The Dan64: A Minimal Hardware AVR Microcomputer

[Juan] sent us his writeup of a microcomputer he built using an Arduino UNO (AVR ATmega328p) and some off-board SRAM. This one’s truly minimalistic.

Have a look at the schematics (PDF). There’s an Arduino, the SPI SRAM, some transistors for TV video output, and a PS/2 connector for the keyboard. That’s it, really. It’s easily built on a breadboard in a few minutes if you have the parts on hand. Flash the Dan64 operating system and virtual machine into the AVR and you’re good to go.

Now we’ve seen a few 6502-based retro computers around here lately that use a 6502 paired with a microcontroller for the interfacing, but they’ve all been bulky three-chip affairs. [Juan] wins the minimalism prize by using a 6502 virtual machine implemented in the AVR to reduce the parts count down to two chips for the whole shooting match.

Using a 6502 virtual machine was a crucial choice in the design, because there are 6502 cross compilers that will let you compile and debug code for the microcomputer on your macrocomputer and then load it into the micro to run. This makes developing for the micro less painful.

How does it load programs you ask? The old-fashioned way of course, using audio files. Although rather than using the Kansas City Standard as in days of yore, he encodes the data in short and long pulses of square waves. This might be less reliable, but it sure saves on external hardware.

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Inexpensively Replace A Worn Out N64 Joystick

The Nintendo 64 is certainly a classic video game system, with amazing titles like Mario Kart 64 and Super Smash Bros that are still being played across the world today. But, like finding new parts for a classic car, finding an original controller that doesn’t have a sad, wobbly, worn-out joystick is getting to be quite the task. A common solution to this problem is to replace the joystick with one from a Gamecube controller, but the kits to do this are about $20USD, and if that’s too expensive then [Frenetic Rapport] has instructions for doing this hack for about $2.

The first iteration of using a Gamecube stick on an N64 controller was a little haphazard. The sensitivity was off and the timing wasn’t exactly right (very important for Smash Bros.) but the first kit solved these problems. This was the $20 kit that basically had a newer PCB/microcontroller that handled the Gamecube hardware better. The improvement which drove the costs down to $2 involves modifying the original PCB directly rather than replacing it.

While this solution does decrease the cost, it sacrifices the new potentiometer and some of the easier-to-work-with jumpers, but what was also driving this project (in addition to cost) was the fact that the new PCBs were becoming harder to get. It essentially became more feasible to simply modify the existing hardware than to try to source one of the new parts.

Either way you want to go, it’s now very easy to pwn your friends in Smash with a superior controller, rather than using a borked N64 controller you’ve had for 15 years. It’s also great to see hacks like this that come together through necessity and really get into the meat of the hardware. Perhaps we’ll see this controller ported to work with other versions of Super Smash Bros, too!

Vacuum Formed Portable N64 is the Real Deal

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This portable N64 looks good enough to be sold in stores — that’s because [Bungle] vacuum formed the case!

He started by creating a wooden template of his controller, using bondo to add grips and features. Once satisfied with the overall look and feel of the controller, he threw it into his own vacuum former and created two shiny plastic halves.

He’s chosen a nice little 3.5″ LCD screen for the display, with a 7.4V 4400mAh battery pack that will last just over 4 hours of constant play — he’s included a battery indicator as well! An old N64 controller takes care of electronics, but [Bungle’s] gone and made custom buttons and is using a Gamecube style joystick as well. He’s included both the rumble pack and an internal memory card which can be changed with the flick of a switch. A tiny HMDX Go portable audio amp and speakers are also integrated directly into the controller.

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A Gamecube and N64 console mashup

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[Hailrazer] over on the Made by Bacteria forums was a bit tired of all his consoles cluttering up the space underneath his TV. No worries, though, because it’s actually fairly easy to combine a Gamecube and an N64 into one system that looks very professional.

While [Hailrazer]’s Gamecube was left reasonably complete, not including the addition of a mod chip and SD card to hold Gamecube disk images, the N64 portion of the build required quite a bit of hardware hacking. After finding a Game Boy Advance player for a Gamecube – a neat hardware add-on that allows you to play GBA games on a Game Cube – [Hailrazer] thought he found the perfect enclosure for an N64 case mod.

The guts of the GBA player were thrown out and the guts of an N64 were carefully filed down to fit inside their new home. An Everdrive 64 holds almost every US N64 release on an SD card, making access to the cartridge port unnecessary.

A switch on the side of the Gamecube toggles the video and audio output between the Gamecube and N64. It’s a neat little setup, and packs two consoles into the space of the tiny Gamecube.

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A pair of N64 portables

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Casemodding has moved far beyond the old portabalized Ataris and NESes of only a few years ago. Now, the new hotness is more modern consoles including the GameCube, Dreamcast, and the venerable N64. Two N64 case mods rolled into our tip line over the past few days, and we can’t think of a better display of case fabrication and console modification than these two.

First up is [Travis]’s N64 handheld. The case was constructed out of a sheet of ABS plastic with Bondo used to make everything sleek and smooth. There’s a 7″ display in this handheld as well as two LiIon batteries able to provide up to three hours of play time. The fit and finish on this build is spectacular, a testament to [Travis]’ patience and Bondo skills.

Next up is a very very tiny build claiming to be the smallest N64 portable. It’s the work of [bud] and is barely larger than an N64 cartridge. Inside is a 3.5 inch screen and enough LiPos to provide about 2 hours of gaming time. Unlike other (larger) builds, [bud] put the cartridge slot on the outside of the case allowing the cartridge to stick out at a 90 degree angle.

Both very awesome builds that really show off what can be done with a lot of sanding and body filler. You can check out the videos for each casemod after the break.

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Reading an N64 controller with a microcontroller

We’ve seen NES, SNES, Sega, and just about every weird controller Atari put out connected to microcontrollers, but connecting the N64 controller to a project has remained one of those seldom-seen, rarely copied endeavors, not often tackled by makers around the globe. [Pieter-Jan] decided to throw his hat in the ring and give reading an N64 controller with a PIC a try, and we’re pleased to report he’s been completely successful.

One of the difficulties of reading an N64 controller is simply the speeds involved; with only three pins on the controller port, the N64 controller uses a serial protocol to send 32 bits of controller data at a fairly fast rate. Armed with a PIC18F ‘micro, [Pieter] realized that programming in C would be too slow, he needed to go all the way down to the bare metal and program his micro in assembly.

Every time the N64 controller data needs to be read, the console sends out a 9-bit polling request. The controller responds in turn with a 32-bit sequence informing the console of the status of all the buttons and joysticks. Once [Pieter] got his micro sending the correct polling response, it was only an issue of parsing the data returned from the controller.

Right now, [Pieter] has a small demo board rigged up that flashes a LED whenever the A, B, or Z buttons are pressed. This can be expanded to the remaining buttons and joystick, but for now we’ll just enjoy [Pieter]’s demo after the break.

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N64 controller mod means playing games akimbo

Star Wars Episode 1 Racer for the Nintendo 64 has a rather interesting feature: by entering the code RRDUAL on the cheats menu, it’s possible to plug two controllers into the console and control each engine independently. This gives the game an awesome arcade feel, but dual-wielding N64 controllers is a bit of a burden. [Clarky] thought it would be a good idea to combine two controllers into one, and the Star Wars Racer controller is the result.

Like most console mods, the build began by tearing apart two N64 controllers and gluing them together. With a ton of bondo, sanding, and fiberglass, [Clarky] had a mutated N64 controller perfect for the Episode 1 game.

[Clarky] will be updating the build with a built-in rumble pak, but for now he’s doing his best to learn how to fly a pod racer with both hands. You can check out the demo of his build after the break where he plays the Star Wars game as well as a round of Goldeneye using his akimbo controller.

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