Miracle controller: Ben and Vivek Q&A


Ben Hex

1. What was the biggest challenge during Vivek’s game controller project?
There was a lot of manual chopping and modding of the original plastic controller shells. Four different controllers were used to make this single controller. I was able to smooth over a lot of the cracks with Sugru at least! Also, weakening the analog sticks and still keeping them functional was a bit of a challenge.

2. What motivates you to undertake projects like these?
I've been building accessibility controllers like this for 13 years. I find it interesting to solve unique problems like this. Doing these mods has led to other types of work and commissions along the way, which is great!

3. Which aspect of computer engineering do you love the most?
I really enjoy working with digital logic and discrete components. Such as in this controller where I added an Atmel touch-sensor IC.

4. How did you find working with Sugru Mouldable Silicone? Which properties lent themselves perfectly to Vivek’s project?
It worked out pretty well! I discovered that water makes a good barrier when working with it, to prevent it from sticking to skin and other tool surfaces. The adhesive properties of the Sugru meant I didn't have to worry whether or not it would stick, even on smooth surfaces where traditionally you'd want to rough up the surface.

5. What advice would you give to budding computer engineers who want to be more creative?
It can be fun to impose artificial limitations on a project. Use bytes instead of ints, see what's the smallest MCU that you can use and still have your project be functional. Pretend it was 30 years ago, and RAM was limited. It also forces you to think about how the machine/CPU actually works instead of having several layers of API abstraction between you and the silicon.

6. Would you recommend they use Sugru Mouldable Silicone as a cost-effective way of prototyping new ideas?
Maybe not for ground-up prototyping, but it's very handy when working with existing things such as the controllers I hacked up to make Vivek's custom device. I like how it copies detail so you can texturize your work. It's also handy for modding tools, adding grips, etc.

7. Do you a message for Vivek?
Vivek, it was a pleasure working with you on this, and I hope what I built was as close as possible to your vision!
Happy gaming!

Watch the full video of Ben's build on his YouTube channel.

Vivek Gohil

1. How will the new controller change the way you play games?
The new controller will help me play games where I'm less tired, and it's more flexible for me. I have a lot of different ways to play now. I think one of the most important things I’ve found with this is having a stand that holds the controller. I didn’t realise how tiring holding it was.

Because this controller has been adapted especially for my needs, it will help me to play for longer, be more relaxed, knowing that I can press a lot of the buttons more easily. I think it will help me a lot, even the soft-to-press buttons and also the redesigned D-pad.

They may be small changes, but they will make a big impact on the way I play.

2. Which games that have been previously inaccessible are you looking forward to playing with the new controller?
In the past, there have been quite a few games that are inaccessible for me. Now, with this controller, I just want to play games that I've enjoyed in the past like Mass Effect, Red Dead Redemption and FIFA. I just like kicking the football around with people from all around the world, feeling part of a community and a team, all thanks to Ben.

I'm looking forward to getting back into that in a more comfortable way. I recently got a game called Control that's really heavy on button presses and difficult things to do. With this controller, it'll be easier to use combinations of buttons. And having elongated analog sticks will help me a lot with aiming. So, yeah, I'm looking forward to having the ability to just buy a game because I want to enjoy it rather than worrying about whether I'll actually be able to play it.

3. Not everyone can get Ben Heck to design them custom hardware. Do you have any advice for other disabled gamers who want to adapt their own environment? Where should they turn to for guidance?
I am pretty lucky to have a customised product made by Ben Heck. To be honest, it's like a dream. When I first started to have problems with gaming, I actually saw one of his videos. He was making a controller for somebody else, and in my mind, I was like, "I wish he could make me a controller." And that dream has come true.

With a lot of disabled people or people who find gaming difficult, there are simple things that you can start off with, like using Sugru to improve the buttons, or make them higher. You can adjust the controller independently.

If you want to go further than that, if you're having a lot more problems, I use the gaming charity SpecialEffect. They came into my house, and once I explained all the problems I was having, they got some off-the-shelf equipment that fits it to you. But, unlike Ben Heck, they don't adapt it specially for one person. So, go to SpecialEffect, and you'll get a lot more ideas because it's quite difficult to know what's out there if you search on your own. But I think Sugru is a good place to start. 

4. Do you have a message for games manufacturers like Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo who have a responsibility to make gaming accessible to everyone?
Gaming industry companies need to realise that a big percentage of their gamers have a disability. They have a duty to make games accessible for a lot more people. They'll probably make a lot more money.

Recently, Microsoft brought out the Xbox Adaptive Controller, which is a really good thing for the gaming industry. But that's only one company doing that. The whole gaming industry has to decide to make controllers that would make games accessible.

Nintendo is not as good with accessibility, but PlayStation is. I don't think they themselves do a lot of work for accessibility, but their gaming developers are really into accessibility and working with disabled people. 

During the development of controllers and games, companies need to talk to and hire accessibility consultants to audit the game and see what kind of problems are there and what can be changed. If you don't involve people with disabilities, then you're not really going to get a true picture of what is wrong.

It's not just one disability that affects gaming. There are a lot more people with sight issues. Companies just need to find people who can help them improve their industry from inside.

5. Lastly, do you have any words for Ben?
I've got quite a few words for Ben. It's difficult to explain how happy I am. I'm just amazed that he was able to help me access gaming again. Gaming was such a big part of my life, and now that Ben has made this, I call it a miracle controller because it is specially for me. I just really want to thank him for doing this. It’s changed my life for the better. Thank you, Ben. It's just amazing.

Read Vivek's blog post about the project on his blog Uncanny Vivek.

Vivek Gohil