Fixing An NES For Good

Sometime in the late 80s, the vast collective consciousness of 8-year-olds discovered a Nintendo Entertainment System could be fixed merely by blowing on the cartridge connector. No one knows how this was independently discovered, no one knows the original discoverer, but one fact remains true: dirty pins probably weren’t the problem.

The problem with a NES that just won’t read a cartridge is the ZIF socket inside the console. Pins get bent, and that spring-loaded, VCR-like front loader assembly is the main point of failure of these consoles, even 30 years later. You can get replacement ZIF sockets for a few bucks, and replace the old one using only a screwdriver, but this only delays the inevitable. That ZIF socket will fail again a few years down the line. Finally, there is a solution.

The Blinking Light Win, as this project is called, replaces the ZIF connector with two card-edge slots. One slot connects to the NES main board, the other to the cartridge connector. There’s a plastic adapter that replaces the spring-loaded push down mechanism created for the original ZIF connector, and installation is exactly as easy as installing a reproduction NES ZIF connector.

If you’re wondering why consoles like the SNES, Genesis, and even the top-loader NES never had problems that required blowing into the cartridge connector, it’s because the mere insertion of the cartridge into the slot performed a scrubbing action against the pins. Since the ZIF socket in the O.G. NES didn’t have this, it was prone to failure. Replacing the ZIF with a true card-edge slot does away with all the problems of dirty contacts, and now turns the NES into something that’s at least as reliable as other cartridge-based consoles.

HDMI Out With A Brick Game Boy

A few years ago, some vastly clever people figured out how to listen in on the LCD display on the classic brick Game Boy from 1989. There have been marked improvements over the years, including a few people developing VGA out for the classic Game Boy. Now, the bar has been raised with an HDMI adapter for the Game Boy, designed in such a way that turns everyone’s favorite battery hog into a portable console.

Your classic beige or cleverly named Color Game Boy is composed of two halves. The rear half contains all the important circuitry – the CPU, cartridge connector, and the rest of the smarts that make the Game Boy game. The front half is fairly simple in comparison, just an LCD and a few buttons. By designing an adapter that goes between these two halves, [Zane] and [Joshua] were able to stuff enough circuitry inside the Game Boy to convert the signals going to the LCD to HDMI. Plug that into your TV, and you have a huge modern version of the Super Game Boy, no SNES required.

The HDMIBoy also breaks out the buttons to the classic NES controller connector. With HDMI out and a controller input, the old-school Game Boy become a portable if somehow even more brick-like console.

3DS Homebrew Channel and Custom Firmware

Nintendo has always been very wary about allowing independent and homebrew developers making games for their consoles, and the 3DS is no exception. It’s locked down, and a few 3DS and console hackers have spent years searching for a method that will easily allow anyone to run unsigned code. That day is finally here. The exploit is called NINJHAX, and it allows anyone to install the Homebrew Channel, the repository for everything awesome in the world of 3DS homebrew development.

The latest exploit relies on a bit of code in a retail game – Cubic Ninja – to run unsigned code. This game includes a level editor that allows players to share different levels by QR codes and 3DS’ camera. By carefully crafting one of these QR codes, the 3DS gains the ability to run the Homebrew Channel

If this exploit sounds familiar, you’re right. The most common way to open up a Wii for homebrew development is Smash Stack, an exploit found in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. This exploit also works by modifying custom stages, and opened the door to a wealth of homebrew development for the Wii.

In the video below, [smea] shows off his exploit by starting Cubic Ninja, going to the QR code level editor, then loading up homebrew games. A copy of the game that enables this exploit, Cubic Ninja, is required for this exploit. Last week, you could buy Cubic Ninja for a few dollars on eBay and Amazon. Today, the price has settled around $50, with a few very dumb or very eager people paying up to $300. If you already have the game, you’ll only need to get the homebrew starter kit, generate a QR code, and start installing unsigned code. All the instructions are available on [smeal]’s site.

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A Raspberry Pi in a Game Boy Advance SP

It’s not the biggest use of a Raspberry Pi, but running emulators for old game systems is by far the most visible use of the Pi. In fact, putting Pis inside old game systems has led to a resurgence of case modding not seen since the heyday of the Mini-ITX craze of the early ‘aughts.

You’d think every possible Pi casemod had been done by now, but [frostedfires] is still raising the bar with a Pi casemod that stuffs a clone of everyone’s favorite credit card sized computer into a Game Boy Advance SP.

[frostedfires] isn’t using a real Raspi from The Foundataion. Instead, he found the Odroid W, a raspi compatible board that’s about half the size of a model B. It still has everything needed to complete the build – analog video out, a reasonable Linux system, and enough processing power to run Quake III. Right now, [frostedfires] has the screen working – that was taken from a car backup camera. Other than that, the only portion of the build left to go is a few buttons.

This is officially the smallest derivative casemod we’ve ever seen. the previous record holder was the still tiny Game Boy Pocket build from last summer. That build required heavy modifications to the Model B board, though, so if you’re aiming for a smaller build, the Odroid is the way to go.

Thanks to the Bacman forums for yet another great build.

Using Kinect To Play Super Mario Bros 3 On NES Ensures Quick Death

Why do only the new game consoles get all the cool peripherals? Being a man of action, [Paul] set out to change that. He had a Kinect V2 and an original Nintendo and thought it would be fun to get the two to work together.

Thinking it would be easiest to emulate a standard controller, [Paul] surfed the ‘net a bit until he found an excellent article that explained how the NES controller works. It turns out that besides the buttons, there’s only one shift register chip and some pull up resistors in the controller. Instead of soldering leads to a cannibalized NES controller, he decided to stick another shift register and some resistors down on a breadboard with a controller cable connected directly to the chip.

Kinect4NES wiring

An Arduino is used to emulate the buttons presses. The Arduino is running the Firmata sketch that allows toggling of the Arduino pins from a host computer. That host computer runs an application that [Paul] wrote himself using the Kinect V2 SDK that converts the gestures of the player into controller commands which then tells the Arduino which buttons to ‘push’. This is definitely a pretty interesting and involved project, even if the video does make it look very challenging to rescue Princess Toadstool from Bowser and the Koopalings!

If you’d like to help the project or just build one for yourself, check out the source files on the Kinect4NES GitHub page.

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Pokáde: Twitch Plays Pokemon, Reborn On Vintage Hardware

poke Early this year, Twitch Plays Pokemon, a webstream of tens of thousands of people playing the same game of Pokemon via web chat. It was certainly an interesting sociological phenomenon, but as in any system where thousands of people try to do a single thing, progress was exceedingly slow at points. This was compounded by the fact the Twitch stream delayed the chat by about 30 seconds.

At the time, there was some talk about setting up an alternative to the emulator-based Twitch stream. Ideas were floated, but until now, no one has yet come up with a workable solution. Now we have Pokáde: real Pokemon games (Red and Blue) running on real hardware (two Super Game Boys, two super Nintendos, and two Game Genies), streamed live to the Internet with an IRC-like chat function.

Simply for the ease of capturing the video of the stream, [Johannes], the guy behind all of this, is using a pair of Super Nintendos and Super Game Boys connected to USB video capture dongles. The Super Game Boys are modded to enable trading between the Red and Blue versions of the game, and controls are handled with a USB connection to the PC running the server.

Anyone can play the game, simply by going to the Pokáde Chat, entering the chat, and clicking on random buttons on the brick Game Boy GUI. The game ROMs have been slightly modified to disable the option of starting a new game, but this is still the classic Twitch Plays Pokemon experience: people all around the globe mashing buttons and creating a religion around a fossil pokemon.

BigBoy Advance, a Giant GBA for Big Hands

big boy advance

Ever wish Game Boys came in a slightly larger size? [John], aka [Bacteria] of Bacman, decided to try something different with this retro console mod — the BigBoy.

In case you’re not familiar with the Bacman website, it’s a site dedicated to retro video game console modding — and our hacker, [John] is the man behind the scenes. We’ve shared plenty of their projects before.

The BigBoy is basically a Game Boy Advance — with an 8″ display. It uses the electronics from a knockoff copy of a RetroBit in a custom case that [John] vacuum formed at home. He sketched out the proposed outline, built a mold out of plastic sheets and hot glue, and created a concrete dummy mold for the vacuum former — meaning if he ever wanted to recreate this project it would be a piece of cake!

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