Hacklet 22 – Retro Console Projects

Everyone loves arcade games, and it didn’t take long for designers to figure out that people would love to take the fun home. The home gaming console market has been around for decades. Through the early days of battery-powered pong style consoles through Atari and the video game crash of the early 80′s, to the late 8 and 16 bit era spearheaded by The Nintendo Entertainment System and The Sega Master System and beyond, consoles have become a staple of the hacker home. This week’s Hacklet features some of the best retro console projects from Hackaday.io!

52001We start with [ThunderSqueak] saving the world with her Atari 5200 Custom Controller Build. For those who don’t know, the Atari 5200 “Super System” was an 8 bit system ahead of its time. The 5200 was also saddled with on of the worst controller designs ever. The buttons would stop responding after a few hours of game play. With 17 buttons, (including a full number pad), that was a pretty major design flaw! [ThunderSqueak] hacked a cheap commercial fighting game stick to make it work with the 5200. 12 individual buttons were wired in a matrix to replace the telephone style keys on the original 5200 controller. Atari’s non-centering analog stick was converted over to a standard 4 switch arcade style stick. [ThunderSqueak] did leave the original pots accessible in the bottom of the enclosure for centering adjustments. Many 5200 games work great with the new setup.

 

snes[DackR] is bringing back the glory days of Nintendo with Super Famicade, a homebrew 4 SNES arcade system inspired by Nintendo’s Super System. Nintendo’s original Super System played several customized versions of games which were available on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). [DackR] is building his own with parts from four SNES consoles. He’s also adding a few features, like a touch screen, video overlay, and enhanced RGB.

He’s going to add custom memory monitoring hardware, which will allow him to check how many lives a player has left and handle coin operation, all without the original Super System Hardware. If you’re curious what the original Super Systems looked like, check out Hackaday’s Tokyo Speedrun video.You might just catch a glimpse of one!

rgb[Bentendo64] is improving on the past with RGB For ‘Murica. European systems have enjoyed the higher quality afforded by separate red, green and blue video lines for decades. North American gamers, however were stuck in the composite or S-Video realm until shortly before the HDTV age. [Bentendo64] had an old hotel CRT based monitor, and decided to hack an RGB input. After opening up the back of the set, he removed the yolk board and added direct inputs to the video amplifiers. We’re not sure if this mod will work with every CRT, but it can’t hurt to try! Just be sure to discharge those high voltage capacitors before wrenching on these old video systems. Even if a set has been unplugged for days, the caps can give a seriously painful (and dangerous) shock!

snes2[Ingo S] is also working to improve the SNES with SNES AmbiPak, a mod which brings ambient lighting and “rumble pack” controller feedback to the vintage Super Nintendo. [Ingo S] used the popular SNES9X emulator to figure out where game data is stored while the SNES is running. His proof of concept was the original F-ZERO SNES game. [Ingo S] found that Every time the player’s car hits the wall, the system would perform a write on address 3E:0C23. All he would need to do is monitor that address on the real hardware, and rumble the controller on a write. The real hardware proved to be a bit harder to work with though. Even these “slow” vintage systems clock their ram at around 3MHz, way too fast for an Arduino to catch a bus access.  [Ingo S] is solving that problem with a Xilinx XC9572 Complex Programmable Logic Device (CPLD). CPLDs can be thought of as little brothers to Field Programmable Gate Arras (FPGAs). Even though they generally have less “room” for logic inside, CPLDs run plenty fast for decoding memory addresses.  With this change, [Ingo S] is back on track to building his SNES rumble pack!

It feels like we just got started – but we’re already out of space for this week’s Hacklet! As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Atari Video Game Burial Hits Ebay

1983 was the year of the great video game crash, and after the chiefs of Atari realized they had produced more copies of Pac-Man than consoles sold, these games, along with other ‘treasures’ were loaded into trucks, shipped out to the desert, and buried in a New Mexico landfill. Last year, these consoles were rescued. Now, thanks to the efforts of the Tularosa Basin Historical Society, these cartridges are for sale again.

Want to grab your own copy of E.T., Asteroids, Star Raiders, or Centipede rescued from a landfill in a desert? Here’s a link to the seller on eBay, with the highest auction being E.T., in box, going for $400 with nine days left. The auction comes with a certificate of authenticity from the city of Alamogordo.

This is only the first batch of cartridges and boxes rescued from the dump, with the Tularosa Basin Historical Society putting at least another 700 items up for sale if this batch goes well.

With the rousing success of this bit of dumpster diving, we must point out another techno-archeological myth/legend: there are several thousand Apple Lisas in a Utah landfill, just waiting for someone to come in and pick through the remnants of an Apple tax writeoff.

Building a Vector Monitor Controller

[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.

Homebrew Programming With Diodes

diode

Diode matrices were one of the first methods of implementing some sort of read only memory for the very first electronic computers, and even today they can be found buried deep in the IPs of ASICs and other devices that need some form of write-once memory. For the longest time, [Rick] has wanted to build a ROM out of a few hundred diodes, and he’s finally accomplished his goal. Even better, his diode matrix circuit is actually functional: it’s a 64-byte ROM for an Atari 2600 containing an extremely simple demo program.

[Rick] connected a ton of 1N60 diodes along a grid, corresponding to the data and address lines to the 2600′s CPU. At each intersection, the data lines were either unconnected, or tied together with a diode. Pulling an address line high or low ([Rick] hasn’t posted a schematic) pulls the data line to the same voltage if a diode is connected. Repeat this eight times for each byte, and you have possibly the most primitive form of read only memory.

As for the demo [Rick] coded up with diodes? It displays a rainbow of colors with a black rectangle that can be moved across the screen with the joystick. Video below.

Continue reading “Homebrew Programming With Diodes”

The Atari Jaguar That Should Have Been

jag

Released in 1993, the Atari Jaguar suffered from a number of problems – it was difficult to program, had hardware idiosyncrasies, and with the CD drive was vastly overpriced compared to the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation released one year later. Nevertheless, the Jaguar still has a rabid fanbase that counts [10p6] among them, and he’s created what Atari should have released 20 years ago.

In a few forum threads at jaguarsector (login required) and nexgam.de (no login, German), [10p6] goes over his changes to the classic Jaguar + CD combo. He’s stuffed everything inside a new case, cutting down on the amount of plastic from the old enclosure. A proper integrated power supply has been added, replacing the two power supplies used in the original. It’s also overclocked to 32 MHz, compared to the 26 MHz of the stock unit, making this a very powerful system that could have easily competed with the Saturn and Playstation.

[10p6] has an amazing piece of hardware on his hands here, and should he ever want to make a few molds of his new Jaguar, he could put together some sort of kit to replicate this build. He’s still working on finding a model maker and perfecting his case design, but a new, improved version of the Jaguar is something we’d love to see in a limited production.

The Tiniest Video Game

stamp

As we read [Adam]‘s writeup for an extremely tiny video game system through coke bottle glasses, we’re reminded of the countless times we were told that sitting, ‘too close to the Nintendo’ would ruin our eyes. We’ll happily dismiss any article from a medical journal that says there was any truth to that statement, but [Adam]‘s tiny video game system will most certainly hurt your eyes.

A few years ago, Atari sold keychain-sized joysticks that contained classics such as PongBreakout, Centipede, and Asteroids. [Adam] apparently ran into a cache of these cool classic baubles and immediately thought of turning them into a stand-alone video game system.

For the display, [Adam] used a CRT module from an old Sony Handicam. These modules had the right connections – power, ground, and composite video input – to connect directly to the Atari keychain games. The result is a video game that’s even smaller than a postage stamp. The picture above shows the tiny CRT next to a 25mm postage stamp; it’s small by any measure.

How the mazes were generated for classic Berzerk game

berzerk-random-maze

This is a screenshot from the Atari 5200 version of the classic game Berserk. But the write-up we’re featuring actually looks at the original coin-op version. The maze for each level was established on the fly using a seed number fed into a rudimentary algorithm . Here’s a close look at how the maze building code actually worked.

Recently we saw a talk by Pitfall creator [David Crane] as part of our Retrotechtacular series. That is a real gem of programming history, and one of our favorite take-aways was that the levels were not hardcoded, but built using a random number generator algorithm with a hardcoded seed (so that the game was the same each time you played it). This uses a similar method but with a somewhat random seed.

The maze building was reverse engineered by observing the game in a MAME emulator, and by digging through disassembled code. Each time the code is “cold started” the seed starts out at zero, but from there the room number is used as the next seed. This is fed through a very simple algorithm. It generates directions for the walls, which use s few bit-wise operations to add the pillars inside the rooms.

It’s a great thing to study if you’re writing games for your embedded projects. By generating the room programmatically you don’t use up as much program memory. Of course these days even simple hobby controllers have way more storage to work with than [Alan McNeil] had when he designed Berserk.

[via Reddit]

[Image Source]