Tiniest Game Boy Hides in Your Pocket

This is likely the world’s smallest fully-functional Game Boy Color, able to play all of the games using the tiny direction pad and buttons, with onboard display and battery and in the original form factor. This is an incredible hack which presents a tour de force in hardware and software. This will easily rank in the top five hacks you’ve seen this year.

keychain-redactedI’m sure that many of you have fond memories of your first handheld games. This will be Game Boy for most, and we admit they had fairly decent portability and battery life that puts many smart phones to shame. Despite this, Sprite_TM always dreamed of an eminently more portable version and to his adolescent delight he discovered a key chain version of the Game Boy. Unfortunately, he was duped. The keychain looked like a Game Boy but only functioned as a clock.

But now, decades later, technology has progressed as have his own skills. For his talk at the 2016 Hackaday SuperConference, Sprite_TM actually built his childhood dream.

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DIY Coprocessors For The Game Boy Color

Back in the olden days, when video games still came on cartridges, the engineers and programmers making these carts had a lot of options. One of the most inventive, brilliant, and interesting cartridges to come out of the 90s was Star Fox for the Super Nintendo. Star Fox featured a coprocessor chip, the Super FX, that was effectively a GPU used to draw polygons in the frame buffer. Without this, Star Fox wouldn’t be 3D, Yoshi’s Island wouldn’t be as cute, and there wouldn’t be an always-on processor in your computer with the potential to spy on everything you do.

gameboy-coprocessor-cartridgeThe Super FX chip, the Capcom-developed Cx4 coprocessor, and the Nintendo DSP all lived in a cartridge, but the technology to put a better computer in a cartridge never made it to Nintendo’s handheld devices. Cheap, powerful microcontrollers are everywhere now, and it’s not that hard to make a board with card edge connectors, leading [Anders] to build a Super FX for the Game Boy Color.

Game Boy cartridges are simple — just a memory controller and some memory is all you need. Drop in a microcontroller, and you have a Game Boy coprocessor. This cartridge features the MBC1 memory bank controller, 512kB of Flash, and 8KB SRAM. These are fairly standard parts, but there’s one last trick up the sleeve of this board: a KE04 from NXP, an ARM Cortex-M0+ microcontroller running at 48MHz . This microcontroller is, effectively, the GPU for the Game Boy.

This ARM-powered coprocessor is able to convert the framebuffer into tiles in just 2ms, giving the system plenty of time for image processing and rendering. Due to the limitations of the Game Boy, the best resolution offered by this coprocessor is either 160×96 or 128×128 pixels, short of the complete 160×144 pixel display in the Game Boy Color.

Even though [Anders] is still working on programming this thing to show off the power of his Game Boy coprocessor, he has a few demos to show off. The most impressive is a Wolfenstein-like clone. That’s extremely impressive and categorically impossible on a stock Game Boy Color.

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Use The Internet To Get Your Kadabra To Evolve

If you grew up playing Pokemon Red or Blue, you might have moved far away from your childhood friends by now. If you’re still playing Pokemon Red or Blue, you can now literally reconnect with these friends using [Pepijn]’s new and improved Game Boy link that lets players trade Pokemon over the internet.

Based on [Pepijn]’s previous work building an Arduino-based Pokemon storage system (which was inspired by a separate project that was able to spoof trades), the device allows a Game Boy (including Pocket, Color, and Advance versions) to connect to the Internet via a Teensy shield. The online waiting room software is called TCPoke which facilitates the Internetting of the Game Boys. From there, all you have to do is connect via the project’s wiki!

The TCPoke software is available on the project’s site. Also, be sure to check out the video below which shows a demonstration of how the software works. There is noticeable delay compared to a direct link between Game Boys, but it functions very well. We didn’t see this link system work for a battle, but it would be interesting to see if it is possible. If so, you might never have to go to a Pokemon League meeting again!

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Hackaday Links: June 22, 2014

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Solar Freakin’ Roadways! There’s been a lot of talk about how solar freakin’ roadways are an ill-conceived idea, and now [Dave Jones] is weighing in on the subject. Highlights include a quarter of the solar power generated being used to light the LEDs that form the lane markers, something that could easily be accomplished with paint. Oh, the solar freakin’ roadway campaign is over. Just over $2.2 million, if you’re wondering.

The Game Boy Micro is the best way to play GBA games, but finding one for a reasonable price just isn’t going to happen. [John Sparks] is making his own Macro Micros by casemodding a DS Lite.On the subject of Game Boy mods, [koji-Kendo] is improving the common frontlight Game Boy Color mod with optically clear UV curing glue. Without glue on the left, with glue on the right.

Need to label a panel with the function of all your switches and dials? Yeah, you could drop the panel into an engraver, till the engraved letters with enamel, or do some electroetching. You can also buy a pack or rub-on letters, available in any Michaels, Hobby Lobby, or the like.

MSI Afterburner is a utility that allows you to play with settings and monitor performance on MSI graphics cards. [Stephen] made a little device for MSI Afterburner that displays the current FPS and GPU load on an external LCD. Handy, seeing as how FPS and GPU load is the one thing you’ll want to know when you’re gaming fullscreen.

Realtime cloudmaps of the Earth. Using reasonably recent images take from five geostationary satellites, you can stitch together a real-time cloud map of the entire Earth. Here’s the software to do it. Now all you need is a projector and pair of frosted acrylic hemispheres, and you have a real-time globe.

Say you have a Kickstarter in the works, and you’re trying to figure out all the ways to get some buzz from the Internet public.. Here’s how you get it to the front page of hackaday.io using a bit of Perl. “So far, this page has been updated 02578 times.”

Game Boy vs. Electronic Shelf Labels

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAWhile they’re probably rare as hen’s teeth in the US, there have been a few major stores around the world that have started rolling out electronic shelf labels for every item in the store. These labels ensure every item on a shelf has the same price as what’s in the store’s computer, and they’re all controlled by an infrared transceiver hanging on the store’s ceiling. After studying one of these base stations, [furrtek] realized they’re wide open if you have the right equipment. The right equipment, it turns out, is a Game Boy Color.

The shelf labels in question are controlled by a base station with a decidedly non-standard carrier frequency and a proprietary protocol. IR driver chips found in phones are too slow to communicate with these labels, and old PDAs like Palm Pilots, Zauruses, and Pocket PCs only have an IrDA chip. There is one device that has an active development scene and an IR LED connected directly to a CPU pin, though, so [furrtek] started tinkering around with the hardware.

The Game Boy needed to be overclocked to get the right carrier frequency of 1.25 MHz. With a proof of concept already developed on a FPGA board, [furrtek] started coding for the Game Boy, developing an interface that allows him to change the ‘pages’ of these electronic labels, or display customized data on a particular label.

There’s also a much, much more facepalming implication of this build: these electronic labels’ firmware is able to be updated through IR. All [furrtek] needs is the development tools for the uC inside one of these labels.

There’s a great video [furrtek] put together going over this one. Check that out below.

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Reading Game Boy carts with I2C

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After seeing a Game Boy emulator for the first time, [Thijs] was amazed. A small box with just a handful of electronics that turns a Game Boy cartridge into a file able to be run on an emulator is simply magical. [Thijs] has learned a lot about GB and GBC cartridges in the mean time, but still thinks the only way to really learn something is to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. Thus was born [Thijs]’ Game Boy cartridge dumper, powered by a pair of I2C port expanders and a Raspberry Pi.

Inspired by a build to dump ROMs off Super Nintendo games with the help of a Raspberry Pi, [Thijs] grabbed all the hardware necessary to create his own GB cart dumper. A DS Lite cartridge adapter provided the physical connection and a pair of MCP23017 I/O expanders – one soldered to a Slice of PI/O board – provided the electrical connections.

In the end, [Thijs] managed to dump the ROMs off the Japanese editions of Pokemon Yellow and Gold in about 13 minutes. This is a much slower transfer rate of 26 minutes per SNES cart in the post that gave [Thijs] the inspiration for this build. Still, [Thijs] will probably be the first to say he’s learned a lot from this build, especially after some problems with dumping the right banks from the cartridge.

Making a Game Boy Color louder

When [Anton] picked up an old translucent purple Game Boy Color, he noticed a nearly complete lack of sound coming from the speaker. This simply would not do, so [Anton] replaced the speaker and soldered in a 2 Watt amp, making his Game Boy very loud indeed.

After cracking open his Game Boy, [Anton] noticed the speaker was rusted. He replaced it by soldering in a speaker from a Motorola cell phone, fixing the most immediate problem. After plugging in a few batteries, he still noticed a nearly complete lack of sound.

Turning to his electronics junk drawer, [Anton] pulled out a TI TPA2000D1 Class D amplifier. This tiny amplifier is able to provide 2 Watts to a speaker and is very power efficient given it’s Class D pedigree.

After making a PCB and wiring up his amp to the Game Boy’s circuit board, [Anton] spent a little time tracking down the source of some high-frequency hissing. As it turns out, the power regulators and converters on a 15-year old Game Boy aren’t of the highest quality, but after adding a few capacitors [Anton] got everything under control.

Now [Anton]’s Game Boy has very loud, crystal-clear sound. Considering the lengths chiptune artists take modifying old ‘brick’ style game boys for use with Little Sound DJ or nanoloop, [Anton]’s build could become a worthwhile modification for musicians looking for a little more oomph to their performance.