When it comes to favourite joysticks on retro computers, people tend to split into two camps: Suncom TAC-2 and Kempston Competition Pro. If you’ve read my earlier articles, you might’ve noticed that I actually kind of like them both, since each joystick has its strong points. So - what kind of joystick would you get if you were to combine those together?
The 8-bit and 16-bit home computer era had two legendary arcade-style game controllers - the Suncom TAC-2 and the Kempston Competition Pro. While I’m somewhat partial to the former due to it’s ultra-low-tech construction, I enjoy using both in equal measure.
My Competition Pro joysticks are not the original Kempston models, but modern reproductions sold by Speedlink. While the form of the joystick itself is rather true to the original, the internal wiring and microswitches are somewhat prone to breaking. Fortunately the joystick is very easy to modify and upgrade, so let’s see what can be done!
While I am very fond of the good old joysticks like the TAC-2 and Competition Pro, they do have one drawback - a cable. Sometimes I’d just want to sit down on my couch and play some Amiga games on actual oldskool hardware without having to untangle some extra-long cables and replug everything just to get the computer to sit on my coffee table. Trip up on those cables on your way to the fridge and the Amiga goes flying on the floor.
Modern game consoles these days use wireless gamepads with a fantastically long battery life and range, but usually require either Bluetooth or some proprietary hardware to use them on a computer. Adding a full Bluetooth stack into AmigaOS 3.x doesn’t sound like a very appetising idea for a fun project, nor would it be much use on most games anyway. However - what if we used some additional hardware that already has all that, is fairly cheap and hacker friendly - the ubiquitous Raspberry Pi!
Among those who grew up playing with Commodore C64s, Sinclair ZX Spectrums, Amigas and Atari STs - computers that all shared the ubiqutous DB9 joystick port - a common sentiment is that two models of joysticks were above all others. One is the Competition Pro, which is still available to buy as a brand new reproduction. For those who didn’t like the noise or feel of microswitches used on the Competition Pro, the joystick of choice was usually the Suncom TAC-2.
Given that the TAC-2 has been out of production for a long time already, even second-hand examples command a fairly high price on the market. Those looking to purchase some for use with their retro computers, here’s a quick introduction to the TAC-2 and how to fix some of the typical problems encountered with these joysticks.
Finding a 8-hole 3-ply mint/black/mint pickguard which isn’t garishly green turned out to be harder than I thought. Although the Fender OEM ones have a nice colour, their ‘59 reissue pickguard uses the rather uncommon 10-hole pattern and would not work with an 8-hole body. GFS mint green is also reasonably subtle but they only have an 11-hole version.
With a suitable neck and body acquired, it’s time to start adding some hardware to them. The most important parts of course are the tuning machines and the bridge as together they hold both ends of each of the six strings. Poorly fitting parts or loose tolerances can drive a player mad if the guitar constantly wanders out of tune or doesn’t intonate properly.