A project log for PyBadge Hacking

Hacking on Adafruit's PyBadge

de∫hipude∫hipu 04/11/2019 at 13:070 Comments

Handling buttons on a game console requires some special consideration, since it is going to affect how responsive the games feel. Human touch can discriminate really small timing differences, and we definitely don't want to miss any button presses — human input is sacred for computers.

Since you will usually have quite a few buttons — at least 5, for directions nad fire, and possibly more — there is a big temptation to save some pins by using trick in how the buttons are connected. You may connect them in a matrix, or even charlie-plex them, you can connect them to an analog pin with different voltage dividers, you can use different capacitors and rely on the signal length, or you can use capacitive touch pads to save on components. Whatever you do, there is one problem with all those tricks — they require some logic in the software to work. Even if you have your buttons connected directly to pins, you want them to be either handled by a pin change interrupt, or scanned in background in a consistent manner.

One way to handle the buttons in the background without imposing too much work on the people programming your device is to include all the required code in a library, and use interrupts — so that they don't have to follow strict requirements about calling a polling function in regular intervals, etc. This lets them write code that blocks, uses delays and so on — which is much easier to understand for a beginner. That is why I wrote the "gamepad" module for CircuitPython — so that I can use it for buttons on the #µGame.

Another approach is to outsource the task to a dedicated chip, such as the HT16K33 on the #PewPew FeatherWing or a custom programmed ATtiny24 on the #D1 Mini X-Pad Shield — they can do the scanning and the debouncing for your, and you just need a small snippet of code to read the currently buffered button state from them over I²C. Easy!

Now, back to the PyBadge. That device uses a 74HC165 shift register for the buttons. This is a problem, because it doesn't buffer the button presses — every time you get the data from it, you get the state of buttons at the moment the data was latched, when you started the communication — and not all the presses since you read it last time, which is what you get with the HT16K33 and ATtiny. You can read that state in Python easily enough by bit-banging:

def get_pressed():
    pressed = 0
    latch.value = 1
    for i in range(8):
        clock.value = 0
        if data.value:
            pressed |= 1 << i
        clock.value = 1
    latch.value = 0
    return pressed

But in your game you would have to do it constantly, very fast — and at the same time run all the animations and calculations. Not very convenient, and if any of your things takes more time than anticipated, you are going to miss button presses. That makes the experience very frustrating.

Fortunately, that shift register is very fast — you can get the data out of it in no time at all. So I modified the "gamepad" module a bit, to make it also work with a shift register. Every 8ms it polls the shift register for the current button state, and saves the button presses in a buffer, which is emptied when you query it. This way you can use the same code on the PyBadge as you would on the µGame, just the initialization is different.

The pull request with the changes is currently in review at