Recent advances in virtual reality have done wonders to make video games more immersive than ever. But certain persistent technical limitations still bedevil this developing technology, such as, say, its inability to shock the living hell out of players with agonizing bursts of electric current. It’s a problem. But one enterprising hacker sought to change this unhappy status quo, crafting a custom Super Smash Bros. controller that shocks its unlucky user every time they perform one of electric Pokémon Pichu’s self-damaging special moves.
My first question for Eric Heckman was simple: “Why?” A mechanical engineer by trade, Heckman told Kotaku that every one of his projects starts with something that makes him laugh. If he finds an idea “amusing or entertaining,” there’s a good chance it’s worth exploring. Well, electric shocks are amusing and entertaining. Seeing as Pichu is an electric-type Pokémon, Heckman felt a taser would be a good substitute for its powers in the real world.
“I’ve been working on the project for a few weeks now,” Heckman explained via email. “The design is pretty simple, using only a Nintendo Switch controller, an Arduino microcontroller, a relay switch, and a cheap taser I got off eBay. It maybe took around 2 hours to wire everything together. Most of the time was spent on coding the taser timings for each of the moves. The controller has delays built in so that the taser activates at the same time Pichu takes damage within the game.”
Pichu is an odd duck (or mouse, I suppose) when it comes to the Super Smash Bros. series. The tiny Pokémon hurts itself with every special attack, supposedly because it has yet to learn how to control its electricity. Back in the Melee days, this made the character a rare choice in high-level play, but it’s since become a worthy challenger in Ultimate thanks to its small size and versatility.
Since the taser’s voltage was fixed, Heckman wasn’t able to adjust its power to correspond with the strength of Pichu’s attacks, but he did set the weapon to zap longer depending on the move. The taser also mimics how a given attack damages Pichu in-game. Thunder Jolt, for instance, simply shocks the user when they press the button, while Thunder only unleashes real-world agony if Pichu’s struck by its lightning bolt. Heckman achieved the latter by having the setup detect whether or not the rumble motor in the controller activates within a small window, which signifies that Pichu, inexperienced baby that it is, got shocked by its own attack.
Heckman maintains a personal YouTube channel, Insert Controller Here, that’s full of similar projects. In response to players who spam, or use the same move repeatedly, he fabricated a one-button controller out of a Spam can. His teabagging controller is a literal bag of tea that allows players to taunt opponents by dipping it in a cup. His arsenal of projects even includes hip- and knee-based motion controllers that mimic Smash’s Peach Bomber and Falcon Knee moves, respectively.
“This has made the game significantly more difficult,” Heckman said of his taser project. “The thing you have to remember is that I get shocked every time I use Agility, so it makes recovering off-stage extremely difficult. It is, however, a great tool to stop Pichu players from spamming moves with the help of a little negative reinforcement.”