I will be upfront about this. I am not a gamer: PC, console, mobile or otherwise. But, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, like every pre-teen and as it tuns out, many adults, I was bitten by the Fortnite bug earlier this year. With not an X-Box nor Playstation to my name and no sign of a mobile version on the horizon at the time, I was limited in the platforms I could choose from to play it on. So I fired up my recently retired MacBook Pro, slapped a fresh coat of Windows 10 on it, and hit Epic’s site for the free Battle Royal download.
On what could hardly be called an optimal platform the game performs surprisingly well. The screen is a little small, but my 46 year old eyes could be part of that problem. What did not perform well was me. I could not get used to using the keyboard as a controller. And not because it was a laptop. I tried an external keyboard as well.
Before I go on, I want to head off a flame war. Even with my limited experience gaming, I understand that keyboards make for superior controllers. I am not anti-keyboard. I just didn’t have the previous practice, and I didn’t have the patience to develop the muscle memory that comes from hours of playing.
Did I mention that it was my 12 year old daughter that introduced me to Fortnite? Anyway, she wasn’t thrilled with using a keyboard either so the two of us hit GameStop to pick up an Xbox One controller. She took to it right away, mastered it, and is using it to this day. And I mean literally. She is playing now.
I played with the Xbox controller for several weeks and became proficient at navigating, interacting with the environment, and building, but I couldn’t hit the broad side of a Dusty Depot hangar from 10 meters with a pump shotgun. That might be an exaggeration, but my aim was terrible. I just could not get the hang of aiming with the controller’s joystick. From my limited time playing with the keyboard and mouse, I knew that the mouse was infinitely better for aiming. I was stuck. I needed a controller with a joystick for navigation, and buttons for jumping, picking up items, building, etc., but I needed to be able to use the mouse for aiming and shooting.
It didn’t take me long to come to a solution. I was addicted to the game so my motivation was high. I had an extra Arduino Micro lying around, a joystick, lots of buttons, and plenty of wire so I thought maybe I could craft my own. Even luckier, the Micro’s ATmega32U4 microcontroller has USB communication built in. Getting a computer to think it was a keyboard was trivial.
I started by wiring up just a single button to the Arduino and programming it so pressing the button would simulate pressing the space bar. I logged into the lobby, and when Private Rando jumped in synchrony with my button presses, I knew was on to something.
My first attempt at a limited functionality controller was ugly and uncomfortable, but as a proof of concept I considered it a success. Granted the buttons were just stuck into a breadboard, so more often than not when I got excited and pressed a button frantically it would pop off, shoot across the room, and I would be crawling around on the floor while Rando was getting knocked and his teammates were laughing at him/me through my headset.
I am currently on the third iteration of my custom Fortnite controller. I have dubbed it “The Robuster” because it is finally stable and sturdy, and I use it for busting heads. Well, not so much the latter. It is still not a looker by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve tweaked it to function almost 100% the way I want it to. It feels very comfortable and natural to use it with my left hand while using the mouse with my right. Of course I’m not sure anyone else would find it comfortable to use since the size, shape, and placement of every element on it was done with my left hand in mind, and I’ve got small hands. Not Trump small, but small.
In another post maybe will I get into all of the technical details: what every button does, how it is wired up, what the software that runs it looks like, etc. For now I will leave you with a few more pictures. But then I have to run. There are some noobs waiting in Tilted Towers to get Robust-ed.