Meet the man making controllers accessible for everyone

Last week I sat down to interview Caleb Craft of The Controller Project. It has to be said that Kraft is a perfectly fitting nickname for Caleb, because he’s Kraft by name, and it’s definitely literal in nature.

Kraft’s charity, The Controller Project, is creating free, downloadable blueprints for retrofitting fixed controllers like the PlayStation 5’s DualSense or Nintendo Switch’s Joy Cons for players with disabilities or limb differences. In addition, it also uses 3D printing to craft these mods and send them to those who need them. Talk about nominative determinism.

Project Controller started ten years ago with a little boy named Thomas.

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“I first heard about Thomas through my wife, who is a teacher,” Kraft told me. “He has muscular dystrophy, and this was affecting his ability to play Minecraft — something he loved.”

At this time, Kraft was looking to generate interest in a site called Hackaday, which focused primarily on electronic projects. Kraft saw Thomas’ story as a good opportunity to get some traction. He’s already been tinkering and building things as a hobby anyway, so if he can make this boy a custom microcontroller, that would be an easy way to get some eyes on the site.

“Now I know this is incredibly awful and insensitive,” Kraft admits, “but at the time, I was just thinking ‘Hey, you know, it’s so touching, it’s a good project, and it’s helping us get there — I’m going to make a video for this.” ”

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However, when Kraft goes to visit Thomas at his home, his attitude changes. “I saw the reality of the situation [and] “It really affected me,” Kraft recalls. “I felt a great need to help in any way I could.”

After his visit to Thomas, Kraft began making his first custom console, and he has been doing so ever since.

“I consider Thomas a successful loser,” Kraft told me with a smile, noting that his first attempt at a modded console certainly wasn’t the best. “I don’t think I really helped Thomas…but [the experience] Unlock the whole basic concept of what a Controller project is and what is required.”

“It’s usually accessories or custom stuff [people] The need is very exorbitant, and things like insurance don’t cover it in any way,” Kraft continues. And these are the people who usually struggle to earn an income [and] They spend most of their money on things for other aspects of their disability.

“They don’t have the money to spend thousands on a dedicated input device to be able to play games, even though it may have a psychological impact.”

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These extended triggers attach non-destructively to the console to allow for non-standard hand positions.

In the 10 years since its launch, The Controller Project has recruited more than 100 volunteers from around the world who use their time and skills to come up with new customizations and, when needed, print the necessary pieces needed to modify the controller.

For those who already have access to a 3D printer, there is a full catalog of these mod builds available for download through The Controller Project, many of which actually offer very minor mods that only tweak the controller a bit. I’m talking about minor modifications, perhaps easy to overlook, like a clip on the elbow to extend the bumper actuators into the console. However, even the slightest tweaks can make a huge difference to a player’s experience.

Craft says that these kinds of designs, where small customizations help make gameplay more comfortable for users, have the greatest demand from users.

“I even get a pain from holding the controller for too long, because my hands are big and the controller is small,” says Craft. “Just simple things like a larger grip to fit my hand properly will make me, as an able-bodied person, more capable of playing games.”

The simplest (but not least important) designs in The Controller Project’s library are simple stands that hold a controller in place for the user at a specified height and location. This can be on the back of a chair, or even across the player’s leg.

This leg mount allows users to play games without having to hold the console.

Then, at the other end of the scale are the mods that completely reset the console. Here, Craft brings to my attention a design by architect Akaki Komiri.

Kuumeri designed an adjustment kit that allows the controller to be used with one hand. It is attached to the player’s leg, with movement from their leg and then used to control the thumb stick. Meanwhile, thanks to an extension cut across the top, this set allows access to all buttons on one side of the controller. This, Kraft tells me, is one of The Controller Project’s most requested kits.

Kraft shows off Akaki Kuumeri’s mod kit for the PS5’s DualSense controller.

In addition to Kraft, I also spoke to one of The Controller Project’s clients, Nate Passwaters.

Passwaters only uses his left hand, and has previously played games with a modified PlayStation 4 controller. However, when he decided it was time to upgrade to the PS5, his previous device couldn’t provide him with the right set for DualSense. In an effort to find a new controller, Passwaters took to the Disabled Gamers subreddit, where he came across Kraft and The Controller Project.

“[Kraft] I took my address, and two weeks later I received the adapters,” Passwaters told me, before expressing how much the adapters had helped him.

With his new controller tweaks, Passwaters says he can basically “play everything but FPS games and games that have difficult/complicated button combos.”

These thumb extensions went to a muscular dystrophy customer who had difficulty reaching the buttons on the controller.

Meanwhile, Tyler Sandivore is an occupational therapist who contacted Craft after one of their clients shared their passion for playing with them. Several years ago, Sandefur’s client suffered a spinal cord injury that left him a paraplegic, meaning he was unable to use his previous setup to play.

“[My client] He has the ability to turn his head up/down/left/right and he has some use of his shoulder and elbow but no use of his hand or fingers,” Sandifor told me.

“we [started] Searching online for various adaptive technologies that can be used for gaming. my client [told] He used to use a joystick with a goalpost attachment to move a power wheelchair [and] I knew right away we could use an adaptive joystick to give him the use of a game controller.”

After teaming up with UK-based company OneSwitch, Tyler and his client are referred to The Controller Project. When they told Kraft what they wanted to do, she immediately “jumped in” to help. Kraft made Tyler’s client three 3D printed joysticks (two for a regular controller and one for an Xbox Adaptive controller), which he sent to them for free.

“Now my client is able to control the mouse cursor on his gaming laptop thanks to Caleb,” Sandefur told me. In addition to these controllers, the Sandefur customer also uses head tracking software that allows them to use head movements to control the keyboard.

“We have a long way to go, but I’m planning on setting up a custom configuration with an Xbox Adaptive Controller so my customer can access any button they need so they can play any game they want, at an elite/competition level,” Sandifor says. “This is only the beginning.”

Tyler’s customer is now able to control the mouse cursor on his laptop thanks to The Controller Project (photo credit Tyler Sandefur).

The Controller Project’s work is clearly of great interest to the gaming community. However, despite his apparent passion for what he does, the Kraft Charitable Foundation is constrained by time constraints and limited financial resources.

“A big downtime is the time, either, that I 3D print these things [some modifications can take up to eight hours to print] And shipped, or time to volunteer management. I have volunteers all over the world. But emailing back and forth with these volunteers and trying to maintain quality and stuff takes time. And again, with my full-time job and my family, I don’t have enough time to ramp this up,” Kraft says.

“I think I could do 10 times more if I could do it full time. But I can’t afford it… I can’t afford to hire somebody even if it’s cheap to do it full time. So, yeah, I mean, that’s it.” Disconnect “.

This immediately begs the question, why is it up to the volunteers to cater to such a broad market in the gaming industry. Certainly, companies like Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo must do more. After all, as much as Kraft told me he’d like to be able to help more people, he also feels it would be “nice” if the Monitor project wasn’t “essential.”

Kraft believes that a lot of big companies “don’t see the demand” for these mods, and “they don’t yet understand that demand — it’s growing!”

“These features are in great demand, even for people who are not known to have a disability,” says Kraft.

“[People want] Features that make things easier to use, or more fun to use,” he explains, recalling a previous survey that revealed if subtitles in TV shows were on by default, only a small percentage of users would actually choose to turn them off manually. This is something the company suspects. Kraft has moved it on to hardware more than many might realize.

“I know it’s not scientific, but if you ask around your friends and say, ‘Do your hands hurt after playing for a while? Does your thumb ache from juggling buttons? What would be more comfortable – if maybe the buttons were moved around a bit? Your friends are likely to say, “Yeah, that would be great,” even if they don’t know they have a disability. ”

Kraft says he’d like to see a large company like Microsoft take what it’s doing with The Controller Project to the “next level in the enterprise.”

“I think it would be incredible to see an online configuration tool, where you can choose from a bunch of parts and build a 3D printed assembly for your console that does what you need, and then print it and ship it to you,” he said, saying he thought something like this It would be “too powerful” for consumers in general.

“Again, I think there’s a huge demand for small mods, little things like triggers that extend so you can access them from a different angle or what have you,” he explains. “These are things that these companies can produce very easily, and then you can have an online component for all of that.”

One of Caleb’s modified joysticks for the Xbox controller (photo courtesy of Tyler Sandefur).

The time I’ve spent learning about The Controller project has been mind-blowing, and I’m so grateful to those who have taken the time to share their stories with me. If you’d like to find out more about the work of Kraft and The Controller Project, you can find out more through the charity’s website here.

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