Personal Project: “Captain N” Power Pad and Zapper

The idea for this project comes from a Saturday morning cartoon in the 90’s, that many fans of the old Nintendo Entertainment System may just as soon forget:

Captain N: The Complete Series on IMDB

The series lasted for barely three seasons, and really hasn’t aged well, particularly since many of the characters that appeared in the shows were unrecognizable to those who played the games. Still, the idea of being pulled into a universe made entirely of game-worlds was a novel one to me, because unlike reality, games could theoretically be fair, even if they were difficult.

The series’ protagonist possessed a belt with a controller-like device called a “Power Pad” for the buckle, and a laser pistol in the form of a “Zapper”. The Power Pad could allow the wearer to jump up or down great distances without harm, or dodge left/right at blinding speed. It could even stop time for up to about 30 seconds or so by using the “pause” feature. The Zapper was a weapon that de-rezzed enemies, but could also switch to an “ice beam” for freezing enemies with the right power-up.

The most difficult part of rebuilding the old NES controller was figuring out a way to make the top lights an animated counting system for uses of the Power Pad’s abilities. This took considerable time and more than a little bit of designing the modifications as I went. The first thing that I had to do was to see if I could learn enough C++ to program an Arduino Pro Mini and NeoPixel strand to incorporate inside the controller housing.

I searched online for the appropriate open-source resources. The first came from Joseph Corleto on the site allaboutcircuits.com, which describes his method for interfacing the serial chip on the controller’s mainboard to the Arduino for the output of text strings. Next, I consulted a site by Hans Lujiten called tweaking4all.com that described how to program different animation effects for NeoPixel strands. The only part that remained was adding my own logic for the counting system, which required careful attention to the sequence of code and the use of conditional mathematical operators.

Once the circuit worked well enough on the breadboard, it was time to permanently solder everything together:

During final assembly, I had found that the 2x CR2032 batteries that I was going to use to power everything was woefully insufficient. I upgraded to a lithium-polymer battery cell and power charger board from Adafruit. I then created a 3D printed housing to protect the power charger board while still making its ports accessible for recharging the LiPo. I also added hardware for making the new Power Pad into a belt buckle, as seen below.

The best achievement was making sure everything functioned as expected before, during, and after sealing up the case, as seen in this video.

In conclusion, a project like this is built on the work of many that has gone before, so I cannot take credit for inventing anything. I will say that Arduino projects such as these are probably far too expensive in terms of labor and materials to sell to anyone, let alone remake. I did learn a lot, and I re-familiarized myself with many disciplines that needed some practice.

UPDATE: A good friend and associate, Brian Johnston of Realms Edge Armory and Art, made me a belt and holster set for these items. He is available for commissions at his email of realms.edge@yahoo.com.

All associated intellectual properties are copyrighted by Nintendo of America and by Games Workshop. This is a personal project, intended as an homage.


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