to map from joystick to functionality. Or assume it works like the Xbox 360 wired controller and get it wrong the rest of the time.

Personally, I've been using a Wiimote+Classic controller. It's what Nintendo uses for their Virtual Console games on the Wii. Of course, it does require around 80 dollars worth of hardware:

* USB Bluetooth adaptor ($20)
* Wiimote ($40)
* Classic Controller ($20)

The nice thing is the software that drives this in Ubuntu (cwiid) reconfigurable layout at startup, for all those stupid games that either don't use HID or assume a given layout.
posted by pwnguin at 1:26 PM on December 18, 2008

Pwnguin is on to something, but keep in mind you need bluetooth and a wii remote. If you already have a Wii, though, you're almost there, and if you're laptop has bluetooth built in, you just need to get a classic controller, which are not too expensive.

The adapters on eBay are probably good. Go with someone who has a good reseller rating, and don't spend more money than you'd care to lose, because if something goes wrong, don't expect it to get fixed right away. In short, if you can spare $10, and you have a controller, go for it.

If you don't have a N64 controller, though, I'd hesitate before taking that route. The N64 is a pretty old system by now, so if you want a controller, it will most likely be used, and if it was child owned, it may be sticky, dirty, have a broken analog stick, or just plain don't work well. If you go that route, I'd suggest looking for someone you could buy from in person on Craigslist, and ask that you can test it out at their place with either the adapter (if you choose to buy it first, which I would not do) or an N64. Make it clear you won't buy it if you aren't happy with the controller, because you don't want the person to get mad or disappointed if you back out of the deal, especially if they'll leave a bad note about you online.

Ignore everything below this line if you don't have a wii.

Also, if you already have a Wii, there are many homebrew emulators. The N64 emulator is currently pretty slow, but the programmers say they're making fast progress and think they can get most games up to a good speed soon, so keep an eye on that. Plus, you get to play on the big screen with a classic controller. USB controllers aren't currently supported by any of the emulators, as far as I know, but it could be on the horizon, as Homebrewers can currently access USB for other uses, such as keyboards and mice, or hard drives, albeit at a slow speed. Follow the instructions at that link at top to do it, if you are interested. You'll need an SD card, and PM me if you want help.

There is also a technique called ROM injection on the Wii where you can hack a virtual console N64 game and insert another ROM in the file (called a .wad). Then, the N64 game will be available to play at a good speed, using Nintendo's own N64 emulator for the Wii. Of course, it's buggy for a lot of games, since Nintendo likely tweaks the emulator between ROMs. You can find the needed wads for emulation from a torrent site, or you could copy a properly bought game from the VC to your SD card, which is somewhat more ethical. You should install the homebrew channel from the link at the top of the previous paragraph, and also find a WAD manager to install these channels properly. PM me for help.
posted by mccarty.tim at 2:54 PM on December 18, 2008

Best answer: PS: On the Wii, many people consider the best controller for N64 playing to be the Gamecube controllers, and that's what I do, too, but mainly with legit VC games rather than WAD injection. Those not too rare and can be found easily, likely because of Super Smash Brothers Brawl alone, so you can find a brand new one or a lightly used one and use it. It has a nice analog stick, and it's not too hard to map the second stick to be the C functions on the old controller. The L button is your Z button, and that's pretty much how it works.

Find a Gamecube to USB adapter and hook it up, and you should be good. As for Wavebird or regular, I prefer wireless and I don't care much about rumble, but the regular controllers are built like tanks and since you're using a laptop, cord length shouldn't matter, although having a cord in the first place may make things a bit messy. You also don't need to use AA batteries, which is nice, and it is a bit cheaper. I'm pretty sure there are plugins to enable rumble on the controller through the emulators, but it probably varies between emulators and adapters, and running Ubuntu may complicate things even more. Expect to be browsing obscure sites, and don't be afraid to ask questions on emulation forums about this.

If you just want any controller, and don't want to bother with adapters, the wired Xbox 360 controller is inexpensive with good rumble and connects via USB out of the box, and works well with Windows, and I'm near certain Ubuntu will have good driver support for it. You can also get an adapter from Microsoft for the wireless controller, but I wouldn't bother. It's expensive, and I think really only worth it if you want to use several controllers at once and already have a few wireless controllers with your Xbox 360.
posted by mccarty.tim at 3:30 PM on December 18, 2008

Best answer: Going off of mccarty.tim's advice above, I got a $10 USB device that accepts 1 PS1/2, 1 Gamecube, and 2 wired Xbox controllers. Right now I have a PS1 and Gamecube controller hooked up and the only issue is that player 1 has to be PS1 and player 2 has to be Gamecube because of the way the input is assigned in the emulators. Not really a big deal at all, and really a nonissue if you're only going to have 1 person playing at a time anyway.

Something like this should do the trick. Not what I have, but it's the same idea.
posted by theichibun at 7:34 PM on December 18, 2008

I cannot stress enough that you want a controller with six face buttons. Having the wrong button layout isn't a killer, but in particular games it can be a pain in the ass. Assuming that it works in Ubuntu or that your boyfriend is willing to use Windows for this, there is no particularly good reason not to get the Saitek P990 or something like it. It costs $20 and I assume it's a fine piece of hardware, as I have found its predecessor to be. There is no reason to spend $80 on Wii hardware to have an inferior controller for this purpose, nor any reason to futz around with used controllers and USB adapters (except for the coolness factor of having a proper N64 controller).
posted by sinfony at 8:25 PM on December 18, 2008

We play N64 games on Mupen 64 all the time. Dont listen to all this stuff about wii and adapters.

The controller functionality in Mupen on linux is all in a joystick (software) plugin and is fully programmable for almost any controller. I use "blight's SDL input plugin 0.0.10" I am not sure if that is the most up to date one. I am sure your BF has it or can get it easily.(if he doesn't/can't mail me) This means that you can use any USB controller (recognized by your linux distro) that has the sufficient number of buttons and 'sticks. My kids use Logitech "Dual Action" controllers. They work for almost all games on N64. Available at "Game Crazy" or some such shop in a mall near you for between $12-$20
posted by ijustwantyourhalf at 11:26 PM on December 18, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! All of your replies were extremely helpful in sorting through the massive amounts of unfamiliar information.

I marked the answers that I am going to pursue for now: I'm getting a N64 -> USB adapter because he already has spare N64 controllers in good condition, and it has the advantage of preserving button layout.

Thanks especially for pointing out how important the strange button configurations are for N64 games, or I would probably have gone the Gamecube controller route first. The other solutions were interesting, but we don't have a Wii or Bluetooth.
posted by scission at 7:23 PM on December 19, 2008

« Older Hobbies for RSI sufferers?   |   Quest for Car Legality Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.