Building a Vector Monitor Controller

crt [fredkono] has a few vintage Atari arcade boards sitting around, and without the rest of the arcade machine – especially the XY CRT – these boards would continue to gather dust. The solution to this terrible shortage of vintage video games was to build a vector monitor from scratch. No, that doesn’t mean building a new CRT, but it does mean rewiring the yoke and building a CRT controller board for tubes salvaged from small, old TVs.

Nearly all the CRTs you’ll find at your local goodwill or surplus shop are raster displays. The CRTs used in the old Atari games were vector displays and extremely similar to the tubes found in old oscilloscopes. [fred] turned the CRT found in an old 9″ color TV into a vector monitor by rewinding the yoke.

With the tube rewired, it was only a matter of connecting the custom deflection circuit boards and getting the old arcade boards running. The images drawn with the new yoke deflector board are great and produce fine, crisp lines of some of the most famous video games in history.

Raiders of the Lost ROM

ROM dump

Once upon a time, arcades were all the rage. You could head down to your local arcade with a pocket full of quarters and try many different games. These days, video arcades are less popular. As a result, many old arcade games are becoming increasingly difficult to find. They are almost like the artifacts of an ancient age. They are slowly left to rot and are often lost or forgotten with time. Enter, MAME.

MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) is a software project, the goal of which is to protect gaming history by preventing these arcade machines from being lost or forgotten. The MAME emulator currently supports over 7000 titles, but there are still more out there that require preservation. The hackers who work on preserving these games are like the digital Indiana Jones of the world. They learn about lost games and seek them out for preservation. In some cases, they must circumvent security measures in order to accurately preserve content. Nothing as scary as giant rolling boulders or poison darts, but security nonetheless.

Many of the arcade cabinets produced by a publisher called NMK used a particular sound processor labeled, “NMK004″. This chip contains both a protected internal code ROM and an unprotected external ROM that controls the sound hardware. The actual music data is stored on a separate unprotected EEPROM and is different for each game. The system reads the music data from the EEPROM and then processes it using the secret data inside the NMK004.

The security in place around the internal ROM has prevented hackers from dumping its contents for all this time. The result is that NMK games using this chip have poorly emulated sound when played using MAME, since no one knows exactly how the original chip processed audio. [trap15] found it ridiculous that after 20 years, no one had attempted to circumvent the security and dump the ROM. He took matters into his own hands.

The full story is a bit long and contains several twists and turns, but its well worth the read. The condensed version is that after a lot of trial and error and after writing many custom tools, [trap15] was able to finally dump the ROM. He was able to accomplish this using a very clever trick, speculated by others but never before attempted on this hardware. [trap15] exploited a vulnerability found in the unprotected external ROM in order to trick the system into playing back the protected internal ROM as though it were the sound data stored on the EEPROM. The system would read through the internal ROM as though it were a song and play it out through the speakers. [trap15] recorded the resulting audio back into his PC as a WAV file. He then had to write a custom tool to decode the WAV file back into usable data.

[trap15] has released all of his tools with documentation so other hackers can use them for their own adventures into hardware hacking. The project was a long time in the making and it’s a great example of reverse engineering and perseverance.

[Thanks Ryan]

Hacklet 15 – Arcade Fire


This week’s Hacklet is dedicated to arcade games. The arcade parlors of the 80’s and early 90’s may have given way to today’s consoles and PC games, but the classic stand-up arcade cabinet lives on! Plenty of hackers have restored old arcade cabinets, or even built their own. We’re going to take a look at some of the best arcade game-related hacks on!

blackvortex[Brayden] starts things off with his Raspberry Pi Vintage Arcade. The Black Vortex is a tabletop arcade cabinet using a Raspberry Pi, an old monitor, and some nice carpentry skills. Black Vortex uses a Raspberry Pi B+. The extra GPIO pins make interfacing buttons and joystick switches easy. On the software side, [Brayden] is using the popular PiMame (now PiPlay) flavor of Linux built for gaming and emulation. Black Vortex’s shell is plywood. [Brayden] used a pocket hole jig to build a sturdy, cabinet without extra support blocks. A stain finish really works on this one!

custom-crtNext up, [fredkono] blows our minds with the Arcade XY Monitor From Scratch. [fredkono] repairs classic Atari vector game PCBs. He needed a test monitor for his lab. The original Amplifone and WG6100 color XY monitors used in games like Tempest and Star Wars are becoming rather rare. Not a problem, as [fredkono] is building his own. Much like the WG6100, [fredkono] started with a standard color TV CRT. He removed and rewound the yoke for vector operation. The TV’s electronics were replaced with [fredkono's] own deflection amplifier PCBs.  [fredkono] was sure to include the all- important spot killer circuit, which shuts down the electron guns before a spot can burn-in the CRT.

controlpanel[Rhys] keeps things rolling with a pair of projects dedicated to arcade controls. His TI Launchpad Arcade Control to USB Interface contains instructions and code to use a Texas Instruments Tiva C launchpad as a USB interface for arcade controls. [Rhys] puts all that to good use in his Arcade Control Panel. The control panel features MAME buttons, as well as the standard 2 player fighting game button layout. He finished off his panel with some slick graphics featuring red and blue dragons.

trongame[Sarah and Raymond] hosted a Tron:Legacy release party back in 2010. An epic arcade movie calls for an epic arcade game, or in this case, games. 16 table top arcades to be exact. All 16 machines were built in just 6 days. 8 of the machines ran Armegatron Advanced, a networked version of the classic Tron lightcycle game. The others ran a mix of classic games like PacMan or modern bullet hell shooters like Tou-Hou. The cabinets were built from expanded PVC with wood blocks as a support structure. [Sarah and Raymond] custom painted each cabinet with UV black light paint. We love the custom artwork on their personal signature machines!

mikesArcade[Mike] takes us back to the 80’s with Just Another Arcade Machine. Under the hood, this machine uses the standard Raspberry Pi and PiMame (now PiPlay) suite. [Mike] even added a trackball so he could play Centipede. What makes this arcade special is the cabinet. [Mike] found an old wardrobe with that perfect 80’s style metallic strip cladding. [Mike] removed the cladding, and cut up the chipboard frame. He re-assembled things into a stand-up arcade cabinet that looks like it came right out of Sears’ Electronics department in 1985.

Ok folks, that’s it for another episode of The Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of!

Hackaday Links: August 24, 2014


Remember those ‘cocktail’ arcade cabinets? The Ikea Lack table has existed for years, so why not make one into an arcade table? Raspberry Pi with RetroPie as the brains,  and an ancient 4:3 monitor as the display.

Old Unixes! Running on PDPs, Novas, and IBMs! Thanks to Simh, you can emulate these old machines. [Matt] put up a guide to getting Simh running on a Pi that includes running Unix V5 on an emulated PDP-11.

Ever wanted to run your own telecom? The folks at Toorcamp did just that, 50 lines, 10,000 feet of 1-pair, and 1,500 feet of 2-pair. There’s a facebook album of all the pics.

Remember last week when Sparkfun said they shipped 2000 Microviews without a bootloader? Make interviewed [Marcus Schappi], the guy behind the MicroView. There’s also a tutorial on how to fix the issue.

Barbie needs an exorcism.

Remember the [Lord Vetinari] clock from way back when? It’s a clock that ticks 86400 times a day, but the interval between each second is just slightly random and enough to drive people insane. Here’s a kit on Tindie that makes it pretty easy to build a Ventinari clock, or a variety of other clocks that are sufficiently weird. There’s also a martian clock that’s 39 minutes and 36 seconds longer than normal, perfect for the folks at JPL.

0x1f 0x000 IZO EMESS 1407981609

PirateCade is an Impressive Feat of Woodworking and Design

Retro Arcade Machine Keeps the Classics

A six month journey of blood sweat and tears is finally over for [David Carver] and what he is left with is nothing short of beautiful. He calls it the PirateCade. We call it the perfect arcade cabinet.

This project is actually [David's] very first Raspberry Pi project – at least it was, until his Pi crapped out on him. After running into too many problems with it and SD card corruptions, [David] decided against the RetroPie project platform and decided to upgrade to a full-blown PC, using an AtomicFE front-end and the Ultimark Ipac.

The entire cabinet is hand made out of solid wood; he didn’t have access to any fancy CNC routers or laser cutters. We gotta hand it to him, he’s quite the cabinet maker for an electronics guy. [Read more...]

ASTROGUN is like Asteroids on Steroids


As the Jerusalem mini Makerfaire approached, [Avishay] had to come up with something to build. His final project is something he calls ASTROGUN. The ASTROGUN is a sort of augmented reality game that has the player attempting to blast quickly approaching asteroids before being hit.

It’s definitely reminiscent of the arcade classic, Asteroids. The primary difference is that the player has no space ship and does not move through space. Instead, the player has a first person view and can rotate 360 degrees and look up and down. The radar screen in the corner will give you a rough idea of where the asteroids are coming from. Then it’s up to you to actually locate them and blast them into oblivion before they destroy you.

The game is built around a Raspberry Pi computer. This acts as the brains of the operation. The Pi interfaces with an MPU-9150 inertial measurement unit (IMU). You commonly see IMU’s used in drones to help them keep their orientation. In this case, [Avishay] is using it to track the motion and orientation of the blaster. He claims nine degrees of freedom with this setup.

The Pi generates the graphics and sends the output to a small, high-brightness LCD screen. The screen is mounted perpendicular to the player’s view so the screen is facing “up”. There is a small piece of beam splitting glass mounted above the display at approximately a 45 degree angle. This is a special kind of glass that is partially reflective and partially translucent. The result is that the player sees the real-world background coming through the glass, with the digital graphics overlaid on top of that. It’s similar to some heads-up display technologies.

All of the electronics fit either inside or mounted around a toy gun. The display system was attached with a custom-made fiberglass mount. The code appears to be available via Github. Be sure to watch the video of the system in action below. [Read more...]

Playing DOOM on an ATM


There aren’t too many details available about this hack, but we still thought it was interesting enough to share. YouTube user [Aussie50] seems to have figured out a way to install DOOM on an automated teller machine (ATM). Not only is the system running the software, it also appears that they are using the ATM’s built-in buttons to control the action in-game.

Many ATM’s today are simply computers that run a version of Windows, so one would assume it shouldn’t be too difficult to get an older game like DOOM running on the hardware. Towards the beginning of the video, you can quickly get a glimpse of what appears to be a default Windows XP background screen. You can see later in the video that [Aussie50] drops to what appears to be an MS-DOS command line. It stands to reason then that this particular model of ATM does run on Windows XP, but that [Aussie50] may have had to install MS-DOS emulation software such as DOSBOX as well.

At one point in the video, the camera man mentions they are using an I-PAC2. Some research will show you that this little PCB is designed to do USB keyboard emulation for arcade games. It looks like you can just hook up some simple momentary switches and the I-PAC2 will translate that into USB keyboard commands. It is therefore likely that [Aussie50] has hooked up the ATM’s buttons directly to this I-PAC2 board and bypassed the original button controller circuit altogether.

It is also mentioned in the video that [Aussie50] was able to get the receipt printer working. It would be interesting to somehow incorporate this into the DOOM game. Imagine receiving a receipt with your high score printed on it. This also gets us thinking about other possibilities of gaming on ATM hardware. Can you configure the game to require a deposit before being able to play? Can you configure it to dispense cash if you beat the high score? What if you modified the multiplayer deathmatch mode so all players must pay an entry fee and the winner takes all? What creative ideas can you come up with for gaming on ATM hardware? [Read more...]


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