DIYer Builds NES Coffee Table Controller


In this exclusive interview, Kyle Downes explains how he built a better controller, which doubles as a coffee table.

May. 29, 2008 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Some might call Kyle Downes a game geek. We prefer to term “industrious young man.”

Maybe that’s because we are hoping for an invitation to play with his giant NES game controller/coffee table. In between his last year studying Multimedia at RMIT University, this 20-year-old has become somewhat of an Internet phenom, thanks to his blog Ultra Awesome and his passion turning retro video games into functional furniture.

Kyle first came up with the idea to build his giant controller after seeing a similar one on the video game network, G4 TV. “I thought it looked like a heap of fun,” he says. “The main problem I had with it was that it sort of didn’t look very good or ‘accurate’—it just looked kind of flat and fake.”

It was a good time to consider such a project. Kyle had already filled the storage space in his Asteroids cabinet. That’s right; two years ago, he constructed an Asteroids cabinet, which currently holds an old Panasonic TV and, of course, video games. “I was running out of space for my games and needed a way to keep them organized,” he says.

When he started this second project, one of Kyle’s main goals was to make it look as realistic as possible, with raised surfaces, similar colors and all of the edges to scale. All of this was achieved by using spray paint “for the smooth plastic-y bits, and a roller for the slightly textured-feeling inlay,” he says.

The entire process is chronicled on Kyle’s website. However, despite the details, he says that the project was pretty easy, thanks to the “square/geometric nature” of the table. However, like all projects, it had challenges.

“The most difficult part was making the D-pad, so it actually works and rocks in all directions,” Kyle admits. “I needed bolts that ran through the backing plate to guide it. However, because of the way they moved when it rocked from side to side, they needed more clearance than was preferable. I ended up using some washers to keep the springs in place.”

The whole project may be a blur of bolts and spray paint, but Kyle says it took about three or four months to complete. “Most of that time was waiting for my dad to give me a lift down to the hardware store to pick up some materials,” he says. After all, it’s hard to carry 100 pounds of MDF plywood on the back of a motorbike.

The end result was a coffee table that measures about 35.4 by 15.7 inches, and 16.1 inches high. The total cost was about 100 Australian dollars ($96.44), with another $130 ($124.63) going to the glass cut for the top.

Aside from using it to play “Wizards & Warriors 3” and “Legend of Zelda,” the table packs in a ton of games. “How many boxes it holds really depends on how good at Tetris I am,” Kyle says. “At the moment stuff isn’t crammed in there too tight, but my console collection is ever growing.”

Of course, as his collection grows, it also gets harder to organize. Currently, Kyle has over 30 consoles vying for his attention, and creating massive amounts of cord clutter.

Aside from planning a career in “motion graphics,” Kyle is already plotting another project that will add to the organized chaos. He wants to add a new shelf system, this time with built-in power and A/V plugs. “I’m thinking my consoles might look cool in an old looking floral Louis-style shelf,” he says, adding that he might try to carve subtle video game references into the intricate floral patterns.

Kyle isn’t afraid to try new things, and he recommends that others attempt to build a bigger, better controller. “It’s definitely a rewarding project to try,” he says. “If it doesn’t work out it’s not a huge financial loss.”

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