My journey to make a new controller bowl and gear yolks

mhallet

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Nintendo 64
I picked up a Nintendo 64 over the 2020 holidays to go through my yearly Zelda OOT nostalgic run. This time though, perhaps due to the pandemic, I actually wondered why my controller had dead spaces and felt loose, so I opened it up and took a look inside.

To my surprise, the joystick bowl and the gear yolks were almost disintegrated. I bought a bunch of controllers on eBay and opened them all up - same problem. Looking up YouTube fixes shows that the joystick issue is a common problem for people playing this great retro system all around the world.

So, I wondered if I could fix it...

This took me down a journey of 3D printing, and eventually into plastic injection moulding. At the moment, injection moulding is far too expensive of an endeavour unless there is a large market for these pieces. So right now I've been playing with my 3D printer (Anycubic Photon S resin printer) and came up with some really interesting results.

3D printed joystick bowl and both gear yolks (from my Google Drive files)

I downloaded the design files for these parts from Thingiverse (highly recommend!), and once they had finished printing and curing, I installed them in one of my joystick housing assemblies to test the performance. I picked up an Everdrive to benchmark the analog stick results, and here's what I got.

Results for 3D printed N64 bowl and gear yolks

Honestly, I'm super impressed! These tolerances aren't too shabby at all for my first try printing these things, and I'm confident in my ability to tweak these results to get some even better results soon.

As for how the controller "feels", I could definitely feel a little bit of grinding in the bowl, so I put in a little dab of white lithium grease and I don't notice the grinding nearly as much now. I used a fairly strong resin for my first set of prints, and now that I've got a feel for how to do this I'll play with some other resins to see which ones result in a playing experience identical to an old Nintendo 64 controller.

I'd love to hear the stories you folks might have in trying to restore your old controllers to their better days. Or if you have some advice for me on my journey to make new parts, I'd love to hear them!
 

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