Game Gear HDMI with SNES Controller

With its backlit color screen and Master System compatibility, the Game Gear was years ahead of its main competition. The major downside was that it tore through alkaline batteries quickly, and for that reason the cheaper but less equipped Game Boy was still able to compete. Since we live in the future, however, the Game Gear has received new life with many modifications that address its shortcomings, including this latest one that adds an HDMI output.

The core of the build is an FPGA which is used to handle pixel decoding and also handles the HDMI output. The FPGA allows for a speed high enough to handle all the data that is required, although [Stephen] still has to iron out some screen-filling issues, add sound over HDMI, and take care of a few various pixel glitches. To turn this hack into a complete hodgepodge of adapters, though, [Stephen] has also added an SNES controller adapter to the Game Gear as well. Nintendo has featured Sonic in many of its games, so although we may have disagreed back in the early 90s we think that this Sega/Nintendo pairing is not crossing any boundaries anymore.

Game Gears have had their share of other modifications as well to make them more capable as a handheld system than they were when they were new. We’ve also seen them turned into a console system (they were Master System compatible, after all) and converted into other things entirely, too.

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Completely Owning the Dreamcast Add-on You Never Had

If you’ve got a SEGA Dreamcast kicking around in a closet somewhere, and you still have the underutilized add-on Visual Memory Unit (VMU), you’re in for a treat today. If not, but you enjoy incredibly detailed hacks into the depths of slightly aged silicon, you’ll be even more excited. Because [Dmitry Grinberg] has a VMU hack that will awe you with its completeness. With all the bits in place, the hacking tally is a new MAME emulator, an IDA plugin, a never-before ROM dump, and an emulator for an ARM chip that doesn’t exist, running Flappy Bird. All in a month’s work!

The VMU was a Dreamcast add-on that primarily stored game data in its flash memory, but it also had a small LCD display, a D-pad, and inter-VMU communications functions. It also had room for a standalone game which could interact with the main Dreamcast games in limited ways. [Dmitry] wanted to see what else he could do with it. Basically everything.

We can’t do this hack justice in a short write-up, but the outline is that he starts out with the datasheet for the VMU’s CPU, and goes looking for interesting instructions. Then he started reverse engineering the ROM that comes with the SDK, which was only trivially obfuscated. Along the way, he wrote his own IDA plugin for the chip. Discovery of two ROP gadgets allowed him to dump the ROM to flash, where it could be easily read out. Those of you in the VMU community will appreciate the first-ever ROM dump.

On to doing something useful with the device! [Dmitry]’s definition of useful is to have it emulate a modern CPU so that it’s a lot easier to program for. Of course, nobody writes an emulator for modern hardware directly on obsolete hardware — you emulate the obsolete hardware on your laptop to get a debug environment first. So [Dmitry] ported the emulator for the VMU’s CPU that he found in MAME from C++ to C (for reasons that we understand) and customized it for the VMU’s hardware.

Within the emulated VMU, [Dmitry] then wrote the ARM Cortex emulator that it would soon run. But what ARM Cortex to emulate? The Cortex-M0 would have been good enough, but it lacked some instructions that [Dmitry] liked, so he ended up writing an emulator of the not-available-in-silicon Cortex-M23, which had the features he wanted. Load up the Cortex emulator in the VMU, and you can write games for it in C. [Dmitry] provides two demos, naturally: a Mandlebrot set grapher, and Flappy Bird.

Amazed? Yeah, we were as well. But then this is the same guy emulated an ARM chip on the AVR architecture, just to run Linux on an ATMega1284p.

A Switched Game Boy Advance SP

After Nintendo’s wild success with the Wii U, Nintendo released it’s Nintendo Switch. The switch functions primarily as a home console, stagnantly connected to a display. However, Nintendo switched things up a bit: the Switch can be removed from its dock for standalone tablet-like use. But there’s a slight problem: when the Switch is in portable mode, it leaves behind a bleak and black box. What’s one to do? Worry not: [Alexander Blake] is here to save the day with a Game Boy Advance SP and an X-Acto knife.

After casually noting that the main control board of the Switch was roughly Game Boy Advance SP sized, [Alexander Blake], aka [cptnalex], knew it was meant to be. After retrieving his broken Game Boy Advance SP from his closet, [cptnalex] set to work turning his Game Boy into a Nintendo Switch dock. When he was done, the results were stunning, especially considering the fact that this is his first console mod. Moreover, the very fact that he did it all with an X-Acto knife rather than a Dremel is astounding.

With the screen providing support to the Switch, [cptnalex’s] design leaves some to be desired for long term use. But we know for sure that [cptnalex’s] design does, in fact, work. Due to naysayers of the internetTM, [cptnalex] filmed a video of his dock in uses (embedded after the break). But, what the design lacks in structural stability, it more than makes up for in aesthetics. On the device itself, [cptnalex’s] history with controller painting shines through.

If you want to see more of [cptnalex’s] work, you can follow him on Instagram. For more console mods that will take your breath away, look no farther than [Bungle’s] vacuum formed portable N64.

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PS Vita Hacked To Accept Micro SD Instead Of Costly Memory Cards

Sony loves to have control of their own media formats: Beta, DAT, Minidisc, MemoryStick, Universal Media Disc, MemoryStick Micro, and more. When they released the PS Vita they used a format that was similar in shape to SD but not compatible. The higher capacity ones can be quite costly, However [thesixthaxis] Report there is a PS Vista Micro SD hack on the way.

PS Vita hacker [Yifan Lu]’s adapter replaces the 3G modem, allowing end users to plug a MicroSD card in its place.  And this means using standard MicroSD memory cards instead of Sony’s overpriced proprietary memory. This is the coolest PS Vita hack since  PS Vita’s Final Fantasy X.

Sounds like good news all round? Well, there are a few small caveats. In order to use the hack you need a 3G-capable Vita running HENkaku which means running firmware 3.60 or under. The adapter is still in prototype stage, but it’s available from the fully-funded Indiegogo campaign if you’re interested.

Portable RetroPie Builds on the Shoulders of Giants

For anyone wanting to get that shot of nostalgia without the hassle of finding an NES Classic, the Retropie project is a great starting point. Of course, it’s not too noteworthy to grab a Raspberry Pi, throw a pre-built distribution on it, and plug in an SNES to USB converter. What is noteworthy, however, is building a Retropie that’s portable and that has the quality and polish of the latest build from [fancymenofcornwood].

render-blowup-of-retropieFor starters, the laser cut wood case was custom-made. From there, all of the PCBs were fitted including specific ones to handle each set of buttons (complete sets of D-pads, shoulder buttons, and joysticks) and another for the 5″ HDMI screen. It has stereo speakers and its own headphone jack (to the envy of all new iPhone owners), and is powered from a Raspberry Pi 2 running Retropie 4.1. The battery pack shouldn’t leave you stranded, either, especially not if you grew up playing the Sega Game Gear.

The quality of the build here is outstanding, and its creator made a design choice to make it easily replicable, so if you’ve wanted to play N64 or PS1 games while on the go, this might be what you’ve been waiting for. There are lots of other options for getting some fun from a Retropie going though, from building one into a coffee table to re-purposing that infamous Game Gear.

Obligatory clip of this portable playing Doom is found after the break.

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Anti-Emulation Tricks on GBA-Ported NES Games

Emulation is a difficult thing to do, particularly when you’re trying to emulate a complex platform like a game console, with little to no public documentation available. Often, you’ll have to figure things out by brute force and dumb luck, and from time to time everything will come unstuck when a random piece of software throws up an edge case that brings everything screeching to a halt.

The Classic NES series was a handful of Nintendo Entertainment System games ported to the Game Boy Advance in the early 2000s. What makes them unique is a series of deliberately obtuse programming decisions that make them operate very differently from other titles. These tricks utilize advanced knowledge of the way the Game Boy Advance hardware operates and appear to have been used to make the games difficult to copy or emulate.

The games use a variety of techniques to confuse and bamboozle — from “mirrored memory” techniques that exploit addressing anomalies, to putting executable code in video RAM and writing to the audio buffers in unusual manners.

Even more confusingly, these techniques only appear to have been used in the Classic NES series of games, and not other Game Boy Advance titles. It’s not obvious why Nintendo went to special effort to protect these ports over other titles; perhaps the techniques used were for other reasons than just an attempt at copy protection. Speculate amongst yourselves in the comments.

This isn’t the first time we’ve discussed emulation of Nintendo systems — check out this effort to reverse engineer the Sony Pocketstation.

[Thanks to [[[Codifies]]] for sending this in!]

Wii U RetroPie Console Looks Gorgeous

What to do with your broken gaming consoles? Gut it and turn it into a different gaming console! Sudomod forum user [banjokazooie] has concocted his own RetroPie console from the husk of a WiiU controller — an ingenious demonstration of how one can recycle hardware to a perfectly suited purpose.

[banjokazooie] actually used an original shell for this build, but if you happen to have a broken controller around — or know someone who does — this is a great use for it. A Raspberry Pi 3 is the brains of this operation (not counting [banjokazooie]), and it features a 6.5″ HDMI display, a Teensy 2.0 setup for the inputs, a headphone jack with automatic speaker disconnection, dual 3400 mAh batteries, an external SD card slot, and a lot of hard work on the power supply circuit — although [banjokazooie] reports that the hardest part was cutting to size a custom PCB to mount it all on. The original plan was to see if the idea was possible, and after a three month effort, it appears to work beautifully.

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