Original hardware for fifteen consoles jammed into recently completed Project Unity

project_unity_finished

This boxy monstrosity is big for a reason. It lets you play games on the original hardware of fifteen different gaming consoles. That’s right, we said original hardware. One of the main goals of Project Unity was to keep the stock equipment by making any type of emulation — hardware or otherwise — taboo. The size of the case is a function of how much stuff is actually crammed in there. But the final shape was dictated by the available opening in [Bacteria's] living room entertainment center.

The video after the break walks us through each aspect of the build. We’re floored by the quote of 3,500 hours of build time. But as you get a look at the wiring-hell of each different module it’s easy to understand why it didn’t just build itself. One power supply and one controller make for the least complicated user experience possible. We already looked at a giant switching mechanism that selects one console at a time and the singular controller unit. But [Bacteria] has a lot of other tricks up his sleeve which make this gold mine of a hacking reference piece.

Comments

  1. naed says:

    Wow!

  2. riycou says:

    Soooo how does two player work?

  3. Muzer says:

    I’ve always dreamt of making something like this. I never thought anyone would be insane enough to do it. Amazing!

  4. Muzer says:

    Also, is it sad that I recognise that music? I believe it’s Burnin’ Rubber from the GX4000.

    • Muxer says:

      I got it too! Only cartridge game I had for the amstrad, all the rest where tapes and took years to load.

      • Greenaum says:

        They actually made about 13. Greenweld Electronics, whatever happened to them, had a ton of complete sets going cheap a couple of years after the GX4000 was born dead.

        Greenweld advertised in electronic magazines in the UK. They were surplus buyers-up, and had all SORTS of wierd old stuff looking for a home and inspiring projects.

        That’s the last I heard of GX4000 carts existing. Dunno if Greenweld scrapped them or not, but their ads used to carry some of the same stuff for years, and throwing stuff away really doesn’t seem like them. They have a website, Google them.

  5. Hattori Hanzo says:

    This is definitely an impressive piece of work!

    I admit that I shook my head a bit, though, when he said that he used original hardware because that would be how the games were meant to be played. He definitely has a point with emulation accuracy, For some games this makes an important difference. But I think if you go emphasize keeping the original feel, using a custom controller far off the consoles original design is no less a sacrilege.
    For consoles like the Genesis one could even argue that you should use a CRT. E.g. many of the water effects rely on the bad horizontal resolution of CRT TVs. This looks totally different on an LCD and not how it was supposed to be.

    But it makes the work he put in there no less amazing. I take my hat off. I would have definitely lacked the perseverance for this kind of thing.

    • metai says:

      Absolutely right. An Atari 2600 programmer never expected it to be displayed on a razor-sharp 42″ LCD display, it was made to look as best as it could on a crappy 19″ CRT with and used all the glitches and shortcomings towards its advantage.

      And then, I would even argue that the look of the game console factors into authenticity. I can admire the stamina to build such a thing. And the unified power source is a great idea. However, and please do excuse my bluntness, but for me this has the aesthetics of a borg cube made in woodshop class. I would much rather see the original systems displayed. Different strokes, I guess.

    • cantido says:

      >For some games this makes an important difference.

      He could have spent the 3000 hours learning how to code and improving the existing emulators or documenting differences/emulation issues for developers to correct.

      • lwatcdr says:

        And you could have spent the time you took to write that post and thought up a cool hack to start working in.
        HAD COMANDMENT 0x0A Thou shall not tell others what to do in their hobby, hacking time.

        • cantido says:

          >Thou shall not tell others what to do in their hobby, hacking time.

          Who is telling him what to do? He says in the video that he put all of these machines in the box because emulators aren’t “accurate” enough… his efforts would have been better spent documenting the hardware so that it could be emulated better but who said he has to do that? By telling me what I should be doing with my time didn’t you just break your own commandment?

          • gabbaex says:

            By saying what he could have done, there’s an implication that you believe that’s what he should have done.

            Of course, if that’s not what you were trying to convey, maybe your time spent commenting could be better spent learning how to articulate yourself better.

          • cantido says:

            @gabbaex

            >maybe your time spent commenting could

            Sorry, I didn’t realise the could is as synonym of should.. let’s ask dictionary.com..
            nope it appears that could still does mean what I thought it did.

            >be better spent learning how to articulate yourself better.

            Ok, according to your understanding of “could” you are now saying that I must spend time “learning how to articulate myself better”. If that’s the case maybe you should spend some time learning to read?

          • gabbaex says:

            @cantido

            Instead of looking up synonyms you may be better off looking up the meaning of implication.

            Anyway, you might not have meant to imply that he should have, but at least two people reading thought that’s what you were implying. I’m not going to argue about what you did mean, but judging from your comments it would appear that maybe English isn’t your native language, so this is a good reminder that if you’re not extremely familiar with a language it’s very easy to give the wrong impression due to subtle nuances.

          • lwatcdr says:

            @cantido

            Because by offering a different method you are in fact saying it would have been a better solution. Logically you would not suggest the method if you thought it was inferior to the method used. So you do believe that he should have done it your way.

            Also I am pretty sure that those of us that speak English understand the sarcastic use of the world could. For example.
            Or you could just shut up.
            By not saying anything positive about the build and then saying that he could have just worked on improving emulators was in fact using could in the sarcastic way where it means should.
            If that was not your intentions then yes you need to improve you communications skill because multiple people interpreted what you said incorrectly.
            More than likely you did mean he should and now you see the error of ways to are too embarrassed to admit and are trying to hide behind the literal meaning of the would could which is just a bit silly at best.

          • cantido says:

            @gabbaex
            >English isn’t your native language

            I’m a native speaker. I know exactly what I wrote. Thanks for the schooling though..[1]

            @lwatcdr
            >Because by offering a different method you are in fact saying

            Obviously you guys have issues with reading meanings that don’t exist so let me elaborate my response out for you.

            Look at the context (you would have thought the nesting of the comments and the quote would have been enough..);

            The part of the previous poster’s comment is was replying to;
            “I admit that I shook my head a bit, though, when he said that he used original hardware because that would be how the games were meant to be played. He definitely has a point with emulation accuracy, For some games this makes an important difference.”

            He spent 3000 hours on this because he thought that emulators wouldn’t be accurate. 3000 hours is a lot of hours in software development and he *could* – (verb – to be able) have very well solved all the issues he knows about in that time or reported the issues to the developers (mame has mametesters for this purpose). So he could have spent a lot less than 3000 hours fixing the issues he had with emulators.
            I didn’t write “wow, what a moron, he could have implemented all those consoles from scratch in VHDL or Verilog with nipple clamps on and a hot poker up his arse in 3000 hours”.

            > those of us that speak English understand the sarcastic use
            >of the world could.

            I speak English too. Instead of making lots of assumptions take some time to actually read. It doesn’t actually matter if I was being sarcastic or not does? I still didn’t tell him what to do and you came along as the self appointed thread police.

            >Or you could just shut up.

            Oh, I like what you did there! Clever boy. You want your pat on the head now or later?

            >By not saying anything positive about the build

            I didn’t realise hackaday was a praise circle jerk..

            >More than likely you did mean he should and now you see the error of ways..

            Think that if you want. Even if I did write “he should have done xyz” why would you be all butthurt over it? I’m not entirely sure what you’re getting all uppity about to be honest.

            [1] – Incase you’re having problems reading again.. that’s sarcasm.

          • Greenaum says:

            I think the problem is, certain persons around here are keen on taking offense on behalf of other people. Whether the other people would be offended, or even exist, or not.

            Taking a perfectly ordinary comment that a grown man ought to be able to take in his stride, then accusing people of “bullying” or the vague crime of being “negative” (which is, after all, the most efficient way of expressing that you don’t like something). Really, if someone used too much toothpaste and ended up turning their entire body sensitive, they might have a problem and that’s for them to complain about. Not for others to point it out to the world, so that, what, everyone will realise what kind and decent folk they are? Or is a website not complete without passive-aggressive bitching?

            On a related note WTF is a “hater”? Is this hip-hopadayBITCH I’ve come to visit? The word itself’s another syndrome of both how moronic the world’s getting, and how language is being used to squash the possibility of dissent by redefining the words (yeah! THAT book!).

            I don’t think I’ve ever seen genuine hate over an electronic or craft project anywhere in my life, or on this site. It’s not “haterz gotta hate”, presumptive doublethink that it is. But if someone has an opinion about something, what’s wrong with saying so as long as we’re civil and polite? Has it ever got personal? Have any feelings really been hurt?

            And as for “I could do it better”, armchair hacking is half the fun of this site. No insult is meant, by people with normally-balanced personalities at least. Some insecure praise-seeker who has to be seen defending people, even when there are no people, might disagree. Most well-balanced adults have skin, and can take a knock in real life, never mind the inconsequential gust of some guy’s opinion on the Internet.

      • Blue Footed Booby says:

        Yeah, practically all the emulators seem to prioritize speed over accuracy. Sooner or later it’s gonna be for all intents and purposes impossible to find real working hardware, and for the sake of preserving an important (imo) part of our culture we’d better hope that before that happens there are analogs for bsnes for all the consoles (to my knowledge that’s the only game that will properly run Star Ocean 1 and a lot of those other odd-balls).

        • cantido says:

          >Yeah, practically all the emulators seem to prioritize speed over accuracy.

          That might have been the case when a fast x86 machine was a 486 dx4. There are plenty of emulators that aim for cycle exact accuracy etc now. There is also a lot of work going on behind the scenes with “accuracy” in mind like using original BIOS images, cycle exact CPU emulation cores, cpu intensive simulation of analogue sound circuits etc that wouldn’t be possible when the best of class machine was a 486. Not that all the emu-haters would actually notice those things. They are like audiophiles and directional cables. Faster/cheaper/larger FPGAs are also interesting -> http://www.fpgaarcade.com/

          >impossible to find real working hardware

          The popular consoles shipped millions of units. They aren’t just going to fall of off the surface of the planet one day. ;) The biggest issue is going to be interfacing their video/audio to modern displays once analogue low def inputs are dropped totally.

          >..we’d better hope that before that..

          Get to it then. The mess (http://www.mess.org/) source code is just sitting there for the taking! If coding isn’t your thing you could always donate money or hardware to one of the ROM/Board dumping groups or maybe the decapping project if that’s still going.

  6. BuildLog says:

    Pretty nice idea but it needs a bit of refinement, IMHO. Custom controller is a questionable choice. Needing to insert multiple NES carts to enable each different console is an odd choice. Why not make it able to read from ROM memory cards, if you insist on using original hardware? This isn’t trivial of course but would save quite a bit of time and obviate the need for cartridge swapping all over the place.

    The form factor was dictated by the space available to the builder but servicing that thing is going to be a nightmare.

    Lastly, the analog switches, while functional, are a very crude way of switching. I know it is because the author lacks expertise in IC based switching but I don’t know how well it will hold up over time.

  7. Axl Laruse says:

    Very impressive. Nice work. Interesting approach. Keep up the good work!

  8. zerosys says:

    Reminds me of a very large version of the Pioneer LaserActive machine (with next gen support). Neat!

  9. Holy crap. Insane build…love the way the controllers work, I would have never thought of that…but definitely not the way I would have build such a thing.

    First of all, that switch…extremely impressive, but have you never heard of relays? I mean yeah the whole back panel would have been one massive relay board, but I can’t help but think that would have enabled a much smoother switch.

    And the controller is incredibly done…but I’d want something more ergonomic. Personally I would have just kept the original controller sockets actually, because as others have mentioned it’s just not the same if it’s not on the original controller, so why go through so much trouble to keep all the hardware intact? Does well to keep the clutter down, and I guess it’s great if you have big hands, but I don’t think I could reach that center pad :)

    The disk drives kinda freaked me out too; I may be wrong but I suspect just yanking them out like that might damage the motors. And they sounded a bit rough; could have maybe found some small bearings to put in there and some kind of latching system; maybe some small magnets like they use on cabinets.

    But, the video did say he wasn’t the best with electronics and for what is mostly a physical build this thing is seriously impressive! Excellent work!

  10. Hirudinea says:

    The fevered dream of a madman become shocking reality! It’s an amazing build, and you have to admire his commitment to original hardware, but I’ed just go for emulators. (I’m lazy, not crazy. :) )

  11. Tom says:

    Impressive but I’d rather play it on the original consoles with the original controllers. (with few exceptions)

    There’s just something about the Intellivision controller that was awesome and can’t be replicated. Also I want to know if it included the Intellivoice module for the Intellivison!

  12. David says:

    I can see why you wouldn’t want 15 controllers (or 30 for two player) all packed in a box next to a wall of consoles Or just a box of tangled controllers and one mega console like this. Having one controller for this makes scene but with out other players what is the point ?? At a minimum I would have made it have two controllers.

    But a FPGA hardware emulation multi console would be much smaller and allow for many many more console and ROM Images.

  13. ken says:

    nice build but he sounds either unimpressed with the device or tired to explain the details.

  14. Truth says:

    Love it. But am I the only one thinking that in 30 years time if you tried to do this the PS3, it would say “please wait while installing/updating content” and sit there for an hour. Devolution at its worst, in many ways.

  15. vince says:

    Such a neat hack, and I love that it makes me think what could I do to make it better, and/or cooler (better cooler, just ask the Dreamcast).

    My hat is truly off to this engineering genius, and I hope he makes a version 2.0 in the future, with more consoles, and maybe a 2 player mode :)

    Hack on!

  16. al falkon says:

    lame…

  17. vonskippy says:

    3500 hours over 3 years is 22+ hours per week on average. That’s a LOT of time to play old video games.

  18. N3MIS15 says:

    Amazing stuff. The cartridge controller is genius but I would have included a bluetooth module and constructed a separate unit I could place near by to plug in the original controllers. To me having the original controller matters more than having the original console.

  19. Old'un says:

    Should’ve used an arduino for the switching.

  20. cdilla says:

    That is an awesome build. I have many of those consoles gathering dust under the bed or in the attic and they never get played because of the hassle of setting them up.
    I totally agree with the no-emulation thing as I’ve never found an emulator that brings back the whole experience.
    I love the wood and wire thing too. If you don’t play to your skills and know your limits you’ll never get a project of this size finished.
    Good quality video presentation too.

  21. Pleased this got onto Hack-A-Day. Thank you! Project has got onto a lot of sites which is excellent.

    The controller is just an interface to play games. Some controllers are excellent out there and some really bad; in fact many 3rd party controllers are better than the original console’s (eg N64), so by definition my controller is no difference to a retro experience than using a 3rd party controller if you think about it; only mine is made to fit my hands. The keypad buttons are easy enough to get to too for gameplay BTW.

    Relays – as mentioned in the video I don’t know enough about them so created a manual method, more than one way to solve an issue after all.

    For me, playing on an emulator has no interest, feels like cheating at best.

    Yes, retro systems relied on the bad CRT to display images better for sure, however the trade-off is murkiness on image (hence why the image looks better on CRT), LCD plays fine, bear in mind most of the systems included have been RGB modded to give the best image output onto LCD display.

    • Greenaum says:

      If you want to keep tinkering with it, relays would be one way. The last time your gigantic switch showed up, people suggested them, and analogue multiplexer chips. But relays are closer in simplicity to mechanical switches, and can’t really go wrong.

      A relay’s just a lot of switches in a box. Usually double-throw. You can get from 1 switch to 8 or even more. An electromagnet pushes a lever that works the switches.

      So you just connect power to the electomagnet’s coil, and the switches are pushed from their default normally-closed position, to their normally-open. It’s only 1 step past using manual switches. Of course you can use a relay to switch another relay. And build an entire computer if you’re insane. But it’d do what you want, should be within your understanding based on the stuff you’ve done here, and it’s probably going to be much more reliable. And they make a lovely clicking sound in unison.

      • When I was originally making the bank of switches I asked for help and got none, then when i’d finished it I got the “make it this way” comments, which was pretty useless as i’d make the unit my way; and it works.

        • Pie says:

          Wrong, you were told repeatedly that the bank of switches was a haphazard and dangerous way of starting a fire. You flat out said “no I don’t want to learn how multiplexers work and I know how to work really well with wood so wood it is!”

          Simply going with it because “it works” is one of the poorest excuses ever. Friend of mine has a bumper held onto her Honda Accord with bailing wire. It works but if she gets rear ended it sure won’t.

        • Greenaum says:

          Ah, sorry dude! I don’t recall a post where you asked for advice, tho that’s certainly not saying I didn’t see one!

          I suppose it’s like they say of -certain types of people-. If you want an answer, don’t ask a question. Put up an answer yourself and you’ll have hundreds of people correcting you!

          But relays are a good step into basic electronics, based on what I presume you know, based on the work you’ve done. You could always add them a few at a time, or leave it until (if) your mega-switch’s contacts start failing and replace it then. Since the switching’s only a part of the whole gigantic thing! Since you need lots of switches, you might be able to get a deal on some surplus ones. You’ll be able to figure out how to wire it based on what you’ve got now.

      • NewCommentor1283 says:

        first of all sweet build
        FINALLY someone attempted this to this extent!

        @Greenaum
        there was infact an article on here about
        a “computer” built out of relays!
        i think it was just the cpu though
        not an entire system (uC / entire chipset)
        it was loaded and controlled by an FPGA.
        it had a most impressive clockwork-like sound
        and had red/blue led for EACH relay XD

        • Greenaum says:

          I’ve seen the video you mean, and it was impressive. Especially the main RAM in the form of a couple of little chips, connected to and surrounded by the CPU, built from a few cwt of 8-way telephone relays!

          I was actually thinking of the Z2 tho (and the Z3 and the rest). Built by Konrad Zuse in the 1920s as something to fill the time while he waited for the transistor to be invented. An all-relay computer, following his first all-mechanical binary computer, the Z1. I believe (Wikipedia says) the Z2 used the same mechanical memory as the Z1 but the CPU was relays.

          As a tiny wee geek, this is the sort of stuff I grew up reading at the library. That, and books about the future, where our televisions will connect to nationwide Prestel (Viewdata) systems so we can book holidays without leaving the house! Or just phoning the travel agent.

          The 1980s version of our future technological utopia probably wasn’t as funny or freaky as the one from the 60s. It’s turned out more accurate though. And it’s been nice to see so many of the things I’d wonder about ending up in my possession so cheaply! I’d really like to see some of those old books now. The state British libraries are in, they’re probably still there waiting to be borrowed.

          I think the biggest thing the 80s future had wrong, was a lack of mobile phones, and too many robots.

  22. gabbaex says:

    By saying what he could have done, there’s an implication that you believe that’s what he should have done.

    Of course, if that’s not what you were trying to convey, maybe your time spent commenting could be better spent learning how to articulate yourself better.

  23. Mr Name Required says:

    It’s massively impressive and a true labor of love, and for that I give him credit but the wiring is so poor I wonder if the builder deliberately intended it to look like a mess. Has he never heard of cable ties and arranging wiring in looms?

    For the reputed amount of build time, that wiring is truly truly awful. Having improperly secured wires around and between the console boards seems to be a personal decision to make it look heath-robinson-esque (which it is, and reduces airflow) but I have to draw the line at having wires and power regulating componentry (that undoubtadly gets warm) held with what looks like hot glue in the power supply. This borders on a potential fire hazard, considering the cramped layour of the internals. I’m sure glad it’s not in my house, or even my neighbor’s.

  24. xmitman says:

    That’s equivalent to 1.75 years working a full time job. Why would anybody waste that much time of their life on it?

  25. Willrandship says:

    Technically, it does emulate some consoles. It uses a GameCube to run GBA/GBC/GB games via the GameBoy Player, for instance. (Or does that have a built-in GBA mobo?) That doesn’t work with every game in existence.

    Still, though, all stock hardware technically.

    [\nitpicking]

    The first time I saw this project I thought it was quite insane. The good kind of insane, like building your own CPU. Regardless of what people think, this is probably the most on-topic HaD post ever.

    • Squirrel says:

      What are you talking about? This is _just_ a case mod.

      /sarcasm

    • The PS2 was designed backwards compatible with PS1 games; the Atari 7800 designed to play almost all 2600 titles, and the GBA Player is an add-on card for the GameCube; hence 18 not 15. Technically, GBC titles and GB on the SNES converter but didn’t want to state those too! ;o)

      • Greenaum says:

        I would! The Super Game Boy is real Gameboy chips with an extra chip to do the interfacing. There’s an entire Gameboy in there. The system uses the joystick lines to do a bit of communicating with the SNES host.

        I’d guess GBA Player is the same, an all-hardware based GBA. Otherwise it’d just be a cart interface and ROM dumper. And using known hardware in a way they’ve done before has less future SNAFUs that writing an emulator.

  26. dudeguy says:

    Yoshi from the screensavers?

  27. voxnulla says:

    The website is terrible, but somehow oddly fitting for the hack.
    The only ugly part is that controller method. Make it wireless and let it switch modes in the main system.

  28. BlueLaser says:

    While technically interesting, if you really wanted the nostalgia feel… you would definitely want the original game controller. Honestly, that, to me, is one of the stronger points against emulation with a generic controller.
    Still, my solution would be to buy three 6 in 1 out video switch boxes linked by a 3 in 1 out connector… BAM… 18 console capacity under $100 US. Just link up a couple power strips and get a nice Ikea cabinet to house all the systems. Done. Total build time: 4 hours. 8^) That said, there really may be a market somewhere for an 18 throw, 16 pole switch?

  29. asburgerscure says:

    So he could have made $30,000 with the time spent on this project if he just worked any low paying job. This is why the world is in financial crisis, bunch of “makers” who don’t know how to make money.

    • Greenaum says:

      So once he had the money, who would he have paid to make him a gigantic monstrous box-o-consoles? Which shop stocked it?

      Plus wouldn’t working at a low-paying job be BORING? Rather than spending all day twiddling with hardware, which is only boring when you HAVE to do it.

      BTW it’s usually spelled “assburgers” when you’re spelling it like that. How ironic if you were dyslexic.

    • Blue Footed Booby says:

      This is so true! The problem is totally makers with hobbies. What? You say the problem is actually a vast finance industry that has deeply infiltrated the governments of the most powerful nations, allowing them to deregulate themselves and turn the entire world economy into a gigantic, reusable pump-and-dump scheme? That’s just silly.

    • VeeBee says:

      I knew the comments were getting a little off topic but blaming people who make things for a hobby and for their own use for the financial crisis goes a bit far.
      What next? The people of the Weimar Republic were too busy spending their time making cool stuff in their workshop to stop the rise of the Nazis?

      2008 Financial Crisis is the new subject for Godwins Law?

    • jay says:

      absolutely agree, why would you do something that interests you for free when you could do something dumb for money? Clearly, engaging in pointless tasks for which you are rewarded with tickets representing “value” (or an electronic representation of said tickets) is much more reasonable than doing something you yourself value. Things are only worth doing if someone with more money than you tells you to do them, amiright?

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