I found this cheap Quickshot Flight Grip aka Quickshot Handlebar aka TecToy Asa. Designated QS-129N, I guess N is for Nintendo. Yes, sadly this is a NES controller, so I can't get instant gratification with playing Afterburner on the C64. Even my only NES machine is a clone that takes in a different kind of connector.
The shape is just irresistible, but it is clear the design is a gimmick and does not work well as a general gamepad.
It's worth noting the idea is not that far from the Playstation 1 controller that became the nearly universal starting point for all subsequent gamepads. It's just the grips are too spreadeagled and the d-pad and buttons are too near the centre. Bonus points for having the B-button as a "shoulder" button here, too.
Unlike the much later Gravis Destroyer Tilt, this Quickshot is NOT a motion-sensor gamepad. And given my experiences with the Tilt, it's perhaps all the better for that.
The size is for smaller hands, but that's not the biggest problem. The d-pad sounds and feels a little lifeless, and sometimes I think the B-button would be better as the principal fire button.
Looking at this from an alternative angle, I can see myself holding it like a boomerang (Batarang?) although then I'm more clearly limited to either the d-pad or the two buttons.
A look inside
Old electronics look often more crude than the outside suggests. The Quickshot is built more like a toy than an object for hardy use.
But it is a clean design. A bunch of screws keeps the outer case together. The circuit board in turn has a couple of tiny screws, after loosing them the whole thing begins to fall apart.
The buttons at front are on a separate board that must be identical to the Atari version of this controller. The NES-relevant stuff is on the central board.
The cable is tied and held fast in a tight curve, and a wide screw helps keep it there. Not sure this is better than having a "stopper" in the cable itself, but it looks firm enough. This also helps me attach whatever cable I need to.
Looking from the other side, the circuit board was quite dirty and I wonder if this would even work without some adjustments.
The main board had the notation "24 Aug 1990" in it, and the tiny board with the d-pad and fire button has the text "Spectravideo 1989".
I felt it should be easy to "downgrade" the gamepad to work in the Atari/Kempston style, as it only requires me to remove the electronics in between and add a different cable.
The first idea was to replace the main circuit board with my own, so I could store the original relatively intact. At the same time I could get to do easy and enjoyable protoboard work.
However, the autofire and select/start buttons require some corresponding physical parts even if they are not meant to work. It is better to keep the original board in place and simply remove the existing connections and replace them with my own.
The only really new thing needed was the cable and 9-pin connector to replace the NES-style connector.
This turned out to be a problem as I didn't have a worse joystick to borrow the cable from!
So, I ordered a lot of four broken joysticks from an auction. I got a possibly recoverable TAC-2 (the most valuable thing in the lot) and another Quickshot brand joystick I might spare. But importantly for my project, a couple of crappy non-brand sticks which I could cannibalize for parts, such as joystick cables.
I de-soldered the ribbon connector and soldered in single wires, which in turn were soldered to the joystick cable ends. The cable had a rubbery stopper which I had to whittle off before I could fit it through the opening in the Flight Grip case.
In the above image I marked the connector wires 1-7.
7: GND for fire
I played some games on the emulator through the Arduino adapter box.
Buck Rogers was quite fine as long as I was only turning the ship left and right and firing. When the ship needed to go up and down, it felt far more clumsy.
Buggy Boy worked surprisingly well, as it's also a sort of left-right game. I need to push constantly upwards though and this proved to be a little taxing for the old thumb.
With Stunt Car Racer I experienced first genuine confusion. The acceleration is no longer about pushing up constantly, but has to be managed together with delicate left/right controls. Diagonals are a stretch and I performed considerably poorer than I do these days with a Tac-2.
I also kept missing the 2nd button function, but the question is, what should it do? Replicate fire button? Or replicate Up direction, to give an easier way to accelerate? Hmmm....
Blue Max is one game where I felt a controller like this could be fun. But I'd be lying if I said the Flight Grip delivered here. Blue Max controls are a quirky to begin with and the poor diagonals offered by the controller did not help much.
I also played a couple of games where I expected the controller wouldn't be good at all.
The Great Giana Sisters was not as bad as I expected, but it needs a more accurate controller. It might help to have the second button to be the "Jump" button, so perhaps I'll indeed wire it to "up" and try again.
In Saboteur!, a lot of the movement is left-right only so it was rather good for those portions. However I also have to reach those ladders accurately and this is where the controller failed me and I couldn't bear to play much more.
The controller is a better fit for "3D" games with relatively simple controls. So I wouldn't condemn the Flight Grip concept entirely, it's very clearly not meant to work for all games. If only the buttons and diagonals were more crisp and precise.
Oh, I nearly forgot. I meant to play Afterburner. The game is so atrociously unresponsive it's hard to put the blame on the controller.
I'll get back to this if I solder the 2nd button.