One Home Made NES To Rule Them All

The Nintendo Entertainment System, or Famicom depending on where in the world you live, is a console that occupies a special place in the hearts of people of a certain age. If you lived in a country that Nintendo didn’t ship its consoles to in the late ’80s and early ’90s though, you might think that it would be an experience that would have passed you by. Eastern Europeans for instance didn’t officially meet Mario for years.

A Pegasus NES clone. Ktoso the Ryba [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
A Pegasus NES clone. Ktoso the Ryba [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Fortunately for them there was an industry of Chinese and Taiwanese clone makers whose products were readily available in those markets. For the countries without official Nintendo products it is these consoles and their brand names that have achieved cult gaming status rather than the real thing.

In Poland, [phanick] wanted to recreate his youth by building his own clone console (Polish Language, English translation via Google Translate). His chosen target was the Pegasus, the Taiwanese NES clone that was the must-have console for early ’90s Poles.

But he wasn’t just satisfied with building a Pegasus clone. Along the way the project expanded to include support for 72-pin NES cartridges as well as the 60-pin Pegasus ones, and the ability to play both PAL and NTSC games. For this dual-system support he had to include both sets of processor and graphics chip variants, along with logic to switch between them. He goes into some detail on the tribulations of achieving this switch.

The result is a very impressive and well-executed piece of work. The PAL games have a letterbox effect with black bars at top and bottom of the screen, while the NTSC games have slightly washed-out colours. But if you were a gamer of the day you’ll see these as simply part of the genuine experience.

He’s posted a descriptive video which we’ve embedded below the break, but with non-English commentary. It is however still worth watching even without understanding the audio, for its view of the completed board and gameplay.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: A Modern, Universal Power Glove

The Nintendo Power Glove was one of the amazing 1980s experiments in alternative user interfaces for video games. It was bad. It was cool, but it was bad. Recently, interest in the Power Glove has grown thanks to an amazing stop motion animator. Prices of these gloves have gone through the roof, and the Power Glove is in the middle of a resurgence not seen since the feature-length motion picture advertisement for Super Mario Bros. 3.

[Nolan Moore] is a fan of the Power Glove, and after finding a highly collectible new in box Power Glove, he decided to take this wearable to the next level. It’s now sporting custom circuit boards, it can control a drone, and talks wirelessly to every device on the planet. It’s also [Nolan]’s entry for the Hackaday Prize.

First up, the glove itself. [Nolan] was lucky enough to find a new, in shrink-wrapped plastic, Famicom Power Glove. His old one had been in storage for 27 years, and this new old-stock version gives him a beautiful matte glove, flex sensors that work, and brand new everything. You can take a look at the unboxing here.

A Power Glove is only as cool as the electronics inside, and that means tearing out the old boards, the old ultrasonic sensors, and a rats nest of wiring. This meant [Nolan] had to spin a few PCBs, integrating a Teensy, an IMU module, battery, and an ESP8266. This is the Power Glove as it would be invented today – perfection in 80s cyberpunk.

We first saw [Nolan]’s Power Glove at the Bay Area Maker Faire last summer. Here, [Nolan] was flying a quad around a netted cage, his replacement Power Glove electronics, and his fist-pumping grin. It’s a great project, and one we’re happy to show off in the Hackaday Prize.

SNES EPROM Programmer with Arduino

Most video game manufacturers aren’t too keen on homebrew games, or people trying to get more utility out of a video game system than it was designed to have. While some effort is made to keep people from slapping a modchip on an Xbox or from running an emulator for a Playstation, it’s almost completely impossible to stop some of the hardware hacking that is common on older cartridge-based games. The only limit is usually the cost of an EPROM programmer, but [Robson] has that covered now with his Arduino-based SNES EPROM programmer.

Normally this type of hack involves finding any cartridge for the SNES at the lowest possible value, burning an EPROM with the game that you really want, and then swapping the new programmed memory with the one in the worthless cartridge. Even though most programmers are pricey, it’s actually not that difficult to write bits to this type of memory. [Robson] runs us through all of the steps to get an Arduino set up to program these types of memory, and then puts it all together into a Super Nintendo where it looks exactly like the real thing.

If you don’t have an SNES lying around, it’s possible to perform a similar end-around on a Sega Genesis as well. And, if you’re more youthful than those of us that grew up in the 16-bit era, there’s a pretty decent homebrew community that has sprung up around the Nintendo DS and 3DS, too.

Thanks to [Rafael] for the tip!

Porting NES to the ESP32

There’s an elephant in the room when it comes to the Raspberry Pi Zero. The Pi Zero is an immensely popular single board computer, but out of stock issues for the first year may be due to one simple fact: you can run a Nintendo emulator on it. Instead of cool projects like clusters, CNC controllers, and Linux-based throwies, all the potential for the Pi Zero was initially wasted on rescuing the princess.

Espressif has a new chip coming out, the ESP32, and it’s a miraculous Internet of Things thing. It’s cheap, exceptionally powerful, and although we expect the stock issues to be fixed faster than the Pi Zero, there’s still a danger: if the ESP32 can emulate an NES, it may be too popular. This was the hypothetical supply issue I posited in this week’s Hackaday Links post just twenty-four hours ago.

Hackaday fellow, Hackaday Supercon speaker, Espressif employee, and generally awesome dude [Sprite_tm] just ported an NES emulator to the ESP32. It seems Espressif really knows how to sell chips: just give one of your engineers a YouTube channel.

This build began when [Sprite] walked into his office yesterday and found a new board waiting for him to test. This board features the ESP-WROOM-32 module and breaks out a few of the pins to a microSD card, an FT2232 USB/UART module, JTAG support, a bunch of GPIOs, and a 320×240 LCD on the back. [Sprite]’s job for the day was to test this board, but he reads Hackaday with a cup of coffee every morning (like any civilized hacker) and took the links post as a challenge. The result is porting an NES emulator to the ESP32.

The ESP-32-NESEMU is built on the Nofrendo emulator, and when it comes to emulation, the ESP32 is more than capable of keeping the frame rate up. According to [Sprite], the display is the bottleneck; the SPI-powered display doesn’t quite update fast enough. [Sprite] didn’t have enough time to work on the sound, either, but the source for the project is available, even if this dev board isn’t.

Right now, you can order an ESP32; mine are stuck on a container ship a few miles from the port of Long Beach. Supply is still an issue, and now [Sprite] has ensured the ESP32 will be the most popular embedded development platform in recent memory. All of this happened in the space of 24 hours. This is awesome.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Making A Book Reader That Can Survive Kindergarten

[atomicthomas] is a dedicated teacher. One only has to look at the work he’s been putting into book readers for for the past sixteen years. With hardware like the Pi Zero threatening cheap computers just over the supply chain horizon, he’s begun to set his sights higher.

It all started with headphones and audio tapes. For all of us who got to use tapes and school headphones, we know the flaws with this plan. Nothing lasted the sticky and violent hands of children for long. When video recordings of book became available, DVD players suffered similar fates.

So, he began to rip his tapes and DVDs to his computer. However, the mouse has a warning about small parts on it for a reason, and didn’t last long either. So, he built a computer with arcade buttons and a Raspberry Pi. This one ran a heavily simplified version of a media manager and worked well. Even the special needs children had no problem navigating. A second exploration with an iMac and a Nintendo controller worked even better. Apparently all five year olds instinctively understand how to use a Nintendo controller.

Using the user test data, in his most recent iteration he’s working on a sub-twenty-dollar reading computer in a Nintendo controller. It’s not the most technically in depth hack we’ve ever covered, but it certainly ranks up there for harsh environments.

NES Zapper: Improved with Lasers

The Zapper gun from the original Nintendo was ahead of its time. That time, though, was around 30 years ago and the iconic controller won’t even work with most modern televisions. With a little tinkering they can be made to work, but if you want to go in a different direction they can be made to do all kinds of other things, too. For example, this one can shoot green lasers and be used as a mouse.

The laser pointer was installed in the gun using a set of 3D printed rings to make sure the alignment was correct. It’s powered with a Sparkfun battery pack and control board which all fit into the gun’s case. The laser isn’t where the gun really shines, though. There’s a Wiimote shoved in there too that allows the gun to be used as a mouse pointer when using it with a projector. Be sure to check out the video below to see it in action. Nothing like mixing a little bit of modern Nintendo with a classic!

The Wiimote is a great platform for interacting with a computer. Since the Wii was released it’s been relatively easy to interface with them via Bluetooth. One of the classic Wiimote hacks is using an IR pen and projector to create a Smart Board of sorts for a fraction of the price. They’ve also been used with some pretty interesting VR displays.

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Nintendo Wields DMCA Ax On Fan Games

In a move that may sadden many but should surprise nobody, Nintendo of America has issued a DMCA takedown notice for 562 fan-created games created in homage to Nintendo originals and hosted on the popular Game Jolt site. Games affected include Mario, Zelda, and Pokémon based creations among others, and Game Jolt have responded, as they are required to, by locking the pages of the games in question. They state that they believe their users and developers should have the right to know what content has been removed from their site and why the action has been taken, so they have begun posting any notices they receive in their GitHub repository.

It is likely that this action won’t be appreciated within our community, however it’s important to note that while there are numerous examples of DMCA abuse this is not one of them. Nintendo are completely within their rights over the matter, if you use any of the copyrighted Nintendo properties outside the safe harbor of fair use then you will put yourself legitimately in their sights.

Something that is difficult to escape though is a feeling that DMCA takedowns on fan-created games are rather a low-hanging fruit. An easy way for corporate legal executives to be seen to be doing something by their bosses, though against a relatively defenseless target and without really tackling the problem.

To illustrate this, take a walk through a shopping mall, motorway service station, or street market almost anywhere in the world, and it’s very likely that you will pass significant numbers of counterfeit toys and games copying major franchises including those of Nintendo. A lot of these dollar store and vending machine specials are so hilariously awful that their fakeness must be obvious to even the most out-of-touch purchaser, but their ready availability speaks volumes. Unlike the fan-created games which are free, people are buying these toys in huge numbers with money that never reaches Nintendo, and also unlike the fan-created games there’s not a Nintendo lawyer in sight. Corporate end-of-year bonuses are delivered on the numbers of violations dealt with, and those come easiest by piling up the simple cases rather than chasing the difficult ones that are costing the company real sales.

We’ve covered many DMCA stories over the years, and some of them have been pretty shocking. Questions over its use in the Volkswagen emissions scandal, or keeping John Deere tractor servicing in the hands of dealers. Let’s hope that the EFF and Bunnie Huang’s efforts pay off and dismantle section 1201, one of the most nonsensical parts of the law.

Via Engadget. Dendy Junior unauthorised Nintendo Famicom clone image, By Nzeemin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.