An Atari ST Rises From The Ashes

We’ve all made rash and impulsive online purchasing decisions at times. For [Drygol] the moment came when he was alerted to an Atari 1040STe 16-bit home computer with matching monitor at a very advantageous price.

Unfortunately for him, the couriers were less than careful with his new toy. What arrived was definitely an ST, but new STs didn’t arrive in so many pieces of broken ABS. Still, at least the computer worked, so there followed an epic of case repair at the end of which lay a very tidy example of an ST.

He did have one lucky break, the seller had carefully wrapped everything in shrink-wrap so no fragments had escaped. So carefully applying acetone to stick the ABS together he set to work on assembling his unexpected 3D jigsaw puzzle. The result needed a bit of filler and some sanding, but when coupled with a coat of grey paint started to look very like an ST case that had just left the factory. Adding  modern SD card and USB/Ethernet interfaces to the finished computer delivered a rather useful machine as you can see in the video below the break.
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Pong In Real Life, Mechanical Pong

[Daniel Perdomo] and two of his friends have been working on a mechanical version of Pong for the past two years. We can safely say that the final result is beautiful. It’s quite ethereal to watch the pixe–cube move back and forth on the surface.

[Daniel] has worked in computer graphics for advertising for more than 20 years. However, he notes that neither he nor his friends had any experience in mechanics or electronics when they began. Thankfully, the internet (and, presumably, sites like Hackaday) provided them with the information needed.

The pong paddles and and pixel (ball?) sit onto of a glass surface. The moving parts are constrained to the mechanics with magnets. Underneath is a construction not unlike an Etch A Sketch for moving the ball while the paddles are just on a rail with a belt. The whole assembly is made from V-groove extrusion.

Our favorite part of the build is the scroll wheel for moving the paddle back and forth. For a nice smooth movement with some mass behind it, what’s better than a hard-drive platter? They printed out an encoder wheel pattern and glued it to the surface. The electronics are all hand-made. The brains appear to be some of the larger Arduinos. The 8-bit segments, rainbow LEDs, etc were build using strips glued in place with what looks like copper foil tape connecting buses. This is definitely a labor of love.

It really must be seen to be understood. The movement is smooth, and our brains almost want to remove a dimension when watching it. As for the next steps? They are hoping to spin it up into an arcade machine business, and are looking for people with money and experience to help them take it from a one-off prototype to a product. Video after the break.

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Forty-Year-Old Arcade Game Reveals Secrets of Robot Path Planning

What’s to be gained from reverse engineering a four-decade-old video game? As it turns out, quite a lot, and as you’ll learn from [Norbert]’s recent talk at the ViennaJS meetup, it’s not just about bringing a classic back to life.

The game in question is Kee Game’s Sprint 2, a monochrome 2D car race that allowed two players to compete head to head. The glorious Harvest Gold and Burnt Orange color scheme just screams 1970s, and it might be hard to see why this game was once a popular quarter-eater. But it was quite engaging for the day, and [Norbert] was interested in reverse engineering it. That he did, using JavaScript to build a faithful browser-based emulation of the game. And he took it further, creating a 3D first-person version of the game.

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Cutest Possible Atari Disk Drive

[rossumur]’s first computer was an Atari 400, and after riding a wave of nostalgia and forgetting the horrible keyboard found in the Atari 400, he decided it was time to miniaturize the venerable Atari 810 disk drive by putting an entire library of Atari games on a single microSD card.

SD cards have been slowly but surely replacing disk drives for just about every old computer system out there. You no longer need 400k disks for your old mac, and your Commodore 64 can run directly off an SD card. The Atari 8-bits have been somewhat forgotten in this movement towards modern solid state storage, and although a solution does exist, this implementation is a pretty pricey piece of hardware.

[rossumur]’s hardware for giving the Atari 8-bit computers an SD card slot is just one chip – an LPC1114 ARM Cortex M0. This, along with an SD card slot, 3.3V regulator, a LED and some caps allows the Atari to talk to SD card and hold the entire 8-bit Atari library on a piece of plastic the size of a fingernail.

Designing a circuit board doesn’t have the street cred it once did, and to give his project a little more pizzazz he chose to emulate the look of the very popular miniaturized Commodore 1541 disk drive with a tiny replica of the Atari 810 disk drive. This enclosure was printed at Shapeways, and with some enamel hobby paint, [rossumur] had a tiny, tiny 810 drive.

While this build does require the sacrifice of a somewhat rare and certainly old Atari SIO cable, it is by far the best solution yet seen for bringing a massive game library to the oft-forgotten Atari 8-bit home computers.

Thanks [lucas] for the tip.

Hackaday Links: September 27, 2015

Many moons ago, [Joe Grand] built an adapter that turns Atari 2600 joysticks to USB controllers. Now it’s open source.

Hackaday Overlord [Matt] is holding an SMT and BGA soldering workshop in San Francisco on October 4th. Teaching BGA soldering? Yes! He made a board where the BGA balls are connected to LEDs. Very, very clever.

Our ‘ol friend [Jeremey Cook] built a strandbeest out of MDF. It’s huge, heavy, about the size of a small car, and it doesn’t work. [Jeremy] has built beests before, but these were relatively small. The big MDF beest is having some problems with friction, and a tendency to shear along the joints. If anyone wants to fix this beest, give [Jeremy] a ring.

Everyone loves the Teensy, and [Paul] has released his latest design iteration. The Teensy 3.2 isn’t that much different from the Teensy 3.1; the bootloader has changed and now USB D+ and D- lines are broken out. Other than that, it’s just the latest iteration of the popular Teensy platform.

The DyIO is a pretty neat robotics controller, a semifinalist for the Hackaday Prize, and now a Kickstarter. The big win of the Kickstarter is an electronics board (with WiFi) that is able to control 24 servos for all your robotics needs.

[pighixxx] does illustrations of pinouts for popular electronics platforms. Everyone needs a hobby, I guess. He recently put together an illustration of the ESP8266. Neat stuff is hidden deep in this site.

You would not believe how much engineering goes into making snake oil. And then you need to do certifications!

[David] identified a problem, created a solution, got a patent, and is now manufacturing a product. The only problem is the name.

Nolan Bushnell and Hackaday on the Latest Episode of The Tomorrow Show

Back in June when Hackaday attended LA Tech Day I met [Gray Bright]. He’s been a big fan of Hackaday for years and recently started producing and hosting The Tomorrow Show, a Late Night Talk Show focused on Science and Technology. [Gray] invited me on the show to talk about Hackaday and the 2015 Hackaday Prize.

[Gray’s] approach is to view scientists and engineers as the new rock stars. In each episode he invites some of the biggest names from the worlds of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics (STEAM) and conducts a thought-provoking and entertaining interview. There’s a healthy dose of comedy from future correspondent [Ant Simpson] and [SupernoVanGirl], live musical performances, and it’s all filmed in front of a live studio audience.

Tomorrow Show -Nolan Bushnell StandUp

Filming the show in the Hollywood studio on a Friday night in July was a hoot. I was honored that our segment was on the same episode as the legendary engineer and entrepreneur [Nolan Bushnell], founder of Atari and Chuck E. Cheese’s‎. [Nolan] even did an impromptu standup set when there was a short technical delay.

You can watch the full episode (below the fold) to see antics from The Tomorrow Show team, [Nolan’s] anecdotes about the early days of Atari and being [Steve Jobs’] boss, as well as my first TV appearance spreading the word about the Hackaday Prize. It’s also hilarious to see [Nolan] hooked up via electrodes controlling [Gray] to play Brain Pong just like when we toured Backyard Brains last year.

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1-Pixel Pacman

I usually see retro-gaming projects using tiny screens with a fair number of pixels (64×64) but what I really like is the look of making every pixel count. With this in mind I built 1-Pixel Pac-Man, the classic coin-op experience but with characters that consist of just one pixel. Playing a throw-back like this wouldn’t be the same without some vintage controls so I picked up an Atari joystick, patched it into a microcontroller, and started coding. Check it out:

Smartmatrix Bundle

This piece of hardware made the project build really easy: the Smartmatrix. [Louis Beaudioin] developed the Smartmatrix and it’s been in the Hackaday Store for a while now. The display module itself is a commodity item that is used in LED billboards. There are shrouded headers on the back of the panels, to the left and right sides, which allow them to be daisy chained. The Smartmatrix PCB plugs into one of these shields, provides a soldering footprint for the Teensy 3.1 which drives the display, and gives you the wiring to connect screw terminals from the PCB to the power terminals on the module. Why the need for beefy power jumpers? At full white the thing can draw about 3.5A — don’t worry there’s a power supply included in the bundle.

Also integral to making this look good is the diffuser panel which is frosted acrylic. The Smartmatrix is designed to be housed in a shadowbox frame; it even includes a frame backer board with a cut-out for the Teensy 3.1 so it can be programmed without opening the thing up. I like looking at the guts so I’m leaving my free floating until I come up with an interesting way to mount everything as one unit.

Programming Pac-Man from the Ground Up

matrix-man-code

If you haven’t looked into it before, the ghost AI and gameplay details for Pac-Man are absolutely brilliant. [Toru Iwatani] did a masterful job with the original, and you should take a look at all of the analysis that has been done over the years. The best collection I could find was the Pac-Man Dossier and I based most of my code on the rules described there.

Basically the ghosts have two modes, chase and scatter. The modes set the enemy targets differently; to points at the four corners of the board in scatter, and to points relative to the player in chase. The relative part is key; only the red enemy actually chases you. Another one of them looks at the red enemy’s distance and angle, and targets the reflection of that vector. Really easy, really clever, and results in enemy behavior that’s believable. It isn’t just the enemy movement, little touches like a speed penalty (1/60 of a second) for each dot the player gobbles up means the enemies can catch up if you continuously eat, but you can escape by taking the path already-eaten.

Library, DMA, and Extra Hardware

The hardware and software running the Smartmatrix made the display portions of the project really simple. First off, the Teensy 3.1 is fast, running at 96MHz in this case. Second, it has Direct Memory Access (DMA) which [Louis] used in the Smartmatrix library. This means that driving the display takes almost no CPU time at all, leaving the rest for your own use. This example of a game is under-utilizing this power… it’s totally capable of full-motion video and calculating amazing visualizations on the fly.

The PCB hosting the Teensy 3.1 breaks out several pins to one side. I’m not sure what I’ll add in the future so I actually used the extra surface-mount IO pins on the bottom of the Teensy to connect the Atari joystick (which is simply a set of switches). The are enough pads for two joysticks so I used pin sockets to interface the Teensy to the PCB so that I can get to it again later.

The kit also includes an IR receiver and remote, and also a microSD card to loading animations (there’s an SD socket on the PCB). The bundle in the Hackaday Store is a kit you solder yourself, but [Louis’] company, Pixelmatix, has a Kickstarter running for fully-assembled versions that come with a black remote and sound-visualization hardware.

Future Improvements

The game is fully working, but there are a few key things that I really want to add. The Teensy 3.1 has a single DAC pin available. I’m fairly certain the original coin-op game had mono audio. It should be possible to reproduce the sound quite accurately with this board. That would really make the project pop.

There are also a bunch of touch-ups that need to happen. I’d like to add an animation when the player is eaten by an enemy, and a countdown before the level restarts. The score, shown in binary on the right column, should be scrolled out in decimal when the game ends, and what’s a coin-op recreation without a high-score screen?