Bartop Arcade Honors Aspect with 4:3 iPad Screen

Let’s face it, we all love arcades, but not all of us can fit a full size stand-up in our homes. [Bentika] knew the solution was a bartop style cabinet, but it had to be designed and built to his specifications. You see, [bentika] is an aspect ratio nerd. Only a proper 4:3 screen would do for emulating games designed for just such a display. Modern 4:3 displays are hard to come by, unless of course you have an iPad handy. The 1024 x 768 screens used on the early model iPads are perfect for the task.

Driving these screens used to be a chore, but thanks to hacker reverse engineering and overseas manufacturing, these days, controllers are only a few clicks away. [Bentika] ordered a controller for the iPad 1 screen from eBay. What he got was a controller that only worked with the iPad 2 screen. Thankfully he had a pile of old iPads to play with, so it wasn’t an issue.

[Bentika] designed his cabinet using AutoDesk 123D based upon reddit user [joshendy’s] basic outline. His final cut patters were created with Adobe Illustrator. He was able to get the entire cabinet laser cut for around $160, including materials. Cabinet assembly was easy, thanks to plenty of square gussets used to align the various pieces.

The controller for this arcade is of course a Raspberry Pi 2 running RetroPie. [Bentika] used a control block to interface the joystick and buttons to the Pi itself. RetroPie lends itself to “keyboardless” operation, he didn’t have to bring any of the Pi’s USB ports outside the case.

We have to say the final results are very nice. This system has all the portability of a CRT based bartop setup without the weight. You can check out more discussion of this hack over on [Bentika’s] Reddit thread, or click past the break for the video.

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Arcades: Don’t Call it a Comeback

nothing2Video arcades may be a thing of the past, but they’re still alive, well and were ready to play at this year’s World Maker Faire. The offerings weren’t old favorites, all were brand new games many being shown for the first time like the long-awaited VEC9. The Hall of Science building was filled with cabinets and no quarters were necessary, all were free-play.

Death By Audio Arcade was there in force with games like Particle Mace and Powerboat Italia ’88. Our personal favorite was Nothing Good Can Come of This. [Michael P. Consoli] devised a simple game: Two players in an empty room. A bullet drops from a hole in the ceiling, followed by a gun shortly thereafter. What happens next is up to the players. The simple graphics and gameplay give this title its charm. [Michael] was showing off a new stand-up cabinet for the game this year. He built the entire thing himself, working until the wee hours before load-in at Maker Faire.

[Batsly Adams], [Todd Bailey], and [Mike Dooley] teamed up to create what may be the first new vector arcade in decades. VEC9 has been teased for over 2 years. They’ve finally wrapped this game up and showed it off at the faire. VEC9 started with an old
Asteroids vector monitor found by [Batsly].

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Commodore C16 Resurrection with a Raspberry Pi

[lactobacillusprime] had a non-working Commodore C16 and too many Raspberry Pi computers, so he decided to bring the C16 back to life by emulating it on the Pi. At the heart of the project is the Pi, along with a small board that converts the old style Commodore keyboards (and joysticks) to a USB port.

Once you have the keyboard as a USB port, the rest of the project is more or less mechanics and software. [lactobacillusprime] did a nice job of getting everything in the new case, along with all the I/O wires routed through the existing ports. For software, Emulation Station does the job of launching the Commodore emulation on the Pi.

Of course, there’s no reason to limit yourself to just the Commodore emulator. Emulation Station along with the right back end emulators will allow this machine to play games that no real Commodore C16 could.

Of course, we were happiest to see him boot up Commodore 64 BASIC. Perhaps we should complete all those half finished C64 BASIC projects we started back in the 1980’s. In general, we hate to see old computers gutted instead of repaired, but at least this one will continue running its software. If you are upset about seeing a machine gutted,  you can always switch over to our previous coverage of putting Commodore guts in a new box.

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Virtual Physical Rehab with Kinect

Web sites have figured out that “gamifying” things increases participation. For example, you’ve probably boosted your postings on a forum just to get a senior contributor badge (that isn’t even really a badge, but a picture of one). Now [Yash Soni] has brought the same idea to physical therapy.

[Yash]’s father had to go through boring physical therapy to treat a slipped disk, and it prompted him into developing KinectoTherapy which aims to make therapy more like a video game. They claim it can be used to help many types of patients ranging from stroke victims to those with cerebral palsy.

Patients can see their onscreen avatar duplicate their motions and can provide audio and visual feedback when the player makes a move correctly or incorrectly. Statistical data is also available to the patient’s health care professionals.

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1-Pixel Pacman

I usually see retro-gaming projects using tiny screens with a fair number of pixels (64×64) but what I really like is the look of making every pixel count. With this in mind I built 1-Pixel Pac-Man, the classic coin-op experience but with characters that consist of just one pixel. Playing a throw-back like this wouldn’t be the same without some vintage controls so I picked up an Atari joystick, patched it into a microcontroller, and started coding. Check it out:

Smartmatrix Bundle

This piece of hardware made the project build really easy: the Smartmatrix. [Louis Beaudioin] developed the Smartmatrix and it’s been in the Hackaday Store for a while now. The display module itself is a commodity item that is used in LED billboards. There are shrouded headers on the back of the panels, to the left and right sides, which allow them to be daisy chained. The Smartmatrix PCB plugs into one of these shields, provides a soldering footprint for the Teensy 3.1 which drives the display, and gives you the wiring to connect screw terminals from the PCB to the power terminals on the module. Why the need for beefy power jumpers? At full white the thing can draw about 3.5A — don’t worry there’s a power supply included in the bundle.

Also integral to making this look good is the diffuser panel which is frosted acrylic. The Smartmatrix is designed to be housed in a shadowbox frame; it even includes a frame backer board with a cut-out for the Teensy 3.1 so it can be programmed without opening the thing up. I like looking at the guts so I’m leaving my free floating until I come up with an interesting way to mount everything as one unit.

Programming Pac-Man from the Ground Up

matrix-man-code

If you haven’t looked into it before, the ghost AI and gameplay details for Pac-Man are absolutely brilliant. [Toru Iwatani] did a masterful job with the original, and you should take a look at all of the analysis that has been done over the years. The best collection I could find was the Pac-Man Dossier and I based most of my code on the rules described there.

Basically the ghosts have two modes, chase and scatter. The modes set the enemy targets differently; to points at the four corners of the board in scatter, and to points relative to the player in chase. The relative part is key; only the red enemy actually chases you. Another one of them looks at the red enemy’s distance and angle, and targets the reflection of that vector. Really easy, really clever, and results in enemy behavior that’s believable. It isn’t just the enemy movement, little touches like a speed penalty (1/60 of a second) for each dot the player gobbles up means the enemies can catch up if you continuously eat, but you can escape by taking the path already-eaten.

Library, DMA, and Extra Hardware

The hardware and software running the Smartmatrix made the display portions of the project really simple. First off, the Teensy 3.1 is fast, running at 96MHz in this case. Second, it has Direct Memory Access (DMA) which [Louis] used in the Smartmatrix library. This means that driving the display takes almost no CPU time at all, leaving the rest for your own use. This example of a game is under-utilizing this power… it’s totally capable of full-motion video and calculating amazing visualizations on the fly.

The PCB hosting the Teensy 3.1 breaks out several pins to one side. I’m not sure what I’ll add in the future so I actually used the extra surface-mount IO pins on the bottom of the Teensy to connect the Atari joystick (which is simply a set of switches). The are enough pads for two joysticks so I used pin sockets to interface the Teensy to the PCB so that I can get to it again later.

The kit also includes an IR receiver and remote, and also a microSD card to loading animations (there’s an SD socket on the PCB). The bundle in the Hackaday Store is a kit you solder yourself, but [Louis’] company, Pixelmatix, has a Kickstarter running for fully-assembled versions that come with a black remote and sound-visualization hardware.

Future Improvements

The game is fully working, but there are a few key things that I really want to add. The Teensy 3.1 has a single DAC pin available. I’m fairly certain the original coin-op game had mono audio. It should be possible to reproduce the sound quite accurately with this board. That would really make the project pop.

There are also a bunch of touch-ups that need to happen. I’d like to add an animation when the player is eaten by an enemy, and a countdown before the level restarts. The score, shown in binary on the right column, should be scrolled out in decimal when the game ends, and what’s a coin-op recreation without a high-score screen?

Hackaday Prize Entry: A Pic32 Game Console

The official theme of the 2015 Hackaday Prize is to build something that matters. Solving the challenges facing the world is hard, and retro video games, despite what you read on Hackaday, do not matter.

That doesn’t mean there’s not space for the weird, esoteric builds out there; we have a best product prize that will dump $100k, a six month residency in the Hackaday Design Lab, and contacts with a lot of engineers with expertise in manufacturing. [Alex]’s extremely ow cost game console on a Pic32 is exactly what this prize category is looking for.

[Alex]’s project – XORYA – is based on the Pic32MX170F256, a chip that runs up to 50MHz, has 256kB of flash, and a full 64k of RAM. This is far beyond what the guys at Atari imagined back in the 70s, allowing the XORYA to have some amazing graphics.

Right now most of the build is dedicated to fleshing out the video system, and [Alex] has a great demo: rendering the Mandelbrot set in real time in 16 colors on an NTSC display with a resolution of 160×100. That’s a single-chip game console that’s right up there with the Uzebox, and a great example of the potential of the best product category for this year’s Hackaday Prize.


The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Rocket Controls Fit for a Kerbal

Kerbal Space Program is a space simulation game. You design spacecraft for a fictional race called Kerbals, then blast those brave Kerbals into space. Sometimes they don’t make it home.

If controlling spacecraft with your WASD keys isn’t immersive enough for you, [marzubus] has created a fully featured KSP control console. It sports a joystick, multiple displays, and an array of buttons and switches for all your flight control needs. The console was built using a modular approach, so different controls can be swapped in and out as needed.

Under the hood, three Arduinos provide the interface between the game and the controls. One Arduino Mega runs HoodLoader2 to provide joystick data over HID. A second Mega uses KSPSerialIO to communicate with the game over a standard COM port interface. Finally, a Due interfaces with the displays, which provide information on the current status of your spacecraft.

All of the parts are housed in an off the shelf enclosure, which has a certain Apollo Mission Control feel to it. All [marzubus] needs now is a white vest with a Kerbal badge on it.