Two-Bit Astrophotography

The Game Boy Camera is a 128×112 pixel sensor from 1998 that was probably the first digital camera in many, many homes. There’s not much you can do with it now, besides replicate old Neil Young album covers and attempting and failing to impress anyone born after the year 1995. Nevertheless, screwing around with old digital cameras is cool, so [Alex] strapped one fo these Game Boy Cameras to an old telescope.

For any astrophotography endeavor, the choice of telescope is important. For this little experiment, [Alex] used a 6” Fraunhofer telescope built in 1838 at the Old Observatory of Leiden. The Game Boy with Camera was attached to the scope using a universal cell phone adapter. Apparently the ‘universal’ in this universal cell phone adapter is accurate – the setup was easy and [Alex] quickly got an image of a clocktower on his Game Boy.

Turning to the heavens, [Alex] took a look at the most interesting objects you can see with a 6-inch telescope. Images of the moon turned out rather well, with beautiful 2-bit dithering along the terminator. Jupiter was a bright white spot in a sea of noise, but [Alex] could see four slightly brighter pixels orbiting where Stellarium predicted the Galilean moons would be.

Was this experiment a success? Between cloudy nights and a relatively small telescope, we’re saying yes. These are pretty impressive results for such a terrible digital camera.

Game Boy Mod Uses Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3

[inches] wanted the power of a Raspberry Pi 3 in a form factor closer to the Pi Zero for a Game Boy mod. This led him to design a custom PCB to interface with one of the less popular items in the Raspberry Pi line: the Compute Module 3. A hardware comparison between the three platforms is available here.

After correcting some minor issues, it booted correctly on the first try. The final result is slightly larger than a Raspberry Pi Zero, but significantly smaller than the Raspberry Pi 3, and fits perfectly inside the Game Boy for a clean build.

The Raspberry Pi Zero remains difficult to source in some parts of the world and can cost nearly as much as the more powerful CM3 (e.g. in Southeast Asia). If you’re comfortable making a breakout board and benefit from the added computing power, it’s a reasonable option when it needs to be small.

Worth noting is that the Raspberry Pi Foundation does sell an open-source development kit for the CM3 that has been used in some projects, but the retail cost is relatively high compared to a Raspberry Pi 3. Smaller but less feature-rich breakout boards like the one by [inches] make the CM3 more accessible.

Thanks to [Lou Hannoe] for the tip.

 

 

HDMI Out on the Gameboy Advance

The Gameboy line of handheld systems from Nintendo have been wildly popular, but lack one major thing – a video output. This can be troublesome if you’d like to view the games on a bigger screen, for more comfortable gaming sessions or detail work like producing chiptunes. One option is to use the Gameboy Player for the Gamecube, however that system’s age means you’re out of luck if you want a crisp, clear picture on a modern digital display. Wouldn’t it be great if you could get HDMI output from a Gameboy Advance Instead?

A family resemblance?

When it comes to working with video signals, FPGAs can’t be beat. [Stephen] leverages an FPGA in this project to read the GBA’s video signals and convert them to the modern digital format. Unfortunately, it’s not a seamless install – limited space means the GBA’s screen must be entirely removed, replaced with the adapter in a manner resembling the terrifying Facehugger.

Packaging aside, the output from the device is nothing short of stunning – the graphics are absolutely crystal clear when displayed on a modern HDMI television. This is because the FPGA is capturing the exact digital output from the GBA, and piping it out as HDMI – there’s no analog fuzziness, conversions or noise to spoil the image. Output is a tasty 1280×720, upscaled from the GBA’s original resolution. For more details, check out the forum thread where [Stephen] runs through the build.

The only thing missing  is details – we’d love to know more about the exact hardware used, and any trials and tribulations during the build! As far as we can tell, the build doesn’t stop at just video – a SNES controller is used instead of the original buttons, and we have a feeling sound is being passed over the HDMI channel as well sound is piped to the TV from the GBA’s headphone port.

It’s great to see these projects for old hardware come out – modern hardware has the muscle to achieve things previously unthinkable on retro consoles. We’ve seen similar projects before – like adding VGA to an original Game Boy.

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There’s A Mew Underneath The Truck Next To The SS Anne

Before we dig into this, I need to spend a paragraph or two conveying the knowledge of a twelve-year-old in 1996. Of course, most Hackaday readers were twelve at least once, but we’re just going to do this anyway. The payoff? This is an arbitrary-code-execution virus for Pokemon, and maybe the most amazing Game Boy hack of all time.

In the first generation of Pokemon games, there is a spectacularly rare Pokemon. Mew, the 151st Pokemon, could learn every move in the game. It was a psychic type, which was overpowered in the first gen. You could not acquire a Mew except by taking your Game Boy to a special event (or to Toys R Us that one time). If someone on the playground had a Mew, they really only had a GameShark.

There was a mythos surrounding Mew. Legend said if you went to the SS Anne and used Strength to move a truck sprite that appeared nowhere else in the game, a Mew would appear. Due to the storyline of the game, you didn’t have the ability to get to this truck the first time you passed it. However, if you started a new game – thus losing all your progress and your entire roster of Pokemon – you could test this theory out. Don’t worry, you can just trade me all your good Pokemon. I’ll give them back once you have a Mew. Screw you, Dylan. Screw you.

Now the Mew truck trick is real. You can do it on a copy of Red or Blue on an original Game Boy. If this hack existed in 1998, kids would have lost their god damned minds.

The basis for this hack comes from [MrCheeze], who created a ‘virus’ of sorts for the first generation of Pokemon games. Basically, given the ability to manually edit a save file, it is possible to replicate this save file over a Game Link cable. The result is a glitchy mess, but each Pokemon game has the same save file when it’s done.

Combine this virus with arbitrary code execution, and you have something remarkable. [MrCheeze] created a save file that allows you to move the truck next to the SS Anne. When the truck is moved, a Mew appears. It’s exactly what everyone was talking about over the sound of their sister’s Backstreet Boys marathon.

The new ‘Mew Truck virus’ is not as glitchy as the first attempt at a self-replicating save file. In fact, except for the music glitching for a few seconds, nothing appears abnormal about this Pokemon virus. It’s only when the Mew truck trick is attempted does something seem weird, and it’s only weird because we know it shouldn’t happen. Combine the self-replicating nature of this virus, and you have something that would have drawn the attention of Big N. This is a masterpiece of Pokemon-based arbitrary code execution and a hack that may never be equaled.

You can check out the video below.

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Neural Nets And Game Boy Cameras

Released in 1998, the Game Boy camera was perhaps the first digital camera many young hackers got their hands on. Around the time Sony Mavica cameras were shoving VGA resolution pictures onto floppy drives, the Game Boy camera was snapping 256×224 resolution pictures and displaying them on a 190×144 resolution display. The picture quality was terrible, but [Roland Meertens] recently had an idea. Why not use neural networks to turn these Game Boy Camera pictures into photorealistic images?

Neural networks, deep learning, machine learning, or whatever other buzzwords we’re using require training data. In this case, the training data would be a picture from a Game Boy Camera and a full-color, high-resolution image of the same scene. This dataset obviously does not exist so [Roland] took a few close up head shots of celebrities and reduced the color to four shades of gray.

[Roland]'s face captured with the Game Boy Camera (left), and turned into a photorealistic image (right)
[Roland]’s face captured with the Game Boy Camera (left), and turned into a photorealistic image (right)
For the deep machine artificial neural learning part of this experiment, [Roland] turned to a few papers on converting photographs to sketches and back again, real-time style transfer. After some work, this neural network turned the test data back into images reasonably similar to the original images. This is what you would expect from a trained neural network, but [Roland] also sent a few pics from the Game Boy Camera through this deep machine artificial learning minsky. These images turned out surprisingly well – a bit washed out, but nearly lomographic in character.

We’ve seen a lot of hacks with the Game Boy Camera over the years. Everything from dumping the raw images with a microcontroller to turning the sensor into a camcorder has been done. Although [Roland]’s technique will only work on faces, it is an excellent example of what neural networks can do.

Anti-Emulation Tricks on GBA-Ported NES Games

Emulation is a difficult thing to do, particularly when you’re trying to emulate a complex platform like a game console, with little to no public documentation available. Often, you’ll have to figure things out by brute force and dumb luck, and from time to time everything will come unstuck when a random piece of software throws up an edge case that brings everything screeching to a halt.

The Classic NES series was a handful of Nintendo Entertainment System games ported to the Game Boy Advance in the early 2000s. What makes them unique is a series of deliberately obtuse programming decisions that make them operate very differently from other titles. These tricks utilize advanced knowledge of the way the Game Boy Advance hardware operates and appear to have been used to make the games difficult to copy or emulate.

The games use a variety of techniques to confuse and bamboozle — from “mirrored memory” techniques that exploit addressing anomalies, to putting executable code in video RAM and writing to the audio buffers in unusual manners.

Even more confusingly, these techniques only appear to have been used in the Classic NES series of games, and not other Game Boy Advance titles. It’s not obvious why Nintendo went to special effort to protect these ports over other titles; perhaps the techniques used were for other reasons than just an attempt at copy protection. Speculate amongst yourselves in the comments.

This isn’t the first time we’ve discussed emulation of Nintendo systems — check out this effort to reverse engineer the Sony Pocketstation.

[Thanks to [[[Codifies]]] for sending this in!]

Smartphone Case For The Retro Gamer

A well-designed phone case will protect your phone from everyday bumps with only as much style flair as you’d like. While protection is usually the only real function of a case, some designs — like [Gabbelago]’s Emucase — add specific utility that you might not have known you needed.

Contrary to most cases, the Emucase fits over your phone’s screen, and the resulting facelift emulates the appearance of a Game Boy for easier — you guessed it — Game Boy emulation play on your smartphone.

Cannibalizing a USB SNES gamepad for its buttons and rubber contact pads, Gabbelago then threaded some wire through the contacts, securing it with copper tape and glue; this provides a measurable level of capacitance to register on the touchscreen. Using heat to bend the sides of the 3D printed case so it can attach to the phone is probably the trickiest part of this cool project. Check out his build instructions for any pointers you need.

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