AtariAge/Pixels Past Stelladaptor

This is a small USB adapter that allows you to plug in an Atari 2600 controller: joystick, paddles, trackball and the driving controller - but not a keypad. (Note: a 2600-compatible trackball only works in "joystick" mode - not as a true trackball.)

In Stella - the 2600 emulator - the controls work as they would on a real 2600, except the paddle support is a little odd. It doesn't always read an exact 1:1 position for the paddle, so it takes some getting used to. It also "jumps" back and forth slightly in some positions, so it doesn't always stay completely still. But for the most part, paddles work pretty well. The joystick and driving controller (Indy 500) support work great. This is easily the best way to play 2600 games on an emulator.

As for MacMAME, the joystick support is really the only thing worth using. Driving controller support doesn't seem to work in any game I've tried, and paddle control is twitchy at best. It works to a degree, and you can fuss with the analog sensitivity some, but computer mice or trackballs work better. That said, it's well worth it if you're looking for a way to plug in a simple, old-school, non-analog joystick. Playing Pac-Man and other maze games is actually fun again.

There are still quite a few 2600-compatible joysticks out there (including some arcade-quality ones made by Wico) which can be found for reasonable costs from online vendors or on eBay. For my money though, nothing beats an original 2600 stick, modified like this.

The downside? A bit pricey at $29.95.

Belkin Nostromo SpeedPad n52

This is an odd-looking half-keyboard/half-gamepad controller meant primarily for first-person shooters. Basically, it's meant to take over keyboard duties from your left hand, and work in conjunction with a gaming mouse. It has its own configuration software (which works very well, if being a little tedious to set up), and once you have it dialed in, you'll wonder how you ever played certain games (Jedi Knight II, Tron 2.0, for example) without it. It's really that good. Much, much better than using a keyboard for moving around/selecting weapons, and such.

However, it's not really designed for most of the games in MacMAME. The d-pad is a bit sensitive (fine for FPS games, not so much for Pac-Man), and there really aren't a lot of games in MacMAME that require 15+ buttons. However, it works well if you can find games that can take advantage of it (fighting games? Mahjong perhaps?). You can also set up macros for pulling off multiple button combinations, but they don't seem to work in MacMAME.

I picked up mine at a local Circuit City for only $19.95. A bargain!

Wacom Intous3 9x12 Graphics Tablet

I'll second Vas Crabb's recommendation for the Wacom tablet, except that I use the mouse that is included with it. The mouse is wireless, lightweight, and is fully customizable. Pretty much everything you need in a gaming mouse. Works great in Missile Command and light gun games in MacMAME. It also works great in other Mac games - especially partnered with the Nostromo SpeedPad. The high cost is going to put it out of range of most people, but if you already own a Wacom tablet, dust off the mouse that came with it and give it a shot. I'd never used it at all until I tried it for gaming recently, and it does the trick quite nicely.

Kensington Orbit Optical Trackball

I like this trackball as a replacement for Apple's mouse, but for gaming it's awful. Pretty much every computer trackball I've tried over the years just isn't suitable for gaming. As soon as you spin them too fast (which is pretty much the whole point of an arcade trackball), the cursor flips out and goes in pretty much every direction but the one you want it to. For games with very limited movement, it might be okay, but you're better off with a mouse, or a real arcade trackball. (I successfully hacked a Happ arcade trackball and a USB mouse together, and ended up with something that worked quite well.) The Orbit is an extremely poor substitute for a spinner, too.

Saitek Cyborg 3D Gold Joystick

A very good analog joystick, although the return-to-center spring is a little stiff, and the throw (maximum distance it moves) is pretty far. Plus, the whole unit is pretty large, so you'll be giving up some desktop space for it. On the plus side, its size makes it pretty stable. Works fine in MacMAME, although you may have to go into the TAB menu to configure it, and the config menu doesn't always read an axis or button on the first try. That said, once configured it's good for games like Star Wars (although not as good as a yoke), After Burner and Red Baron. Less so for I, Robot and Food Fight, since a smaller, shorter-throw analog stick is more suitable for those games. Although it may require GamePad Companion for some Mac games, it works fine in MacMAME without it.

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