Completely Owning the Dreamcast Add-on You Never Had

If you’ve got a SEGA Dreamcast kicking around in a closet somewhere, and you still have the underutilized add-on Visual Memory Unit (VMU), you’re in for a treat today. If not, but you enjoy incredibly detailed hacks into the depths of slightly aged silicon, you’ll be even more excited. Because [Dmitry Grinberg] has a VMU hack that will awe you with its completeness. With all the bits in place, the hacking tally is a new MAME emulator, an IDA plugin, a never-before ROM dump, and an emulator for an ARM chip that doesn’t exist, running Flappy Bird. All in a month’s work!

The VMU was a Dreamcast add-on that primarily stored game data in its flash memory, but it also had a small LCD display, a D-pad, and inter-VMU communications functions. It also had room for a standalone game which could interact with the main Dreamcast games in limited ways. [Dmitry] wanted to see what else he could do with it. Basically everything.

We can’t do this hack justice in a short write-up, but the outline is that he starts out with the datasheet for the VMU’s CPU, and goes looking for interesting instructions. Then he started reverse engineering the ROM that comes with the SDK, which was only trivially obfuscated. Along the way, he wrote his own IDA plugin for the chip. Discovery of two ROP gadgets allowed him to dump the ROM to flash, where it could be easily read out. Those of you in the VMU community will appreciate the first-ever ROM dump.

On to doing something useful with the device! [Dmitry]’s definition of useful is to have it emulate a modern CPU so that it’s a lot easier to program for. Of course, nobody writes an emulator for modern hardware directly on obsolete hardware — you emulate the obsolete hardware on your laptop to get a debug environment first. So [Dmitry] ported the emulator for the VMU’s CPU that he found in MAME from C++ to C (for reasons that we understand) and customized it for the VMU’s hardware.

Within the emulated VMU, [Dmitry] then wrote the ARM Cortex emulator that it would soon run. But what ARM Cortex to emulate? The Cortex-M0 would have been good enough, but it lacked some instructions that [Dmitry] liked, so he ended up writing an emulator of the not-available-in-silicon Cortex-M23, which had the features he wanted. Load up the Cortex emulator in the VMU, and you can write games for it in C. [Dmitry] provides two demos, naturally: a Mandlebrot set grapher, and Flappy Bird.

Amazed? Yeah, we were as well. But then this is the same guy emulated an ARM chip on the AVR architecture, just to run Linux on an ATMega1284p.

Flappy Bird is the New “Does it Run Doom?”

Back in 2014 [Johan] decided to celebrate BASIC’s 30 50 year anniversary by writing his own BASIC interpreter. Now, a few years later, he says he feels he has hit a certain milestone: he can play Flappy Bird, written in his own version of BASIC, running on his own home-built computer, the BASIC-1.

Inside the BASIC-1 is an Atmel XMega128A4, a keyboard from a broken Commodore 64, a joystick port, a serial to TV out adapter, and an SD card adapter for program storage. An attractively laser-cut enclosure with kerf bends houses the keyboard and hardware. The BASIC-1 boots into BASIC just like many of its home computer counterparts from the 80s.

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Flappy Bird on an… E-Cigarette?

Okay, now we’ve seen it all. Someone put the effort in to port Flappy Bird… to run on an e-cigarette. An eVic-VTC Mini to be precise. So now, between puffs, you can play one of the most frustrating games ever.

The SDK for the e-cig is available on GitHub, which was provided by a group of Redditors last year. If you’re interested in the game, and happen to have this model of e-cig, [Bank] has provided download and flashing instructions in the description of the YouTube video.

As one Reddit user points out:

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

To which the creator, [Balázs Bank], responded with the download links to install it yourself. Has science gone too far?

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An Automated Flappy Bird Player

game Flappy Bird has been ported to just about every system imaginable, including but not limited to the Apple II, Commodores, pretty much every version of the Atari, and serves as a really great demonstration of the TI-99’s graphics capabilities. Porting is one thing, but having a computer automate Flappy Bird is another thing entirely. [Ankur], [Sai], and [Ackerly] in [Dr. Bruce Land]’s advanced microcontroller design class at Cornell have done just that. They’re playing Flappy Bird with a camera, FPGA, and a penny wired up to a GPIO pin to guide the little 8-bit-bird through Mario pipes.

The setup the team is using consists of a webcam that records the screen of a smartphone, an FPGA, and a little bit of circuitry to emulate screen taps. Inside the FPGA, the team is looking at the video stream from the phone to detect the bird, pipes, and gaps. The ‘tapper’ unit is a US penny, placed right above the ‘tap’ button, wired to a GPIO port. This was found to be the ideal contact for a capacitive touch screen – taps that were too small weren’t registered, and taps that were too big registered as two taps.

For spending an entire semester on automating Flappy Bird, the team has a lot of knowledge to show for it, but not the high score: the bird only makes it through the first pipe 10% of the time, and the second pipe 1% of the time. The high score is three. That’s alright – getting the algorithm right to play the game correctly was very, very difficult, and to nail that problem down, they estimate it would take at least another semester.

The Future Of Distraction, Right In Front Of Your Face


Say you’re meeting someone new, and instead of communicating like a normal person that wasn’t born in a barn, they play with their phone the entire time. How about a cashier or sales person who is so insufferably distracted with the Facebooks you’d guess they had a side job in the QA department of some developer? All these things will soon be a distant, horrible memory, because now you can play Flappy Bird on Google Glass.

[Rich] has had his Glass for a while now, and has been meaning to write an app for it. It took a little bit of inspiration, but when the idea of using the eye sensor to control everyone’s favorite 8-bit bird, everything fell into place. It ended up being an interesting use for the Glass, and something we actually wouldn’t mind trying out.

The bird is controlled by a double blink. In the video below, you can see there might be a little bit of latency depending on how [Rich] put the video together. Better grab that .APK while there’s still time. [Rich] says it’s a free download for anyone who’s already overpaid for a Google Glass.

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Vector Graphic Flappy Bird Harder Than It Should Be

The dark room at Maker Faire was loud,  after all it’s where Arc Attack was set up plus several other displays that had music. But if you braved the audio, and managed not to experience a seizure or migraine from all the blinking you were greeted with these sharply glowing vector displays on exhibit at the TubeTime booth. We did the best we could with the camera work, but the sharpness of the lines, and contrast of the phosphorescent images against the black screen still seems to pop more if viewed in person.

This isn’t [Eric’s] first attempt at driving high-voltage tube displays. We previously covered his dekatron kitchen timer. But we’d say he certainly stepped things up several notches in the years between then and now. He blogged about Asteroids, which is running on the same hardware as the Flappy Bird demo from our video above. An STM32F4 Discovery board is running a 6502 emulator to push the game to [Eric’s] CRT vector driver hardware.

Just before we were done at the booth, [Eric] turned to us with a twinkle in his eye. He confessed his delight in purposely leaving out any button debounce from the Flappy Bird demo. As if it wasn’t hard enough it tends to glitch after passing just a few of the pipe gates. Muhuhahaha!

Computers Playing Flappy Bird. Skynet Imminent. Humans Flapping Arms.


After viral popularity, developer rage quits, and crazy eBay auctions, the world at large is just about done with Flappy Bird. Here at Hackaday, we can’t let it go without showcasing two more hacks. The first is the one that we’ve all been waiting for: a robot that will play the damn game for us. Your eyes don’t deceive you in that title image. The Flappy Bird bot is up to 147 points and going strong. [Shi Xuekun] and [Liu Yang], two hackers from China, have taken full responsibility for this hack. They used OpenCV with a webcam on Ubuntu to determine the position of both the bird and the pipes. Once positions are known, the computer calculates the next move. When it’s time to flap, a signal is sent to an Arduino Mega 2560. The genius of this hack is the actuator. Most servos or motors would have been too slow for this application. [Shi] and [Liu] used the Arduino and a motor driver to activate a hard drive voice coil. The voice coil was fast enough to touch the screen at exactly the right time, but not so powerful as to smash their tablet.

If you would like to make flapping a bit more of a physical affair, [Jérémie] created Flappy Bird with Kinect. He wrote a quick Processing sketch which uses the Microsoft Kinect to look for humans flapping their arms. If flapping is detected, a command is sent to an Android tablet. [Jérémie] initially wanted to use Android Debug Bridge (ADB) to send the touch commands, but found it was too laggy for this sort of hardcore gaming. The workaround is to use a serial connected Arduino as a mouse. The Processing sketch sends a ‘#’ to the Arduino via serial. The Arduino then sends a mouse click to the computer, which is running  hidclient.  Hidclient finally sends Bluetooth mouse clicks to the tablet. Admittedly, this is a bit of a Rube Goldberg approach, but it does add an Arduino to a Flappy Bird hack, which we think is a perfect pairing.

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