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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Tiny Game Boy (That Plays Witcher 3) and Other Things That Blew My Mind

For years Sprite_TM has been my favorite hacker, and yet he continues to have an uncanny ability to blow my mind with the hacks that he pulls off even though I’m ready for it. This weekend at the Hackaday SuperConference he threw down an amazing talk on his tiny, scratch-built, full-operational Game Boy. He stole the badge hacking show with a Rick Roll, disassembled the crypto challenge in one hour by cutting right to the final answer, and managed to be everywhere at once. You’re a wizard Harry Sprite!

Here’s what’s crazy: these are the antics of just one person of hundreds who I found equally amazing at the conference. It feels impossible to convey to you the absolute sincerity I have when I say that SuperCon was far and away the best conference I’ve ever been to or have even heard about. It managed to outpace any hyperbole I constructed leading up to the weekend. This morning felt like I was waking up from a dream and desperately wanted to fall asleep again.

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Emulating a GameBoy Advance Inside of a Gameboy Advance

[Ryzee119]’s GBA might not look so different at first glance. The screen is way better than you remember, but that may just be your memory playing tricks on you. The sound comes out of the speakers. It feels the right weight. It runs off AA batteries. Heck, even the buttons feel right.

emulating-gba-inside-gbaIt’s not until you notice that it really shouldn’t be playing any games without a cartridge inserted that you know something is not right in the Mushroom Kingdom. When you look inside you see the edge of a Raspberry Pi Zero instead of the card edge connector you expected.

It took a lot of work for [Ryzee119] to convert a dead, water damaged, GBA to a thriving emulation station based around a Pi Zero. The first step was desolder the components he couldn’t find anywhere else. The LR buttons, the potentiometer, and even the headphone jack. The famously hard to see screen, of course, had to go.  It was replaced by a nice TFT. Also, the original speaker was too corroded from the water and he sourced a replacement.

Custom replacement PCB
Custom replacement PCB

Next he took a good photo of the GBA’s circuit board. We wonder if he used the scanner method mentioned in the comments of this article? He spent a lot of time in Dassault’s DraftSight, a 2D CAD program, outlining the board. Then, after thoroughly verifying the size of the board for the Nth time he imported the outlines to EagleCAD.

He managed to cram quite a bit onto the board while remaining inside the GBA’s original envelope. The switches, potentiometer, and jack went back to their original locations. Impressively, he made his own pad traces for the A, B, and D-Pad buttons. The mod even handles slowly decreasing battery voltages better than the original.

In the end it all snaps together nicely. He’s configured it to boot into the emulator right at start-up. If you’d like one for yourself, all his files are open source. 

Simple Game Boy iPhone Mod Is Simple

We’ve featured the work of [Modpurist] before, but his latest hack is wonderful in its simplicity. He wanted to create a more authentic Game Boy feel on his iPhone, so he printed out and stuck a skin on the front that makes it look like a Game Boy. Or rather, a Phone Boy, as the form factor is a bit different.

By measuring out the on-screen buttons and using light photo paper, he was able to have buttons on the skin as well: the touch screen still works through it.  You can download his printable templates… and the finishing touch is a similar print for the back of the phone to gives that genuine Game Boy feel. Okay, feel is not the right term since the classic d-pad and red buttons are still just capacitive and have no throw. But this is a clever step in a fun direction.

Check out his other hacks while you are at it, including the Game Boy Fridge.

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Game Pie Advance Brings Retro Gaming To Your Fingertips

We love our Game Boy and RetroPie mods here at Hackaday because the Raspberry Pi Zero has made it easier than ever to carry a pocket full of classic games. [Ed Mandy] continues this great tradition by turning a matte black Game Boy Advance into a RetroPie handheld.

Details are scant on how [Mandy] built his Game Pi Advance, but we can glean a few details from the blog post and video. A Raspberry Pi Zero running RetroPie appears to be piggybacking on a custom PCB that slots neatly into the GBA case. This provides easy access to the Pi Zero’s USB and micro HDMI via the cartridge slot to connect to an external screen, as well as a second controller to get some co-op NES and SNES action on. It’s worth noting here that [Mandy] has foregone adding X and Y buttons in the current version.

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Fly With A Game Boy Classic

How many grown-up hardware hackers whiled away their youth playing Tetris or Mario on their Game Boy? Fond memories for many, but unless you are lucky your Game Boy will probably be long gone. Not for [Gautier Hattenberger] though, he had an unexpected find at his parents’ house; his Game Boy Classic, unloved and forgotten for all those years. Fortunately for us his first thought was whether he could use it as a controller for a drone, and better still he’s shared his work for all of us to see.

How to connect a drone and a Game Boy
How to connect a drone and a Game Boy

Back in the day a would-be Game Boy hacker would have been deterred by Nintendo’s legal defences against game piracy, but with the benefit of a couple of decades the handheld console’s hardware is now an open book. Unfortunately for [Gautier], he seems to be the first to use one as a flight controller, so he had to plough his own furrow. His Game Boy Game Link serial port feeds an Arduino/FTDI combination that converts Game Link  to USB, which is then sent to his laptop on which a small piece of software converts them to commands for the drone through the Paparazzi UAV framework.

All his code is in a GitHub repository, and he’s posted a video of his work which you can see below the break. For a child of the early ’90s, the mere thought that their handheld console could do this would have been mindblowing!

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