Neural Networks And MarI/O

Minecraft wizard, and record holder for the Super Mario World speedrun [SethBling] is experimenting with machine learning. He built a program that will get Mario through an entire level of Super Mario World – Donut Plains 1 – using neural networks and genetic algorithms.

A neural network simply takes an input, in this case a small graphic representing the sprites in the game it’s playing, sends that input through a series of artificial neurons, and turns that into commands for the controller. It’s an exceedingly simple neural network – the network that can get Mario through an entire level is less than a dozen neurons – but with enough training, even simple networks can accomplish very complex tasks.

To train the network, or weighting the connections between inputs, neurons, and outputs, [SethBling] is using an evolutionary algorithm. This algorithm first generates a few random neural networks, watches Mario’s progress across Donut Plains 1, and assigns a fitness value to each net. The best networks of each generation are combined, and the process continues for the next generation. It took 34 generations before MarI/O could finish the level without dying.

A few members of the Internet’s peanut gallery have pointed to a paper/YouTube video by [Tom Murphy] that generalized a completely different technique to play a whole bunch of different NES games. While both [SethBling]’s and [Tom Murphy]’s algorithms use certain variables to determine its own success, [Tom Murphy]’s technique works nearly automatically; it will play about as well as the training data it is given. [SethBling]’s algorithm requires no training data – that’s the entire point of using a genetic algorithm.

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RetroPie portable looks like SNES Gameboy

[Mat] wanted a portable RetroPie project he could take while travelling. He made one with a laser cut plastic housing and, according to him, it turned out to be a ‘hideous deformed beast’. In version 2 he took a different approach and we must say it came out looking pretty nice.

This time [Mat] went with a 3D printed case. He designed it himself in SketchUp. Unfortunately, [Mat] doesn’t have access to a 3D printer so he had to send it out to a professional printing company to the tune of £60 ($90). Although that was a large chunk of change, he was happy with the quality of the print. The final exterior dimensions of the case is 13 x 13 x 2.5 cm.

A quick look at the controls will remind anyone of an SNES controller. [Mat] took the innards of an SNES-like USB gamepad and modeled the new case around it. Not having to cut up or otherwise modify the controller PCB makes for an easy addition to the project. Conveniently, the width of the controller was just about the same as the 4.3 inch LCD used for the gamepad’s display. Both fit nicely together.

Under the hood is a Rasberry Pi running RetroPie. An internal 2600mAh Lithium Ion battery provides up to 3.5 hours of game play. Battery charging management is provided by an Adafruit Powerboost 500 which also has a micro USB port that makes connecting an external charger easy.

SNES Headphones Cry for Bluetooth Has Been Answered

A year and a half ago we ran a post about a SNES controller modified into a pair of headphones. They were certainly nice looking and creative headphones but the buttons, although present, were not functional. The title of the original post was (maybe antagonistically) called: ‘SNES Headphones Scream Out For Bluetooth Control‘.

Well, headphone modder [lyberty5] is back with a vengeance. He has heeded the call by building revision 2 of his SNES headphones… and guess what, they are indeed Bluetooth! Not only that, the A, B, X and Y buttons are functional this time around and have been wired up to the controls on the donor Bluetooth module.

To get this project started, the SNES controller was taken apart and the plastic housing was cut up to separate the two rounded sides. A cardboard form was glued in place so that epoxy putty could be roughly formed in order to make each part completely round. Once cured, the putty was sanded and imperfections filled with auto body filler. Holes were drilled for mounting to the headband and a slot was made for the Bluetooth modules’ USB port so the headphone can be charged. The headphones were then reassembled after a quick coat of paint in Nintendo Grey. We must say that these things look great.

If you’d like to make your own set of SNES Bluetooth Headphones, check out the build video after the break.

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BeagleSNES for Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, NES, and – yes – SNES

By far the most common use for the Raspberry Pi is shoving a few dozen emulators on an SD card and calling it a day. Everybody’s got to start somewhere, right? There are other tiny, credit card-sized Linux boards out there, and [Andrew] is bringing the same functionality of the Raspi to the BeagleBone Black and BeagleBoard with BeagleSNES, an emulator for all the sane pre-N64 consoles.

BeagleSNES started as a class project in embedded system design, but the performance of simply porting SNES9X wasn’t very good by default. [Andrew] ended up hacking the bootloader and kernel, profiling the emulator, and slowly over the course of three years of development making this the best emulator possible.

After a few months of development, [Andrew] recently released a new version of BeagleSNES that includes OpenGL ES, native gamepad support through the BeagleBone’s PRU, and support for all the older Nintendo consoles and portables. Video demos below.

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SNES Controller Modified to be Completely Wireless

[Pat] was looking for a way to wirelessly control his Fire TV unit. He could have just went with one of many possible consumer products, but he decided to take it a step further. He modified a unit to fit inside of an original SNES controller. All of the buttons are functional, and the controller even features a wireless charger.

[Pat] started out with a Bluetooth video game controller marketed more playing video games on tablets. The original controller looked sort of like an XBox controller in shape. [Pat] tore this controller open and managed to stuff the guts into an original SNES controller. He didn’t even have to remove the original SNES PCB. [Pat] mentions that it was rather tedious to rewire all of the buttons from the original controller, but in the end it wasn’t too difficult. The only externally visible modification to the original controller is a small hole that was made for a power button.

In order to make this unit completely wireless, [Pat] also installed a Qi wireless charging module. Now, placing the controller on a charging pad will charge up the small LiPo battery in just about 45 minutes. This controller would be the perfect addition to a RetroPi or other similar project. If you’re not into Bluetooth, you can try using a Logitech receiver instead. Continue reading “SNES Controller Modified to be Completely Wireless”

Passion Project Turns BeagleBone into Standalone Super NES

So you want to play some retro games on your BeagleBone, just load up Linux and start your favorite emulator right? Not if you’re serious about it. [Andrew Henderson] started down this path with the BeagleBoard-xM (predecessor of the BeagleBone Black) and discovered that the performance with Snes9X wasn’t quite what he had in mind. He got the itch and created a full-blown distro called BeagleSNES which includes bootloader and kernel hacks for better peformance, a custom GUI, and is in the process of developing hardware for the embedded gaming rig. Check out the documentation that goes along with the project (PDF); it’s a blueprint for how open source project guides should be presented!

The hardware he’s currently working on is a Cape (what add-on boards for the BBB are called) that adds connectors for original Nintendo and Super Nintendo controllers. It also includes an RTC which will stand in for the real-time clock features included in some cartridges (Pokemon Yellow). Also in the works is a 3D printed enclosure which would turn it into a portable, something like this other BBB portable hack.

Check out a demo of what BeagleSNES can do in the video after the break.

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Reprogramming Super Mario World from Inside The Game

[SethBling] recently set a world record speed run of the classic Super Nintendo game Super Mario World on the original SNES hardware. He managed to beat the game in five minutes and 59.6 seconds. How is this possible? He actually reprogrammed the game by moving specific objects to very specific places and then executing a glitch. This method of beating the game was originally discovered by Twitch user [Jeffw356] but it was performed on an emulator. [SethBling] was able to prove that this “credits warp” glitch works on the original hardware.

If you watch the video below, you’ll see [SethBling] visit one of the first available levels in the game. He then proceeds to move certain objects in the game to very specific places. What he’s doing here is manipulating the game’s X coordinate table for the sprites. By moving objects to specific places, he’s manipulating a section of the game’s memory to hold specific values and a specific order. It’s a meticulous process that likely took a lot of practice to get right.

Once the table was setup properly, [SethBling] needed a way to get the SNES to execute the X table as CPU instructions. In Super Mario World, there are special items that Mario can obtain that act as a power up. For example, the mushroom will make him grow in size. Each sprite in the game has a flag to tell the SNES that the item is able to act as a power up. Mario can either collect the power up by himself, or he can use his friendly dinosaur Yoshi to eat the power up, which will also apply the item’s effects to Mario.

The next part of the speed run involves something called the item swap glitch. In the game, Mario can collect coins himself, or Yoshi can also collect them by eating them. A glitch exists where Yoshi can start eating a coin, but Mario jumps off of Yoshi and collects the coin himself simultaneously. The result is that the game knows there is something inside of Yoshi’s mouth but it doesn’t know what. So he ends up holding an empty sprite with no properties. The game just knows that it’s whatever sprite is in sprite slot X.

Now comes the actual item swap. There is an enemy in the game called Chargin’ Chuck. This sprite happens to have the flag set as though it’s a power up. Normally this doesn’t matter because it also has a set flag to tell the game that it cannot be eaten by Yoshi. Also, Chuck is an enemy so it actually hurts Mario rather than act as a power up. So under normal circumstances, this sprite will never actually act as a power up. The developers never programmed the game to properly handle this scenario, because it was supposed to be impossible.

If the coin glitch is performed in a specific location within the level, a Chargin’ Chuck will spawn just after the coin is collected. When the Chuck spawns, it will take that empty sprite slot and suddenly the game believes that Yoshi is holding the Chuck in his mouth. This triggers the power up condition, which as we already know was never programmed into the game. The code ends up jumping to an area of memory that doesn’t contain normal game instructions.

The result of all of this manipulation and glitching is that all of the values in the sprite X coordinate table are executed as CPU instructions. [SethBling] setup this table to hold values that tell the game to jump to the end credits. The console executes them and does as commanded, and the game is over just a few minutes after it began. The video below shows the speed run but doesn’t get too far into the technical details, but you can read more about it here.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this type of hack. Speed runs have been performed on Pokemon with very similar techniques. Another hacker managed to program and execute a version of single player pong all from within Pokemon Blue. We can’t wait to see what these game hackers come up with next. Continue reading “Reprogramming Super Mario World from Inside The Game”