Vectronic's Apple II Joystick and Paddles
Originally Published: Mar. 2, 2006
The joystick is extremely well made. Stick movement is very smooth. It would definitely stand up to some serious Pac Man action. Gain can be adjusted at the bottom of the joystick via two knobs. It is sometimes necessary to adjust a joystick to fit the game. The Apple II reads the input from the joystick through analog pinouts on the back of the computer. It then converts the voltage to numerical values. Games calibrate these values differently. I have programmed a few simple Applesoft BASIC games and can definitely tell when my calculations don't match that of the joystick.
Although the Apple joystick may look cumbersome, it is actually quite comfortable. I would say that it has better play action than an old Atari-style joystick. The joystick has two orange buttons that can both be utilized in an Applesoft BASIC game. However, most Apple II games use only one button.
Paddles have become somewhat rare in the Apple II world. They are definitely harder to come by. I was thrilled to get a new set off eBay. The best thing about the paddles is that there are two on a split cable. The Apple II joystick port allows for only one joystick or set of paddles at a time. With a split cable, you can play a friend in a mean game of Tron. Changing out a set of paddles for a joystick or vice versa is about as frustrating as connecting headphones to a G4 iMac. You need to go to the back of the computer, feel around for the port, and try to line up the connector with the pins.
Apple offered paddles with the original Apple II back in the late 1970s. The joystick was a later adaptation of the paddle concept. The original Apple II paddles, designed by Woz for his Breakout game, attached directly to the motherboard Game I/O port. Apple gave the Apple II line a joystick/paddles port beginning with the Apple IIe and Apple IIc. On the Apple IIc, this port doubles as a mouse port, but on the Apple IIe and IIgs, it is a dedicated joystick/paddles port. The port is located on the back of the these Apple II computers and it is very similar to (but not compatible with) an Atari joystick port. Interestingly, Apple left the old Game I/O port on the Apple IIe motherboard for its entire production run to ensure compatibility with older hardware. There are no adjusters on the paddles like those on the joystick because the paddles are, in effect, nothing but a voltage adjuster. The paddles vary the voltage going into the pinouts. As with the joystick, the computer generates a numeric value based on the voltage received from the paddles and that numeric value is used as inputs by the game program.
The paddles are numbered 1 and O. You can use the PDL command in Applesoft BASIC to build a game around the input from either paddle or both. I created a simple version of the Tron light cycle game using Applesoft BASIC and PDL(0) and PDL(1). It is a two player game taking input from both paddles.
These Apple branded peripherals are a must have for any Apple II fan. With a little patience, you should be able to find a decent example of each for $15 or less.