Glued Together with Sugru

Living with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy has taught me to be the type of person who enjoys finding solutions to problems caused by either muscle degeneration or the need to adapt standard equipment. It taps into my creative ‘outside the box’ mentality. My Mum also happens to be great at understanding a problem and helping me implement a potential fix. 

About 3 years ago, I was having serious problems with gaming, due to the heavy controller. I couldn’t lift my hands high enough to a) hold the controller, b) rotating both analog sticks and c) reach the face buttons. The solution was to rest each wrist on two regular sponges positioned at the optimal height. An iteration is still in circulation now. However, the yellow sponge has been upgraded to a less conspicuous black sponge. 

Displaying my Special Effect PS4 gaming setup. On the table is my first adapted controller by Remap.
[Alt text: Displaying my Special Effect PS4 gaming setup. On the table is my first adapted controller by Remap]

I can remember one disaster rearing its ugly head before a trip to London. A wire had snapped in my buddy button, which allows me to independently choose between wheelchair functions. It meant that, for any positional adjustments, I had to be tied to my carer. So, I called the charity ReMap, who make or adapt standard equipment for disabled people. The solution was to strengthen the connection between the broken wires using the magic product Sugru.

A Horipad PS4 controller having its analog sticks redesigned using Sugru.
[Alt text: A Horipad PS4 controller having its analog sticks redesigned using Sugru]

Sugru is the world’s first mouldable glue that sets strong by turning into a durable, flexible silicone rubber. This magical product gives users the ability to practically mod everything, or bring back to life unloved or damaged items. Everyone can become a fixer through the versatility of Sugru and the power of their imagination. Sugru can be a valuable tool for people living with disabilities. I’ve used it to create a new wheelchair control stick to improve grip and comfort during mobilisation. 

Gaming has always been a huge part of my life, it was my friend helping me through the dark isolated periods. I’ve saved Princess Peach from the nasty Bowser, wielded a Lightsaber, chased a few terrified squealing Grunts in Halo, thrown a Batarang, chainsawed a Locust using a Lancer, and saved the universe as Commander Shepard in Mass Effect trilogy. Not bad, eh?

A 'Critical Mission Failure' screen.
[Alt text: A ‘Critical Mission Failure’ screen]

Ready for PS4 Gate 2015? After buying a PS4, I just couldn’t wait to boot up the console and jump into Dragon Age: Inquisition as a rogue. My elation only lasted up until I held the heavy controller. “Hold on, mate. Don’t forget about me,” said the PS4 controller. It was a huge step backwards from my beloved PS3 controller and impossible for me to even press the face buttons. At that time, I wasn’t aware of accessible gaming so I thought that the only option for me would be to completely stop gaming.

Ben Heck pointing at some retro technology.
[Alt text: Ben Heck pointing at some retro technology]

After months of research, I found a YouTube video of the genius Ben Heck modding a controller. My first thought was, “Wouldn’t it be cool if Ben Heck created a custom controller for me?” 

Since then, I focused on improving accessibility within the gaming industry, working with the wonderful accessibility community. Through research, I found the great gaming charity Special Effect, who visited me at home to help me find the right gaming setup. I couldn’t have been happier when they provided me with a PS4 controller with sensitive buttons, four switch ports and lighter analog sticks.

Close up of me using my current PS4 gaming setup, you can see 2 switch ports for the buttons L2 + R2.
[Alt text: Close up of me using my current PS4 gaming setup, you can see 2 switch ports for the buttons L2 + R2]

As a blogger (@uncannyvivek), I thought that sharing my rollercoaster ride with gaming will be beneficial to others currently having trouble. My blog led Tom Brett from Sugru to contact me about an interesting project where they had partnered up with Ben Heck to design a custom controller. They thought I’d be the right person for the project. I literally couldn’t believe that my wish had actually come true. How can you say no?

Ben Heck pointing at my custom controller's orange and green Sugru stick toppers.
[Alt text: Ben Heck pointing at my custom controller’s orange and green Sugru stick toppers]

The project powered-up when the awesome Sugru team visited me at home in my natural gaming environment to a) talk about my current setup, b) find out exactly which problems I wanted improving, c) film some gameplay footage. The project initially focused on enabling me to play my favourite game(s) the Mass Effect trilogy on Xbox One X.

Starting screen for the game Mass Effect 3.
[Alt text: Starting screen for the game Mass Effect 3]

I discussed the Titan Two adapter, which enables me to connect my preferred adapted PS4 controller to use whilst gaming on an Xbox One X, alongside utilising the switch ports on the innovative Xbox Adaptive Controller (XAC). Its true greatness empowers all gamers, regardless of the console through inclusion and accessibility.

Ben Heck's initial design drawing with all the discussed modifications.
[Alt text: Ben Heck’s initial design drawing with all the discussed modifications]

With the information gathered from the first meeting, Sugru created a Google Doc for ease of communication to discuss information and share design drawings. Ben would be strengthening the controller adaptations and smoothing out button transitions using the fantastic Sugru.

The front panel of a Horipad PS4 controller.
[Alt text: The front panel of a Horipad PS4 controller]

The controller design is based around a Hori PS4 controller due to my ideal stick placement and, importantly for Ben, it’s easier to mod without hardware restrictions. 

Ben made the following adaptations to the final controller:

  • Trigger Extensions moulded with Sugru
  • Custom Sugru joystick toppers
  • Ultra-light press buttons
  • Buttons replacing the traditional D-pad
  • 2 touch-sensitive sticks to tap instead of pressing R3 + L3
  • Moved the Options + Share buttons closer to the PS button
  • Raised the Triangle + Circle buttons
  • Analog sticks with more sensitivity 
  • 3D printed stand to hold the controller
Ben Heck pointing to the touch tap buttons for the buttons R3 + L3.
[Alt text: Ben Heck pointing to the touch tap buttons for the buttons R3 + L3]

Making the analog sticks sensitive was a small hurdle for Ben, in order to do that he had to cut the internal springs. Unknowingly, this created the side effect that whenever you fully push the analog sticks towards the edges, they stuck to the rim.

The inner workings of the custom face buttons held together with Sugru.
[Alt text: The inner workings of the custom face buttons held together with Sugru]

Ben really is a genius as all of my wishes were always possible for him. Ben’s Maker videos are compelling viewing, watching him work is so fascinating as I’ve never seen the complicated, inner workings of a controller before. Most importantly, you also get a genuine sense of his enthusiasm to help. Mind you, I would never have the guts to take a controller apart, or drill a hole in it! 

 The Motherboard inside my custom controller.
[Alt text: The Motherboard inside my custom controller]

After about six months, Ben finished his brilliant design process. He posted the magical parcel with my custom controller, stick toppers and accompanying stand. The delivery date couldn’t come fast enough, but I thankfully didn’t have to wait that long for it to arrive! It arrived on a Friday, which was perfect as I had a whole weekend to test it out!

Ben Heck opening a packet of Sugru.
[Alt text: Ben Heck opening a packet of Sugru]

Opening the box was so exciting, it contained a controller that could potentially change the way I play games forever. However, I had to contain my enthusiasm remembering PS4 Gate 2015 – that a small change can turn into a big problem. I’m sure Schroedinger felt somewhat similar when opening his Box. 

Completed custom controller and stand made by Ben Heck.
[Alt text: Completed custom controller and stand made by Ben Heck]

I obviously had nothing to fear. The controller was easier to use in comparison to regular controllers. The adaptations were perfect, extended triggers, sensitive buttons, the 3D printed stand, and the new layout means that I can now play for longer periods without fatigue due to holding a heavy controller. I now have the ability to fully access all game mechanics, without accessibility issues with game control schemes using R3+L3 inputs, buttons previously impossible to press without assistance. One of the best features was the D-pad buttons which along with being easy to press give me additional remapping choices. Obviously, it did take me a few hours to find the best position and optimal hand position to reach the two new touch sticks. I decided to use the tallest stick toppers that Ben designed using Sugru as they required a little less pressure and were high enough for my thumb to reach/grip. 

I'm using the custom controller to aim and move into cover by pressing 'X' in Mass Effect 3.
[Alt text: I’m using the custom controller to aim and move into cover by pressing ‘X’ in Mass Effect 3]

A week later, the Sugru team visited me again to see the finished product and film me using the custom controller playing Mass Effect 3 and FIFA19. I was happy to showcase my upgraded skills with the new controller. I can now enjoy gaming without losing immersion by having to battle with controls that reminded me of my physical limitations. Upgrading my enjoyment was ultimately the point of this whole collaboration.  

 Side view of the custom controller, in the background you can see me pressing the elongated L2 button.
[Alt text: Side view of the custom controller, in the background you can see me pressing the elongated L2 button]

The only issues I have with the controller are quite simple. The tall stick toppers are too long, so I need medium height toppers with textured circumference edges for more grip. Ben will send the new toppers through the post. Finally, the back of the controller needs to be flatter for more comfortable finger positioning and grip. This alteration would finalise the build and can be easily done at home using the hero sidekick called Sugru.

Ben Heck holding a packet of green Sugru.
[Alt text: Ben Heck holding a packet of green Sugru]

I can’t be more thankful to have been chosen for this wonderful project. I want to thank Ben Heck for using his legendary mod skills and valuable time to create a unique controller for me – I can’t wait to explore more game worlds with my wingman controller. I’m also grateful that Sugru asked me to be part of this amazing project, the team has been lovely to work with during the whole process. It’s rare to ever have a controller made for you, but it demonstrates the versatility of Sugru to give YOU the power to creatively mod your life.

Learn more about this project and read the Q&A on the Sugru site.

If you’ve been inspired to customise your world, grab some Sugru for yourself.

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