GameGirl: A Better Portable Raspberry Pi

For better or worse, the most popular use for the Raspberry Pi – by far – is media centers and retro game consoles. No, the great unwashed masses aren’t developing Linux drivers for their Pi peripherals, and very few people are tackling bare metal ARM programming. That doesn’t mean creating a handheld console based on the Pi isn’t a worthy pursuit.

For their entry for the 2016 Hackaday Prize, [David] and [Jean-André] are building a portable Pi console that’s much better than an old Bondo-encrusted Game Boy enclosure stuffed with hot glue and wires. They’re doing this project the right way with a hardware accelerated display, custom software, and a high quality case.

[David] is in charge of the hardware, and that means making a very, very small handheld console. The design of this GameGirl is extremely similar to the old-school Game Boy Pocket (or Game Boy Light). There’s a D-pad, four buttons, select, start, and two ‘shoulder’ buttons on the back. The build is based on the Raspberry Pi Zero, and thanks to the Pi’s standard 40-pin header, [David] is able to configure the display to use an RGB565 DPI interface. This means the display is stupidly cheap while still leaving a few GPIO pins left over for the SPI, buttons, backlight, and PWM audio.

[Jean-André] is the other half of the team, and his contributions to open source software make him exceptionally qualified for this project. He’s the main developer for Lakka, a DIY retro emulation console, and the #5 RetroArch contributor. No, this project isn’t using RetroPie – and there’s a reason for that. Emulator hackers are spending a lot of time optimizing emulators for the Raspberry Pi, only because of RetroPi. If these emulator hackers spent their time optimizing for an API like LibRetro, you could eventually play a working version of Pilotwings 64 on the Raspberry Pi and every other platform LibRetro is available for. All the effort that goes into making a game work with a Raspberry Pi is effort that goes into making that game work for the PSP, Wii, iOS, and a PC. Yes, its philosophical pissing in the wind while saying, ‘this is what the community should do’; this is open source software, after all.

With the right ideas going into the hardware and software, [David] and [Jean-André] have an amazing project on their hands. It’s one of the most popular entries and are near the top of the charts in the community voting bootstrap effort where every like on a project gets the team a dollar for their project. GameGirl is shaping up to be a great project, and we can’t wait to see the it in action.

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Tiny ATtiny85 Game Console

[Ilya Titov] has made a game console. Not just any game console, but an extremely small ATtiny85-based console suitable for putting on a key ring and assembled into a very professional product with PCB and 3D printed case. This is a project that has been on the go since 2014, but the most recent update is a new version designed for tighter and more easy assembly.

All construction is through-hole rather than SMD, and aside from the ATtiny85 the console uses an OLED screen, piezo buzzer, tactile switches and a handful of passive components. Power comes from a single CR2032 coin cell which sits under the screen. Best of all the PCB design is available as a PDF and the 3D printed case can be found on Thingiverse.

There are two games for the console, as well as the Breakout clone whose code is in the 2014 piece linked above he’s written UFO Escape, an obstacle-avoiding side-scroller. You’ll have to burn both game and 8MHz internal clock bootloader to the ATtiny85 yourself. There are no cartridges with this console, though if the processor sits in a DIP socket the game can be changed over simply by swapping processors programmed with the appropriate game.

He’s produced a full assembly video with some UFO Escape gameplay thrown in, shown here below the break.

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An Atari 2600 In Your Pocket

If there’s one console that holds a special place in the hearts of console gamers of a certain age, it’s the Atari 2600. A 6502 based system with a cartridge slot and a couple of joysticks, it plugged into your home TV and if you had one for Christmas in the late ’70s you were suddenly the coolest kid in the neighbourhood.

The last new 2600s were sold in the early 1990s, but all was not lost for 2600 fans. In the last decade the format was revived as the Atari Flashback, an all-in-one console containing a selection of games and no cartridge slot. The Flashback had a flaw though, it stayed true to the original in that it needed a TV set. Rather a pity in a world of hand-held consoles.

[Lovablechevy] set out to release the Flashback from the TV set, and created a very tidy hand held Atari 2600 console with sound and a screen, all in the casing of an original 2600 cartridge.

There isn’t a lot of room in a 2600 cartridge, so as her worklog shows, she had to cut up the PCB and be very careful with her wiring to ensure it all fits. She’s using the Flashback 2 as her source console, and she tells us it has 42 games to choose from.

If the worklog pictures weren’t enough she’s posted a video of the device in action, and it shows a very neat and playable hand-held console. We would have done anything to get our hands on one of those had it been available in 1980!

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A Beautifully Crafted N64 Portable

With dozens of powerful single board Linux computers available, you would think the time-tested practice of turning vintage video game consoles would be a lost art. Emulators are available for everything, and these tiny Linux boxes are smaller than the original circuitry found in these old consoles. [Chris], one of the best console modders out there, is still pumping out projects. His latest is a portable N64, and it’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from one of the trade’s masters.

We’ve seen dozens of Nintendo 64s modded into battery-powered handhelds over the years, and [Chris]’ latest project follows the familiar format: remove the PCB from the console, add a screen, some buttons, and a battery, and wrap everything up in a nice case. It’s the last part of the build – the case – that is interesting here. The case was fabricated using a combination of 3D printing CNC machining.

rogueThe enclosure for this project was initially printed in PLA, the parts glued together and finally filled for a nice, smooth finish. [Chris] says PLA was a bad choice – the low melting point means the heat from milling the face plate gums up the piece. In the future, he’ll still be using printed parts for enclosures, but for precision work he’ll move over to milling polystyrene sheets.

With the case completed, a few heat sinks were added to the biggest chips on the board, new button breakout board milled, and a custom audio amp laid out. The result is a beautifully crafted portable N64 that is far classier and more substantial than any emulator could ever pull off.

[Chris] put together a video walkthrough of his build. You can check that out below.

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Vintage Stereo Reborn With All The Bells And Whistles

We always like seeing projects that salvage a classic piece of technology, and this one doesn’t disappoint. It’s a vintage kiosk- or console-style stereo, repurposed with every useful feature imaginable, but still made to look original. Until you open the lid, that is.

[Julian] has been hard at work on rebuilding this 1957 RCA stereo, and since he’s no stranger to these types of rebuilds, the results are pretty impressive. Underneath the hood is a 22″ touchscreen running Windows 7 and a Lepai amplifier. The controls for the stereo were placed towards the back, along with USB ports and an RJ45 connector for the computer.

The speakers in the stereo also needed to be replaced. For this, [Julian] used a set of Dayton speakers that worked well enough for this application. After mounting the speakers and all the other hardware in the unit, [Julian] noted that while it isn’t an audiophile’s dream stereo, it was nice to have all of these parts integrated together into something that looks nice. We’d have to agree!

There are a lot of rejuvenated antique stereos around too, like this Bluetooth-enabled tube amp radio, or this Soviet-era handheld, or even this slightly more modern stereo. There’s just something classy about having a vintage-looking thing spruced up with modern technology!

In Which Robots Fight the Console Wars

Though the names have changed over the years, the console wars wage on. [moop] must have been feeling nostalgic for the NES vs. SEGA days when he started his current project, Foobot, which is a tabletop football (soccer) game played by robots that are controlled with classic NES and SEGA controllers.

Each team has two robots that tool around on laser-cut perspex wheels attached directly to 16,000RPM motors. An SN754410 controls the motors, and each robot has an ATtiny2313 brain. They all communicate with a single transmitter over their 433MHz 1402 radio receiver modules. To avoid collisions, [moop] used a packet system, wherein each robot has an ID. The messages all contain a robot ID, message payload, and checksum. The robots ignore messages addressed to others, and any message with an invalid checksum.

[moop] has made everything available on his github, including the PCB layouts and CAD files for the robot chassis and transmitter case. Watch them battle it out after the break. If the Foobots have riled you up about vintage gaming, check out these sweet arcade hacks.

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Building A Modern Retro Console

There are a few dozen classic re-imaginings of classic game consoles, using hardware ranging from the ATMegas of the Uzebox to everyone’s favorite, stuffing some ROMs on a Raspi and calling it a day. You don’t necessarily learn anything doing that, which puts [Mike]’s custom game console head and shoulders above the rest.

The build started off as a plan for a Z80 computer with a dual ATMega GPU. He progressed far enough in the design where it would have been a masterpiece, but the inability to mill double-sided boards at home killed the design. Plans then moved on to an FPGA, then to an ATMega with the Analog Device AD725 PAL/NTSC encoder chip. That idea had a similar architecture to the Uzebox, but [Mike] wanted more power. He eventually settled on a PIC32 with the AD725.

This setup was capable of pumping out some impressive graphics, but for moving bits to a screen, you need DMA. [Mike] ran into a problem where the DMA timer runs at a maximum rate of 3.7 MHz. It’s a problem documented in a few projects, leading [Mike] to change his plan once again, this time to the STM32F4.

The bugs are worked out, and now [Mike] can stream a whole lot of pixels to a screen while still having some processing power left over to play a game. It’s a project that’s more than a year and a half old at this point, and so far he’s learned a lot.